The Early Pioneer Jews of Riverside, California

The Early Pioneer Jews of Riverside

Riverside California was founded in 1870 as the Southern California Colony Association.


Walter Lyon and Emil Julius Rosenthal

Into the very small town with a few adobe houses and unpaved streets arrived Walter Lyon (18) and Emil Julius Rosenthal (27), in 1872.

They opened a general store called Lyon & Rosenthal – which prospered between 1872 & 1882.


Walter Lyon

Walter Lyon of Riverside, WS2393

Walter Lyon of Riverside,

Walter Lyon was born in New York in 1854.

He came to Los Angeles in 1870 to work for a relative, Harris Newmark, one of Los Angeles’ leading citizens.

It is likely that Harris Newmark backed Lyon & Rosenthal and the future partnerships


Walter Lyon was active in the new Riverside Library Association and an aid to the Commanding Officer of the California National Guard in that area.

Walter Lyon never married.

Walter Lyon died in 1882, only 28 years of age from a kidney ailment.

During his funeral, all the businesses of Riverside closed.


Emil Julius Rosenthal

Emil J. Rothenthal was born in 1845 in Muelhasen, Thüringen, Prussia (Germany).

He arrived in America shortly after the Civil Way and received his citizenship in 1869.

His partnership, Lyon & Rosenthal, in Riverside offered many opportunities in this new town as it quickly changed from a farm to a noted health resort with hotels that catered to people with various problems that benefited from the clean air in a delightful, dry and warm community.

Also, the development of the Riverside Navel Orange put the little town “on the map.”


Beside the store, Rosenthal was busy in real estate, railroad related activities, and the development of irrigation, gas, electricity and water projects.

At the approach to Riverside are two hills, Mt. Rubidoux and Little Rubidoux.

Redlands from the top of Mt.Rubidoux circa 1900. #WSPostage Collection

Redlands from the top of Mt.Rubidoux circa 1900.
#WSPostage Collection


On these hills, Emil Rosenthal developed a domestic water system for the city, complete with underground pipes.


Rosenthal was an early member of the local Masons and was the first member to complete all the Masonic Degrees.

Emil Rosenthal married Anna Unruh in 1875 and together had 6 children.


When Walter Lyons passed away in 1882, Rosenthal took on a new partner, Samuel Lightner.

The firm became known as Lightner & Rosenthal.

Emil Rosenthal eventually sold his interest and moved to Los Angeles and became an insurance broker.

Emil J. Rosenthal passed away while in Mexico in 1901


Samuel Lightner

Samuel Lightner was born in Olympis, Washington Territory in 1861

He arrived in Riverside in 1882 to become a partner with Emil Rosenthal, as Lightner & Rosenthal.

Business prospered , but not Lightner.

Samuel Lightner died of typhiod fever in 1885.


Felix Lightner & Philip Frankenheimer

Felix Lightner, Samuel’s younger brother took his place in the partnership.

In 1886 Emil Rosenthal retired and sold his share to Philip Frankenheimer


Felix Lightner married Therese Frankenheimer,  of San Francisco, his partner’s sister, in 1887.

They all lived together in a grand house in Riverside.

Both had family ties to Harris Newmark of Los Angeles.

In 1912 the two partners closed their business with a big sale and moved to Los Angeles where they had purchased the J. R. Land Dry Goods Company.

So ended one of the first retail establishments of Riverside.


Philip & Helene Reinstein

Philip Reinstein was naturalized in Kern County in 1867 and moved to Riverside in 1880.

Philip Reinstein was a saddle and harness maker.

He came to Riverside for his health.

His wife, Helene Reinstein, opened a women’s millinery and fancy goods store in 1884.

Philip Reinstein passed away that same year.

Helene Reinstein sold her store in 1886 to Mr. & Mrs. Abraham Feintuch and moved to Los Angeles where she married Leopold Oppenheimer who originally had a general merchandise store in Riverside.


Leopold Oppenheimer

Leopold Oppenheimer arrived in Riverside in 1882 and opened Oppenheimer & Kohn, a general merchandise store.

Kohn was a silent partner in San Francisco.

The business collapsed in and Oppenheimer moved to Los Angeles.

Leopold Oppenheimer passed away in 1891 and is buried in the San Bernardino Jewish Cemetery.


Ferdinand Bamberger

Ferdinand Bamberger was born in 1847 in Frankfort-am-Man

Bamberger arrived in America in 1864 and became a citizen in San Jose in 1872.

He arrived in Riverside in 1888 where he set up a tobacco and pool hall and became a loan broker.

He was active in Congregation Emanu El in San Bernardino and always gave food and money to wayfaring Jews

Ferdinand Bamberger married Susette Stern in the 1870s.

They had 3 children.

Ferdinand Bamberger passed away in 1928.


Ezra Michelbacher

Ezra Michalbacher was born in New York in 1859

He arrived near Riverside in 1885 where he homesteaded 140 acres.

Michalbacher became a grocer in Riverside but lost his business because he could not refuse help to needy Jews and hobos. His home was a few blocks from the railroad station and hobos had “marked his house” as an “easy touch.”

Ezra Michelbacher married Ida Emelia Bauman and had 7 children.

Ezra Michelbacher passed away in Newport Beach, California in 1918.


Other Early Jewish Pioneers of Riverside, California.

The following Jewish Pioneers are listed in the City’s Business Licence records, but not in the City’s Directories, indicating that they may not have remained for any length of time:

  • Blumberg & Son, merchant tailors
  • Nathan Bauman
  • Max Kaufman, junk dealer,
  • Charles Tennenbaum, junk dealer,
  • Tom Rosenthal, second hand clothing,
  • B. Frankel, ladies tailor,
  • A. Kustiner, men’s furnishings,
  • I. Aronson, optician
  • And Dr. Schiffman, dentist.

The Jews who came to Riverside in its early days made an impact as citizens of this city.

Many of them came with health problems and, unfortunately, died very young.

It was only after World War II that the Jews constituted a Jewish community.

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

Early Jews of Riverside, by Samuel Reznick, WSJH, 12/2

Any pictures of any of these Riverside Jewish Pioneers will be welcomed.

Thanks to Matthew Rosenthal for some family corrections.