The Blochman Saga in San Diego

 

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The legend emblazoned on the backs of their dark green jackets read: "San Diego Wheelmen." In 1975, the young men were pedaling up Sixth Avenue without fear of scratches. But in 1889, when Abraham Blochman was president of the "Wheelmen," he worked for the passage of an ordinance "to trim the trees along the streets to clear the heads of bicycle riders."1 It was a typical Blochman gesture. When there was an opportunity to improve the quality of life, Abraham Blochman did something about it. It was part of the family tradition. Early in 1848 his widowed mother, Caroline, had boarded a windjammer with her brood of three boys and four girls to journey from Le Havre to New Orleans. It took courage to leave France. Both she and her husband, Lazar, had been born there. But she responded to the urging of an older daughter, Eva, who had married an American and thought life better in the United States.2

Abraham was thirteen when the family set sail. He had been born October 4, 1834, at Ingenheim, in the province of Alsace, France, where he received a good common school education, plus instruction in Hebrew and Judaism. When the family was settled in Memphis, Tennessee, Abraham traveled across the Mississippi to the little town of Helena, Arkansas, where he taught French, studied English and clerked in the general store. In October 1851, the gold fields of California beckoned.3

It was a difficult journey. Back to a port city—whether New Orleans or Mobile is a question. Then to Havana to intercept a steamer from New York to Chagres, the Colombian port at the mouth of the Chagres River, 14 miles southwest of Colon. Transportation across the Isthmus being expensive, Abraham and some fellow passengers traveled up the river in small boats. The last two days of the journey were made on foot, hiking through torrential rains to the City of Panama. There, laid low by malaria, Abraham missed his steamship to California.4

"If you stay here, you'll die," warned a doctor. So Abraham boarded the next vessel up the coast—an unseaworthy old schooner, the Tryphena, whose captain was a drunkard. After twenty-eight days at sea, when the water casks were nearly empty and the food worm-eaten, a vigilance committee took over to ration supplies. For six days passengers and crew survived on one glass of water and one glass of flour per day until a passing steamer directed them to an island to replenish their casks and larder. When, at long last, the Tryphena hove to outside of San Diego, the captain refused to enter the bay. The night was dark and fires on the shore convinced him that hostile Indians awaited them. Courage returned with the dawn and his exhausted passengers finally disembarked. It was late February, 1852.5

Abraham Blochman hardly lingered long enough in his future hometown to get his land legs. Within a few days, when the steamer Seabird sailed for San Francisco, he was aboard. From San Francisco, he traveled to Sacramento to visit his brother, Lazar. (When Lazar died later, in the Sierras, he was packed down to Sacramento on muleback so he could be buried in a Jewish cemetery.)6

In May 1852, Abraham began an unprofitable, six-year career in the goldfields: placer mining at the Yuba River; mining and storekeeping in Cedarville. "They called Placerville 'Hangtown' then," he often told his grandson.

Success began in the fall of 1858 with a general merchandise store in San Luis Obispo, the first of a chain of eight stores eventually headquartered in San Francisco. Success also meant being president of the Oakland Jute Factory, a director of the Pioneer, Pacific and Mission Woolen Mills, a vice president of the French Savings Bank of San Francisco and holding large interests in cattle and sheep ranches. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States, May 6, 1861.7

At thirty, it was time for so well-established a Californian to take a wife. On January 25, 1865, Abraham Blochman married Marie Mathilde Sarassin, a native of France. Like other great European Jewish families—the Montefiores, the Rothschilds, the Sassoons—the Sarassins boasted a family crest. Marie's father, Leopold Sarassin, noted for his wit and scholarship, had become bored with his commercial successes in Alsace. He moved to Paris where he directed the learned lectures of the Society for Talmudic Studies. Family legend has it that the heraldic symbol—a lion rampant, the Star of David, the star and crescent of the Near Eastern Saracens, and a large letter "A" (perhaps for Alsace}—was suggested by the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph with whom Sarassin read the Talmud.8

Riding atop his own financial wave, Sarassin's son-in-law, Abraham Blochman, spent the year 1871 traveling in Europe with his wife and three children. But financial disaster followed their return to California in 1872: a defaulting manager in Anaheim; unfortunate speculations in wool in San Francisco; in lime, in Santa Cruz; the loss of 3,000 head of cattle in the drought of 1875-76. In 1881 Abraham Blochman moved to San Diego—dead broke—but with good friends to back him.9

After the glamor of Europe and the sophistication of San Francisco, the Blochmans found San Diego a sleepy little town. It was June of 1881 before a few gas street lights were turned on and the thirteen original subscribers did not get their telephones until June, 1882.

