By Donald H. Harrison
Anticipating major efforts to explore the Jewish history of Los Angeles by a
half dozen academic institutions and cultural centers, Western States Jewish
History has devoted its current quarterly edition to "Pioneer Jews of
Los Angeles in the Nineteenth Century." It has brought together in a
297-page volume, including index, some 40 articles and essays that draw on the
works of numerous scholars including the late co-founders of the journal, Norton
Stern and Rabbi William Kramer.
stories told therein are filled with surprises, especially for anyone who
associate the words "Jews" and "Los Angeles" only with
movie-making. In addition to tracing the development of such Jewish communal
institutions as benevolent societies, synagogues and cemeteries, this
compilation illustrates how extensively Jews were involved in the business and
civic life of Los Angeles long before anyone ever thought of movies.
At home in San Diego, 120 miles south of Los Angeles, I found myself, while
reading the essays, compiling a rough chronology to help me integrate the
diverse offerings on Los Angeles' growth. Western States Jewish History
editors David W. Epstein and Gladys Sturman in this "special archival
issue" supplemented the works of Stern and Kramer with diary entries
and articles by Stephen Aron, Harriet Ashby, Richard I. Carrico, Reva Clar,
Thomas Cohen, Dudley Gordon, J.A. Graves, Erik Greenberg, Victor Harris,
Virginia Katz, Francine Landau, David N. Myers, Harris Newmark III, Myer J.
Newmark, and Tom Owen.
The following chronology is offered with the hope that it
will help provide some background for the exploding amount of research into
"Jewish Los Angeles" by such institutions as UCLA, USC, the Autry
National Center, the Skirball Cultural Center, the Huntington Library and the
University of Judaism. For identification purposes, I have underlined the names
of the Jews.
1846Jacobo Frankfort, considered Los Angeles' first Jewish
settler, signs a resolution to defend the Mexican pueblo of Los Angeles from
invaders during the days of the "Bear Flag Revolt." After California
falls to the United States in the Mexican-American War, Frankfort reconciles
himself to changed circumstances.
1850Morris Goodman is elected to the first Los Angeles City
Council. Not a Sabbath observer, he sponsors a successful resolution that
the City Council hold its special meetings at 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoons.
1851The first U.S. Census of Los Angeles enumerates 1,610 residents,
eight of whom are Jews. The eight, including Frankfort and Goodman,
have their dwellings and businesses in a single block in what is today downtown
1852In November, Goodman becomes part of a vigilance committee
to try to track down whoever murdered Joshua Bean near the San Gabriel Mission.
Bean, who headed California's militia, also had served as the first mayor of San
Diego in 1850 .... Myer Newmark begins a sea voyage that will take
him from New York around the tip of South America to California, keeping a diary
that today is part of the California historical record.
1853Arnold Jacobi serves on the Los Angeles City Council.
1854Solomon Lazard is elected to the Los Angeles City Council,
less than two years after the native of Alsace-Lorraine becomes a U.S.
citizen.... In the same year when the Jewish community numbers about 30, Solomon
Nunes Carvalho arrives in Los Angeles with the fifth expedition of John
Charles Fremont. On July 2, he helps to organize the Hebrew Benevolent
Society. Samuel Labatt becomes the organization's first president.
To raise funds for the support of indigent persons, Carvalho raffles off three
of his paintings, among them a portrait of Mexico's last governor of California,
Pio Pico. Carvalho came from a well-educated family. His uncle was Emanuel
Carvalho, whose Hebrew grammar was the first one edited by a Jew to be
published in the United States.
1855Harris Caspar, a storekeeper serving mining camps on the
Kern River, is fatally shot on February 23 by William Ferguson. His
body is brought to Los Angeles for the first burial in the old Jewish cemetery
at Chavez Ravine (California Historical Landmark 833), necessitating formal
conveyance of the property to the Jewish community on April 9..
1856Goodman is elected as Southern California District Deputy
Grand Master of the Odd Fellows. Such fraternal organizations as the Masons and
the Odd Fellows are important to the social and business integration of Jews
with the Gentile community.
