Merchants at the Monte: An Invoice from Isaac Kauffman and Son and the Kauffman Mercantile Company, El Monte, California, 1907

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been noted here in several previous posts on this blog, Walter P. Temple’s business manager for many years was Milton Kauffman (1882-1956), an El Monte businessman and real estate developer whose substantial efforts were directed towards managing Temple’s three businesses, the Walter P. Temple Oil Company, the Temple Estate Company, and the Temple Townsite Company, all of which ultimately failed by the time the Great Depression.

While Kauffman was about 50 years old when these enterprises collapsed and he kept a low profile during the Depression and World War II years, he had a late stage resurgence when the postwar real estate and building boom came and he, in his late sixties, became one of the region’s most productive home builders, with many thousands of dwellings to his credit in the South Bay and eastern San Gabriel Valley areas, including tracts in areas within just a short distance of the Homestead.

Isidore Kauffman listed as a merchant at Redding, California in the 1880 census.

His start in business was with his father, Isidore (Isaac) Kauffman (1850-1934), a native of Bouxwiller, a town in the long-disputed Alsace-Lorraine region of northeastern France, but which was often part of Germany and German principalities. How young Isidore got to the United States is not known, but he arrived in 1866 and wound up in Cincinnati, where he became a naturalized American citizen in 1872.

Another mystery is how Isidore wound up in Redding, the northern California town, but, when the 1880 census was taken in early June in that Shasta County community, he was enumerated there and owned a store there with two other fellow Alsatians, Charles Weil and Nathan Willard, who were almost certainly fellow Jews. Yet, there was another move to another very different environment as Isidore left Redding and was in San Francisco by late October and then on to Tucson, in southern Arizona, the following month.

An early ad for Isidore’s New York Store, [Tucson] Arizona Citizen, 24 November 1880.

He opened the New York Store by the end of November and, while an early advertisement in the Arizona Citizen mentioned gentlemen’s furnishing goods and stationery first, as well as jewelry, watches and eyeglasses, it was his stock of cigars and tobacco that provided most of his inventory and sales and he was generally known as a tobacconist. Isidore operated in three locations in town during his five years in business in Tucson.

Shortly after his arrival, he met Ernestine (Teany) Laventhal, the daughter of a Polish Jewish merchant, Elias, who’d previously spent many years in Los Angeles, where he’d started by, in 1854, opening a store with Jacob Rich and Harris Newmark and, after two years, partnering with Rich before owning a business with Jacob Letter and then going on his own.

A description of the wedding of Isidore Kauffman and Ernestine (Teany) Laventhal, Citizen, 6 March 1881.

In the dark economic days of the late 1870s, after the failure of the Temple and Workman bank and general financial tough times, Laventhal went bankrupt and headed to Tucson to revive his fortunes. Remarkably, his wife Bertha, took out notices in Los Angeles and then in Tucson announcing that she was forming her own general merchandise businesses in those cities.

Isidore Kauffman and Teany Laventhal were married on 27 February 1881 and the Citizen reported that “there was a brilliant array of beauty annd fashion at Levin’s Hall” for the ceremony, presided over by Justice of the Peace Joseph Neugass, though “H. Lowenstein followed with the impressive marriage ritual of the Hebrew faith.”

The last mention of Isidore in Tucson, [Tucson] Arizona Star, 23 July 1885.

The account continued that “the bride looked a picture of loveliness, arrayed in faultless white robes, a becoming flush of excitement adding to her natural beauty, while the groom, more self-possessed, seemed happy in the consummation of his dearest hopes.” The ceremony was at 8 p.m., followed by dancing until minight, when “an elegant collation” was served, followed by “many lively toasts” and “hearty merriment” that continued “until approaching morn warned the gay multitude that they must disperse.”

Not unlike his father-in-law, however, Isidore got into hot water with his business and, in July 1885, after being sued “by San Francisco parties” in a short and unexplained notice in the Arizona Star, with the matter settled but evidently leaving him in a precarious financial state, he, Teany and their two young sons, Milton and Jules, the latter born in 1883, departed for California.

The founding of the First National Bank of El Monte at the Kauffman house, Los Angeles Times, 16 August 1903.  Among its directors were creamery owner C.F. Raab, future county supervisor Preston F. Cogswell and Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles official Jackson A. Graves.

Nothing substantial could be found in searches other than that Isidore appears to have been associated with Jules Kauffman (1867-1946), who may have been a much-younger brother or, perhaps, a cousin (as well as probable namesake for Isidor’s second son) and who long operated a grain and lumber business in San Jacinto near Hemet in Riverside County. When Jules became an American citizen in 1890, one of his witnesses was Isaac, the moniker that Isidore adopted, and who was recorded as living in San Diego.

The following year, however, when Teany’s sister, Sarah, married the prominent Fullerton merchant Jacob Stern, the Kauffmans were in attendance at the Los Angeles nuptial. In 1895, young Jules, who was just 12 years old, died of typhoid fever at San Jacinto, another piece of evidence that the family spent much of the previous decade there, though his death may have led the Kauffmans to return to Los Angeles. That year, another son, Joseph, was born and the Kauffmans were back in the Angel City in 1896 on Hope Street between 11th and 12th streets, yet, the following year, were again in San Jacinto.