Although designated a "city," San Diego did nothing much about its streets. They were dust-filled when dry and muddy when the rains came. The 3,000 residents were pinning their hopes for growth on a railroad to the East. Leading San Diegans, who were in the East to plead with the railroad tycoons, received desperate letters from the folks back home. "People are leaving every day," they wrote. "If you do not succeed in getting a railroad, in less than one year not 500 people will be left in the City of San Diego."10

Despite the pervading pessimism, Abraham Blochman found a business partner, Soloman S. Smith. On March 16, 1882, they inserted a confident display advertisement in the San Diego Sun. "Look Out for the Engine," read the 14-point bold type. "When the bell rings Blochman and Smith beg leave to announce to the people of San Diego and vicinity that hereafter they can be found in the New Brick Store, corner of Fifth and I (now Island) Streets." Following a paragraph assuring their patrons of square dealing and honest effort, the bold type continued: "Strangers coming here to dwell among us should BEAR IN MIND that they can get as good bargains at the wholesale and retail store of Blochman & Smith as at any house south of San Francisco. This is the plain, unvarnished truth.... We have put this announcement in big type as we don't want to ruin the eyesight of our patrons. We want them to examine the fine stock of goods and not be deceived...."11

Along with his commercial experience, Abraham Blochman brought a social awareness to San Diego, a commitment to public service—for the city in general and for the Jewish community in particular commitments shared by his wife, Marie, and instilled in their children.

There were eight children, three of whom died in early childhood. Most of the Blochman progeny were given names that reflected their parents' native France. The five who grew up in San Diego were Lucien, Jeanne, Andree, Cora and Mina (with only one "n").12

The Jews of San Diego established a Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1871. Beyond that, the city had no organized charities when the Blochman family arrived in 1881. But on the fraternal level, Masonic Lodge #35 had been conducting its work for thirty years. As Abraham Blochman had become a Master Mason during his mining days, he soon became active in the San Diego Lodge. It was an affiliation he cherished throughout his long life. Before his death he requested that his Masonic Apron be buried with him. His son, son-in-law and grandsons followed him into San Diego's Masonic Order.13

On January 5, 1886, the San Diego Union reported, "A meeting to organize a congregation of Israelites held at Eintracht Hall (Fifth between H—now Market—and G Sts.) Sunday afternoon. A permanent organization was effected with the following officers: Marcus Schiller, president; A. Blochman, vice president; Charles Wolfsheimer, secretary; S. Levi, treasurer." Abraham Blochman succeeded to the presidency following Marcus Schiller's death in 1904 and held the position until 1909 when he retired because of old age. A stained glass window, dedicated to Abraham Blochman, now helps light the sanctuary in Temple Beth Israel, Third and Laurel Streets14

Before the end of 1886, Marie (Mrs. A.) Blochman, had set up a religious school for the congregation. Following the 1887 Rosh Hashonah (New Year) service, the San Diego Union reported, "The members of the Sunday School, under the direction of Mrs. Blochman, sang the old Hebrew anthem, 'En Kelohenu'."15

But it was the enthusiastic Jewish life of the four years preceding the formal organization of the congregation that was most warmly remembered by the Blochman's son, Lucien. Born in San Francisco, November 11, 1865, he was a teen-ager when he arrived in San Diego with his family in 1881. His fondest recollections were of the city in the years before the "big boom" of the late 1880's—before plans for the building of a Temple could even be considered.

"... Those were the days," Lucien later wrote in his reminiscences, "when all the Jews of San Diego were united by a bond that made them one great family ... no cliques, no mutual admiration bunch, not even a rabbi, but all were Jews, all were friends, everyone was ready and willing to help the other ... those Purim parties where we danced the good old waltzes and polkas, and, after the dancing came the eats, and such eats! The platters piled up with turkey and duck and chicken, and those salads and the home-made cakes ... everyone vied with the other to see who could make the best ....16

During this period, worship was conducted primarily on the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur) when, the reminiscences continue, "the Jews of the town gathered together in some hall. Joe Manasse furnished his Torah and Marcus Schiller and Louis Mendelson read the prayers. A. Blochman, Simon Levi, Rudolph Schiller and others assisted .... "17

When there was no rabbi in the city, both before and after the 1886 boom, Abraham Blochman read the burial service. On Rosh Hashonah morning, October 2, 1894, he delivered what the San Diego Union described as "an interesting sermon."18

In addition to their activities in the Jewish community, the Blochmans permitted no neglect of their French cultural heritage nor evasion of their responsibilities as American citizens. Abraham Blochman served as San Diego's acting French consul for thirty years, from his second year of residency, 1882, through 1912. In 1892, he was elected a director of the San Diego Board of Trade. He was one of nine aldermen elected at large in the city and served from 1893 through 1898. His son, Lucien, was elected alderman from the Third Ward on the Republican ticket in 1897 and, again, in 1905. Altogether Lucien served six years on San Diego's City Council.19

