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   2003-03-05 Julian, California, profile




Welcome to Julian

Members of Levi's tribe find
serenity in a mountain town

San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, Sept. 5, 2003

By Donald H. Harrison

JULIAN, Calif.— Not many people in this mountain town know Rob Levi, but they certainly know about his great-grandpappy, Adolph Levi.

Just mentioning that he was the great-grandson of Adolph earned Rob a free sarsaparilla soda the other day from Miner's Diner proprietors Tom and Janet Kendall.

The Kendalls had reason to know the name well. Every day that they go to work, they pass Adolph Levi's name on a plaque that is attached to the outside front wall of their business. Under an image of a miner panning gold, the blue-and-gold plaque says "Levi-Marks Store 1886."

Placed by the Julian Historical Society, the plaque goes on to explain: "This brick building, first in the back-country, was built using 100,000 bricks from Ike Levi's Julian kiln for Adolph Levi, Austrian emigrant, and his partner Joseph Marks, native Mississippian. Dissolution of the
partnership made Marks the sole owner of the new building. Except for a lease to Rudy Levi and Jake Noah, Marks housed his Julian Mercantile here until he retired in 1921. This remaining example of several early Julian brick buildings has housed a valuable community service without interruption for more than 100 years."

Over the years, the much photographed building has been known by many names, including Marks & Levi, Noah's Ark, Julian Mercantile and the Julian Drugstore, before being given its present name.

Adolph, Ike and Rudy Levi were among five brothers who immigrated to the United States from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Rob Levi told Mable Carlson, the 83-year-old curator of Julian's Pioneer Museum. They spoke together while standing near the museum's historic mural, which includes a representation of the Marks & Levi sign.

Ike, the first brother to arrive in Julian, was given the honorary title of  "judge," but the merchant was perhaps best known for setting a speed record with a team of horses between Julian and San Diego, Rob related.

Asked by a gentleman to get him "to the steamer on time," Ike left Julian at 6 a.m. one June morning in 1885 and arrived at 3 p.m. that day at the docks in San Diego. Given that he stopped for 90 minutes to refresh his horses, Ike's time over the mountainous 60-mile route was officially recorded by the San Diego Sun at 7 1/2 hours.

With cars today having motors of several hundred horsepower, that may not seem that fast, but try matching Rob's great-great uncle Ikeąs record with a team of horses!

According to Rob, great-grandfather Adolph arrived in Julian in 1881, when he was 23. He obtained an interest in the Julian Saw Mill, then bought out J. N. Powell's grocery business. Next, he started the A. Levi & Co. Store and Livery Stable with Joseph Marks, with whom he formed a partnership in 1884.

Partners Levi and Marks decided to build the 40x75-foot brick building after finding themselves too cramped in the A. Levi & Co. store. On election day the first store must have been even more crowded, because it served as a polling place.

Curator Carlson wondered why Adolph and Joseph dissolved their partnership so soon after putting up the historic brick building.

Rob, a gregarious publisher of neighborhood maps, explained that Joseph Marks originally had owned a ranch in nearby Oak Grove, while Adolph Levi owned the store in the Julian business district. Back in Europe, Adolph had experience running a ranch, so the two Jewish partners decided to arrange a switch. Adolph would take over the ranch and his partner would take over
Adolph's store.

Meanwhile, the Levi brothers (including Simon Levi, a founder of Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego and a proprietor of Klauber and Levi) received news that a sister back in Europe was engaged to be married.

"Someone had to go to the wedding and no one wanted to go— it was such a long trip," the great-grandson recounted. "So they drew straws and Adolph got the short one. It was a six-month trip, and while he was at the wedding, in his sister's wedding party there was a lady whom he met and he ended up almost immediately— six weeks later— marrying her, and that was my great-grandmother, Eleanora."

By the time the couple arrived at the ranch, she was pregnant. Speaking no English and also unable to communicate with the ranch hands who spoke Spanish, Eleanora grew increasingly uncomfortable at the ranch— particularly when Adolph would leave her for days at a time to go to San Diego to buy supplies from his brother.

