by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As noted a couple of days ago in the post about the newly acquired 1874 billhead of Workman and Brother (Elijah and William H.) and their Workman Brothers saddlery and harness business on Main Street in Los Angeles, the seller of the document accidentally sent another instead, but, because it was of the same era and is tied to an 1873 billhead in the Museum’s collection from Solomon Lazard’s firm previously featured in this blog, it was purchased, as well.
This item is a mid-January 1876 billhead from the successor firm to Lazard’s that of his former partner, Eugene Meyer (1842-1925), a notable figure in the Angel City for about a quarter century before he went to important work in the financial worlds in San Francisco and New York City. He was born in Strasbourg, a city in northeastern France in the oft-disputed Alsace-Lorraine region on the Rhine River border with Germany to Sephora Loeb and Isaac Meyer, a rabbi whose father also was a rabbi.
Eugene, after his father’s death in 1859, migrated to the United States and went briefly to San Francisco where he worked in the store of Simon Lazard. Shortly afterward, Meyer relocated to Los Angeles and entered the employ of Lazard’s cousin, Solomon, who owned a store with his cousin and brother-in-law Maurice Kremer. After Kremer left the enterprise, Meyer stepped in as half-partner with his brother Constant later joining, and, in February 1874, Lazard bowed out and this left the Meyer brothers owners of what was rebranded as Le Ville de Paris or the City of Paris store, the finest in town.
Eugene was, from his early twenties, active in many areas of Angel City business, religious and social life. During a mining boom in the region during the mid-1860s, he was secretary of mining companies operating in San Gabriel Canyon and the high desert area of San Bernardino County. When the private Los Angeles City Water Company was organized in 1868, Meyer was secretary and remained in that position for several years. Three years later, he and his brother and Lazard formed the Mountain Base Canal Company, which intended to tap water coming out of Sawpit Canyon above what became the city of Monrovia.
Meyer was one of the operators, with former governor John G. Downey and nursery owner and real estate developer Ozro W. Childs, of the Aliso Flour Mill, which produced its product out of a three-story brick building on Aliso Street east of Alameda and not far from the landmark sycamore tree that gave the thoroughfare, a main east-bound route out of town, its name. A July 1874 fire consumed the structure and a few months later Meyer sold his one-third interest to the prominent banker Isaias W. Hellman.
At the end of 1874, Meyer joined Childs and Downey and others in forming the Los Angeles City Homestead Association, which subdivided lots at the south end of town, a full one-and-a-half miles from downtown, at Washington Boulevard and Figueroa Street, for sale several months later. This was at a time when F.P.F. Temple and associates were establishing the Centinela townsite and the towns of Artesia, Pomona and San Fernando were under development or soon would be as greater Los Angeles hit the peak of a boom that began several years prior.
Befitting his role as a business figure of note, Meyer was a director of the first Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce of which Lazard was president and Meyer’s brother-in-law, attorney Myer J. Newmark was a fellow director. Though the chamber folded, Meyer was a leader, in 1883, in forming the Los Angeles Board of Trade, which then dissolved and the current Chamber of Commerce replaced it.
His interest in development of infrastructure in Los Angeles included his role in major transportation projects. He was involved, with F.P.F. Temple and other community leaders, in meetings in 1872 concerning the Southern Pacific Railroad’s building of lines to and from Los Angeles. In early 1874, he became a director of the first streetcar line built in town, the Spring and Sixth Street Railway, the president of which was Robert M. Widney and the treasurer of which was F.P.F. Temple. At the end of that year, he joined Temple, who was founding president, in a committee of subscriptions for the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad project.
Among his many social activities, Meyer was a member of the International Order of Odd Fellows, along with Elijah H. Workman and many others; president of the French Benevolent Society; vice-president of the French Democratic Club; an active member of the Southern District Agricultural Association, which, for several years, held fairs that were precursors to the current Los Angeles County Fair. For Bastile Day, a key holiday for the French-born residents of Los Angeles, he was an organizer of annual events and also helped work on Independence Day celebrations.
