Jewish immigrants left Europe for America and the West to find a better way of life. Some came because of the Gold Rush. They sailed from the East Coast to Nicaragua or Panama, and then rode or walked across to the West Coast to catch a boat to Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Often peddlers would walk across the country, stopping to establish what would later become giants in merchandising. For example: in Arizona the Goldwasser or Goldwater Empire.
In 1880, Los Angeles had 280 Jews; San Francisco 20,000. They gave San Francisco the Fleishaker Zoo, Steinhardt Aquarium (the Steinhardt family had lived in SLO), the De Young Museum and the Haas Lilienthal Mansion. Most were from Poland, Russia and Prussia.
The oldest section of the San Luis Obispo Cemetery contains graves of French Jews from Lompoc and Guadalupe (Cerf, Godchaux and Coblentz). Otto Frankfurter, brother of Chief Justice Felix Frankfurter, is buried there.
Jewish life in this area most likely began with the arrival of the Goldtree family in 1858. They soon had branches throughout the area (including our North County, where they established a Wells Fargo Office and published a newspaper). The Goldtrees also deeded 200 acres of land to Union Sugar, on which the company built its famed sugar plant on what later became Betteravia.
In 1849, French Jew Lazare Godchaux bought the Mexican land grant of El Paso de la Robles for ,8,000 on which he and his partner, Daniel Blackburn, raised cattle.
Leopold Frankl, an engineer for General Fremont, opened the first store in San Simeon. Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1818, Frankl founded and named the village of San Simeon in the mid 1870s. He sold Senator Hearst eight leagues of land for ,85,000, land upon which the Hearst Castle now stands.
Generally speaking, once settled in town, Jews generally got involved in fraternal orders and lodges. It gave them an easy access into American life, plus benefits 77 sick visitations, death benefits and because the rituals were based on the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), they felt very much at home.
Most merchants were literate, and were soon involved in city, county and state offices, and set up benevolent societies to help transients and the needy. They brought Mexican land grants, helped start towns and were involved in merchandising, mining, real estate, hotel construction and starting land companies. They established stores in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, and often exchanged partnerships. Goldtree bottles from their wine company are now collectors items.
In the early 1950s, Sam and Jeanette Orenstein of Paso Robles organized the Amity Club. Its purpose was to connect Jews from Paso Robles to Santa Maria socially and religiously. Harry and Tilly Kaplan, Leonard and Alice Goodman, the Berkowitzes, Tibby Meyer and Trudy and Elliott Chern, the Cohens, the Friedmans and Harry Heller were just a few of the local Jewish people involved in the organization.
In the early days of Santa Maria, the town had two hotels, two livery stables, a feed stable and camping yard, while Kreidel and Fleisher, Kaiser and Bros., plus Goodwin and Bryant dominated the mercantile field.
The Blochman home became the site of the Santa Maria Inn. Blochman was multi-talented. He owned a lot of land and experimented with nuts, fruits, vines and orchards, and was one of the first beet sugar growers. He became noted as a weather forecaster.
In the 1890s, Lasare (Lazar) Blochman conducted High Holy Day services, attended by nearly 100 people, at the Masonic Building in San Luis Obispo.
The couple left Santa Maria in 1909 and Blochman, at the age of 59, enrolled as a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in geography and meteorology, and received his teaching certificate, which he never used. He rode his bike around Berkeley, and at the age of 89 he died in a traffic accident in San Francisco.
Joseph Kaiser, cousin of the Blochmans, was a real estate dealer and president of Kaiser Land and Fruit Company. He first came to work as bookkeeper for his brother at the general store of L. M. Kaiser and Company at Guadalupe.
When Kaiser went into business with Blackman & Cerf, the name was changed to Kaiser Land and Fruit Company, with Joseph as president, who had about 2,700 acres of ranch property suitable for farming. Three hundred acres, called Fair Lawn, were subdivided to be sold to settlers. Joseph Kaiser was treasurer of the Santa Maria Stock and Agricultural Assn.
Kaiser Land and Fruit Company turned 300 acres of land, Fair Lawn, into lots for settlers.
As history shows, these Jewish merchants at one time or another were in business together, and there were often marriages between the families.
One of the bright and shining lights in Guadalupe was Harold Rosenblum, an honor student, singer, pianist, banjoist and saxophonist. His brother Bert started the first supermarket in Santa Maria. The family had the first radio station, and a street was named after them. The name was later changed to Sixth Street. Harold was also president of the U.C. Glee Club. He eventually became a heart specialist.
