Isaias W. Hellman: Pioneer Banking Leader of the Wild West, Part 1, Los Angeles Years

Isaias Wolf Hellman

Isaias Hellman in his 40's FD#26576

Isaias Hellman in his 40’s

Values Code: I-H-E-L-P


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.


Business Life

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.

Farmers & Merchants Bank was at this location from 1883 to 1905

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 succeed.

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.

Farmer’s & Merchant’s Bank built in 1904, Los Angeles

Bringing the Railroad to Los Angeles

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

Deposit Slip from Farmer & Merchants Bank, Los Angeles, 1871

Real Eastate

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 owned 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.


Civic & Community Involvement

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.

Residence of Isaias W. Hellman, Main & 4th Sts., Los Angeles, 1880's Litho

Residence of Isaias W. Hellman, Main & 4th Sts., Los Angeles.  –1880’s Lithograph.


Mrs. Isaias W. Hellman, Los Angeles

Isaias W. Hellman married Esther Newgass, of New York, on April 14, 1870.

This brought Isaias into the Lehman family of New York bankers.

The couple had three children, Isaias William Hellman, Jr., Clara, and Florence.


In 1890, Hellman moved to San Francisco to take over the California/Nevada Bank.

Click here to go to Part #2 of the story of Isaias Hellman in San Francisco


More information can be found in the following issues of Western States Jewish History:

  • Hellman; Irving; Interview with Herman W. Hellman; Beverly Hills; 1967; Norton Stern; 41/3
  • Hellman, Isiah M. Family; Interview with Mrs. Caroline Sichel; Los Angeles; 1967; Norton Stern; 41/3
  • Hellman, Isiah M.; Early Hellman Family Pioneer; 1831-1890; Rabbi William M. Kramer; 42/2-3
  • Hellman, I. W.; 1877 Mansion of I. W. Hellman of Los Angeles: An Architectural Story; Los Angeles; 11/4
  • Hellman, Isaias W; Banker of the Southland in 1885; Los Angeles; Lynch, Joseph D.; 9/3, 38/3&4.
  • Hellman, Isaiah M. and Samuel and Families; Interview with Mrs. Arthur Greenbaum, Nee Aileen Stern; Los Angeles; 1974; Norton Stern; 41/3
  • Hellman, Isaias W.; Diary of Isaias W. Hellman; 1911; Part 1; Los Angeles; Hellman, Isaias W.; 22/1
  • Hellman, Isaias W.; Diary of Isaias W. Hellman; 1911; Part 2; Los Angeles; Hellman, Isaias W.; 22/2
  • Hellman, Isaias W.; Diary of Isaias W. Hellman; 1915; Part 2; San Francisco; Hellman, Isaias W.; 23/1
  • Hellman, Isaias W.; Diary of Isaias W. Hellman. 1915; Part 1; San Francisco; Hellman; Isaias W.; 23/2
  • Hellman, Isaias W.; Picture Story #9; Los Angeles; 5/3
  • Hellman, Isaias W. Isaias W. Hellman: Pioneer Merchant and Banker of California, 1842-1920. Norton B. Stern.; 38/3&4.
  • Hellman, Isaias W.; Toward a Biography of Isaias W. Hellman: Pioneer Builder of California; Los Angeles; Stern, Norton B.; 2/1
  • Hellman, Isaias Wolf, Pioneer Jews of San Francisco, Part One, A-L, Norton Stern, 41/1


  • Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, by Frances Dinkelspiel, St. Martins Press, 2008. (a “Must Read” for those interested in California History.”


For more Early Los Angeles Jewish Pioneers click here for the Table of Contents.

Some, but not all of the Los Angeles Pioneers, can be reached by clicking on their name on the list near the upper right of this page.