1859Myer J. Newmark is admitted to the Bar on August 15 by
Circuit Judge Benjamin Hayes, becoming the first Jewish attorney in Los Angeles.
1860Maurice Kremer serves as Los Angeles County
Treasurer through 1865... Morris Goodman and Julius Morris
are both elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. .. Sometime in
this decade, Jacob Elias purchases Rancho San Rafael, a 36,000-acre
property that will much later be become the City of Glendale.
1861Solomon Lazard is elected again to the Los Angeles City
Council, a non-consecutive term.
1862Recruited from San Francisco, Rabbi Abraham Wolf Edelman helps
the Jewish community of Los Angeles start Congregation B'nai B'rith, which meets
in rented quarters. Myer J. Newmark, whose first name is sometimes
spelled "Meyer," is elected as Los Angeles City Attorney by a margin
of two votes over incumbent James H. Lander. However, he resigns four
months later to open a practice in Nevada.
1865Harris Newmark, angered by a boast by well-financed
merchant Prudent Beaudry that he would drive every Jew in Los Angeles out of
business, decides to turn the tables on Beaudry. He persuades
Phineas Banning, owner of a company that carries freight between Yuma and the
coast but which has been shut out of the Los Angeles market by Beaudry, to go
into business with him. Deciding to sell goods at cost and steamer freight
plus $7.50 per ton, Newmark and Banning so seriously undercut Beaudry's
business, that the latter sells his business to the partners six months later,
according to Newmark's account.
1868Henry Wartenberg is elected to the Los Angeles City
Council. A merchant in partnership with Wolf Kalisher, Wartenberg
also is instrumental in establishing the city's volunteer fire department.
1869Harris Newmark, happening by a land
auction, hears a bid for $7, and decides to raise it by 50 cents, not even
knowing what property is being auctioned. His bid for land along what
later becomes Wilshire Boulevard is successful, and some years later he sells
the parcel for $10,000. ... Prudent Beaudry, evidently believing
about Jews if "you can't lick 'em, join 'em, " enters into a
partnership with Solomon Lazard and John S. Griffin to purchase the lease
of the city's water works. Their company runs the water works until 1899,
when it is purchased by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. ...
Isaac Lankershim, a Jewish convert to the Baptist faith, purchases 60,000 acres
of the San Fernando Valley from Andres Pico. Members of Lankershim's
family and business associates remain steadfastly Jewish.
1870The U.S. Census puts the population of Los Angeles at 5,728.
Of these about 330 are believed to be Jews. Included in the Los Angeles
count is Rabbi Hyam Zvee Sneersohn, a great-grandson of Shneor Zalman,
founder of the Chabad movement. The rebbe is not really a Los Angeles
resident, however; he just happens to be in Los Angeles on a lecture tour while
the census is being conducted.... Mrs. Wolf Kalisher, becomes the
first president of the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society... During this decade,
Olegario, hereditary leader of the Temecula Indians, campaigns throughout the
state for fair treatment of Native Americans. Befriended and partially financed
by Wolf Kalisher, Olegario travels to Washington D.C., where he helps to
persuade U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant to reserve tracts of land in San Diego
County for several Indian bands.
1871Isaias W. Hellman and John G. Downey organize Farmers &
1872Hellman is among the organizers of a successful effort to
persuade the Southern Pacific Railroad to bring a southern transcontinental
railroad to Los Angeles, rather than to San Diego, which previously had been
designated by Congress as an intended terminus.
1873After organizing meetings, Solomon Lazard is elected as the
founding president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.... Congregation B'nai
B'rith erects its first home on Fort Street, which is later renamed as
Broadway. Years later, the congregation will move and be renamed as the
Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
1874B'nai B'rith Lodge 224 is established. Samuel Prager
is elected its first president.
1876Bernard Cohn is elected to the Los Angeles City Council... Maurice
Kremer serves as County Tax Collector through 1879.
