Sunday, April 30, 2023

Godissart's of Hollywood

When you hear "Hollywood" and "makeup" in the same sentence, who do you think of? Max Factor, whose building now houses the Hollywood Museum? The Westmores, who have a star on the Walk of Fame? Or perhaps one of the celebrity makeup artists working today?

What would you say if I told you a French-speaking Belgian had his own shop on Hollywood Boulevard?

Joseph G. Godissart in 1934

Joseph G. Godissart was born in Roux, Belgium, about twenty miles from the French border, in 1877. The Godissarts came to Los Angeles in 1910, moving into a bungalow at 808 South Harvard Boulevard in what is now Koreatown. 

Godissart's daughter Sylvia was a quadruple threat - she acted, sang, danced, and played the piano. She was already appearing in Universal films and local stage productions as a teenager, and in 1919, she went to France for two years to study stage acting after completing a course at the Egan School of Drama

1919 clip on Sylvia Godissart going to France to study acting

Godissart accompanied his 16-year-old daughter to Paris and studied the art and science of perfume under A. Muraour, one of France's most renowned chemists, an author of technical books on perfume, and founder of the perfume company Nissery. 

At least one newspaper account suggested that Alice Godissart would be joining her husband and daughter in Paris, but there was trouble in paradise. Godissart filed for divorce in Reno in 1920, claiming Alice had been extremely cruel to him and alleging that she had cheated with a doctor. Alice disputed this, stating that he had failed to adequately support her. She stated that while he was in France during the war, he left only $1000 for her to live on, forcing her to rent out the family home.

Alice Godissart stated that when her husband left in January of 1920, he left only $10,000 of the couple's community property, estimated at $100,000. She filed her own divorce complaint in Los Angeles in 1924, denying the allegations of infidelity and asserting that the claims had caused her humiliation and mental anguish. Additionally, she suspected that Godissart had hidden the bulk of their money in French banks.

Godissart moved to Paris and obtained a divorce decree there. Alice fought this decree, and in 1926 Judge Hollzer of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that "Defendant was not in good faith a resident of Paris at the time, and therefore not subject to the jurisdiction of that tribunal. It is apparent he simply went to Paris for the purpose of getting a divorce. Such a trip does not establish residence. Decree for the plaintiff." Alice got the house.

Regardless of the Godissarts' allegations against each other, just a few months later they jointly threw Sylvia's engagement party at the Encino Country Club, and Godissart began building his cosmetics business.

I should note that there is conflicting information about precisely when Godissart's perfume business launched. Some sources claim that Godissart was a former restauranteur, others that he was a retired wealthy merchant, and Godissart himself claimed that his family had been making perfume for six generations, or since 1732. Another article (see below) claims that the Godissarts had been making perfume for 300 years. This seems to conflict with the fact that Godissart was from a part of Belgium that is not close to the perfume industry's epicenter in Southern France, and that I can't find any record of him being in the perfume business until the 1920s. In fact, I can't find any mention of the Godissart family in the perfume industry prior to that. References to the Godissarts prior to the opening of the first Godissart store do not mention perfume at all. (If anyone finds proof of the company's existence prior to 1925, please contact me with citations.)

There are multiple references to Godissart managing the Richelieu Cafe company, which lends weight to a background in the restaurant industry. He is cited as a former proprietor of Cafe de Paris in a 1912 ad for the Richelieu Cafe. Interestingly, when Levy's Cafe lost its liquor license under Godissart's co-management, it reopened as Richelieu Cafe, got a new license, lost it again, and closed in 1913.

Godissart also claimed to be a descendant of the man who inspired Balzac's Felix Gaudissart stories. However, available records on the Godissart family seem to run out with Godissart's father.

Godissart rigorously tested his ideas in France - arguably the toughest perfume market of all - before returning to Los Angeles. He set up a modern laboratory in Hollywood, where perfume was made from raw materials he imported from the main laboratory in Asnières.

Godissart also made face powder. Le Guide Français claims "The unique idea of mixing face powder in the presence of the customers to suit their complexion or taste originated with this farsighted parfumeur." 

