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Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant…

Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created… (2008)

by Frances Dinkelspiel

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In her landmark biography of Isaias Wolf Hellman, Frances Dinkelspiel, his great-great-granddaughter, presents a prototype of a California rags-to-riches pioneer. His attributes, all prodigious, included intelligence, need, ego and prudence (don't lend to those who can't you pay back), plus shrewd partnering, in marriage and business. In 1859 at seventeen, Isaias left Reckendorf, Bavaria, to join a Hellman relative in Los Angeles, population 4,000. Gold gone, new rushes had erupted in California commerce, agriculture, industry, finance and transportation. From greenhorn clerk, Hellman progressed to merchant, banker, investor, philanthropist and community leader. By 1890, he was a multi-millionaire, ensconced in San Francisco banks, businesses and philanthropies. One constant in his ascent was his wife, Esther Neugass, who gave him companionship, three children and access to her brother-in-law, Meyer Lehman, founder of Lehman Brothers. In 1850, at the first Yom Kippur service in San Francisco, the lay rabbi noted: "California, in her infant state, asks you aid to build her cities. . . . Few, if any, rushed through that open door and contributed more than Hellman."
  HarrietRochlin | Jul 2, 2013 |
In Towers of Gold, Frances Dinkelspiel explores the history of California, using Hellman – her great-great-grandfather – as a compass. As the subtitle explains, this is the story of “How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California.” Hellman soon outgrew his modest storefront, going on to become a banker and financier with his hand in the industries that shaped California.

The book moves along at a good clip, written in a clear, journalistic style that reflects Dinkelspiel’s decades in the newspaper business. Although Dinkelspiel is related to Hellman, Towers of Gold is no mere family memoir, of interest only to Hellman’s scattered descendants. She keeps her eye on the bigger picture, looking first at economically significant events such as bringing the railroad to Los Angeles, starting the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the University of California in Berkeley, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the discovery of oil in Southern California, and then explaining Hellman’s significant role in each of these events.

Full review posted on Rose City Reader. ( )
  RoseCityReader | Apr 7, 2009 |
"Towers of Gold" by Frances Dinkelspiel is about her great-great-grandfather, Isaias Hellman. If you have never heard of him, you might know one of the banks he built, Wells Fargo Bank. Wells Fargo was in the news several months back by buying Wachovia, one of those failed banks. Speaking of failed banks, this book also shows the start and rise of Lehman Brothers Bank, which declared bankruptcy this year.

This is not about banking, it's about a German-Jewish immigrant that ended up in Los Angeles who worked, saved, and started businesses, of which banking was his specialty. Isaias Hellman's struggles and triumphs in business shows how far someone with intelligence and determination, in the right circumstances, can achieve.

"Towers of Gold" also chronicles the rise of Los Angeles from a town on a marshland to a major city and a bit of business history through two depressions, one before 1900 and the one after.

Dinkelspiel also writes fascinating glimpses of the founding and founding figures of Stanford University, University of California, Levi and Strauss, Southern Pacific Rail, Nob Hill, Bank of America, Lehman Brothers, San Francisco cable cars, Los Angeles, and Mount Zion Hospital.

I enjoyed reading the Towers. It is fast-paced and detailed. Events and people are shown in their background, which allows the reader to see there are very few black and white issues. The "Towers of Gold" puts the current banking crises in perspective. Frances Dinkelspiel's saga about her great-great-grandfather shows his place in California history.

Copy to be given away at http://j-kaye-book-blog.blogspot.com. Look in the right sidebar under Giveaways. ( )
  judithkaye | Dec 5, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312355262, Hardcover)

Isaias Hellman, a Jewish immigrant, arrived in California in 1859 with very little money in his pocket and his brother Herman by his side.  By the time he died, he had effectively transformed Los Angeles into the modern metropolis we see today.  In Frances Dinkelspiel's groundbreaking history, the early days of California are seen through the life of a man who started out as a simple store owner only to become California's premier money-man of the late 19th and early 20th century. Growing up as a young immigrant, Hellman quickly learned the use to which "capital" could be put, founding LA's Farmers and Merchants Bank, that city's first successful bank, and transforming Wells Fargo into one of the West's biggest financial institutions. He invested money with Henry Huntington to build trolley lines, lent Edward Doheney the funds that led him to discover California's huge oil reserves, and assisted Harrison Gary Otis in acquiring full ownership of the Los Angeles Times.  Hellman led the building of Los Angeles' first synagogue, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, helped start the University of Southern California and served as Regent of the University of California. His influence, however, was not limited to Los Angeles. He controlled the California wine industry for almost twenty years and, after San Francisco's devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, calmed the financial markets there in order to help that great city rise from the ashes. With all of these accomplishments, Isaias Hellman almost single-handedly brought California into modernity. Ripe with great historical events that filled the early days of California such as the Gold Rush and the San Francisco earthquake, Towers of Gold brings to life the transformation of California from a frontier society whose economy was driven by the barter of hides and exchange of gold dust into a vibrant state with the strongest economy in the nation.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:04 -0400)

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