Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Father of the Los Angeles Harbor

While we were in Long Beach, California, last month we visited an historical site not very far away. We did not use a freeway, just drove down the Pacific Coast Highway.

Vintage postcard of road in Long Beach , turn of the century

In a few minutes we were on a quiet side street bordered by trees with beautiful blossoms. These trees, native to South America, are called “Jacaranda” trees and at that time of year have lovely bright purple flowers.

Click on pictures to enlarge them

We were surprised to see the historical home right in the middle of these quiet roads. There were no other cars parked and we were not sure if the house was opened. It looked like the house was being renovated. Indeed, as we approached we read the panel below.

The gate was opened so we entered

and approached the house.

Since work was being done to the front of the house we walked to the back.

Presently a guide came out and advised us that the next tour to visit the interior of the house would be in 20 minutes – giving us plenty of time to take a look at the rose garden.

Many roses were in bloom and it was difficult to decide which ones to photograph.

The house was built in 1864 by General Phineas Banning(1830-1885) and the area around it was called then Wilmington because Phineas was born in Wilmington, Delaware. When Phineas was 13 years old he left his parents' home with only 50 cents in his pocket and walked 30 miles to begin work in an older brother’s law office. By 21 he decided to go west and immigrated to California. He made his first fortune by operating a freighting business and owning a stage coach with routes going from California to Yuma, Arizona and to Salt Lake City, Utah. During the Civil War he gave land to the Union Army to built a fort close to his home. The National Guard appointed Phineas Banning Brigadier General of the California First Brigade, an honorific title he kept for the rest of his life.

Portrait of Phineas Banning

At the end of the war he served as California State Senator from 1865 to 1868. During his tenure California ratified the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery.) In 1871 Phineas Banning had a 10 foot (3 meters) channel dredged to improve the port of Wilmington which handled 50,000 tons of business that year. By 1885 the Los Angeles Port handled 500,000 tons of business a year. A competitor wanted to create Port Los Angeles in Santa Monica instead and built a long wharf there in 1893. However, with the US Government support (and maybe because of Phineas’ help during the Civil War) the port of Wilmington - San Pedro was chosen (the city of Los Angeles annexed the area in 1909.) General Banning loved his home and doted on his family. He had three surviving sons (out of eight children) with his first wife who died in childbirth.

He later married a wealthy heiress and had 3 more children, two of them surviving, Mary and Lucy.

Portrait of Lucy Tichenor Banning (1873-1929)

When we drove close to Port Los Angeles to arrive at the Banning Residence we could see how large the port has become. It is the busiest container port in the United States. Without Phineas Banning this might not have happened. He even gave his lucrative Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad to Southern Pacific Railroad to make sure that Los Angeles would not be bypassed in favor of San Bernardino as it had been planned. This is why he deserves the name of Father of the Port of Los Angeles. You can read more on Phineas Banning here.

Port of Los Angeles

We were ready for the 1-hour tour of the house. No pictures inside the house were allowed. The gift shop is also under renovation, so no postcards of the interior were available. There was just a single squirrel in front of the closed gift shop.

The guide told us that the house and 20 acres of parkland were acquired by the City of Los Angeles in 1927. It is now a City, State and National Historic Landmark. There are 23 rooms in this Greek Revival architecture mansion; 18 rooms can be visited. Banning used an office in his home to conduct all his business enterprises. From the top tower he could look at his land, all the way to the harbor.

Early drawing of the Banning residence

The Banning family lived in this house for 60 years and many family heirlooms have been preserved. I scanned some of the pictures from the brochure given to us so I could add them to this post, but they are not very sharp.

The mansion was designed after popular Delaware houses of the 19th century. It has elegant furnishing of the Victorian era.

We walked out onto the porch and the guide told me “you may take a picture.” Thank you. I was closely supervised, just in case I would take a picture facing the interior instead of towards the garden. I just took the porch – looking to the left

then looking to the right

The guide told us that Phineas Banning’s sons bought Catalina Island in the early 1890s, developed it and owned it until World War 1.

Vintage postcard of Santa Catalina Island

Once outside we visited the small school room.

I was intrigued by the “Punishments” plaque on the mantel – it clearly enunciated the number of lashes one would get for being unruly – Giving Each Other ill names – 3 lashes. Quarreling at school – 5 lashes . Drinking Spiritous Liquors at School – 8 lashes. Misbehaving to Girls – 10 lashes, and so on.

