Gathering the Sparks of LA’s Jewish Past with Edmon Rodman

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This afternoon, the Homestead was happy to welcome back Edmon Rodman for his third presentation for us, the first two concerning his research on the monument erected by Walter P. Temple for Sgt. Joseph Kauffman, brother of Temple’s business manager and on the celebration of Hanukkah in Los Angeles.

Today’s talk was on Edmon’s growing collection, numbering about 800 items, of artifacts relating to the history of Jews in Los Angeles. We invited him to speak not just about the objects and the persons, places, and events they represented, but also about how he became a collector and what it meant to him personally and as a Jew as he did so.

Edmon and Brenda Rodman modeling jackets from his collection as the talk gets underway.

What we didn’t expect, but were all to happy to see and hear, was a presentation that was part lecture, part show-and-tell, part fashion show and part sing-a-long. Early on, Edmon let the forty or so people in the audience know that this was not going to be a linear and chronological history lesson. Instead, he adeptly shifted among people, business enterprises, religious and social work, sports and much more, with the artifacts the core, but the individuals they represented the heart, of his presentation.

One of the points Edmon made was that there was a good deal of connectivity between his interests and the work we do at the Homestead and this certainly was manifested in a variety of ways during the event. Much of this had to do with the time period as well as the geography of greater Los Angeles.

A receipt card from the Museum’s collection issued in early 1881 by The Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank of Los Angeles, the president of which was Isaias W. Hellman, former partner of William Workman and F.P.F. Temple.

For example, he grew up in Anaheim so an early object he shared was a billhead from Benjamin Dreyfus and we happen to have an 1870 letter, on the letterhead of the United Anaheim Wine-Growers’ Association, written by Dreyfus to William Workman in our collection and featured in a previous post on this blog.

One of the more notable artifacts Edmon discussed was the Certificate of Citizenship he acquired that was for Harris Newmark, one of the most prominent of the first generation of Jews in Los Angeles and one-time owner of the Temple Block in the Angel City’s downtown. Our collection has an 1866 receipt issued by the merchant to Workman—something we’ll share in a few months.

Edmon sharing an image of the Certificate of Citizenship issued to the prominent Los Angeles merchant and community leader Harris Newmark.

Beyond this, Newmark’s 1916 memoir, Sixty Years in Southern California, which is invaluable for those interested in 19th century Los Angeles, was largely put into publication shape by historian J. Perry Worden, who was later hired by Walter P. Temple to write a history of the Workman and Temple family—a project that went unrealized.

The firm of Brownstein-Newmark-Louis, later Brownstein-Louis Company, was also highlighted in the presentation as a prominent clothing firm in the Angel City and the Museum has a pair of real photo advertising postcards showing progress on the construction of the enterprise’s new factory and wholesale house in the summer of 1911. Another major figure Edmon covered with Eugene Germain, whose plant and seed business was very important in the region in the late 19th century and beyond and who was also the subject of a post here.

An 1880s pamphlet, also from the Homestead’s holdings, from the wine department of the fruit company established by Eugene Germain.

A vital source of information for Jewish Los Angeles over many years was the B’nai B’rith Messenger and Edmon discussed the publication and its long-time editor Lionel Louis Edwards. What was quite notable, however, was that this important figure in publishing was also quite a talented painter and Edmon shared a landscape Edwards completed in 1954 not long before he died. The Homestead has several dozen issues of the Messenger in its collection and a couple of these have been shared on this blog with more to come.

Another remarkable item brought to the presentation was a draft drawing of a mural by Hugo Ballin for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, one of the great landmarks of Jewish Los Angeles. The concepts were developed by its influential Rabbi Edgar I. Magnin, who also had a column for years in the Messenger, for Ballin to execute. Of course, it just so happens that a recent post on this blog mentions the work the artist did in 1928 for the Title Insurance Building in downtown Los Angeles, a structure that is still standing and was recently renovated.

Edmon discussing B’nai B’rith Messenger publisher Lionel Louis Edwards, who was also a talented amateur painter with one of his last works on an easel near the speaker.

Edmon talked at some length about the important role several Jews, including Dreyfus, played in the wine industry, which was centered in Los Angeles County until the superior vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties developed. He happened to note that one of the trade cards in his collection was from the partnership of Charles Stern and Leonard J. Rose.

The latter was owner of the Sunny Slope Vineyard and namesake of today’s city of Rosemead, while the former, a Jew, was, before his nine years with Rose, part of the firm of Perkins, Stern and Company from 1860-1876 and, from 1887 went on his own. We have a quartet of 1889 and 1891 letters from Stern that we will have to share in a post here.

A rendering of Hamburger’s mammoth downtown Los Angeles department store from the back of a 1910 sewing machine catalog in the Museum’s collection.

Another connection between Edmon’s collection and the Homestead’s concerns the prominent department store, Hamburger’s, which operated for over four decades with Asher Hamburger and his sons David, Moses and Solomon building up the enterprise from modest origins to having what was said to be the largest such store in the world. A prior post here discussed some of the history of the business, which was sold and became part of the May Company empire in 1923.

