by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Greater Los Angeles was the original principal winemaking area of California from the Mission period onward and the ranks of viticulturists expanded greatly from the American seizure of Mexican California onward, including growing ranks of growers and winemarkers from major Euorpean producing countries like France, Germany and Italy.
German winemakers included early prominent figures like Charles Kohler and John Frohling, who went on to be major figures in San Francisco, and the settlers of the community of Anaheim on the banks of the Santa Ana River. These folks were later followed by a small entourage of brewers including Philip Lauth, George Zobelein and Joseph Maier, who established such businesses as the New York and Philadelphia breweries in the Angel City.
Lesser-known Germans in the wine industry by the 1870s included the brothers Charles and Jacob Bumiller, who hailed from Germersheim in the Rhineland of southwestern Germany and came to Los Angeles from New York. They quickly established themselves as wholesale shippers of wine made in the area, including by the Workman brothers, William H. and Elijah, who worked the Paredon Blanco vineyard purchased by the former’s father-in-law Andrew Boyle, who, in turn, bought it from the López family, settlers in the mid-1830s of that section that became Boyle Heights and where the “Flats” next to the Los Angeles River were amply watered for grape raising.
Charles Bumiller died in 1878 and Jacob decided to go solo in opening the Hillside Winery, described as being on San Fernando Road, the early name for North Main Street. It had this name because it was nestled at the base of the Elysian Hills in the northern section of town and among the earliest references to the business were found in newspapers in 1882.
Sadly, Bumiller, who had extensive real estate interests including the purchase of a property on Spring Street next to the old county jail and courthouse and across from the Temple Block, suffered from financial reverses and sold the winery not long after he established it and then committed suicide in October 1883 at a country house in the Cahuenga Pass where Hollywood was later established.
The purchaser of the Hillside Winery was another German, though he was a brewer from Bremen in the northwest, Dietrich Mahlstedt. He arrived in the Angel City in 1877 and became a partner in the Philadelphia Brewery with George Zobelein. After five years he sold his interest to Joseph Maier, with Zobelein and Maier becoming major figures in the local brewing scene through their Los Angeles Brewing Company. Mahlstedt acquired the Hillside, presumably from Bumiller’s widow, and appears to have operated it for about three years.
The next owner was [John] Paul Wack, who came from the same general area as the Bumillers, his hometown of Diedesfeld being fewer than 20 miles northwest near Neustadt in the area generally known as the Pfalz winegrowing region. He was born in April 1851 to Francesca Bauer and Petri Wack, the latter a viticulturist and winemaker, and Paul was “reared in the business from childhood,” as his brief biography in an 1889 Los Angeles County history stated. That work added that “he was a traveling salesman for his father in this country and superintendent of the business.”
Wack visited the United States when young and, in 1874, he was in Memphis, where he became an American citizen. After a short stay there, he moved west to St. Louis, where there was a very large German community (including brewers like the Busch family) and he continued his vocation as a wine merchant for about five years. He also married Constanze Steinike, also from Germany, and the couple had two sons.
In 1885, the family relocated to Los Angeles and, the following year, as the great Boom of the Eighties was underway and the real estate market getting red hot, acquired a large property on the Wilhardt Tract, owned by Louis Wilhardt, an early German settler in Los Angeles, arriving in 1847 and who died twenty-four years later.
This property, northeast of the Plaza and beyond Sonoratown, was bounded on the east by Chavez Street, named for Julián Chavez, a New Mexico native and prominent Los Angeles resident now best remembered for Chavez Ravine where Dodger Stadium is just to the west) now North Main, and Downey Avenue, now Spring, with the other main thoroughfares being Wilhardt, which crossed west to east, and Naud (named for Edouard Naud, early French settler and a wine merchant, including with another French native, Jose Mascarel) paralleling Chavez and Downey.
It was here that Wack continued the operation of the Hillside Winery, with its address being the corner of Wilhardt and Chavez Street (replacing San Fernando Road) initially and then, by the end of the 1880s, being changed again to North Main. To further confuse the situation, some Hillside ads stated that it was near the Kuhrts Street bridge, this being the crossing over the Los Angeles River where North Main runs today and named for Jacob Kuhrts, yet another German and a settler in Los Angeles in 1864.
In any case, an early, if brief, description of the Hillside Winery under Wack’s ownership appeared in the 1 July 1887 edition of the Los Angeles Times, which reported that “Paul Wack’s winery has a capacity of about 60,000 gallons of wine. Dry and sweet wines are made at this winery, which employs about 12 men.” The reference to the types of wines is not surprising as Wack’s home area is widely known for its dry Riesling and Gewürztraminer products.