In the tight-knit Jewish community, he was a leader of the Congregation B’nai B’rith and, when the cornerstone was dedicated in August 1873 for the town’s first purpose-built synagogue, Meyer was present as a trustee of the congregation, which included Hellman as president, Meyer’s father-in-law, Joseph Newmark, as vice-president and Kremer as treasurer, while fellow trustees were Bernard Cohn and Elias Laventhal, whose daughter was the mother of Walter P. Temple’s business manager, Milton Kauffman.
In November 1867, Meyer married Harriet Newmark (Joseph’s daughter and Myer’s sister while Harriet’s sisters Matilda and Caroline were married to Kremer and Lazard, respectively, showing how interconnected the early Jewish residents of the Angel City were) with the wedding reception held at the Bella Union Hotel (later the Cosmopolitan and the St. Charles) and the Los Angeles News reported that “the music was unequalled, and the refreshments would have done credit to even a Delmonico,” this last referring to a well-known restaurant, and the paper concluded that the event “was one of the most elegant that ever took place in this city.”
With respect to Meyer’s store, it reopened in late March 1874 after the acquisition from Lazard, and the Los Angeles Express reported
Among the other attractions which our city possesses, and one which is so prominent that it is noticed by nearly all the new-comers, is the magnificent store, “The City of Paris,” owned by Eugene Meyer & Co. There is not a similar establishment in San Jose, Sacramento or Stockton that will bear comparison with this store, either for size or elegance. We have seen them all and know whereof we write.
Advertisements were frequently a full column and the enterprise was innovative in promoting seasonal changes in merchandise, especially fashions and other goods marketed for the women of Los Angeles. The Express of 14 October 1874 opined that the store “both in business appearance and in the magnificence, variety and extent of its stock, would adorn the fashionable emporium street of any capital.”
The City of Paris was an ancestor of such later famous mercantile institutions like The Broadway, Bullock’s, Robinson’s and many others and the paper added that, since Meyer and his brother took over from Lazard, they “have kept up the high reputation of this old established headquarters of taste and fashion.” It went on to suggest that the fall and winter inventory was “the richest and most extensive ever brought to this city” and concluded that “every man, woman and child in Los Angeles knows as well as we do” that the store “is the place to buy first-class goods at the lowest market rates.”
For a few months in spring and summer 1875, Meyer traveled in Europe and, while in Paris, invested large sums in purchasing goods for his store. He arrived home on 22 August, just two days before a financial panic erupted in San Francisco that followed telegraph wires down to Los Angeles, with the result that the Temple and Workman bank collapsed, furnishing the first major business failure in the city’s history.
When the billhead featured here was written up, it was just a couple of days after the bank closed its doors and, while the next several years, were tough ones for the economy of greater Los Angeles, the City of Paris continued to operate. In fact, Meyer’s business acumen was so well-understood and appreciated that, in 1883, he was lured to San Francisco to run both the mercantile enterprise of Lazard Freres and its London, Paris and American bank. The City of Paris was sold and lasted about another fifteen years.
After a decade in the north, Meyer was given another assignment and headed to New York City, where during the Panic of 1893, he was instrumental in assisting in the flow of gold to the United States Treasury from France, which had received large shipments of the precious metal in previous years due to the agency of Lazard Freres and Meyer.
He continued his work in the Big Apple until his retirement at the dawn of the 20th century and lived almost another quarter century, dying in January 1925 just days prior to his 83rd birthday. Notably, an obituary in the Express, in addition to mentioning his mercantile work in Los Angeles, observed that “Meyer took an active part as a member of the vigilance committee here,” though it did not say when this occurred.
Meyer and Harriet Newmark had eight children, including a son who died in the sinking of the Titanic, with their son, Eugene, Jr. becoming a prominent financier including stints as chair of the Federal Reserve and the founding president of the World Bank. In 1933, the junior Meyer purchased the Washington Post and ran it until he took the reins of the World Bank, at which time he turned over management to his son-in-law Philip Graham. After Graham’s suicide in the 1960s, Eugene Jr.’s daughter, Katherine, took over the reins and, as a rare woman publisher, guided the Post through such vital periods as the reporting on Watergate by the paper’s investigate reporters, Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward.
This billhead is another great recent addition to the Homestead’s collection as a representation of 1870s Los Angeles and its commerce, as well as for its reference to Eugene Meyer, one of the most prominent figures in the city during the 1860s, 1870s and part of the 1880s and among the leaders of its small but vital and growing Jewish community.