During her talk at the Huntington Library last weekend, author Frances Dinkelspiel told this story about early Jewish immigrant and California settler Isaias Hellman, the subject of her new book:
The year was 1893. The banking industry was shaky. Hellman, who founded the Farmers & Merchants Bank in downtown Los Angles, was in San Francisco on business. His brother sent word for him to come down to L.A. There was a financial crisis.
Hellman, who also founded the Nevada State Bank in San Francisco, didn’t get rattled. He was calm and rather unassuming for a man who had invested in early Los Angeles banks, real estate and railroads.
After a second notice, Hellman got on the train which stopped in Los Angeles about 24 hours later where he was met by a Wells Fargo stagecoach. The delivery men carefully loaded his large satchels onto the stage, then drove them and its owner to the Farmers & Merchants bank in downtown L.A.
Hellman was met with a line of anxious customers who wanted to withdraw their money. He began stacking the gold he brought from San Francisco –his own money — on the bank counters. This calmed the crowd and stopped the run.
Leadership like Helmans prevented a financial crisis from getting worse and helped build Los Angeles into a prosperous city. Here’s hoping today’s leaders — in Washington and in L.A. and Sacramento — are just as successful.
Dinkelspiel was full of amazing stories like this, including how Hellman helped Henry Huntington invest in light-rail in the early 20th century Southern California. The title of her book, “Towers of Gold” is taken from this incident.