Godissart then began opening his own stores. Godissart's Parfum Classique Français first opened at 744 West 7th Street in 1925, and was so popular that within a year a second store opened at 313 South Broadway (inside the Million Dollar Theatre). 

Finally, a store opened at 6403 Hollywood Boulevard in 1930. From the main laboratory at 1703 North Kenmore, Godissart supplied stores in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, Detroit, Dallas, Fort Worth, Shreveport, and New Orleans. There was a satellite office at 14 Rue de Sevigne in Paris.

1930 newspaper page with multiple mentions of the new Godissart's store on Hollywood Boulevard.  

In an interesting side note, the above newspaper page names Louis Blondeau as the owner of the property. The Blondeau family's shuttered tavern housed Nestor Film Company, which had merged with Sylvia's former employer - Universal - in 1912. (If you're wondering about Sylvia, she married Ervin Adamson soon after returning from France and seems to have retired from acting at that point.)

1931 ad for Godissart's sixth anniversary sale

The 1931 ad above indicates that Godissart's had opened an additional 7th Street location, at number 744. The BLOC stands there today. Besides perfume and powder, Godissart's was selling lipsticks, soaps, skincare products, and dusting powder (applied to the body after bathing). 

Another Broadway location opened in 1933, at number 709. Pictures of Godissart stores are elusive, but an article on the store's opening provides an idea of how they looked. The new Broadway store boasted a white marble, Mexican onyx, and verde bronze facade, "French ecru" walls and ceilings with gold trim, a "French ecru" carpet with rosebuds, and a French-style crystal chandelier "all modeled after the Renaissance period". (Which seems like a bit of a stretch, since ecru and gold has me thinking Louis XVI.)

1934 ad for Godissart's custom-blended face powder

1934 ad for Godissart's powder, claiming it does not dry out the skin and cause age lines.

1934 classified ad for Godissart's franchising opportunities outside of LA

1935 article on the new Hollywood Boulevard store.

Do note that in the above article from 1935, not only did Godissart open a new Hollywood Boulevard store, but he added a custom hosiery line. The article also claims the Godissart family had been in the perfume industry for 300 years. It isn't clear if this was a typo or an exaggeration on Godissart's part.

1935 California Eagle clipping mentioning Godissart’s full line being sold at Ruth's Beauty Shop, a Central Avenue beauty shop for Black women. 

1937 ad for the opening of a new Godissart's in Oakland.

Godissart also invested in real estate, buying a new eight-unit apartment building, namely 1124 Hacienda Place in West Hollywood, in 1940. It's still standing.

1941 ad for Vita-Cell, Godissart's latest, and perhaps last, innovation.

Godissart's laboratory introduced a new product in 1941: Vita-Cell mouthwash.

Vita-Cell ad from 1941, offering a "generous free sample".

Joseph's 1941 obituary.

Joseph G. Godissart passed away in 1941, and is buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale. His second wife, Angele Cazaux Godissart, kept the business running after his death. She passed away in 1948.

1952 blurb about Godissart's management change and move to the Lowe's State Building.

Mentions of Godissart's cosmetic company peter out in 1953. Now it’s just as forgotten as Godissart himself.

The Masselins and the Miracle Mile

Northern California's gold fields attracted prospectors from around the world, including France. Some unsuccessful Frenchmen left for Los Angeles, which still boasted an ample supply of cheap land and already had a growing French community that could help them raise money to return home - or to find work, buy land, and settle permanently.

Joseph Masselin was one of them. Hailing from Haute-Normandie, Masselin was seventeen when gold was found halfway around the world at Sutter's Mill.

Sources disagree on whether the Masselin family stayed in Northern California until 1859 or until 1870, which was more than 20 years after the gold rush began. Masselin was married to Aquitaine native Marie Sehabiague, and they had six children: John Baptiste, Jennie, Joseph, Zellie, Julia, and Cornelia.

In 1870, Los Angeles was expanding east (really). Unable to afford ranch lands on the Eastside, Masselin bought 120 acres of much-cheaper farmland on what was then the Westside. 

Specifically, the farm fronted what is now Wilshire Boulevard.

