Isadore Louis: Pioneer Jewish Shoemaker to Capitalist in Early San Diego

Isidor Louis

Values Codes  I-E-L

Isadore Louis, San Diego, CA, WS XVII #4

Isadore Louis, San Diego, CA,


Isidor Louis was born in 1836, in the Polish city of Lessen, then in territory occupied by Prussia.


Along the way

Isidor Louis came to San Francisco during the 1850s and by the Civil War period, he was operating his own “boots and shoes” shop.


Isidor Louis became a naturalized citizen in 1864.

In 1866, Isidor Louis returned to his home town in Poland where, as was the common practice, he married Valentine Rafalska. Their two sons were born in Poland.

In 1868, the family left Europe and returned to the United States, settling in Los Angeles.

There Isidor Louis  operated a shoe store where he made and repaired boots and shoes.

In the summer of 1870, Isidor Louis and family moved to San Diego.


San Diego

A San Diego newspaper announced that Isidor Louis made shoes and boots, especially in the French style and did repairing.


Always with an eager eye for new ventures, Louis noticed that ice was needed in San Diego in the warm months. So Isidor Louis became an ice merchant.

He ordered ice cut from Lake Tahoe in the winter and shipped it to his insulated warehouse in San Diego.

Isidor Louis offered ice to saloonkeepers to cool beer and to housewives to preserve food.


This made possible another Louis innovation in San Diego – ice cream!

In 1880, he opened what the local newspaper described as an “ice cream saloon.” called Maison Doree.


Isiador Louis became a restaurateur as well.

He imported fresh oysters from the East for his Metropolitan Oyster Bar and turned his Maison Doree into a restaurant, adding sandwiches and coffee, and champagne, ale and beer. He also added nuts, candy and other confectionery.


Additionally, Isiador Louis had a cigar stand.


San Diego finally got a railroad in late 1885, which sparked a real estate boom, making possible new Louis ventures.

He decided to build his own opera house, which was the first theatre building for opera, pageants and concerts. It opened in 1887.


Also in 1887, together with the Bank of Commerce, Isidor Louis purchased a lot on Fifth Avenue and erected an ornate Victorian structure with twin mansard roof towers, each topped by an eagle with spread wings. This was the tallest building in San Diego at that time. Today, the Louis Bank of Commerce Building is the gem of the Gaslamp Quarter.

Louis Bank of Commerce Building in the Gaslight District of San Diego.


Isidor Louis died in Los Angeles at the age of fifty-nine, in 1895.

He left his wife Valentine, daughter Adele and his sons Emanuel and Henry.


Emanuel Louis was a member of the Board of Education of San Diego at the time of his father’s death. He was also city editor of the San Diego Sun.

Henry W. Louis, who had moved earlier to Los Angeles, became a pioneer in the sportswear and garment manufacturing industry.

Both sons became important figures in the Los Angeles Jewish community.


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

  • Isidor Louis: Shoemaker to Capitalist in San Diego; San Diego; Maio, Florence & Schwartz; Henry; 17/4

We need a picture of Isador Louis.

To enlarge pictures, simply click on them.

Stanley Schwartz is Curator for this Isador Louis Exhibit