Earlier, during the lean years, two of the Blochman daughters, Mina and Jeanne, had been sent to Paris to live with their mother's wealthy sister, Aunt Palmyre, and to enjoy the advantages of a French education. Aunt Palmyre was enchanted with the girls and wanted to adopt them. But Marie Blochman wanted her daughters back. They returned to San Diego in time to help organize and participate in The Jewish Fair, scheduled from February 25 through March 2, 1889, for the benefit of the Synagogue Building Fund. Despite the fluent French and perfect Parisian accents of Mina and Jeanne, their names were quickly Americanized for the Fair's printed Daily Programme. It lists the chairman of the Gypsy Booth as Miss Minnie Blochman, and the Oriental Refreshments, handled by Rebecca at the Well, as impersonated by Miss Jennie Blochman.20

The Fair, held at Armory Hall, 924 Second Street, between D (now Broadway) and E, was a huge success, both socially and financially. Not only did it raise $1,500, a significant portion of the cost of erecting the first synagogue, known as the Beech St. Temple (the building still stands at the corner of Second), but it increased the already strong relationship between Congregation Beth Israel and the Christian community. The whole city turned out to enjoy the entertainment, the dancing and the wonderful food.21

The Fair Daily Programme carried a substantial number of local advertisements. Among them was an ad for "M. Blochman & Son, Dealers in Groceries, Liquers & General Merchandise, located in Backesto's New Block 618 - 624 Fifth St." The "M" stood for Marie Blochman. Despite the confident ad the firm ran upon its opening, the partnership of Blochman and Smith had dissolved in bankruptcy. The new enterprise was established in 1884 in Marie's name. Marie continued to be a partner in her husband's commercial ventures—at least on paper—for many years. The "son" in the firm's name was the Blochmans' boy, Lucien, who, in addition to business obligations, managed to join his sisters in their many social activities.22

In 1888, the Misses Blochman had founded the "Clionian Society." Its first event was a "Pink Domino Ball."

"Our new society, the ‘Clionian' is now in full blast," Lucien Blochman reported to the editor of the Jewish Progress of San Francisco, who published the account March 9, 1888. "We have had our Domino Purim Ball, and the little world in which we scintillate and have our being is satisfied. It took place last Sunday evening (Purim) and everything passed off with great eclat ..."23

Lucien also directed a play later that year. The San Diego Union of October 15, 1888 reviews a performance of "A Lover's Stratagem," directed by L. A. Blochman, presented by the Clionian Club before a select audience at Odd Fellows Hall. Lucien and his sister, Mina, were also members of the cast. (The "Hall" housing the performance had been built jointly by the Odd Fellows and the Masons in 1882 on H Street (now Market) between Fifth and Sixth. Today it houses the San Diego Ballet Co.)24

One year earlier, in 1887, Lucien had become a charter member of the Eduard Lasker Lodge #370 of B'nai B'rith renamed the Henry Weinberger Lodge in 1956. Reminiscing for a Lasker Lodge Fiftieth Anniversary publication, The Yoval, Lucien Blochman wrote:

"From a village of 3,500, San Diego, in a short period, grew to a town of 30,000.

Those were the boom days. Lodging houses, built in three or four days, provided shelter in wooden-partitioned shacks, lighted by candles. All was rush and confusion. Many of our coreligionists, with no place to go, were glad to be able to join in meeting others of their faith and thus started a prosperous lodge. The wives and families also were glad to join in many social gatherings and so to meet the other strangers in a strange land.... "25

Lucien gave equally of his time, talent and energy to the larger community. In 1902, he was elected the second Commodore of the San Diego Yacht Club founded in 1886. His flagship Haidee, (named for the girl he married) was a deep-keeled schooner made over from a navy barge of the largest size. He enjoyed boating. But, according to the 1975 Club historian, Lucien A. Blochman was not a man to be satisfied with mediocrity. The Club's program moved ahead slowly. Too slowly. He left within the year to found and become Commodore of the Corinthian Yacht Club—a more aggressive organization which had a lively social, sailing and cruising program.26

The Corinthians had 100 members with a small building at the foot of D St. (now Broadway) for a clubhouse. Dues were 50c per month and the club was soon in financial difficulties. Meanwhile, the San Diego Yacht Club, although harbored several miles away at Ballast Point, found itself in the same boat. Lucien Blochman spearheaded a merger of the two clubs in 1905. The name, "San Diego Yacht Club," was adopted for the merger but the Corinthian Clubhouse was retained, as was its burgee, a red star on a white field with a blue border, designed by Commodore Blochman. Dues were raised to $1.00 per month and financial problems were washed out to sea.27

In 1902, the Corinthian Club had instructed Commodore Blochman to address the distinguished Scottish yachtsman, Sir Thomas Lipton, on the subject of providing a trophy for San Diego. So delicately did Lucien broach the matter that Sir Thomas replied he wasn't clear as to whether he was being asked only to lend his name or to provide the trophy itself. He assured the San Diegans he would be glad to comply in either capacity. The latter, of course, being what was in mind, Lucien thanked Sir Thomas on that basis and in 1903 the magnificent cup arrived. The Lipton Cup now belongs to the Southern California Yachting Association and is vied for by many clubs. In 1975, it is on display in the San Diego Yacht Club Trophy Room off Anchorage Lane in Point Loma.28

