by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Over and over again, artifacts that have been acquired for the Homestead’s collection, whatever obvious or surface value that may be in mind, have stories that emerge on investigation that provide added interest to the former or completely change the perception of what the value is.
Tonight’s highlighted objects from the museum’s holdings are a pair of cabinet card studio portrait photographs of Adele Harbeck Lauth and her daughter, also named Adele. The first, taken by Valentine Wolfenstein, was taken about 1875 about the time that the elder Adele married Los Angeles brewer Phillip Lauth, and the second was done by George Dewey and dates to about 1887 (thanks to an inscription that noted that the girl was 8 1/2 years old and we know she was born in late 1878.
The initial interest was, first, that the photos were inscribed so that we knew the subjects, something that is not as common, unfortunately, as those instances when images are unidentified. Secondly, portraits can often be useful for noting clothing and hair styles from a given period.
Having information on the photos, of course, means that some research is in order and this is where some of the unexpected elements of people’s stories and lives comes to the fore. Adele Harbeck was a native of the Schleswig-Holstein province of Prussia, born in November 1848 or perhaps 1845, a year when political revolutions reverberated throughout Europe and also when the California Gold Rush burst forth.
Her early life is not known and she emigrated to the United States in 1868, as shown in census data and a ship manifest that listed a 23-year old Adele Harbeck traveling with 27-year old Dorothea Harbeck on the vessel Germania traveling from Hamburg, which is about 100 kilometers south of Kiel, the Baltic Sea port city where the sisters were living, to New York.
Two years later, Adele was enumerated in the federal census at the German Hospital in San Francisco, though it is not known why she was in the city nor why she was admitted to the hospital. By 1875, she was in Los Angeles and married to Lauth, a German from, according to some sources, the much-disputed Alsace-Lorraine area which historically has been fought over by France and Germany or from Hesse, which is further east.
Phillipe Lauth, age 14, migrated by ship in 1855 on the Heidelberg to New York from Le Havre, France, northwest of Paris and traveled with a family of seven along with two other Lauth families, all listed as being from Hesse, the province which includes Frankfurt. All that is known about his early years in America was that he enlisted in the Union Army in a unit from New Jersey.
By 1874, Phillip Lauth had two partners in the New York Brewery, which the trio purchased from its previous owner Christian Henne. Over the next dozen years, Lauth, the principal owner, had a few partners and the business was advertised heavily and looks to have been successful, with Lauth among the several prominent German brewers in Los Angeles.
In the 1880 census, Phillip, listed as being from Alsace, Adele, shown as from Holstein, and their 2–year old daughter Adele Dorothy (the middle name coming from her aunt mentioned above) lived on Main Street. Their next door neighbor was Cameron Thom, a prominent attorney and future mayor, and a few households away was Jonthan Trumbull Warner, also known as Juan José Warner, one of the first Americans to live in Los Angeles and a friend of William Workman.
Phillip, however, had recurring health problems and, in early 1886, traveled to Hawaii to recuperate. The fact that he went that far indicated he likely achieved some financial success, but, tragically, he did not recover and he died in Honolulu at Queen’s Hospital on 25 February 1886.
It could only imagined what his widow faced with a young daughter, a business and the shock of her husband’s sudden death to face. When the administration of Phillip’s estate was processed, it was reported that there was about $14,000 in it, a decent amount of money.
As a boom was soon underway in Los Angeles following the 1885 completion of a direct transcontinental railroad link to the east, Adele was able to sell some property left by Phillip and, apparently, live comfortably. She never remarried and lived until early 1928, when she died in Los Angeles at age 77.
With regard to Adele Dorothy, she went on to live something of an unconventional life for a woman, based on some reports of her activities. When the First World War broke out, she was living in Germany and was married about 1905 to F.W. Lauth, probably a distant cousin and who was a dealer in Asian art with offices in Berlin, Paris, Japan and China, and had a daughter, Iris, born in Berlin in 1913. F.W. Lauth, it was reported later by his wife, fled and joined up with American military forces moving west toward Germany from France toward the end of the war, but within two weeks, he was killed in battle.