Merchant Samuel Kriedel came to New York City from Austria in 1872. Two years after moving to San Luis Obispo he went to Central City where he engaged in business with Jonas Cassner under the firm name of Cassner and Kriedel, which later became Kriedel and Fleisher.
Mark Fleisher, also born in Austria, came to San Bernardino County at the age of 15, where he began merchandising with his father. After a short stint in Los Angeles, he returned to San Bernardino. In 1872 he was employed with Blochman & Co. of San Luis Obispo as head salesman. After five years, he went to Central City and formed the Kriedel & Fleisher partnership. The upper part of the store was used as a Masonic Hall. The partners prospered and their buildings had to be enlarged twice. Fleisher eventually became president of Union Sugar Company.
Even though they were closer to Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Jewish families often went to San Francisco for shopping and High Holy Days. Travel between towns wasn/t easy, and it wasn/t unusual for them to have to get out and push their coaches up the hills.
The few who stayed in town for the High Holy Days attended services led by Lazare Blochman in the Masonic building. Jewish business people always posted advance announcements in the newspapers that they would be closed at the time of the Holy Days.
It has been said that the first Jewish presence in Lompoc dates back to 1880 with the arrival of Isidore and Hannah Weil. Part of an extended family involved in banking and merchandising, Weill memorial markers with Hebrew inscriptions are in the San Luis Obispo cemetery on lower Higuera Street. Other Lompoc Jews buried there are Emile Levy and his daughter, Marguerite, and Estelle Weill Lehmann.
Isidore Weil was born in Alsace, France. At 17, he enlisted in the War Between the States and served under General Hancock, engaging in sieges in Virginia. After founding Weill and Co. Combination store in Lompoc, Weill was a founder, vice president and manager of the Bank of Lompoc. His nephew, Jules Klein, served there as cashier.
Another Lompoc Jewish business related to this family was Klein and Lehman General Merchandise. Photos of Isidore Weill, Jules Klein and Armand Lehmann are at the Masonic Temple, 262 Fir St. All three served as BMasters of the Lodge.C Other pictures of this family are in the basement of the Lompoc museum.
Hannah Kaiser was born in 1853, and her family included bankers and merchants living in Guadalupe and Santa Maria. She is buried in San Luis Obispo between husband Isidore and brother, Lazarus Meyer.
Several prominent people came from the Lompoc early Jewish community. Maier Weill, the son of Isidore and Hannah Weill, was born in Lompoc in 1887. He was a student at the University of California, and while there made his first stage appearance with Sarah Bernhardt. He appeared in several New York Stage productions and the London Savoy Theatre production of BLawful Larceny.C He took the stage name of Morgan Wallace and was a stage and screen actor and founding member of the Screen Actor/s Guild. He appeared in more than 500 roles in his theatrical career films. He was active later in the USO.
Morgan worked in D. W. Griffith/s silent films in Long Island. His first screen role was in BOrphans of the Storm.C Comedian W. C. Fields is said to have favored Wallace because of his birth in Lompoc, a city Fields loved to use as a comic target.
He was also a director for Keystone Comedies, appearing in WWI USO shows, and was a theater owner. His greatest achievement was as founder and the third member of the Screen Actors Guild. He also served on its board of directors before retiring in 1946.
The Jewish section of the Lompoc Evergreen Cemetery had its first burial in 1980: Frank Fridkin. Others buried there include Betty Bernard, Vivian and Walter Brambir, Francis and Joseph Epstein, Bernard Howard, Florence Kanner, Dr. William Krupkin, Sylvia Kushner Quart, and Arthur, Marcia and Saul Tunic.
The daughter of Jules Klein became the wife of Arthur Freed, president of the motion picture academy of Arts and Sciences, and a songwriter.
Marcelle Estelle Lehman, daughter of Armand Lehman, married Leslie Irving Harris, founder of the Harris Department Store chain, later bought out by Gottschalks. Emile/s wife Hortense was a founder of Lompoc/s Alpha Club, now the Alpha Literary Improvement Club.
Stories about some of these Jewish people who helped create the history of the Santa Maria Valley will appear throughout the two-month period that the Jewish culture exhibit is on display at the Historical Museum.
Many thanks to Emily McGinn from San Luis Obispo who so willingly shared the results of her many years of studying the history of the Jewish people on the Central Coast.
The Santa Maria Valley Historical Society is proud to present a display of local Jewish culture at its museum located at 616 S. Broadway. The exhibit includes artifacts and antiques, photographs and memorabilia dating back to the mid-1870s.
This interesting segment of Santa Maria/s population has a rich and varied history. Several of the items on display are from private collections and will be available for public viewing only during this exhibit. The Historical Society gives special thanks to Jill Targer who organized this event.