On November 27, 1893, Abraham and his son, Lucien organized the Blochman Banking Company with a paid-in capital of $10,000. Abraham's second commercial enterprise in San Diego—the general merchandise store known as M. Blochman & Son, at the southeast corner of Fifth and H Streets, (now called Fifth Avenue and Market Street)—had prospered. The proprietors extended credit to many sheep raisers. When the ranchers sold their lambs and wool in the spring, they would leave a large amount of their funds with the Blochmans and draw cash or supplies as needed. There was also considerable mining of gold in San Diego County and the miners offered gold dust and bars in payment for supplies. The gold was then shipped to the San Francisco mint and final settlement was made when the proceeds were received.

There was such a volume of this business that Abraham Blochman—recalling his experience as manager and vice president of the French Bank in San Francisco, and his son's brief stint as assistant cashier of the Commercial Bank of San Luis Obispo decided to open a private bank. At that time, private banks were permitted under the law.29 In describing the Blochman Banking Company, Clarence A. McGrew's chronicle of prominent San Diegans states: "The fine reputation built up in the process of years for financial integrity and judgment gave prestige to the bank and it was one of the largest and strongest private banking institutions in Southern California. For a quarter of a century it was one of the most important banks in San Diego."30

Earlier, in 1908, historian William E. Smythe wrote: "This institution transacts banking in all its branches and is the only bank in Southern California which draws directly on the City of Mexico, Guadalajara, Guaymas, Mazatlan, Ensenada and other Lower California points. A number of Los Angeles banks transact their Mexican business through the Blochman Banking Company. The Company owns a substantial building at 635 Fifth St."31

Despite its major reputation, the staff of the Blochman Banking Company consisted, for many years, only of Abraham, president; Lucien A., cashier; Paul Kelley, teller; and a bookkeeper.32

Paul C. Kelley, who, nearly half-a-century later, served as a vice president of San Diego's Security First National Bank, was first employed as a messenger at the Blochman Bank, October 1, 1906. "1 became intimately acquainted with the Blochmans," Mr. Kelley stated in a letter to a Blochman descendant. "I was treated by them, not as an employee, but as a member of the family." During his tenure as teller, Paul Kelley's salary was raised from $60 to $65 per month.33

In 1912, the State Bank Act made it necessary to increase the company's capital. To do this, an interest was sold to J. A. Heap, who, according to the memory of a Blochman grandson, was "a kindly old gent who had spent most of his life with a British Bank in Guaymas." The State Banking Laws, which required the Blochmans to let in outside capital, were, in part, written by Lucien Blochman, who was an active and articulate member of the State and National Bankers' Associations. He was one of the authors of the California Bank Examiner System, regarded by authorities as one of the best acts of banking legislation in the United States.34

In 1913 private banks were no longer permitted to operate in California. It became necessary to incorporate as a State Chartered Bank with a minimum paid-in capital of $250,000—an amount neither the Blochmans nor Mr. Heap could furnish. When stock was sold to a group of outsiders called W. S. Dorland and Associates, Abraham Blochman retired. The successor bank, named "Blochman Commercial and Savings Bank of San Diego," was organized August 14, 1913, with Lucien A., president; J. A. Heap, vice president, and W. S. Dorland, cashier. In 1917, Blochman and Heap sold their stock to Dorland and Associates. More mergers and name changes followed. The institution is now known as the Security Pacific National Bank.35

The Blochman name had been erased from the title of banking operations but not its influence. Back in 1885, Abraham Blochman had called a meeting of leading San Diegans to organize a different type of financial venture. Reproductions of the handwritten minutes of that first meeting have been used by the San Diego Savings and Loan Association—with "Federal" now added to its name—as advertisements to mark milestone birthdays, including its 90th, celebrated in July, 1975.

"The group," states the minutes, "was called to order by A. Blochman who explained the object of the meeting. On motion, Bryant Howard was elected chairman and George B. Hensley, secretary." Abraham Blochman was appointed to the committee charged with preparing the articles of incorporation. He served as president of the San Diego Savings and Loan Association for thirty years, until failing health forced him to retire from active life.

When Abraham Blochman died, September 10, 1915, the San Diego Union headlined its two-column cut and obituary: "Pioneer Local Banker Dies, Abraham Blochman's Life Part of San Diego History." The caption under the picture read; "Financier to Whom Many Californians Owe Start in Life Joins Great Majority; Broad Charity and Business Ability Notable.36

Like father, like son. Lucien Blochman's active participation in social, civic and Jewish community affairs never abated. And, a romantic interest was added. On November 9, 1898, Lucien married Haidee Goldtree, of San Francisco. Her father was a friend and former business associate of his father in a San Luis Obispo venture. Later, the two men built twin houses on Eddy and Gough Streets, in San Francisco. Although financial reverses prompted the Blochmans to move to San Diego, the families always kept in contact.

