Isaiah Wolf Hellman, Sr.

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Isaiah Wolf Hellman, Sr.

Also Known As: "Isaias Wolf Hellman"
Birthdate: (77)
Birthplace: Reckendorf, Bavaria, Germany
Death: April 9, 1920 (77)
San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States
Place of Burial: Colma, San Mateo County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Wolf Benjamin Hellmann and Sara Hellmann
Husband of Esther Hellman
Father of Isaias William Hellman, Jr.; Clara Heller; Florence Ehrman; Marco Isaias Wolfe and Isaac William Hellmen
Brother of Herman Wolf Hellman; Isaak Hellmann; Flora Hellmann; Ernestine Schloss; Babette Berl Hellmann and 9 others

Occupation: Banker, Philanthropist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Isaiah Wolf Hellman, Sr.

Banker and philanthropist, and a founding father of the University of Southern California.

Wikipedia

Biography

Born in Reckendorf, Bavaria, Hellman and his brother Herman W. arrived in the Los Angeles, California on May 14, 1859 to join their cousins. Hellman went to work as a clerk in his cousins' dry goods store. He opened his own dry goods store in April 1865.

By the time he passed away in 1920, Hellman was considered the leading financier of the Pacific Coast. His son (I.W. Jr.) and grandson (Isaias Warren Hellman) later became presidents of Wells Fargo Bank; and the Union Trust Company was merged with Wells Fargo after his death. His original Farmers and Merchants Bank would later merge with Security First National Bank.

Hellman became Los Angeles' first banker almost by accident. As a courtesy, he stored his customers' gold and valuables in a safe. One day, Hellman got into an altercation with a customer who had been coming in and out of the store gloriously drunk, withdrawing gold each time from a pouch stored in the safe. When the man sobered up, he was angry to discover he had spent most of his funds, and he lunged at Hellman. That interaction prompted Hellman to stop his informal banking operations. He got slips printed up that said I.W. Hellman, Banker, and started buying people's funds and issuing deposit books.

On September 1, 1868, Hellman and Temple founded Hellman, Temple and Co., the fledgling city’s second official bank. In 1871, Hellman and John G. Downey, a former governor of California, formed the Farmers and Merchants Bank, which became Los Angeles' first successful bank. Hellman lent the money that allowed Harrison Gray Otis to buy the Los Angeles Times and Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield to drill for oil.

Hellman was also a major investor in trolley lines, putting in funds in 1874 to start the Main Street and Agricultural Park Railway, which traveled from the Plaza, the heart of Los Angeles's downtown, to Agricultural Park, a popular horse-racing track. Hellman eventually invested in many of the city's rail lines and with Henry Huntington formed the Los Angeles Railway in 1898 and the Pacific Electric Railway in 1901.

Hellman was also a major investor in Los Angeles's water, gas and electricity companies, and helped bring Southern Pacific Railroad to Los Angeles in 1876, which ended the isolation of the region. He was president of B'nai B'rith in 1872 when the congregation built the city's first temple on Fort Street. In 1870, his cousin Isaiah M. Hellman was elected City Treasurer. 1857 Sketch of the Hellman Bros. first store in Los Angeles

Hellman was also a major landowner in Southern California and his holdings included numerous city lots and vast swaths of former rancho land. In 1871, he and a syndicate bought the 13,000-acre (53 km2) Rancho Cucamonga. In 1881, Hellman and members of the Bixby family purchased the 26,000-acre (110 km2) Rancho Los Alamitos (now home to Long Beach and Seal Beach). He also purchased the Repetto Ranch (now Montebello) with Harris Newmark and Kaspare Cohn. Hellman and Downey also bought up swaths of Rancho San Pedro from the Dominguez family. Hellman also owned much of Boyle Heights with William H. Workman.

In 1879, Hellman joined some public-spirited citizens led by Judge Robert Maclay Widney, in what would be a significant legacy: the University of Southern California, the first university in the region. When Widney formed a board of trustees, he secured a donation of 308 lots of land from three prominent members of the community: horticulturist Ozro W. Childs; former California governor, Irish-Catholic pharmacist and businessman John G. Downey; and Hellman. The gift provided land for a campus as well as a source of endowment, the seeds of financial support for the nascent institution. A street on the USC campus is named after him.

In 1881, Hellman was appointed Regent of the University of California to fill the unexpired term of Regent D. O. Mills. He was reappointed twice and served until 1918.