A family member's obituary states that the farm was bounded by Wilshire, Rimpau, Olympic, and "what is now La Brea". I checked this claim against an acreage calculator and found it to be about 148 acres, not 120. Since there are multiple references to the farm fronting Wilshire, I'm certain of that boundary, but I can't be 100 percent sure that the others are accurate. Masselin bought land throughout his life, so it's certainly possible he expanded the farm at a later date.

Masselin also began buying land on the old Rancho La Cienega and in the Beaudry Tract within a decade of his arrival. He was later known as a major landowner in the Cahuenga Valley (southeastern Hollywood).

Like so many Frenchmen before and after him, Masselin raised sheep, partnering with Rock Sarrail on the Verdugo ranch. Although other Frenchmen were ruined when the price of wool suddenly dropped, Masselin and Sarrail survived the crash, and did well enough to expand to Bolsa Grande (Garden Grove), Bolsa Chica (Huntington Beach), and San Diego County.

Masselin also became a city councilman, often served on the Bastille Day committee, and championed civic improvements as an early planning commissioner.

Masselin partnered with T.J. Molle in a store, selling coal, hay, wood, grain, and such on Eighth Street between Main and Spring. Molle left in 1891, leaving Masselin to fill orders alone. 

Masselin passed away in 1898 at age 68, and is interred in Calvary Cemetery with his wife and their children (in eight adjoining mausoleum vaults). But this story doesn't end with him.

Much of what we now call Wilshire Boulevard was initially a path used by the Tongva people, and for nearly all of Masselin's lifetime it was known as Calle de los Indios. Wilshire Boulevard as we know it today was born closer to downtown, in 1895, and slowly expanded both east and west. 

Henry Gaylord Wilshire initially planned for Wilshire Boulevard to be 15 blocks long and 60 feet wide, with 35-foot sidewalks, and to be paired with a hotel. He soon applied to build an electric railroad that would run through Westlake and on the proposed Boulevard.

The "Wilshire Boulevard Ordinance", proposed in 1899 and later upheld by the city, sought to protect the stylish new thoroughfare from "heavy teaming, particularly the hauling of oil." (This is somewhat ironic, given that Wilshire Boulevard's predecessor Calle de los Indios was used by the Tongva to collect tar from the La Brea Tar Pits and haul it to the coast, where they would use it to fill the cracks in their wooden plank canoes.) Oil vendors took the matter to court a year later and won. 

Wilshire Boulevard was intended for "boulevard and park purposes" rather than business purposes, although it's certainly much busier now than Wilshire and the interested property owners could ever have imagined. The issue of banning heavy vehicles from the Boulevard came up over and over, and the ordinance was deemed valid again and again. 

1908 news blurb on "boulevardizing" Wilshire Boulevard

1909 blurb on a court hearing for the Wilshire Boulevard ordinance. Joseph Masselin (II) was present at the final hearing.

The farm's end came in 1922, when the Masselin family sold their last 73 acres to the developers of the Wilshire Vista tract. 

1922 clipping on the sale of the Masselin farm's last 73 acres to the Wilshire Vista tract

The Masselin farm may be long gone, but Masselin Avenue still bears their name, just eight short blocks from the farm's western boundary. Masselin Avenue runs north-south, intersecting with Wilshire Boulevard.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Kafkaesque Nature of Requesting Information in Los Angeles

(Dear readers - feel free to disregard this entry unless you are especially interested in transparency. This topic is a bit too complex to delve into on Twitter.)

I've been requesting some data from the city since February 2.

On that date, I sent an email through the LA City Controller's website. Controller Kenneth Mejia ran on a transparency platform, and I for one was hopeful that, as a non-politician, he might actually live up to it.

While I appreciate what Controller Mejia has done for transparency (and for shelter animals), not receiving requested data is not a good look.

A friend suggested I reach out to Rick Cole, who works in the Controller's office. I emailed him on February 6 and asked about an API for vacancy data (I'm a former property manager, I am concerned about what short-term rentals are doing to the city, and I am not convinced that the official vacancy rate is truly accurate). 

In a response sent February 7, Rick suggested reaching out to the DWP. I promptly did so, and eventually (on February 25) received a completely useless form response. 

I emailed Rick again on February 13, asking if I should reach out to anyone specific. I did not receive a response.

