The Journal of San Diego History
San Diego Historical Society Quarterly
July 1959, Volume 5, Number 3
Jerry Macmullen, Editor

90 Years in San Diego -- The Story of Klauber Wangenheim Co.

By Allan S. Klauber

Abraham Klauber came to San Diego in 1869. The first written record of his move from Carson City, Nevada, is the recorded deed from A. E. Horton to Lots K and L in Block 113 of Horton's Addition and is dated March 30, 1869. It was recorded on April 3, 1869 at the request of Judge Tyson in the office of G. H. Pendleton, County Recorder. The land is located on the southwest corner of Sixth and Island Avenues and today, 90 years later, on it stands part of the warehouse of Klauber Wangenheim Co.

Steiner and Klauber
Where it Started, 90 Years Ago
Wagon-ruts and mud in downtown San Diego

The business established by Abraham Klauber and Samuel Steiner on the lots purchased from Alonzo Horton was first operated as Steiner and Klauber. Originally, it was a retail store, but within two years, it conducted both wholesale and retail operations. This is evidenced by the earliest business record which has been preserved in the extensive archives of the firm. This record is a photostatic copy of a statement of account of the firm against William H. Storm. The heading of the statement is revealing as to the nature of the business. It lists the lines of merchandise as groceries, liquors, tobacco, cigars, dry goods, clothing, boots, shoes, hardware and farming implements. All accounts were payable in "U. S. Gold Coin" and interest was charged at the rate of 2 percent per month on overdue accounts.

The early days of the business saw a number of changes of location, all within a few blocks of the original place of business. However, the firm held title to its first site purchased from Horton.

The business was operated as a partnership for the 26 years from 1869 to 1895 with various changes in the partnership structure listed. For instance, the San Diego Union of February 24, 1876, reported, "We publish this morning the announcement of a change in the firm name of the old and popular mercantile house of Steiner and Klauber. Hereafter it will be Steiner, Klauber & Co., the 'Co.' being represented by Mr. Simon Levi who has just entered the firm." On October 1, 1883, Mr. Steiner retired and the name of the partnership was changed to Klauber and Levi.

After serving in San Francisco as a buyer for the firm, Abraham Klauber returned to San Diego with his family in 1886 and moved to a house on the northeast corner of 30th and E Streets, affectionately known to the residents there as "Coyoteville." After the death of Mrs. Abraham Klauber in 1921, "Coyoteville" was sold. During World War II the building was remodelled into a large number of small flats and still stands in that condition.

Business was extremely difficult in the late 1880s after the boom of 1886 burst. Melville Klauber, the oldest son of the firm's founder, had become active in the management of the organization. He and his brother Edgar moved from the family home to the Florence Hotel (later called the Casa Loma Hotel) which occupied the entire block bounded by Third, Fourth, Fir, and Grape, Streets. The move made it possible for Melville and Edgar Klauber to work longer hours as they could avoid the time-consuming buggy rides twice daily from 30th and E Streets to their office. In those times a business day lasted as long as twelve to fourteen hours, and consisted of three sessions - morning, afternoon, and after dinner in the evening. There was no time for recreation until Saturday nights and Sundays.

The business changed from wholesale and retail to strictly wholesale. The last vestige of the retail business disappeared when the retail liquor license (package store, "No Bar") was sold in 1916, just before prohibition. Although the sale was made for business reasons rather than moral scruples, it nevertheless elicited a congratulatory letter from George W. Marston to Melville Klauber.

After the panic of 1893, the introduction of new capital into the firm by Julius Wangenheim (son-in-law of Abraham Klauber) was most welcome. Mr. Wangenheim became a partner in the business. The partners then were Abraham Klauber, Henry Epstein (his brother in law), Melville Klauber, Simon Levi, and Julius Wangenheim. In 1895 the business was incorporated with, these partners listed as the original incorporators. Two years later Simon Levi sold his interest and formed his own business.

After weathering the difficult days of the 90s, Klauber Wangenheim Co. embarked on a period of expansion and opened a branch in Los Angeles. This was under the management of Edgar Klauber, the second son of the founder. The branch prospered for many years but after Edgar's retirement became unprofitable and was liquidated in 1954.

In 1920 the company purchased the corporate stock of Delta Mercantile Co. of El Centro, California. The business assets of that wholesale grocery firm were taken over by Klauber Wangenheim Co. and the acquired corporation dissolved. The Delta name is still in use to designate the branch which is successfully operated in that area.

Abraham Klauber died in 1911 and was succeeded as president of the company by his son, Melville. In addition to Melville and Edgar, a third son, Hugo, was engaged for many years in the business in San Diego. When Melville Klauber died in 1932, he was succeeded by Hugo as president of the firm. With Hugo's passing in 1935 the writer became president of Klauber Wangenheim Co.

Following his graduation from Stanford University in 1927, the writer had a brief training period with Sussman Wormser Co., in San Francisco. There he learned about the wholesale cash and carry business, at that time a relatively new innovation in the grocery field. As a result Klauber Wangenheim Co. developed this type of outlets and now operates seven wholesale cash and carry branches throughout San Diego City and County.

Klauber Wangenheim Co. this year celebrates its 90th anniversary of operation under the majority ownership of the descendants of the founder. In commemoration of the event a thirty-two page booklet, containing reproductions of many early photographs has been prepared. The artwork in the booklet was created by Amy Josephine Klauber Wormser, granddaughter of the founder, and most of the modern photography is the work of his great-grandson, Laurence K. Wormser. Copies of the booklet have been set aside for the first one hundred members of the San Diego History Center who write a letter or post card to Allan Klauber, P. 0.Box 1911., San Diego 12, requesting a copy.


PIONEER BUSINESS FIRMS TO BE HONORED

As "New San Diego" approaches its 100th anniversary, more and more San Diego business firms are celebrating important milestones in their years of service to the community. Typical of these is Klauber Wangenheirn Co., which celebrates their 90th anniversary this year. Through the kindness of Allan S. Klauber, this issue of the Quarterly features the interesting history of the Klauber Wangenheim Co.

In future issues the histories of other long-time San Diego firms will be related.