1878 Upon the death of Mayor Frederick A. MacDougall, Councilman Bernard
Cohn serves as mayor pro tem. He is nominated for mayor by the
People's Party but is defeated by James M. Toberman of the Workingmen's
party. A letter from T.D. Mott to a local newspaper during the campaign
grumbles about the extent of Jewish political power in Los Angeles: "Mr. Myer
J. Newmark, occupying the distinguished position of chairman of the County
Democratic Central Committee, takes great delight, perhaps regards it his duty
to run the Democratic Party so that Mr. (Maurice) Kremer his
brother-in-law shall hold office perpetually, that Mr. (Emil) Harris
shall be chief of police, Mr. Charles Prager shall be a member of the
Board of Supervisors...Mr. B. Cohn, the mayor (pro tem) of the city, and Mr.
I.W. Hellman, the custodian of the funds of the city and county to bank
onall of a kindred race."
1879Isaias W. Hellman, John G. Downey, and Ozro Child,
respectively a Jew, Catholic and Protestant, form a Methodist educational
institution which becomes the University of Southern California. They give
308 lots of land to a foundation for the creation of the university.
1881Isaias W. Hellman is appointed as a
regent of the University of California, serving until 1919.
1883Eugene Germain serves as the first president of the Los
Angeles Board of Trade... Ten years later, he would be named by U.S. President
Grover Cleveland as U.S. Consul in Zurich, Switzerland.
1885Rabbi Emanuel Shreiber becomes the second spiritual leader
of Congregation B'nai B'rith. The story is told that congregation
preferred someone less Orthodox than Rabbi Edelman, but historians Stern and
Kramer dispute this oft-told version, suggesting instead that the congregation
simply wanted to retire their pioneer rabbi in order to have a younger, more
socially acceptable and modern-appearing rabbi. They point out that the
congregation had already incorporated many elements of Reform during Edelman's
1889Funeral procession for Bernard Cohn from his residence on
Main Street to the Jewish cemetery in Chavez Ravine is considered the longest
thus far seen in Los Angeles.
1890Isaias Hellman relocates to San Francisco, purchases the
Nevada Bank, and merges it with Wells Fargo, retaining the Wells Fargo name.
1895Cornerstone laid for Congregation B'nai B'rith's second home at
Ninth and Hope Streets... Meanwhile, a start-up Orthodox congregation, Kahal
Israel, conducts separate High Holiday services.
1896Herman Silver is elected to the Los
Angeles City Council.
1897Under the name of Emanu-El, the first Jewish newspaper of
Los Angeles makes its appearance. The name is the same as that of an older
newspaper in San Francisco, drawing protests. The following year the Los
Angeles paper changes its name to the B'nai B'rith Messenger. Victor
Harris is the first editor.
1899Congregation Beth El is formed. It later merges with Kahal
Israel. Neither wants to give up its name so they compromise and
Congregation Beth Israel is formed, drawing part of its name from each. It
is the oldest Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles. Rabbi Michael
Solomon, who had become Congregation B'nai B'rith's fourth rabbi after
succeeding Rabbi Abraham Blum, becomes the first rabbi of Congregation
Beth Israel. He later takes up the practice of law.
1900As City Council president, Herman Silver asks for excused
absence and receives formal best wishes of colleagues to attend Jewish High
1901Kaspare Cohn serves as president of
Congregation B'nai B'rith, serving until 1910.
1902 Kaspare Cohn presents a building to
the Los Angeles Hebrew Benevolent Society for use as a hospital. Initially
called Kaspare Cohn Hospital, it later becomes Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, and
today is Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. ... Home of Peace Cemetery on Whittier
Boulevard is dedicated as consecrated ground. Jewish pioneers previously
buried in Chavez Ravine are subsequently re-interred at the Home of Peace.
1909Herman Silver Lake is named for Herman Silver, who served
on the city's first Board of Water Commissioners. Today people refer to the area
near the reservoir as the Silverlake district, perhaps thinking the name refers
to sparkling water.
1916Sixty Years in Southern California by Harris
Newmark is published three years after his 1913 death, providing a rich
resource for historians of California Jews.
Sturman, publisher and editor-in-chief of Western States
Jewish History, may be reached via the email address WSEditor1@sbcglobal.net
for information and subscriptions. The writer of this article, Donald H.
Harrison, serves as an the publication's editorial advisory board.