In 1890, Hellman moved to San Francisco to take over the Nevada Bank, which had been formed in 1875 by four men known as the Silver Kings: John MacKay, James Flood, William O'Brien and James Fair. While the bank had once had $10 million in capitalization, it was almost broke by the time Hellman took over. When word got out about Hellman's involvement, millionaires and capitalists from around the world applied to buy stock. Hellman had $15 million in applications but only $2.5 million in stock to sell. Two of the biggest shareholders included Mayer Lehman and Lehman Brothers ($150,000) and Levi Strauss ($120,000). Other shareholders included men Hellman had grown up with in Reckendorf who had become important businessmen in their own right, including Kalman, Abraham and William Haas, and David Walter.

In 1893, Hellman incorporated the first trust company in California, the Union Trust Company. He was president of the Nevada Bank from 1890 to 1898 and the Nevada National Bank from 1898 to 1905. In 1905, Hellman merged the Nevada National Bank with Wells Fargo Bank to form the Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the bank was run out of the home of Hellman's son in law at 2020 Jackson Street while the destroyed headquarters was rebuilt.

At the height of his power, Hellman served as president or director of 17 banks along the Pacific Coast and controlled $100 million in capital.

In 1897, Hellman bought a large parcel of land next to Lake Tahoe where he built a mansion in 1903. He named it Pine Lodge after the sugar pines that dotted the property. His family later sold this land to the state of California, which made the property into the Sugar Pine Point State Park.

He also purchased the 35,000-acre (140 km2) Nacimiento Ranch near Paso Robles and stocked it with cattle and horses.

Family life

He married Esther Newgass, of New York on April 14, 1870. Her sister, Babette, was married to Mayer Lehman, one of the founders of Lehman Brothers. The couple had three children, including son Isaias William Hellman, Jr., Clara, and Florence.

Legacy

At his death in 1920, Hellman was considered the leading financier of the Pacific Coast. His son (I.W. Jr.) and grandson (Isaias Warren Hellman) later became presidents of Wells Fargo Bank; and the Union Trust Company was merged with Wells Fargo after his death. His original Farmers and Merchants Bank would later merge with Security First National Bank.


Isaias W. Hellman was born in Reckendorf, Bavaria in 1842.

He and his younger brother, Herman, left Europe for New York City by steamer. From there by another steamer to the Isthmas of Panama. Then across the Isthmus by foot, donkey and flat boat to the Pacific. The they waited for another steamer to take them up to San Francisco. Finally, one last steamer took them south to Los Angeles in 1859. Isaias Hellman became a United States citizen in 1867.


Isaias first worked in his cousin’s store, “learning the business.” In 1865 he opened his own dry goods store. Like Solomon Lazard before him, Isaias Hellman had the problem of customers trusting him so much that they would leave their excess gold and silver with him for safekeeping. He eventually had a large safe shipped from the East to hold all this precious metal. He finally set off a part of his store as an unoffical bank, complete with printed deposit slips, etc., becoming a Los Angeles “unoffical” banker. In 1868, Hellman was part of Los Angeles’ first “offical bank,” Hellman, Temple and Co.

Dissatisfied with his partner’s liberal handling and lending of money, Hellman dropped out and formed his own bank, the Farmers and Merchants Bank, which became Los Angeles’ first successful bank. Isaias W. Hellman was a more conservative banker – keeping a strong reserve and lending money only to people whom he thought knew their business and had the skills to suceed. To these businessmen and entrepreneurs, Hellman lent the money that allowed Harrison G. Otis to purchase the Los Angeles Times and Edward Doheny to drill successfully for oil around Southern and Central California. Hellman also financed Henry Huntington which led to many of Los Angeles’ inner-city rail and trolley lines. He partnered with Huntington on the Pacific Electric Railway and the Los Angeles Railway during the turn of the Century.


Isaias Hellman’s influence helped bring the Southern Pacific Railroad to Los Angeles in 1876, bringing Los Angeles into the mainstream of California commerce – and starting the rapid expansion of Los Angeles from a small city to the major metropolis it is today.


Isaias Hellman was also a major landowner in Southern California and his holdings included numerous city lots and vast swaths of former rancho land. In 1871, he and a syndicate bought Rancho Cucamonga and later Rancho Los Alamitos – both in their entirety. Along with William Workman, Hellman owed much of Boyle Heights, and the Repetto Ranch with Harris Newmark (today, Montebello). In 1879, Isaias Hellman, along with other civic minded citizens, gave the land for the founding of the University of Southern California.


Hellman was President of Congregation B’nai B’rith (Wilshire Boulevard Temple) in 1872 when the congregation built the city’s first synagogue on Fort Street. Hellman brought Rabbi Schreibner to Los Angeles from Denver to be the second Rabbi of Congregation B’nai B’rith in 1885. In 1881, Isaias Hellman was appointed Regent of the University of California, a position he held until 1918.

