Isidor Louis: Pioneer Shoemaker and Businessman in Early San Diego

Isidor Louis

Values Codes  I – E – L

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

Isidor Louis, San Diego, CA, WSJH 17/4


Isidor Louis was born in 1836 in the Polish city of Lessen, then a Prussian-occupied territory.


Along the way

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

Louis became a naturalized citizen in 1864.

As was common practice, he returned to his home town in Poland in 1866 to be married.

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, 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 repairs.

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

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

He offered ice to saloonkeepers to cool beer and to housewives to preserve food.

This also enabled Louis to introduced ice cream to San Diego.

In 1880, he opened an “ice cream saloon” called Maison Doree.

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, coffee, champagne, ale, and beer. He also added nuts, candy, and other confectionery.

Additionally, Louis had a cigar stand.

San Diego finally got a railroad in late 1885, sparking a real estate boom.

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

Also in 1887, together with the Bank of CommerceIsidor 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, Gaslamp District, San Diego

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

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.


  • Florence Maio and Henry Schwartz, “Isidor Louis: Shoemaker to Capitalist in San Diego,” Western States Jewish History 17/4.

Stanley Schwartz is curator for this Isidor Louis exhibit.