When Haidee Goldtree, a member of the University of California's Class of 1898, requested a vacation from her studies, she was sent down to San Diego to visit the Blochmans. When the engagement was announced, Nathan Goldtree took his daughter to Europe to buy her trousseauand she missed her graduation ceremony.37

In addition to his aldermanic duties, her young husband eventually became president of the California Life Insurance Co., president of the New Pedrara Onyx Co., president of the Blochman Oil Corp., a director of the El Puente Oil Co., and president of the Santa Fe Coal Co. of Texas.38

As Lucien's business interests widened, his social interests proliferated. As did his father before him, he became president of the San Diego Wheelmen. A veteran of the Spanish-American War—he had been Lt. Lucien Blochman in an outfit known as the Wheelmen's Rifles—he received a bronze medal for 10 years continuous service in the National Guard. He was assistant chief of the San Diego Fire Department when it was a volunteer organization, chancellor of the Knights of Pythias, president of the San Diego Parlor of the Native Sons of the Golden West, first president of the Cabrillo Club and a 32nd Degree Mason. With his banking experience, he operated easily as treasurer of the American National Red Cross and treasurer of the Associated Charities, a forerunner of today's United Way.39

Local historians rate his work for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 and 1916 as his most important contribution to the City of San Diego. "Lucien Blochman was one of the few who served continuously as a director from the first plans until the end of San Diego's great achievement," Clarence Alan McGrew wrote in 1922. "No one labored more unceasingly to make that brilliant affair a complete success." More than 50 years later, on a brief visit to his home town, Lucien's son, Lawrence, proudly told sightseers, admiring the beautiful buildings in Balboa Park, his father had helped in their design and construction.40

A folio volume of cartoons of prominent San Diegans, published January 25, 1909, depicts Lucien A. Blochman, mustache and all, as a plump, happy little boy. He holds his toy sailboat, the Haidee, aloft while a weary Wheelman rides a bike off the page at his feet. From his Buster Brown collar down he is covered with badges. They read: Commodore, San Diego Yacht Club; Mystic Shrine; Camera Club; Mason; Knights of Pythias; National Guardsman; Red Cross; Fire Department and Good Roads, for the committee he headed on the City Council. To support all this, one foot is propped by a money bag labeled "Blochman Bank."41

Haidee Goldtree Blochman did more than merely lend support to her husband's community endeavors. She struck out on her own. During her busy lifetime in San Diego, cut short by her death in 1924, Haidee served as president of the Children's Home, secretary of Neighborhood House, a director of the College Women's Club, a teacher in the Sunday School and member of the board of Temple Beth Israel, and president of the Jewish Charities, the parent organization of today's Jewish Welfare Federation.42

Lucien and Haidee's son, Lawrence Goldtree Blochman, entered the world in their first home at 1346 Front Street, February 17, 1900. The parking lot of the State of California Building now occupies the area between A and Ash Streets where that double house then stood. It had been built by Abraham Blochman who moved there from his Ninth Street residence. The senior Blochmans occupied one side of the house; the Lucien Blochmans, the other.

When Lucien purchased three lots on the southwest corner of First and Thorn and designed the larger of two houses to be erected on them, he and his family moved a few blocks away, to Fifth and Thorn, so he could supervise the construction. Their daughter, Nathalie, named for her maternal grandfather, Nathan Goldtree, was born there, December 11, 1905.

Nathalie and Lawrence grew up in the big house at 3260 First Street, where their mother's monthly "at homes" were highly regarded social events. Nathalie remembers the gloved and hatted ladies leaving their calling cards on the silver tray in the entrance hall. Many years later, in 1923, when Lucien and Haidee celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, the house was the scene of a notable assemblage of San Diegans. Leaders of society, the arts, business and politics gathered to congratulate them and wish them well.44

Abraham Blochman's eldest daughter, Mina, also contributed to the welfare of the city and the enrichment of the Jewish community. The three other Blochman girls married and moved away,45 but Mina married San Diegan Samuel Brust and, as a young matron, assumed her civic responsibilities. She, and her brother, Lucien, were pictured in 1913 with a group called "noble men and women," the original founders of the San Diego Chapter of the American Red Cross.

