by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In 1828, Jonathan Temple settled in the remote, isolated frontier town of Los Angeles, situated in what has been called the “Siberia of Mexico,” and became the first person to open a store in the sparsely populated pueblo. In subsequent years, others followed Temple into the mercantile profession, mostly Americans and Britons.
By the early 1850s, a new generation of merchants came to the City of Angels, many of whom were Jewish immigrants from western and central Europe. Some of these were well-known names in the city and region for decades afterward, including Isaias W. Hellman and Harris Newmark, but there were many who remained obscure.
One of these was Solomon Lazard, who operated a successful store for some two decades in partnership with a pair of brothers-in-law, but who also was involved in other important elements of business and social life in Los Angeles during his long life. Tonight’s historic object from the museum’s holdings is a billhead from S. Lazard & Co. and dated 4 March 1873.
Lazard was born in April 1826 in the Alsace-Lorraine region that was hotly contested between Germany and France over many centuries, though it is now part of the latter. He was eighteen when he migrated to America and settled in New York in 1844. In that city, cousins of his formed Lazard Freres (Brothers), which became one of the most powerful financial institutions in the United States.
Lazard worked as a clerk in the business and was sent to a branch in New Orleans and, after the Gold Rush burst forth in California, he came west. Lazard worked for his cousins at San Francisco, San Jose and Stockton until he decided to go on his own. He bought a stock of goods and went south intending to open a store in San Diego, but the captain of the ship he took advised he try Los Angeles instead.
Lazard opened a store with a cousin, Maurice Kremer, who’d moved from Alsace-Lorraine to Memphis and then arrived in Los Angeles in 1852 about the time as Lazard. The store was located at the corner of Los Angeles and Aliso streets, about where U.S. 101 goes through downtown today, in the two-story adobe building called Bell’s Row after its owner Alexander Bell. After Kremer married Matilda Newmark, whose father, Joseph, was a merchant in the City of Angels, he joined the new firm of Newmark, Kremer and Company.
Lazard kept on with his own firm and his cousin Eugene Meyer joined him soon after coming to Los Angeles in 1861 and the store was renamed S. Lazard and Company. In 1866, the business moved to a new brick building structure on Main Street, where it remained until the time this billhead was drawn up. By 1870, partners in the store included Timoteo Wolfskill, son of early American resident and the first commercial orange grower in California, William Wolfskill, and Lazard’s brother, Abraham, a recent arrival from Europe.
Note that the document states that the firm did wholesale and retail business and dealt with all kinds of dry goods (as opposed to groceries and other “wet goods”), including clothing, hats, boots, shoes, blankets and more. For some time, the business also served as an impromptu bank, much as Isaias W. Hellman did at his store until he formed Hellman, Temple and Company, with William Workman and F.P.F. Temple, and then Farmers and Merchants Bank. By 1873, the store also was an agency of the Hamburg-Bremen Fire Insurance Company, as insurance companies for fire and life began to proliferate in Los Angeles.
In July 1865, Lazard, then pushing forty, married Caroline Newmark, sister of Maurice Kremer’s wife (in 1866, Meyer married another sister, Harriet). A big celebration was held at the Bella Union Hotel, across the street from what would soon be the new home of the Lazard and Meyer store.
During the festivities, a fight broke out in the barroom between Under-Sheriff Andrew Jackson King and Robert S. Carlisle, who ran the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in modern Chino and Chino Hills. The two had feuded ever since Carlisle’s brother-in-law, John Rains, was murdered a few years before while traveling from his Rancho Cucamonga to Los Angeles. In the fracas, Carlisle wounded King before the two were separated.
The following day, King’s brothers, Houston and Frank, strode up to the Bella Union where Carlisle was again enjoying libations and a gun battle broke out. Carlisle and Houston King were killed and Frank King seriously wounded in the epic confrontation, but Lazard and Caroline Newmark were well on their way to their honeymoon by then.
Meanwhile, Lazard became a major figure in the political and social life of Los Angeles after becoming an American citizen not long after arriving in town. For four years, he was a third lieutenant in the Los Angeles Guards, a paramilitary organization formed during the city’s especially violent era. In 1854, he served on the common [city] council, after serving as a delegate in the Democratic Party county convention the prior year.
Lazard was a trustee of the first iteration of the Los Angeles Public Library, a founder and later president of the Hebrew Benevolent Association, a charter member of the International Order of Odd Fellows fraternal order. When the Chamber of Commerce formed, Lazard was one of its first member and also served as president. He was also a key member of the Congregation B’nai B’rith and an active member of the Los Angeles County Pioneer Society along with the likes of William H. Workman, former mayor and nephew of the Homestead’s founders, William and Nicolasa Workman.
Lazard returned to his native France in 1860-61 for a visit and was arrested on the charge that he evaded compulsory military duty when he migrated to America over fifteen years prior. After about a week in jail, he was released when he was able to hire a substitute to serve in the military.
In 1868, he joined real estate investor and developer and future mayor Prudent Beaudry and prominent doctor and real estate man John S. Griffin in taking over the bankrupt water company started by a group including council member Damien Marchessault, who committed suicide in the council chambers over the financial disaster and other personal problems.
The trio, as the Los Angeles City Water Company, with Lazard serving for a time as president, signed a thirty-year lease with the city; dismantled the old system, which included leaky wooden pipes and a brick reservoir in the center of the Plaza, which was removed and the space beautified into a proper park; and built a reliable distribution system. After the lease expired in 1898, the city took control of the system and this morphed into the Department of Water and Power (DWP).
In early 1874, not long after this billhead was drawn up, Lazard, who was not quite 48 years old, decided to retire from the business. Meyer soon renamed the enterprise the Ville de Paris (City of Paris,) which was a prominent mercantile institution in Los Angeles for many years.
Lazard, however, continued his involvement in other business activities, as well as social affairs. He and Caroline had ten children, of whom six lived to be adults. One daughter married Louis Lewin, who owned a Los Angeles book store and also published the 1876 centennial history of Los Angeles County, while another wed Abraham Jacoby, founder of a prominent San Francisco clothing store.
After over sixty years in Los Angeles, Lazard, whose early retirement perhaps led to his largely being forgotten compared to Harris Newmark and Isaias W. Hellman, who died in 1916 and 1920, respectively, passed away early in 1916 at his home near Westlake Park, which he was said to have been instrumental in developing. Nearly ninety when he died, Lazard was laid to rest at the Home of Peace Jewish cemetery in East Los Angeles.
The billhead recorded a transaction for a person who was not identified (the purchaser’s line was left blank) and who bought what seems to read as seven yards of “waterproof”, perhaps a waxed canvas used at the time, and three yards of “alpaca,” which likely is wool from that animal.
The amount spent was $14.25, but this otherwise nondescript billhead is a rare example from the 1870s and representative of one of the most prominent merchants and best known Jewish residents of Los Angeles during the latter half of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century.