Isaac’s $25,000 in purchases and Milton’s $8,000 in acquisitons of Rancho La Puente land formerly owned by William Workman and sold by the estate of the recently deceased Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin and which became part of the city of Baldwin Park,, Times, 8 October 1910.

This wandering finally ceased by the end of the decade when the Kauffmans settled in El Monte and opened I. Kauffman & Son, a general merchandise store on Main Street. The business quickly became a success, even though a spring 1905 fire roared through the business section of town and destroyed the store to a loss of $15,000, and the newly renamed Isaac also hosted the founding meeting of the First National Bank of El Monte. Among their regular customers was Walter P. Temple and tonight’s featured artifact from the Homestead’s collection is an invoice from the business, which changed its name to the Kauffman Mercantile Company in late 1906.

The document appears to have been drawn up in October 1907 and covers purchases made, presumably by the Temples from 7 January of that year through the end of June , though there was also a “Balance for Mrs. Valenzuela 1906,” who was the mother of Walter’s wife, Laura González. The goods were, not surprisingly, varied, including clothing, sewing notions, food, kitchenware, tools, farm supplies, and other items.

An advertisement for the closing sale of the Kauffman Mercantile Company, Covina Argus, 8 October 1910.

Within a couple of years of the formation of the mercantile company and the production of this invoice, Isaac and Milton decided to spend more of their time focused on real estate investments, through their Kauffman Land and Water Company, soon renamed the Kauffman Investment Company. Among their acquisitions were large tracts on the Rancho La Puente, formerly owned by Walter Temple’s grandfather, William Workman, and then lost to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin in the foreclosure of his loan to the stricken Temple and Workman bank.

After Baldwin died in spring 1909, his executor and nephew, Hiram A. Unruh, engineered the sale of much of the Baldwin holdings on former Temple and Workman properties and the Kauffmans picked up large lots in what soon became the town of Baldwin Park, where the two formed the Boulevard Water Company at the offices of the Kauffman Investment firm. Milton also had an interest in a tract in Monrovia, while his father had properties in Los Angeles and as far away as Madera County.

Isaac, standing at the upper left, with the other members of the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, Times, 13 September 1912.

Isaac, who moved with his wife and son Joseph to a handsome residence at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Catalina Street in what is now the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, served on the Los Angeles County Grand Jury in 1912. Milton, who married Maude Shobe and had a son, Max, with her, remained in El Monte, and appears to have guided Temple’s remarkable October 1912 purchase of the 60 acres at the northeast corner of and just adjacent to the Montebello Hills that was formerly owned by Temple’s father before the Baldwin foreclosure.

Temple couldn’t buy the land outright, so a payment schedule was arranged and this was made moot by the astounding discovery y his 9-year old son Thomas in April 1914 of oil on the land (the Baldwin daughters, Anita and Clara, made a bundle on their oil wells on the rest of the hills, not to mention the former Workman and Temple-owned Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles, where huge deposits of crude were found.)

Monrovia News Post, 29 May 1930.

Once Standard Oil of California, now Chevron, brough in the first Temple well in late June 1917, Kauffman became Temple’s “oil broker and manager,” as expressed on his World War I draft registration form. With regard to that terrible conflict, Joseph Kauffman went to battle with the American Expeditionary Force and, just before the war’s end, was killed in the horrific Battle of the Argonne Forest, fought not far west of where his father was born.

To honor Joseph Kauffman, Temple paid for the first private memorial in California dedicated to a service member killed in action during the war and it was dedicated in July 1919 on his oil lease property at Montebello where San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue meet. When Temple’s finances were collapsing, it was decided to move the monument to the park at Temple City, which he, Kauffman, Temple’s attorney George H. Woodruff and Alhambra rancher Sylvester Dupuy, developed. The memorial was rededicated on Memorial Day 1930 and remains at the park today.

Pomona Progress Bulletin, 31 July 1934.

Isaac and Teany Kauffman lived quietly at their Los Angeles home for the remainder of their lives and, when he died in July 1934, the only located mention of his passing came, in of all places, the Pomona Progress Bulletin and its “As We See It” column on the last day of that month by someone known only as “One of Us.” The mystery writer noted:

Back in the days of the horse and buggy, when Pomona people occasionally drove to Los Angeles, they knew their neighbors better than they do today.

En route to Los Angeles, it was often convenient to stop at El Monte and one of the prominent citizens of that city with whom Pomona people got acquainted was Isaac Kauffman, merchant and banker, whose death occurred on Saturday.

Mr. Kauffman was the founder of the First National Bank of El Monte. He did a great deal for that section and for many years was recognized as one of its leading citizens.

By 1934, his son Milton was divorced and his partnership with Temple (who died four years later), dating back almost two decades, was about finished, while his phenomental late-in-life comeback was still nearly fifteen years in the future.

Notably, the Kauffman buildings in downtown El Monte that housed their store and a hotel and retail space on both sides of Main Street (Valley Mall) at Lexington Avenue still stand, as do the nearby structures that Temple constructed for the city’s post office and the Rialto movie theater. These and the Joseph Kaufmann memorial in Temple City Park are the main physical legacies of one of the important Jewish families in the San Gabriel Valley during the early 20th century.

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