San Diego's Red Cross had come into being as a direct result of the SpanishAmerican War in 1898. The city's population was then recorded as 17,700. With Lucien as treasurer and Mina on the executive board, the local chapter often held its meetings at the Blochman Bank. In 1919, Mina initiated the First Aid program, one of the most popular of the many free courses offered by the Red Cross to the public. She had prepared a paper on the need for "establishment of emergency relief." The paper had been sent to President Taft and was given national publicity.46

During the difficult years following the 1891 Depression, from 1893 to 1909, Temple Beth Israel was without a rabbi. In addition to the High Holy Day Services, conducted by lay leaders, the important aspect of the congregation was its religious school. One of the main forces behind this school was Mina Blochman Brust, whose mother, Marie, had organized it in 1886. As a result of the school's work, there were confirmation classes in 1895 and 1899.47

On September 20, 1899, the San Diego Union reported, "The confirmation exercises held in the Jewish synagogue last night were beautiful and impressive. Decorations were smilax, flowers and the Stars and Stripes.... The class had been prepared by Mrs. Samuel Brust and the results showed with what care she had taught her pupils." One of her students, the late Mrs. Fannie Naumann Rosenfeld, recalled Mina Brust's emphasis on current events and how often the Dreyfus Case, then in the news, was discussed.48

The Brusts had two sons, Marcel and Paul. After a World War I stint in the Navy, Marcel joined his father in the wholesale and retail tobacco business in the Gas and Electric Co. Building, Sixth and E Streets. He married Carolyn Heller of Kalispell, Montana, whose father, as a child, had traveled cross-country in a covered wagon.

Paul Brust, who had been studying engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, did his World War I duty in an Army Medical Corps—and fell in love with his work. When he came marching home he headed immediately for the Leland Stanford School of Medicine and an M.D. degree. Back in San Diego, he became the city's first full-time police surgeon, a familiar figure in his white uniform, riding the speeding ambulance with siren screaming. He was acknowledged the best emergency surgeon in town. Called to a drive-in restuarant on 12th and C Streets—with no scalpel in his little black bag—he borrowed his driver's penknife to open a dying man's chest to massage the heart.

Dr. Brust taught the first-aid courses, introduced in San Diego by his mother, to the Police Department. Through his teaching, as well as his personal skill, he is credited with saving many lives. He died in 1959. (His widow was former Police Matron Mae Coale.) Marcel Brust died in 1971. His widow resides in San Diego.49

In the second decade of the century, the Samuel Brusts built a house next door to the Lucien Blochmns on First Street. The four cousins, Paul and Marcel Brust, Lawrence and Nathalie Blochman grew up together. They all adored their grandparents, Abraham and Marie Blochman, who had moved to an apartment in the 3300 block, across the street. Each summer, Grandpa and Grandma had a gathering of the clan at Tent City in Coronado. With them, the five children and their families—12 grandchildren in all-occupied an entire block. Each family had its own tent or palm cottage plus one used for a dining room, another for a kitchen. Nathalie Blochman, now Mrs. Abraham Levine, of San Francisco, regrets that as the baby of the group she missed out on much of the fun.

It was her brother, Lawrence, who really thrilled to Grandpa's stories of his early days in California. Each day, on his way home from school, he'd drop in to see the old gentleman and beg for another tale—even when he had to stop first in Mission Hills for his French lessons with Mrs. Whittlesey.50

Before long, Lawrence was pounding a typewriter with stories of his own. When he moved on from the Florence School to San Diego High, he became editor of its magazine, The Russ. As a high school junior, he reported school sports for the San Diego Evening Tribune. As a senior, when the Tribune sports editor went to war, Lawrence got the job. At the University of California, Berkeley, he edited the Daily Californian. Summer vacations were spent as a police reporter for the Tribune and a courthouse reporter for the San Diego Sun.

Following graduation in 1921, Larry Blochman set out to write his way around the world. He found jobs on Tokyo's Japan Advertiser, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, Shanghai's Far Eastern Review, Calcutta's The Englishman and the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune. By 1924, he was back in San Diego as city editor of The Sun.51

When he decided to desert the press for a full-time writing career, the name Lawrence G. Blochman soon became familiar to readers of Colliers Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He had more than 50 hard-cover books published, including some 30 mystery and detective novels, plus several hundred short stories, novelettes and articles. A number of his stories were made into films, television and radio shows. He also translated more than a dozen books and mystery stories from the French. He served as president of the Mystery Writers of America and won its Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1950.52

In World War I, Lawrence enlisted in the Navy but was thrown out for being underage. During and immediately following World War II, he served with the Office of War Information and the United States Information Service. He was Chief of Voice of America in New York, Washington and London in 1944. In 1945, he became Deputy Director for OWI operations, in Paris with missions to Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and Algeria. Some of his memorabilia from these war-related activities—including memoranda authorized by General Eisenhower—are now in the archives of the San Diego History Center Library.53

Back in New York City, with his French born wife, Marguerite Maillard, whom he had married in Paris in 1926, Lawrence G. Blochman resumed his writing career. He became a vice president of the prestigious Overseas Press Club and the winner of its Meritorious Service Award in 1959. Early in 1974, the University of Wyoming requested all his working papers, manuscripts and books for its Archives of Contemporary History.54

But the Blochman roots were in San Diego. On his last visit home in September, 1974—four months before his death—he determined that pertinent Blochmaniana belonged in San Diego. He culled his papers and sent many items to the Serra Museum Library. Their addition to the archives documents that not only Grandfather Abraham, but three generations of Blochmans were a part of San Diego history.