Adele D. Lauth and her daughter sailed from Hamburg to New York on the S.S. Manchuria in May 1920 and then traveled across the country to Los Angeles, where a reunion took place between the two Adeles. News accounts reported a remarkable story, which the younger Lauth told reporters that she was held a prisoner of war by German officials throughout the conflict.
Moreover, she stated that she worked as a journalist and attracted suspicion by the German government because she had French and English servants In a speech to the Los Angeles Press Club in 1922, she related her
adventures in translating wireless messages in [from] English, Danish and French into German for a Socialist paper, and of her going to Switzerland in the guise of a Danish vaudeville performer on tour, to secure a new stock of needed paper for the journal.
An October 1920 feature article about Adele Dorothy included her remarks about the chaos in Hamburg after the German defeat which ended the Great War, specifically referring to Communist insurgents in that city who were “like madmen dancing over a volcano. As the flames grew hotter under their feet, they became wilder in their antics and more grotesque in their deeds.”
As a “red scare” mounted in post-war America, presaging a decade of conservatism and isolation from world affairs, this article in the conservative Los Angeles Times stands out for her take on the effect of the brief Communist regime in the state of Bavaria on women.
Namely, she stated, “any man could have any woman of his choosing, provided he paid for that privilege a sum which would be sufficient to educate the expected offspring to maturity.” This amount, she added, depended on the social station of the woman, as it was expected that the children’s education was to conform to that class level.
Adele Dorothy spoke of “the hideous Bolshevist waves” that coursed through Bavarian society and politics in the postwar tumult and she pointed out that five and six-hour work days were common and that little work was done. The cost of basic food and material was rising, though the spectacular inflation of the Weimar Republic following the huge demands for reparations forced upon Germany after the Treaty of Versailles was completed dwarfed these prices.
The article included her remarks about unfettered gambling and drinking (Prohibition was then just enacted and in force in the United States, though well honored in the breach). She stated that “Champagne is consumed in large quantities and at staggering prices” and that, overall, “Germany today seems to be moving toward greater excesses. It is still a bedlam, ruled by a mob.
She stated the constant entering into her house by German soldiers who took her food and valued possessions and she regarded herself a prisoner “restricted in every way, and handled harshly at times.” Her husband left in April 1917 via Copenhagen for London and he joined an English division (note above it was said he was with an American force) and he died in battle in France.
After this noteworthy return to her hometown, Adele Dorothy embarked on a new career as a piano teacher. She worked at the state Normal School for teacher education, long located where the Central Public Library opened in 1926 and which morphed into the University of California, Los Angeles.
She also had a private studio for many years and took students to recitals and also performed as an accompanist and a solo performer in many locations, to the extent that she was considered one of the better-known musical figures in Los Angeles through the 1920s and afterward.
There was a moment of controversy in 1929 when she was targeted for a “heart balm” lawsuit by Mary Weiss who claimed that Adele Dorothy had an improper relationship with her husband, artist John Weiss, and wrecked the marriage. The suit was for $200,000 and it was asserted that Lauth was a millionaire, thanks to valuable inherited property at Seventh and Hill streets in downtown Los Angeles.
The suit appears to have gone nowhere and Lauth, within a month, married Donald Davis. Interestingly, in the 1930 census, Lauth lived with her daughter and, though Davis, was in the same house, he was listed as a separate householder. In any event, Lauth returned to prominence in musical circles and looks to have remained active in teaching and performance into the 1940s. She lived almost to her nineties and resided in Lakewood, where she died in 1967.
As noted at the beginning of this post, it is remarkable how often an artifact in the Homestead’s collection turns out to have more to it than appears at the surface. This is certainly true with this pair of portraits, which revealed a set of interesting stories over decades and which go far beyond what could have been imagined when they were acquired some six years ago.