In 1889, Wack was a founding member of the Viticultural Protective League, the organizing meeting of which was led by James de Barth Shorb of Alhambra (a son-in-law of early viticulturist Benjamin D. Wilson, who came to Los Angeles with the Workman family in 1841) and owner of the San Gabriel Wine Company. Other members of note included Isaias W. Hellman, a German Jew and long-time owner of the famed Rancho Cucamonga; Italian winemaker of prominence at Ontario, Secundo Guasti; the manager of the estate of Leonard J. Rose of Rosemead; John P. Zeyn; Charles B. Pironi; and William H. Workman (who served as Los Angeles’ mayor in 1887-88 and who was on the constitution and by-laws committee.)
Tonight’s highlighted object from the museum’s collection is a trade card from Wack’s enterprise, with a date of 1 September 1890. It lists the address as 1813-1817 North Main, which today is on the east side of the river in Lincoln Heights (then still nown by its original name of East Los Angeles), but it is clear that the Hillside was still on the Wilhardt Tract on the west side of that water course. Strangely, Wack’s listing in the 1890 Los Angeles City Directory gives the address of the business as 697 N. Main, which today, is where Main and César Chávez Avenue intersect.
In any case, the “wine grower, distiller and proprietor,” who, for a time, had a winery at Azusa, included his “Quotations of To-Day” on the reverse, including shipping information with freighting at ten cents per gallon in car-load lots, and double that for those shipped in smaller amounts, to the East. There was also no charge for cooperage, or the manufacgturing of barrels or casks, except for those orders encompassing less than a barrel.
For dry wines, there were eight varietals listed, including Hock, Gutedel,Riesling, [Gewürz]Traminer, Claret, Burgundy, Zinfandel and Mataro, a mix of whites and reds and with prices ranging from 45 cents per gallon for the Hock and Claret up to a dollar for the Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Burgundy, depending on the vintage. On the sweet wine side, there were eight, as well, including Port, Madeira, Angelica, Sweet Muscat, Sherry, Tokay, Malaga and Cognac, with prices from 65 cents for Port, Angelica and Sweet Muscat, up to $4.50 for the finest Cognac.
Within a few years, however, Wack decided to leave Los Angeles and it is not known whether it as because the local viticulture industry was ravaged by Pierce’s disease, leaving only the Cucamonga area largely unscathed, because the economy was hit by the national depression of 1893, or if there were personal reasons, including the fact that his brother Edward was still runing the family business in Germany. Whatever the cause, the Wacks returned to St. Louis, where Paul continued his work in the wine business into the first years of the 20th century.
By the early Teens, however, he and Constanze divorced and Wack returned to the Angel City. He must’ve done well in business, however, because he lived on his “own income,” which in census-speak usually means that he was financially able to retire. He was, however, one of many signatories for an advertisement in fall 1911 and taken out by the Los Angeles Taxpayers’ League, an organization of business leaders and manufacturers of alcoholic beverages, among others, fighting efforts by temperance advocates for the “total prohibition” of alcohol in the city. By the end of the decade, though, those campaigns were somewhat successful locally and then nationally, with the passage of the 18th Amendment and national Prohibition from 1920 to 1933.
Otherwise, Wack held on to his Wilhardt Tract property and likely did well leasing out his lots for additional passive income (he had St. Louis holdings, as well.) In spring 1913, he advertised for the sale of a section along North Main of nearly 400 feet frontage and 165 feet deep and another lot behind that of about the same size, with this comprising close to a city block. He noted that this was an industrial district with good rail access and “a most desirable site for warehouses, manufacturing sites, market[s], hall[s], store buildings” and other uses.
Wack informed prospective buyers that “I must have money, [and] therefore concluded to offer the entire tract, or part of it, for cash and time to suit,” the latter meaning terms which were laid out in some detail, though he was willing to take offers on leases from 10 to 99 years. He added, for context, that the growing trade with Asia, the impending opening of the Panama Canal and completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, improvements to Los Angeles Harbor, a proposed union terminal for all railroads nearby “and as a natural consequence a tremendous increase to be expected in the population of Los Angeles,” as making his property particularly well-placed and valuable.
The owner then concluded by imploring readers:
Take time by the forelock! Here is your chance! The lesson of the present-day building activity is eloquent with suggestions for the wise.
Undoubtedly, Wack, who was then living in the Rampart district of the city, was as activated by real estate speculation, having also owned a 170-acre ranch near Redding in northern California as well as his St. Louis holdings, as he had long been in his business as a wine merchant. Yet, at the end of 1923, he advertised again for sale of the Main Street frontage, suitable for manufacturing or mercantile uses after a 30-day notice to the tenants to vacate, of his Wilhardt Tract property, stating that “circumstances necessitate the immediate disposition” of it, through a cash sale, on terms, or that he would “eventually consider a long-term lease.”
Whether he was able to make a deal or not, he died several months later, in April 1924, just a few days after his 73rd birthday and was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery. Paul Wack is not a well-known name in Los Angeles wine history, but he was one of many Germans who worked in the local industry in the late 19th century and this trade card represents his role in that rapidly changing world.