I emailed Rick a third time on March 2, asking if he had a DWP contact. He did respond that time, referring me to Martin Adams at the DWP. I was CCed on a response on March 6 (the response did not include any data).

I have not heard from either of them since March 7, despite sending a follow-up email to both of them on March 23.

Who, exactly, does one have to be to get a proper response from anyone who works for the city?

If anyone at City Hall is indeed paying attention, kindly take note: You work for the people of LA, not the other way around.


Thursday, March 23, 2023

April in Sherman Oaks?

 If you're on Twitter and aren't following LAPL's Photos account, you're missing some great pictures of old LA. And you may learn a thing or two that you didn't already know.

I was somehow not aware that there used to be a French-themed event in my family's longtime neighborhood.

In the 1950s, "April in Paris" was held annually in Sherman Oaks. Ventura Boulevard was even dubbed Montmartre Boulevard - or the Champs-Elysées, depending on which year it was. (Strictly speaking, there isn't a Montmartre Boulevard in Paris. There is a Boulevard Montmartre.) "April in Paris" was, of course, the title of a popular 1952 film starring Doris Day and Ray Bolger.

1955 article on "April in Paris" festival. 
Do note that it mentions "During the U.S. Revolutionary War, France gave $1,996,500 to America."

"April in Paris" fashion show, 1956

"April in Paris" may well have inspired a separate fashion show a few weeks before the 1956 event. The Gault Street Elementary School PTA held a French-themed after-school fashion show with the same name (it was a popular theme for parties, dances, luncheons, etc. in the '50s) as a fundraiser. Gault Street Elementary School is, of course, several miles away in Van Nuys.

Per a 1956 article, the first event was held in 1954. The 1956 festival, spanning three days, re-dubbed Ventura Boulevard the Champs-Elysées, adorned the entire business district to resemble Paris, and set up art exhibits. Shops had live models informally showing the latest spring and summer fashions, displayed the various prizes to be awarded, and competed to win decorating contests. Gendarmes handed balloons to children. A special screening of the festival's namesake film, "April in Paris", capped off the weekend. 

1956 newspaper article outlining April in Paris festival

"Miss Sherman Oaks", aka Pat Fowley, holds the ladder while fellow Valley resident Liberace (really!) turns Ventura Boulevard into the Champs-Elysées, 1956.

The grand prize that year was an O'Keefe & Merritt gas stove with a rotisserie, proudly displayed at the La Reina theatre, now the Studio City Barnes & Noble. (Note to readers outside of Southern California or who are younger than I am: O'Keefe & Merritt was a stove manufacturer based in Los Angeles and is still known for high quality despite being long-defunct.)

The 1957 "April in Paris" event lasted an entire month, including contests, sales, celebrity appearances, and a "Poodle Parade" with 400 dogs. One of the prizes was, of course, two tickets to Paris. It seems to have primarily been a way to promote spring sales, but so what? 

April in Paris coverage, 1957

1957 article on, and ads for, the April in Paris festival

1957 clipping mentioning "Honorary Mayor Liberace" kicking off the festivities

Valley Times page with article on, and multiple ads relating to, April in Paris

As you can see from the Valley Times page above, merchants participating in the April in Paris promotion included several apparel stores, a jeweler, a dance studio, and even Casa de Cadillac. 

1958 "April in Paris" article and photo 

1958 ad for the April in Paris event.  

Contests were also a component of April in Paris, ranging from French costume to children's artwork to growing facial hair (really). The grand prize for 1958, a 21" color television, would have been quite a draw indeed. A color television was an expensive luxury item in 1958. For context, my grandparents couldn't afford one until 1967, and at the time it cost $500 or $600 (around $5,000 in 2023 money). 

The event seems to have varied from one year to the next. 1958 saw two weeks' worth of celebrations in Sherman Oaks, capped off with the Poodle Parade. In 1959, the Sepulveda-Panorama Inter-Club Council sponsored a dance. 

Sidewalk cafes appeared. (There was a time when alfresco dining was far less common in LA, despite the usually-perfect weather.)

1958 news clipping with a picture of a sidewalk cafe setup. 