Isaias W. Hellman married Esther Newgass, of New York on April 14, 1870. This brought Isaias into the Lehman family of New York fanaciers. The couple had three children, Isaias William Hellman, Jr., Clara, and Florence.


In 1890, Hellman moved to San Francisco to take over the Nevada Bank. By 1890, Isaias Hellman was looking to expand beyond the boundaries of Los Angeles. When he heard that the fabled Nevada Bank in San Francisco, was floundering, Hellman purchased it. When news got out that Isaias Hellman was taking over the bank, businessmen from across the globe asked to buy stock. Within a few years, Isaias Hellman had turned around the bank and made it one of the leading institutions on the West Coast.


In June 1893 a bank panic hit Los Angeles. Nervous customers ran to their banks and clamored for cash. Within a day, more than a dozen banks, including Hellman’s Farmers and Merchants Bank, had closed. When Hellman heard the news, he loaded up an armored railroad car in San Francisco with $500,000 of his own money and brought it to Los Angeles. Isaias Hellman heaped gold coins on the counter of his bank, which immediately calmed people down. They saw there was no monetary shortage. The bank panic stopped.


In 1905, Isaias Hellman was offered the assets of the banking arm of Wells Fargo & Co. He merged the Wells Fargo Bank with the Nevada Bank to form Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank. He served as President until his death in 1920.


By the first decade of the 20th century, Isaias Hellman served as President or on the board of 17 banks on the Pacific Coast. He controlled more than $100 million in capital! Hellman was one of the founding members of the California Bankers’ Association and helped push through stricter laws in 1893 concerning capital requirements.


Isaias Hellman was involved in numerous other industries. He sat on the board of the Southern Pacific Railway and helped sell $5 million in bonds in 1895 for one of its subsidiaries, the Market Street Railway. He held a large interest in the California Wine Association, a company that controlled seven eighths of the wine production and distribution in California. In 1908, it built the world’s largest winery, Winehaven, in Richmond, across the bay from San Francisco. Isaias Hellman invested heavily in numerous water and power companies in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. He helped form the Pacific Gas & Electric Company.


Isaias Hellman also owned a lot of property in San Francisco. He was President of the Banker’s Investment Group that controlled one of the largest blocks of real estate in downtown San Francisco, a parcel that stretched 50 feet along Market Street and 40 feet along Kearny. Hellman purchased the 35,000 acre Nacimiento Ranch near Paso Robles

Isaias Hellman and his wife Esther bought a mansion on Sacramento and Franklin streets in the 1890s in the heart of San Francisco’s up and coming Western Addition. (now known as Pacific Heights)

While walking to work in 1895, a man shot at Hellman with a pistol – and missed. The assailant then committed suicide on the street.


Isaias and Esther purchased two miles of shoreline along Lake Tahoe and constructed the area’s first private mansion in 1903. It was Hellman’s favorite place in the world. The house still stands and is part of Sugar Pine Point State Park. (Well worth a visit)

Isaias Hellman was an active member of Congregation Emanu El in San Francisco. He joined both the Verein Club and the Concordia Club.


Philanthropy (A Sampling) Isaias Hellman was very active in raising money for the Jews caught in pograms in Russia during World War I. In 1908, after his wife’s death, he donated $100,000 to Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. He donated $25,000 to bring the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition to San Francisco. He gave the University of California $50,000 in 1917 to set up four perpetual scholarships. He was an early supporter of the Eureka Benevolent Society in San Francisco. He gave $10,000 in 1909 towards the construction of a new Los Angeles City Hall. He donated funds to assist in the construction of the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton near San Jose. He left $25,000 in his will to the Catholic Orphan Asylum in Los Angeles.


Esther Hellman died unexpectedly in 1908. She was 59. Isaias Hellman never remarried and mostly lived with his daughter Clara and her husband Emanuel Heller after that.


Isaias Hellman died of pneumonia in 1920. He was 77. The Presidency of Wells Fargo Bank immediately passed on to his son, Marco Hellman, who passed away three weeks after his father. He was 49 and never learned he had been made President of the bank.


Isaias and Esther are interned in a large tomb at the Home of Peace Cemetery in Colma,

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Isaiah Wolf Hellman, Sr.'s Timeline

1842
October 3, 1842
Reckendorf, Bavaria, Germany
1871
March 30, 1871
Age 28
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, United States
March 30, 1871
Age 28
Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States
1878
April 15, 1878
Age 35
San Francisco, CA, United States
1882
August 18, 1882
Age 39
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, United States
1920
April 9, 1920
Age 77
San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States
????
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Colma, San Mateo County, California, United States