Herman W. Hellman: Early Pioneer Jewish Los Angeles Food Wholesaler & Banker

Herman W. Hellman  

Herman W. Hellman

Values Code: I-E-P


Herman W. Hellman was born in Rackendorf, Germany in 1843.

He left Germany to avoid the draft.

Los Angeles

Arriving in Los Angeles, in 1859, at the age of 16, Hellman first drove a mail stage from  the port at Wilmington to Los Angeles.

In 1861, he  clerked for his uncle, Samuel Hellman in his stationary, book, dry goods and cigar store in Los Angeles and shortly became a partner.

However, Herman had his own ideas, left the patnership and opened his own store in the Downey Block, in a commercial building.

This, too, was short lived as he joined in partnership in the creation of Hellman, Haas & Co., Wholesale Grocers, and started selling merchandise in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and even parts of Texas.

By the mid-1880’s Hellman, Haas & Co. was recognized as the largest wholesaler of its kind in the Southwest.

Herman W. Hellman became one of the richest busnessmen in Los Angeles


In 1890, his older brother, Isaias W. Hellman, took over control of California’s largest bank, The Nevada-California Bank.

This necessitated Isaias Hellman’s move to San Francisco.

His Los Angeles bank, The Farmers & Merchants Bank, needed a leader, so Isaias asked his brother to leave the wholesale food business and take over as Vice-President and General Manager of his bank.

Upon leaving Hellman, Haas & Co., the grocery company became Baruch, Hass & Co. – and continued to grow.


As time went on Isaias was not happy with his brother’s abilities.

Isaias was a strict, conservative banker.

He did not believe in lending money to persons of questionable ability.

Herman was much more liberal with his loans, which Isaias believed pushed the risk limit of the bank too far.

For years he would criticize Herman in letters and telegrams.

In 1894, Herman made a trip to Germany to visit family and for the baths – as his health was weakening.

Isaias appointed his own son, Marco Hellman, to go to Los Angeles and be the Temporary President of the bank.

When Herman returned, Isaias did not recall Marco to San Francisco, leaving him in a higher position than his own brother.

Tension remained during the following years.

While visiting Los Angeles in 1903, Isaias and Herman had a major argument and Herman resigned.


Herman Hellman then became President of the Merchants National Bank in Los Angeles.

Many of his customers transfered their accounts from the Farmers & Mechanics Bank to the Merchants National Bank.

Real Estate

Herman Hellman was heavily invested in Los Angeles area real estate.

Herman W. Hellman Building, 4th & Spring Sts. Still Stands Today.

Besides his large home on South Hill Street, he owned a twenty acre home in Alhambra.

In 1903, he built an 8-story office building, still standing today called the Herman W. Hellman Building.

Civic & Community Life

Herman W. Hellman was a Founder of the  Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

He was also President of Congregation B’nai B’rith (now Wilshire Boulevard Temple) for a number of years.


Herman Hellman Home on So. Hill St., Los Angeles

In 1871, Herman W. Hellman returned to Germany and rekindled a relationship with his cousin, Ida Heimann.

In 1874, he returned to Germany and married Ida, bringing her back to Los Angeles.

Their children were Marco, Fred, Irving and Amy.


In 1906, Herman’s diabeties took over and he slipped into a coma.

The family sent for  Isaias, hoping that amends could be made between the two brothers.

Isaias Hellman rushed down from San Francisco on a fifteen hour stagecoach, but arrived too late.

Herman had passed away a few hours before Isaias arrived.


HermanW.  Hellman  was buried in the new Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles.


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

  • Hellman, Herman W. Family; Session with Mr. and Mrs. Aronson; Los Angeles; 1967; Norton Stern; 41/3
  • Hellman, Herman W; Interview with Irving H. Hellman; Beverly Hills; 1967; Norton Stern; 41/3


  • Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, by Frances Dinkelspiel, St. Martins Press, 2008


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