French figurines added to the atmosphere of a benefit fashion show.  (It's hard to tell from the photos, but that figurine does look like Pierrot.) 

By 1962, "April in Paris" lent its name not to a festival, but to a French-inspired dance sponsored by the Women's Council at Our Lady of Lourdes church. Our Lady of Lourdes is in Northridge, but the dance was held at the VFW hall in Canoga Park (which is now a Knights of Columbus hall). Hostesses in questionably authentic cancan costumes greeted attendees, Andre's restaurant catered a filet mignon dinner, and dancing followed. (While Andre's is a solidly Italian restaurant, it's worth noting that founder and chef Domenic Andreone trained at Le Cordon Bleu. I suspect the long-shuttered Beverly Hills location catered the dance, since the longtime Third Street location didn't open until 1963.)

A 1956 article concluded "Business men in the community are already cultivating their accents, goatees, and mustachios for the big event and vow to eat their berets if Sherman Oaks doesn't out-'Gay Paree' Gay Paree." Well, I'll eat my beret if Sherman Oaks ever does anything like "April in Paris" again. Remember, LA has rudely ignored Bastille Day since 1968. I doubt Ventura Boulevard merchants would get too enthused about pretending to be Parisians when it’s much easier to just have a sale or hold a raffle, and I’m sure that, like most Angelenos, many are unaware of the Valley’s French roots.

But if anyone out there wants to prove me wrong, I'll be only too happy to judge the costume contest.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

"That Simple, Friendly House Front"

Prudent Beaudry was wealthy and successful. But he, personally, didn't spend all that much on himself.

He did take a vacation once, in 1855. He went to Montreal to visit his brother Jean-Louis (who later became Montreal's Mayor) before continuing on to Paris to see the Exposition Universelle and visit world-famous oculist Dr. Jules Sichel in hopes of improving his poor eyesight.

But, for the most part, Beaudry seems to have funneled his earnings right back into his varied business ventures and into improving his adopted city. For such a successful man, he lived relatively frugally.

Modern-day Angelenos might expect Beaudry - a successful developer, business owner, and two-term Mayor - to live in a beautiful, spacious house in an upscale neighborhood. 

He didn't. 

Prudent Beaudry's house on New High Street

Side view of Prudent Beaudry's house

Prudent Beaudry lived alone in a fairly narrow three-story tenement-style house close to the Plaza - not even on Bunker Hill, which he developed. And the house doubled as the Beaudry brothers' real estate office and the office of the Temple Street Cable Railway (which they helped develop) for a time. Victor lived on Temple Street with his wife and children.

1883-1884 City Directory listing for Beaudry's house/office on New High Street

The house was initially assigned the address of 81 New High Street. By 1884, the street numbering had changed, making the address 201 New High Street. The address changed again later, to 501 New High Street.

Prudent Beaudry passed away in 1893, by which time he had moved out of the little house on New High Street. New owners were renting out rooms.

1892 ad for rooms to let in Beaudry's former home

A Mrs. Sallie Bailey was living in the house in 1893, and filed a criminal complaint against a Mr. George White for attacking her with a pistol.

A few months after Beaudry's death, the house factored into a scammer's lurid plot. 

San Francisco con artist J. Milton Haley arrived in Los Angeles and soon heard of three sex workers who wanted to open their own brothel. (Prostitution was somewhat tolerated as long as it was confined to the area now occupied by Union Station, Father Serra Park, and the El Pueblo parking lot.) Haley posed as the Chief of Police's confidential clerk and offered to rent out 501 New High Street for them.

By this time, the house was jointly owned by a Mr. Nolan and a Mr. Smith. Haley got the house's keys from them on the pretense of looking over the place, then forged a receipt. Unfortunately for Haley, the sex workers did their due diligence by going to police headquarters and asking questions. 

Thirteen days after arriving in Los Angeles, the San Francisco scammer was arraigned for forgery.

A 1900 news blurb indicates that a fire at the building necessitated a permit for $130 worth of repairs.

Detail of Beaudry's former home at 501 New High Street in 1906 Sanborn Map. 
Do note that it is now identified as a paint shop, with a dwelling on the second and third floors.