So right after the brick store opened in Julian, Adolph and his bride moved to San Diego, settling across from the present-day Santa Fe railroad station.
* * *
Julian was named for Mike Julian, a Confederate veteran from Georgia who, along with cousin Drue Bailey, purchased large tracts of agricultural property near Volcan Mountain. When gold was discovered in 1869 in the vicinity of their ranch, a town sprung up, attracting as many as 4,000 miners, merchants and residents.

By the time Ike Levi arrived and opened what he called The San Francisco Store, the Gold Rush was almost over, although hopeful miners continued to stake claims throughout the region and still do to this day.

Following in the tradition of many Jews in the western United States, the Levi brothers did not come to California to mine the gold but instead to sell merchandise to the people who did. In that regard, they were like the famous Levi family of San Francisco that developed blue jeans and who are of no known relation to the Levis of San Diego County (although they pronounce
their name the same).

Julian's population got so big that, at one time, its residents thought of contesting San Diegans for the honor of hosting the seat of county government. Carlson, the Pioneer Museum curator, said that according to legend the only reason San Diego won was that some enterprising San Diegans
came up to Julian, bought drinks for everyone and got the miners so drunk that they all forgot how they were supposed to vote.

Carlson doesnąt vouch for that story, and in truth such legends are now part of the tourist-attracting mystique of Julian. The town plays on its Wild West past by reenacting gunfights every weekend at the store next door to Miner's Diner.

Julian is a town with no traffic signals amid its antique and curio shops, country restaurants and souvenir shops. Whereas Jewish merchants were common in the town's early history, today leaders of the Chamber of Commerce can think of no local merchant who is Jewish. On the other hand, Jewish customers are very much on the minds of Julian's merchants— a historic role
reversal of sorts.

At Julian Bell, Book and Candle Shoppe, for example, non-Jewish proprietors Andy Hastings and Frank Pease make it a point to stock a fairly wide selection of menorahs in their adjoining Christmas Store, and candle maker Pease is developing a line of decorative candles with Magen Davids and other Judaic designs.

Stocking menorahs "started purely by accident with us going to a gift show in Los Angeles," Hastings recalled.

"We walked by the distributors and I said I don't know anything about what I want to get into, but I would like to have something for Chanukah. So they sat down with me and we talked for maybe an hour and I placed an order for menorahs, Chanukah candles and things like that, and over the years it has evolved. Today we have a wide variety of menorahs, not only the traditional
ones, but some more modern. When I see something that appeals to me, that is
usually what I buy."

Pease said Jewish customers are surprised and pleased to find the display "in this mountain town." Some of them keep coming back, including "two ladies from Palm Springs; every time they want a gift of a menorah, they come right up here."

The store stocks other Judaica, including a platter imprinted with a recipe for latkes. Pease keeps behind the counter a book called Celebrations: The Book of Jewish Festivals that he says he consults whenever a non-Jewish customer comes in looking for a present for a Jewish friend.
* * *
Besides Jewish tourists, Julian also has a growing number of Jewish residents, among them Marge and Joe Rubenson, who come up for weekends from their home in the Pt. Loma section of San Diego, and Shari Winicki, who lives in the Julian area permanently.

The Rubenson home had a surprise for Rob Levi when he accompanied me there recently. Marge is an accomplished ceramicist in whose studio hang the photographs of her talented husband Joe, a retired engineer. Prominent among the photos was one of the building that great-grandpa Adolph Levi had built. Photographer and descendant readily posed for me beside Joe's photo.

When the Rubensons had lived in Northern California, they owned a weekend place in the redwoods outside Santa Cruz. When business caused them to move to Washington, D.C., they found a weekend place in Gettysburg, Penn. When retirement brought them to San Diego County, they were happy to explore Julian, where their son, Dr. David Rubenson, a cardiologist, already had a weekend retreat.

"We all have two sides to us," Marge commented. "I'm extremely gregarious. I love people. I am very involved in our home activities in San Diego."

But a weekend place, such as their apple and pear tree-studded spread in Julian, "recharges my batteries and gives us time as husband and wife to be
together — a romantic getaway."