Then we visited the stables where pictures were allowed.

There was a little room which had been reserved for the stable boy. It looked as if he had just left.

In the stables, I did not see any horses, just a metal one which must be used at Christmas.

The carriages are housed in the building. There were a number of them.

A small panel gave information on each carriage. This was good as I knew the names of some of the carriages but did not know exactly what they looked like. The carriage on the bottom left is called a Peters Brougham. It took nine months to complete and cost $1200 (circa 1903.)

In the back there was a well equipped tack and tool room. On the wall was a picture of the beach, the way it must have looked at the time the house was built.

There was a tall and beautiful tree just outside the stable. A man was brushing it with some liquid and told us that the little white spots on the tree were insects. There were so many and they flew everywhere close to the tree.

I don’t know what type of insects they were. If you touch them, it was like touching powder.

The tour was finished. We walked by the cast iron cornstalk fence. It was purchased by William S. Banning in the 1900s in New Orleans. There are only two others in existence – both of them in New Orleans.

Going back to our car we admired the tall and very old eucalyptus trees. They were planted to soak up the groundwater as the land was very wet.

This was truly an interesting mansion to visit with so much history. I am not sure how many people realize how much Phineas Banning helped in the development of Los Angeles. He was a visionary with drive and dynamism. I am glad I learnt his story.


The Tour de France

The Tour de France is ending on Sunday 25th July 2010 on the Champs Elysées. Alberto Contador (Spain) should be the winner as he won the time trial on Saturday. Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) is a close second. It has been a great tour and I watched it with enthusiasm.

Photo courtesy Graham Watson

I finished knitting the tricolor baby blanket and had time to crochet a small car seat baby blanket and finished it as the tour ended.

It will be hard to wait for another year – but I’ll keep busy until then.

La Tricoteuse, (the Knitter) Alfred Stevens, Belgian, 1823-1906

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A song of France and Ohio State University on 14 July

Tomorrow is the 14th of July, or le 14 Juillet, which is France National Holiday (called Bastille’s Day in Anglophone countries.) One of my blogging friends was remarking how it felt odd to be in a foreign land for the 4th July, American’s Independence Day, where it is just another day and no one paid attention to the meaning of the day. It was the same for me when I came to the USA where July 14th was not celebrated at all. Now I am used to it but I still feel a bit nostalgic about being in France on the eve of the 14th when the celebration starts. I also miss the pretty fireworks.

When I was little we would go to the country where my cousins lived and we would take part in the walking parade (le défilé.) There were at most 8 musicians in the marching band, and everyone would follow them in the streets of the little town. The children had “lampions” - lighted paper lanterns on poles – and as we walked people would shoot up flares and light fire crackers. In the painting below you can see the two boys in the front of the scene with the type of lampions we held. I wrote a long post on the 14th July last year, you can see it here.

La Marseillaise 1880, Jean Béraud, French 1849-1935

This is one of the rare times flags can be seen on people’s houses in France. Last November when in France I tried to find flags that I could photograph for future posts but only found two in front of the old city hall of Marseille.

Click on any photograph to enlarge them

This does not mean that French people are not patriotic – they show it in different ways. My grandfather was very patriotic. Because of his health he had not been accepted for the military service in France. During the First World War he was not on the front. This saved his life really because he was tall, 6 ft 4 (1m 95.) I read that most tall men were killed in the fields as their heads would tower above the trenches (and I also read that it is why later generations of French men were short.) He did take part in the war effort by managing an armament factory, but I think he always regretted not having been in the trenches.

Photo of my grandfather taken before the second World War

I was born during the Second World War while my father was fighting in the war. My mother had to work so my grandparents took care of me for several years. At that time they had left Paris and lived in a small town in the south of France, in Provence, called Vaison la Romaine.

It is an historical town with roman ruins.

I was very little but I still remember running in those ruins, or in the lavender fields. My grandfather would usually be there with me.

If I hurt myself he would take me in his arms and always sing the same tune – a military marching song. I heard it a zillion times and it is etched in my memory. Either in his arms, or on his knees, he would rock me to the rhythm of “Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse.” This patriotic song was composed as a tribute to the Republican armies of France. The French Revolutionary armies, made up mostly of volunteers, successfully fought in 1792 against a European coalition which was trying to restore royalty in France. In 1797 they fought against Austrian troops, at the battle of Neuwied, and were victorious.