501 New High Street's former location in context with other Plaza-area buildings. It would have been across New High Street from the back of the Brunswig Building (still F.W. Braun & Co. at this point). 

1903 ad for Craig & Burrows' painting and wallpaper hanging business, based in the Beaudry house

I surmise that the ground-level office space and the upstairs living quarters may have been either rented out separately or one tenant sublet the unused space to another. Newspaper ads continue to place Craig & Burrows' paint and wallpaper business in the house, along with co-owner George Craig (Frank Burrows lived at 501 1/2). But, a 1906 news blurb notes that Mahogany Hall, a notorious brothel, was also located at 501 New High Street (presumably upstairs). Mahogany Hall was dubbed "Suicide Hall" by the twenty-five Black and mixed-race women trafficked inside, and was considered one of the absolute worst places in Los Angeles. (I should note that at least one 1906 account places Mahogany Hall at 515 New High Street; however, number 515 doesn't exist on the 1906 Sanborn map.)

Ironically, another article about Mahogany Hall stated that the courthouse had used 501 New High Street as office space at one point.

By 1907, the house was so dilapidated and filthy that it was being eyed for condemnation and demolition along with several older adobe houses down New High Street. However, the city directory continued to list Craig & Burrows' paint shop at the address. I surmise the owners made some badly needed repairs after the brothel's closure, since the directory lists a variety of renters, including Spring Street dentist Dr. Tagaki, living in the house beginning in 1908.

A 1915 news blurb states the building was leased to E.F. Potter for a branch of the Bible Institute. That arrangement can't have lasted long, since a year later it was housing the Sonora Union Gospel Mission, a Spanish-language branch of the Union Rescue Mission (yes, this is the same Union Rescue Mission active today - it dates to 1891). 

1916 blurb placing the Union Rescue Mission's Spanish-language branch at 501 New High Street

The mission seems to have moved out by 1923, since the city directory places restauranteur Florentino Jimenez at 501 New High Street, followed by Refugio Guerrero in 1927. Mrs. Marie Jimenez appears in listings in 1928. 

The city directory failed to identify the restaurant on the premises, but the LA Times didn't. Lee Shippey's column mentioned it twice:

Excerpt from "Lee Side O' LA" mentioning Moctezuma Restaurant

Shippey, detailing Arthur Millier's 1928 exhibition of etchings at what is now the Natural History Museum, noted "Many of us have passed it a hundred times without noticing that there is a great deal of artistic beauty in the rather dingy building on New High Street which shelters the Moctezuma Restaurant." (Millier's etchings were all of California scenes, and more than half were of scenes in the Plaza area. Some of them can be found in world-class art museums. Please let me know if the etching of Beaudry's house ever turns up.)

Several paragraphs later, Shippey added "And all are of things which soon must pass away before the onrush of progress. Within a few years most of the things pictured in this collection will be only memories to the people who possess such pictures as Millier's - and not even memories to most of us." (City Hall was dedicated nearly nine weeks later and the plans for Union Station were under way. The original plan was to wipe out the entire Plaza, but that's an even longer story and the main character is Christine Sterling.)

How do we know Moctezuma Restaurant was located at 501 New High Street? The LA Public Library has photographic proof (although I am not sure the 1910 date is accurate).

Three months later, Shippey's column revisited 501 New High Street. In part:
Some months ago we were walking with Arthur Millier, the artist, when he stopped before the three-story house on New High Street which bore the name of the Moctezuma Restaurant, and began to sketch.

"There is something really beautiful, really interesting," he exclaimed. "There is some real art on that simple, friendly house front."

We wondered what the history of the place was, but no one we asked then knew anything about it. 

Mexicans who knew nothing of the history of the place were living there then, and it had not been used as a restaurant for a long time. But the interior of the house was as interesting as the exterior, full of quaintness and beauty in a setting of brick and adobe. This was discovered recently by some folks who wish to start a tea-room close to the City Hall, and now the old place is being refurnished as an early-day Los Angeles home. 

The new lessees say the house was built by Prudent Beaudry, Mayor of Los Angeles in 1875. Beaudry also was one of the first real estate promoters here, and is credited with being the first to start selling real estate on installments. He made and lost three fortunes and then got busy and made a fourth. He had a store in the Beaudry Block on Temple Street and launched a cable car line. [Shippey got the street wrong, per my last entry.]