 

FOOTNOTES

1. San Diego Union, December 4, 1889; and Dr. Robert E. Bond, 1975 Area Director, League of American Wheelmen, personal interview, July 22, 1975.

2. Letter, Lawrence G. Blochman (grandson of Abraham Blochman) to Leslie I. Harris, August 7, 1959, Blochman Manuscripts, San Diego History Center Library and Manuscripts Collection. Hereinafter cited as SDHC Library.

3. An Illustrated History of Southern California (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1890), p. 228.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid; and San Diego Union, February 22, 1902, p. 5.

6. Letter, Lawrence G. Blochman to Leslie I. Harris, July 22, 1975, Blochman Manuscripts, SDHC Library: "The third brother, Emmanuel (was) an eccentric who invented things and brought schnorrers home for dinner, while his wife ran a hat shop in San Francisco."

7. Ibid; Illustrated History, p. 229; San Diego Voter Registration, September 29, 1894, SDHC Library; and Samuel F. Black, History of San Diego County, California (Chicago: S. and Clarke, 1913), p. 44.

8. Letter, Lawrence G. Blochman to Phyllis Roos Baruch (great granddaughter of Abraham Blochman and great, great granddaughter of Leopold Sarassin), March 23, 1968, Blochman Manuscripts, SDHC Library; and Simon Levy, Les Loisirs d'um Rabbin (Paris: Imprimerie Levy, 194 Rue Lafayette, 1895). The French lettering on the crest translates: "... fleet as a hart and powerful as a lion to do the will of thy Father Who is in heaven." The legend is part of a quotation from the "Ethics of the Fathers," V:23, carved in Hebrew lettering in oak at the head of a staircase in the Alsace home of Leopold Sarassin. Removed as a plaque, the quotation is now in the home of his oldest living male descendent, Jacques C. Roos, of San Francisco, great grandson of Abraham and Marie Sarassin Blochman.

9. Illustrated History, p. 229; and San Diego Union, September 11, 1915.

10. Elizabeth MacPhail, The Story of New San Diego and Its Founder, Alonzo E. Horton (San Diego: 1969), pp. 63 and 66.

11. San Diego Sun, March 16, 1881: and Max Miller, The Tribune-Sun, February 18, 1949, Section B, p. 1.

12. Mrs. Marcel Brust (granddaughter-in-law of Abraham Blochman), personal interview, April 7, 1975.

13. MacPhail, The Story of New San Diego, p. 68; Norton B. Stern and William M. Kramer, "The Rose of San Diego," The Journal of San Diego History, XIX (Fall, 1973), p. 36; Illustrated History, p. 229; and Letter, Blochman to Harris, July 22,1975: "Abraham Blochman had become a Master Mason at Columbia Lodge in his mining days. Columbia... (lay) between Sonora and Angels Camp."

14. San Diego Union, January 5,1886; Ronald Gerson, Jewish Religious Life in San Diego, 1851-1918, Unpublished Masters Thesis, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, 1974, p. 43; A.H,K., "News From San Diego In 1906," Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, VII (April, 1975), p. 219; and MacPhail, The Story of New San Diego, p. 17: "(Until 1914... Market was H Street and Broadway was D Street." Also, San Diego City Directory 1886 lists A. Blochman, Secretary of the Jewish Synagogue.

15. San Diego Union, September 20, 1887.

16. Lucien A. Blochman, "The Congregation As I Knew It," San Diego Jewish Community News, September 20, 1922, as quoted in Gerson, Jewish Religious Life in San Diego, p, 37.

17. Ibid.

18. San Diego Union, October 2, 1894; and San Diego Union, September 11, 1915.

19. San Diego Union, September 11, 1915; San Diego Union, June 14, 1892, p. S, April 5, 1893, p. 5, April 7, 1897, p. 2; and San Diego City Directories 1893-1912.

20. The Jewish Fair Daily Programme, SDHC Library. Letter, Leslie J. Harris to Nathalie Blochman, n.d., SDHC Library; and Letter, Mrs. Lawrence G. Blochman to Trudie Casper, May 29, 1975, SDHC Library.

21. San Diego Union, March 3,1889; and Gerson, Jewish Religious Life in San Diego, p. 54.

22. Jewish Fair Programme; Illustrated History, p. 229; San Diego Union, January 18, 1885, p. 2; and San Diego Union, December 5, 1884, pp. 2-3.

23. San Diego Union, February 26, 1888, p. 5; and Sylvia Arden, "San Diego Purim Ball in 1888," Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, VII (October, 1974), p. 39.