Bataille de Neuwied, Armée de Sambre et Meuse, Victor Adam, French, 1801-1886

The song retells the tribute paid the soldiers by Général Bonaparte, then commander-in-chief of the Army of Italy. He said: “You are naked and hungry, without shoes nor clothes, having almost no bread to eat and your shops all empty while those of the enemy abound in everything, it’s up to you to conquer them. You have the will, you have the might, let’s surge on!"

Général Bonaparte - La Bataille de Rivoli 1797, Paul Philippoteaux, French, 1846-1923

This is the first chorus of the march:

Le régiment de Sambre et Meuse

Tous ces fiers enfants de la Gaule
Allaient sans trêve et sans repos
Avec leurs fusils sur l'épaule,
Courage au coeur et sac au dos.
La gloire était leur nourriture,
Ils étaient sans pain, sans souliers,
La nuit ils couchaient sur la dure
Avec leur sac pour oreiller.


Le régiment de Sambre et Meuse
Marchait toujours au cri de "liberté!"
Cherchant la route glorieuse
Qui l'a conduit à l'immortalité.

Translation -

All these proud children of Gaul
Marching without respite or ease,
With their rifles on their shoulders.
Courage in their hearts and sacks on their backs,
Glory was their food
They were without bread, without shoes
They slept on the hard ground
With their sacs beneath their heads.

The regiment from Sambre et Meuse
Always marched to the call of “freedom”
Seeking the path of glory
That led them to immortality

Le régiment de Sambre et Meuse is one of the most popular French marches. The music was composed by Robert Planquette in 1879 from a poem written by Paul Cézano.

I don’t know why my grand dad liked this marching song so much. He was originally from Alsace, which is in the east of France, not too far from the river Sambre and the river Meuse.

When I found the clip music for this march, my husband who was near me said: “this is the Ohio State University Buckeyes marching song when they do their famous “script Ohio” march.” “ Really?” I replied, “What is the script Ohio?” He explained that before their football games the marching band does a maneuver where they “script” the word “Ohio” with their musicians. They execute this while playing the French “Le régiment de Sambre et Meuse” - the fans love it my husband said. He would know as he is a fan since he attended Ohio State University as did his father and nephew. His sister was an English professor there and both our younger daughter and her husband are finishing this year their residency at Ohio State University Hospital. I was curious about this “script Ohio” and found it on You Tube.

I watched it, but I won’t watch it again because I get too choked up remembering my grandfather singing this march to me as a child so many times. I wonder if all the Ohio fans in this stadium know that it is a French march written to the glory of the French Revolutionary army? And why did they choose this march I wonder. Well I found out the reason here. It seems that the director of the Ohio State University Marching Band in 1929-39 had played in a Navy band during the First World War and heard the popular march. He brought it back to Ohio to add to the band’s repertoire.

I am not in France for the 14th July holiday this year but I have a French flag with me, of sorts. One of my daughter Céline’s best friends is the parent of a new baby. I offered to knit or crochet a blanket for the new baby as I like to keep my hands occupied as I watch the Tour de France live on TV for three weeks. Jack, the parent of the baby said that since I was watching the Tour, why not make the blanket blue white and red like a French flag. I started the blanket during the second stage of the Tour, last Sunday and I am already finishing the red color.

The Tour de France is known all over the world. I wrote a post last year explaining the Tour (see it here.) This year it started on 3rd of July and will finish on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on Sunday July 25th. The riders will cover 2,221 miles (3,574 kms) – roughly the distance between New York and Salt Lake City. It is an international race; flags from many countries can be seen along the roads.

The above were taken from my television, so they are not very crisp

Every morning I get ready to watch the current stage of Le Tour by looking at the route profile.

Then while I sip on a strong cup of French roast coffee I keep knitting my little baby blanket. I have knitted or crocheted a baby blanket during the Tour for the last several years, this is my 12th blanket.

Tomorrow, 14th of July, will be stage no. 10 in the Southern Alps, another tough mountain ride.

The helicopters will show us beautiful views of the ride, the mountains and the valleys, and my little blanket will be close to being finished.

This post is dedicated to my late grandfather François Laurent (named Franz Lorenz at birth when Alsace was German territory - Laurent is Lawrence in English.)

It is also dedicated to my husband, a Buckeye fan, as well as all the Ohio State University Buckeye fans everywhere.

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