But isn't it rather encouraging to be reminded that the City Hall may result in the rehabilitation instead of the destruction of landmarks? There simply can't be anything lovable about a city in which everything is new. It is the old, the historic, the things one has grown used to, that make a city lovable.

(Emphasis mine.)

Snippet from Shippey column referencing Prudent Beaudry's house

As you can see from the clipping, the Moctezuma Restaurant was also a clean match for Beaudry's narrow three-story house.

Unfortunately, Shippey's first prediction ultimately proved correct. Water and Power states that Beaudry's humble house was torn down in 1931. (In between, it housed La Bombilia Restaurant in 1930.)

Detail of 501 New High Street from 1906-1950 Sanborn map

The above map snippet shows the County Bureau of Weights and Measures at 501 N. Main. However, the building is six feet wider and much deeper than Beaudry's humble house - plus the first floor is made of reinforced concrete. I believe this was a newer building added later. Strangely, like its predecessor, it served as emergency courthouse space in 1947. After that, it was a sheriff's department laboratory (which later moved across the street to the Garnier Block).

The 500 block of New High Street no longer exists, of course. Like a depressingly high number of other things in Los Angeles, it disappeared under a parking lot many years ago (most likely in the 1950s when the freeway wiped out much of what surrounded the Plaza).

Beaudry's house survived Beaudry's death, the decline of the Plaza area, generations of renters, doubling as a squalid brothel with a violent reputation, and nearly being torn down twice (1907 and 1928). It was undergoing restoration. It was going to survive after all...and then we lost it.

And now I need to add Prudent Beaudry's house to my never-ending "They Paved Frenchtown and Put Up a Parking Lot" entry.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Let's Visit Beaudry's Block!

Regular readers may already know that Prudent Beaudry owned a commercial building, which his brother Victor remodeled into Southern California's finest business block.

Beaudry's Block (or the Beaudry Block) is long gone; the corner where it stood became part of the 101 long ago. But we can get an idea of what it was like.

At least one source indicated it was originally adobe, but that the original adobe walls were replaced with brick. This was an expensive endeavor for the 1850s, costing $25,000 (about $884,000* today) - and cost more than twice the building's $11,000 price tag!

Newspaper accounts indicate Beaudry's Block had fronts on both Los Angeles Street and Aliso Street, and a map in the Huntington Library collection indicates it was part of a tract he developed. (In a sign of the times, at least one older source gives an address using Los Angeles Street's old name.) Pepper trees were planted outside.

Beaudry property map, 1863. Courtesy of the Huntington Library

In this 1855 newspaper ad, note that the address for Beaudry's Block is given as "Calle de Aliso" (the original Spanish street names still very much in use) with no number.

Ad for W.W. Twist, grocer and commission merchant, 1855

In this ad, published a few months later, note the frontage on what is now Los Angeles Street. (I should probably also explain "made to order by machinery" here. Sewing machines existed in 1855 but were not widely accepted until the Civil War necessitated making a lot of uniforms very quickly.)

Ad for machine-made bags, tents, wagon covers, and other heavy-duty fabric items, 1855

By 1857, you could visit the City Marshal's office to pay your taxes.

Notice of city Marshal's office in Beaudry's Block receiving taxes, 1857

Prudent Beaudry expanded his real estate later that year, turning one building into a block of brick buildings (see the map above for how this played out). By October of 1857, it comprised seven storefronts.

1857 news blurb describing Beaudry's expansion of the Beaudry Block

1857 news blurb noting completion of the Block

1858 ad for Fleishman & Sichel's storefront on the Aliso side of Beaudry's Block

1859 ad for Jones & Barber's wares

1860 ad for a maker of horse tack and carriage trimming

1860 ad for a new store selling willow ware (i.e. blue willow china), glassware, silver-plate, crockery, etc. The ad refers to the building as "Beaudry's Brick Block".

Spanish-language ad from 1860 advertising a tinsmith. Mr. Breuzin sold utensils for household and mining use, and the bolded bit advertised repair for liquor stills. I'm sure I don't need to explain how popular booze was in Wild West-era Los Angeles.