One of the most significant figures discussed today was Isaias W. Hellman, a brilliant Jewish merchant who conducted an informal banking operation out of his store (banks were actually illegal in the first California constitution, enacted at the end of 1849) before he teamed with William Workman and F.P.F. Temple to establish Los Angeles’ second bank, Hellman, Temple and Company.

Edmon discussing a mural by Hugo Ballin in the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, including the finished work at the bottom and a draft rendering that Edmon owns and brought with him (partly shown at the lower left corner.)

Opened in September 1868, just months after the city’s first bank, Hayward and Company, was launched, the bank seemed to be a perfect fit and, Temple and Workman should have let Hellman manage the institution and enjoy the benefits, but Temple wanted more of an active role and Hellman dissolved the partnership early in 1871. He formed Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank with former governor John G. Downey (partner in Hayward and Company), while Temple and Workman went on their own, to tragic results frequently discussed in this blog.

Notably, Edmon talked about Hellman’s long-standing partnership with his brother Herman, but this went badly awry in 1901 when Isaias’ hand-picked managing cashier, Henry J. Fleishman, fled to South America with somewhere between $100,000 and $300,000 of Farmers’ and Merchants’ money. The fiasco fractured the relationship between the siblings, with Herman forming his own bank and building a substantial business building that has been featured here.

One of a quartet of action photos from the Homestead’s holdings and dated March 1911 showing Los Angeles Fire Department personnel battling a blaze in the Fred J. Byrne Building, in which Myer, Siegel and Company was located

Another important business discussed in today’s talk was that of Myer, Siegel and Company and, not long ago, Edmon mentioned to me that he’d acquired a photo of the firm’s downtown store, noting that it was the victim of a 1911 fire that consumed much of the F.J. Byrne Building where it was located. It just so happens that the Homestead collection has a quartet of dramatic photos of Los Angeles Fire Department personnel fighting that blaze—which we will obviously have to share here in a future post.

With most of our regional history prior to 1930 dominated by men (white men, at that), it can often be challenging to find examples of women making their mark in public life and, with this being Women’s History Month, Edmon was sure to highlight a few examples. A prominent one was Lillian Burkhart Goldsmith, who had an extensive stage career, but who, among her many accomplishments, was also a writer and director of pageants in Los Angeles. One of these was for the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the Mission San Gabriel and members of the Temple family had roles in her work, as noted in a blog on that event.

Edmon talking about the stage actor, writer and director Lillian Burkhart Goldsmith.

Another female figure of note was from the world of sports, this being Lillian Copeland. A native of New York who lived in Boyle Heights, the center of Jewish Los Angeles in the early 20th century, Copeland attended Los Angeles High School and then the University of Southern California and was a star in basketball, tennis and track-and-field.

By the mid-1920s, she gained regional renown for her performances with the discus and shot put (as well as the javelin) and, in the 1928 Olympic Games at Amsterdam, she won the silver medal in the discus. She topped this, however, with a gold medal and world record in the discus—her final throw being the winning toss. Copeland was later inducted in the United States Track and Field Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame—more about her can be found in this post on our blog.

One of four letters from the Museum’s collection, dating to 1889 and 1891, from wine merchant Charles Stern, formerly a partner of Leonard J. Rose of the San Gabriel Valley’s Sunny Slope Ranch.

Other women of note mentioned were the actors Carmel Myers and Alla Nazimova and the prominent leader of the Municipal Art Commission, Rachel Kauffman. There were some objects that Edmon did not get to allude to or cover in much detail, including, among others, the Capitol Milling Company, which was formed in 1838 by merchant Abel Stearns and then Jewish-owned from about 1890 onward and the building of which still stands today in that Chinatown section.

At the end of the presentation, however, Edmon led the assemblage in a sing-along of one verse of the California state song (how many of you knew there was one?) called “I Love You, California.” It was written in 1913 by Canadian Francis B. Silverwood, a prominent Angel city clothier who penned the lyrics, and Abraham F. Frankenstein, a Jew from Chicago who was a conductor for the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra and orchestra director for the Orpheum Theatre. The singing of our state song was an excellent way to end the afternoon and it was also fun to have Edmon and his wife Brenda occasionally model hats, jackets and other clothing items from his collection, all from Jewish-owned businesses.

2 thoughts

  1. Hi Paul. I have long proposed that someone write a history of Jews in LA and environs. Newmark’s is the only one that I can think of. People should know how large the Jewish contribution to the growth of LA and environs was. Is there a newer book that I cannot find? Is anyone working on this? Thanks, and thanks for the daily history as well, Ion

  2. Hi Ion, thanks for your comment and support of the blog. Vorspan and Gartner’s 1970 book is one to note and Karen Wilson wrote one in 2013 to accompany an Autry Museum exhibit. There is also Neil Sandberg’s 1986 work, Jewish Life in Los Angeles, while an Arcadia Images of America volume came out a few years back. These are some that come to mind, but others seeing these comments might have others to share?

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