Marge teaches ceramics in San Diego, keeping her quite busy. "When I am here, I am much freer," she said. "I have more time to explore a particular form or theme or whatever, and I also have the ability living in an art community— which Julian is— to collaborate with other artists"

"Living here," said her photographer husband, talking in the idioms of his profession, "I am exposed to a lot of things that I might not be otherwise. For example, I developed a love for the desert (a short drive from Julian). I am a real desert rat, and I do a lot of photography out there. And mountains have always been the source of joy wherever I live."

I asked the Rubensons to enlarge upon their Jewish lives in Julian. Marge said that they didn't particularly practice Judaism in Julian, but it turned out she meant that in a formal "go to synagogue" sense — which would be quite difficult, given that there are no synagogues in Julian.

However, the doorposts of the Rubenson home bear mezuzot, they have hosted several Shabbatons for Congregation Beth Israel, to which they belong, and they even once transformed their apple and pear farm into a "model kibbutz" at which fifth and sixth grade students picked fruit, sorted it and then distributed it to needy people at St. Vincent de Paul Village in San Diego.

Farming is hard work, the children learned. Earning money from agriculture is difficult, almost impossible, except for large corporate farmers, Joe observed.

"After 18 years of looking after this orchard with the help of local people, I have come to the great truth about the difference between the American farmer and a pigeon," he quipped. "A pigeon can still make a deposit on a John Deere [tractor]."

The Rubensons were joined on their enclosed patio for Thai tea by Sandra Dijkstra, a literary agent who lives during the week in Del Mar, and her husband, Bram, a Netherlands-born professor of literature and student of art. I asked the group if, before acquiring weekend places in Julian, they had worried about possibly encountering anti-Semitism so far from the urban

"It flashed through my mind, but I figured I could handle it," Joe responded.

"I donąt observe any anti-Semitism in this community," Marge commented. "I do observe disagreement about the size of land; there is a tremendous furor about how large a lot should be. Should we have 20 acres, 40 acres or 80 acres? The growth issue is the predominant issue because what we have here is a jewel— it really is. The people here don't want what Poway has, or what is happening in Ramona."

"We met the Rubensons very quickly, so we were very lucky," said Sandra, the Jewish half of the Dijkstra couple. "There was a Jewish safety net."

Sandra commented that she and Bram "donąt have children and it would be interesting to know of a family who has a Jewish child and how that child would be treated in school. This is by and large a WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) community, but it also is a California community. That makes a difference. ... Californians tend to be more tolerant of differences, yet
there is still that question. I think that there are people here who would never have seen a Jew nor would know what a Jew looks like."

"I think people who come here fall in love with it, and stay here," commented Marge. "I hadnąt thought much about the Jewish community in Julian. We use this place as a retreat; it serves our needs beautifully and we share it, but when you raised the point, I began to think of all the
people I know in Julian who are Jewish. We have a core group much larger than I dreamt it was."

Bram, whose recently-published American Expressionism: Art and Social Change, 1920-1950 deals extensively with Jewish artists and reformers, suggested that in moving to places like Julian, where residents seem to reach out to each other, some Jews may be expressing a yearning for the close-knit Jewish communities of the immigrant generation.

"I think that where Jews are focused here is on the arts, and where you find the community spirit is in preserving Volcan Mountain, and preserving the beauty of Julian and building a library," Marge said. "These kinds of community projects don't have a Jewish label on them, but they do express Jewish values."

One member of the Jewish community who lives full-time in Julian and who is "very bright" is Richie Caputo, who serves on Julian's planning committee, Marge noted.

Winicki, another full-time resident, moved to Julian about three and a half years ago from Leucadia, where she had lived for 22 years. She had been a
founding member of Temple Solel in Encinitas.

During a telephone interview, Winicki described Julian as a "music, art and literary community— a wonderful place for intriguing people." Her own project is her home, Heart Rock Cottage, in and around which she has incorporated her collections of rocks and sea glass.

Winicki purchased her home after Joe Fisch and Joyce Axelrod, active members of the San Diego Jewish community, subdivided some of their property and sold her a one-acre lot. "Beautiful areas like Laguna Beach or Carmel or Julian tend to draw artistic types, including Jews," Winicki said.

Occasionally, Winicki drives down the winding mountain road to Ramona to attend services at Congregation Etz Chaim, a small Reform congregation that meets in people's homes or at community centers.

"We also gather for seders, dinners and so on," she said. "Jews find Jews."