1862 ad for Au Gamin de Paris, a private boarding house with a well-stocked bar and coffee saloon. Miss J. Fillean seems to disappear from history after this, but Louis Gruillot went on to co-found the Barnum restaurant five years later, serving tripes 'a la mode de Caen (tripe with cider and Calvados), a traditional dish from Normandy, every Sunday.

I should note that Au Gamin de Paris was an outlier for French-owned boarding houses because it was at Aliso and Los Angeles Streets, not in the immediate vicinity of Alameda and Aliso like nearly all of the other French boarding houses.

1862 ad for three vacant storefronts (one with living quarters), plus three upstairs rooms. A similar ad published a few months later advertises two storefronts for rent, plus a wine cellar.

Beaudry got into the flour business as well. Longtime readers may recall that the Aliso flour mill was the workplace of murder victim Henri Deleval. An ad published a few months later mentions the same storefront selling brooms, calfskin and sole leather for shoemaking, and, curiously, a thousand pounds of Petaluma cheese.

This large 1864 newspaper ad, which must have cost a pretty penny even then, advertises Beaudry's own store, taking up several of the Block storefronts. Groceries, alcohol, hardware, clothes, shoes, wagon supplies, crockery, and seeds for grain farming - Beaudry had something for every Civil War-era shopper in Los Angeles. Later ads mentioned doors, window sashes, blinds, cotton seeds, wallpaper, finer ladies' clothing, and sewing machines (which, by 1865, were increasingly desirable household items). Beaudry advertised goods sold "at San Francisco prices", meaning without the hefty markup most of LA's merchants added at the time (having anything shipped to then-remote Los Angeles was expensive).

Beaudry added some special services, too: monthly grain storage for area farmers, and insurance for buildings (whether residential or commercial).

Unfortunately, by 1866 Beaudry announced he was closing up shop and liquidating the store, auctioning off the stock. He had made the mistake of offending Harris Newmark with a comment about his store running Jewish merchants out of business, which prompted Newmark to undercut Beaudry’s pricing. Newmark took a financial hit (from which he recovered), but succeeded in shutting down Beaudry’s store. (As to whether Beaudry was anti-Semitic: he’d probably be canceled for that comment today. Still, he had Jewish tenants and Jewish business partners, and entrusted his poor vision to a Jewish optician. Only Beaudry himself knows for sure, and he’s not talking.)

1866 ad for Laventhal's clothing, shoe, and dry goods store.

1868 notice of restaurant ownership transfer

The Beaudry Block housed at least one French restaurant - La Pension Français. 

By 1869, Beaudry was running his real estate office from Beaudry's Block.

1869 ad for Beaudry's real estate business at Beaudry's Block address

I hasten to add that he moved his office to 4 Beaudry Terrace in the spring of 1870.

Ad for Eagle Mills grain and livestock feed store, 1872

The corner storefront got a new tenant in 1874. Messrs. Serrano and Bilderrain sold clothing, boots, shoes, and dry goods in the space.

In 1891, Prudent Beaudry sold Beaudry's Block to T.D. Stimson, a lumber baron who had recently arrived from Chicago. Stimson was 60 years old, searching for a quieter life out West, and was worth several million dollars - in 1891, that was quite a lot of money. (Read about Stimson's West Adams home here.)

Stimson must have made some alterations to Beaudry's Block; the 1894 Sanborn Map shows it was no longer a continuous L shape. Los Angeles didn't have a significant earthquake in the 1890s, and brick buildings are less likely to catch on fire, which suggests the changes weren't the result of a natural disaster. 
Former site of Beaudry's Block, 1894

As you can see, the corner that was home to Beaudry's L-shaped Block now housed the Wilcox Block (home to two French hotels), with a 55-foot gap separating the existing buildings from some hay sheds. 

Beaudry had passed away in 1893. I do wonder if his sale of the building had anything to do with it being more or less next to the red-light district.

*The actual cost of remodeling a 19th century adobe into a brick building would likely be higher today due to California's strict building codes. I hasten to add that I hope no one ever actually replaces a surviving 19th century adobe with a brick building in the 21st century - there aren't that many of them left.