Louis Phillips of the Pomona Valley: Early Jewish Pioneer, Rancher & Real Estate Investor

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Louis Phillips

Values Codes I-E-L-P

 

“Louis Phillips is well deserving to be held in long, pleasant remembrance as one of the sturdy pioneers who helped fashion and build the great commonwealth of California, and who was especially a leader and controlling factor in Los Angeles and parts of the Southland.”

– Frank Becket, Historian 

Louis Phillips as a Young Man WS#0774

Louis Phillips as a Young Man
WS#0774

Louis Phillips was born Louis Galefsky, in 1829, at Kempen, Poland in the Province of Posen, then occupied by Prussia.

When Louis and his brothers, Fitel and Robert came to the United States in 1848 they changed their surnames to “Phillips.”

After two years in Louisiana, they left for San Francisco via the Panama route.

In 1850 they opened a store in San Francisco, but in 1851 Louis Phillips left for Los Angeles.

Louis Philips became a naturalized citizen in Los Angeles in 1851 – formalized in 1852 – one of the very first Jews to become a United States citizen in California

 

Ranching

Louis Phillips started his ranching career, in 1853.

It is probable that he had had experience in Posen.

Louis Phillips purchased a 2,400 acre portion of the San Antonio Ranch along the San Gabriel River.

Today this land is the site of the cities of Huntington Park, Lynwood, Vernon, Maywood, Bell, South Gate and Montebello.

On his sizable spread, Louis Phillips engaged in farming and stock raising for the next ten years.

His brother Fitel, who had become a successful merchant in San Francisco, supplied some of his capital needs.

In 1860, Louis Phillips purchased another 2,400 acre portion of the San Antonio Ranch.

In 1862, he became owner of the adjacent Rancho San Jose de Abajo – 12,000 acres!

Louis Phillips prospered as a farmer and rancher.

 

He became close with Harris Newmark and Kaspare Cohn who often acted as brokers for his wool and grain.

“Any day one might see Phillips riding over the ranch alone, or with his lifelong friend and foreman, Jose Perez, notebook in hand, taking inventory of stock, marking what was his and noting whatever needed attention. His herds increased. . .”

–Judith Shires, historian.

“Phillips, in contrast to the original Mexican grantees, never ran into debt and never wasted anything or purchased products he didn’t need.

– Frank Bracket, Pomona Historian.

 

By 1874, Louis Phillips owned and operated a total of 20,000 acres, pasturing 6,000 sheep and 300 head of cattle.

This area comprised most of what we know today as the entire Pomona Valley.

Phillips sold a portion of this land to developers who created the beginnings of the City of Pomona.

Phillips also owned property within the new city and built a number of downtown buildings there.

 

Real Estate

The Phillips Block #1. LA's first Skyscraper. 1890s WS#3005

The Phillips Block #1. LA’s first Skyscraper. 1890s
WS#3005

During these ten years, Louis Phillips also engaged in real estate in the budding town of Los Angeles, eventually owning a number of city blocks.

On one, known as Phillips Block No. 1., he erected a four and a half story structure in the heart of the retail business district, Los Angeles’ first “skyscraper.”

Hamburger’s Department Store opened their first Los Angeles store under the name of The Peoples Store – located in the Phillips Building.

Other “Phillips Blocks” contained hotels, restaurants and other business establishments.

 

In 1892, a Los Angeles Times reporter asked Harris Newmark who he thought was the richest man in Los Angeles County. Newmark replied: 

“There is no doubt that the richest property holder in the county today is Louis Phillips, who lives so quietly out in Spadra, near Pomona.

“He has, for several years, had the largest receipts of any businessman in this part of the state.

“He is also extremely fortunate in his selection of real estate, and every month adds more to the value of his blocks and buildings.” 
– Los Angeles Times, 9/18/1892.

 

Civic

Louis Phillips was one of the founders of Pomona College and acted as a trustee for many years.

Louis Phillips, Pomona,CA^1829-1900, WS1667-

 

Family

Louis Phillips married Esther Blake, in 1866.

The had 5 children, Charles, George, Louis Jr., Kate Cele, and Mrs. Frank George.

They settled in a house in an area they called Spadra, which was equal distance between Los Angeles and San Bernardino.

A small town developed around this site.

Eventually they built their Second Empire Style mansion nearby, which has been restored and on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Louis Phillips 2nd Empire Mansion in Spadra, Pomona Vally. WS#0778

Louis Phillips 2nd Empire Mansion in Spadra, Pomona Vally.
WS#0778

 

Louis Phillips died, in 1900, in his mansion, shortly after a visit by his friend, Kaspare Cohn.

Unlike many other Jewish Pioneers of Los Angeles, Louis Phillips has rarely been covered by Jewish historians.

However, a section of Pomona, built in 1980, is known as the Phillips Ranch.

There is a Phillips Boulevard in Pomona and a number of Phillips Roads, Streets and Avenues in the surrounding towns.

 

Information Received from Visitors to the Jewish Museum of the American West

In 1948, my parents bought a home in Westmont, next to the Phillips Ranch in Pomona. Dudley Phillips owned the ranch then.

We boarded three horses on the ranch.

The ranch foreman then was Jim Sharp who lived in a small house near Mission Blvd., which ran near the edge of the ranch.

With Jim was his wife Helen, son Steve and ranch hand Fred Hayes.  –Dan Fenske. July, 2013

Dudley Phillips lived near what is now the 10 Freeway on Kellogg Hill. His wife
also named Helen and a son named Edwin. I was six years old in 1948.

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

  • Louis Phillips of the Pomona Valley: Rancher and Real Estate Investor, by Norton Stern; 16/1

More Early Los Angeles Jewish Pioneers

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

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