24. Ibid. The Master Mason (100th Anniversary Edition, 1951), p. 7; San Diego Union, October 15, 1888; Letter, Nathalie Blochman Levine to Trudie Casper, August 20, 1975: "Lucien borrowed his father's first initial, A, for a middle name."

25. Minute Book of LaskerLodge #370, I.O.B.B., Vol. 1, p. 1; and Carl M. Esenoff, and Rabbi Moise Bergman, eds., The Yoval, Lasker Lodge 50th Anniversary publication, (San Diego: 1937), p. 54.

26. Charles La Dow, 1975 Historian, San Diego Yacht Club, personal interview, July 25, 1975; and Linda M. Pearce Nolte, "Yachting: Its History in San Diego," The Journal of San Diego History, XX (Fall, 1974), p. S. Herbert C. Hensley, Memoirs-The History of San Diego, City, County and Region, Vol. IV, p. 534, typescript, SDHC Library.

27. Clarence A. McGrew, City of San Diego and San Diego County, Vol. II (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1922), p. 154; La Dow, personal interview, July 25, 1975; Nolte, Journal of San Diego History; and Letter, Nathalie Blochman Levine to Trudie Casper, April 16, 1975.

28. Hensley, Memoirs, Vol. 11, pp. 249, 250. La Dow, personal interview, July 25, 1975.

29. Letter, Paul C, Kelley to Leslie 1. Harris, May 27, 1959, SDHC Library. McGrew, City of San Diego, p. 154.

30. Ibid., p. 153.

31. William E. Smythe, History of San Diego 1542-1908 (San Diego: The Historical Company, 1908), Vol. II, p. 643. San Diego Union, January 1, 1898, p. 3.

32. Letter, Blochman to Harris, July 22, 1975.

33. Ibid. Letter, Kelley to Harris, May 27, 1959. Security Pacific National Bank, Personnel Department Files, San Diego: "The late P. C. Kelley retired as vice president of the Security First National Bank before the change of name to Security Pacific."

34. Letter, Blochman to Harris, July 22, 1975. McGrew, City of San Diego, p. 154. Black, History of San Diego. p. 248.

35. Letter, Kelley to Harris, May 27, 1959.

36. San Diego Federal Savings and Loan Association files, San Diego. San Diego Union, September 11, 1915.

37. Letter, Nathalie Blochman Levine to Trudie Casper, April 16,1975: San Diego Union, June 21, 1898, p. 5.

38. McGrew, City of San Diego, Vol. 11, pp. 154, 155.

39. Ibid. Makers of the San Diego 1915 Panama-California Exposition, compiled by the Chamber of Commerce and the Citizens of San Diego, n. d., SDHC Library.

40. McGrew, City of San Diego, Vol. II, pp. 154, 155.

41. Leonard G. Coop, ed., and Willard Cundiff, illustrator, A San Diego Cartoon Book (San Diego: Frye and Smith, 1909), p. 93.

42. Letter, Levine to Casper, April 16, 1975. Letter, Ruth Dubin (wife of Rabbi Maxwell H. Dubin) to Trudie Casper, May 22, 1975. Mrs. Marcel Brust, personal interview, April 7, 1975.

43. Letter, Dr. Monroe Haas to Lawrence G. Blochman, n. d. (circa 1955), SDHC Library.

44. Letter, Levine to Casper, April 16, 1975.

45. Jeanne married Jacques Roos of Ventura; Cora, Lesser Summerfield of San Francisco; Andree, Armand Lehmann of Lompoc. San Diego Union, June 4, 1895, p. 5; San Diego Union, July 19, 1900, p. 5.

46. "San Diego County Chapter American National Red Cross, 1898-1952," Dedication Program, SDHC Library.

47. Gerson, Jewish Religious Life in San Diego, p. 77.

48. Ibid., pp. 78, 79. San Diego Union, September 20, 1899.

49. Retired Police Sgt. George Evans, personal interview, August 28, 1975; Mrs. Marcel Brust, personal interview, April 7, 1975. San Diego Union, December 27, 1959.

50. Letter, Levine to Casper, April 16, 1975.

51. Lawrence G. Blochman Biography, Biographical File, SDHC Library.

52. The New York Times, January 23, 1975. San Diego Union, January 24, 1975.

53. Blochman Biography.

54. San Diego Union, January 24, 1975. Letter, Mrs. Lawrence G. Blochman to Trudie Casper, March 9. 1975.

 


Shortly before World War II Trudie Casper began a thirty-year career in public relations for non-profit organizations, both in her native Detroit and New York City. For the seven years preceding her 1964 retirement in San Diego, she served as National Public Information Director of the United Negro College Fund. The article published here won the Ben B. Rubin Award for papers on the history of Jewish people in San Diego County at the San Diego Historical Society's 1975 Institute of History.