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 & Emil Julius Rosenthal

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

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


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 Newmark backed Lyon & Rosenthal and the future partnerships

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

Walter Lyon He never married, and died of a kidney illness in 1882. He was just 28 years of age. During his funeral, all the businesses of Riverside closed.


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

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

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

The development of the Riverside Navel Orange also put the little town “on the map.”

In addition to 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 prominent hills, Mt. Rubidoux and Little Rubidoux.

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

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

Redlands from the top of Mt. Rubidoux, circa 1900, WSJH postcard collection

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

He married Anna Unruh in 1875, and together they 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 to became an insurance broker.

Rosenthal passed away while in Mexico in 1901.


Samuel Lightner

Samuel Lightner was born in Olympus, Washington Territory, in 1861.

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

Business prospered , but Samuel Lightner did not live to reap the rewards.

He died of typhoid fever in 1885.


Felix Lightner & Philip Frankenheimer

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

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 the Lightners and Frankenheimers 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, California, in 1867 and moved to Riverside in 1880.

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 passed away that same year.

Helene 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 and Oppenheimer moved to Los Angeles.

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


Ferdinand Bamberger

Ferdinand Bamberger was born in 1847 in Frankfort-am-Main.

He arrived in the United States in 1864 and became a citizen in San Jose, California, in 1872.

Bamberger 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 frequently gave food and money to wayfaring Jews.

Bamberger married Susette Stern in the 1870’s. 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.”

Michelbacher married Ida Emelia Bauman. They had 7 children.

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


Other Early Jewish Pioneers

The following Jewish pioneers are listed in the Riverside’s business license records, but not in the City’s directories, suggesting they may not have remained in the city 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
  • 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 not until after World War II that Jews constituted a significant community in the area.


  • Samuel Reznick, “Early Jews of Riverside,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 12/2.

Thanks to Matthew Rosenthal for some family corrections.