Monday, April 23, 2018

The Siblings of Walter Samuel Smith

Walter Samuel Smith

My second great-grandfather, Walter Samuel Smith, had three siblings. The children of Samuel G. Smith and Ellen Henrietta Partridge were as follows:

Mary Emma Leticia Smith (b. 1865)
Walter Samuel Smith (b. 1869)
George Smith (b. 1877)
Charles Edgar Smith (b. 1884)

Mary Emma Leticia Smith

Mary Emma was born on September 16, 1865 in Bunker Hill, Illinois. On December 15, 1897, at the age of 32, she married Oscar Clement Partridge, the son of Timothy Partridge and Frances Harbeson. Oscar was Mary Emma's second cousin. They shared the same great-grandparents: James Partridge and Rebecca Dean of High Wycombe, England. Oscar descended from James and Rebecca's son John Steven Partridge, while Mary Emma descended from their son James Partridge, Jr. Both families emigrated to Bunker Hill, Illinois in the early 1800s. Aside from their familial relationship, a curious item about this marriage is Mary Emma and Oscar's age difference. Oscar was born on September 19, 1876, and was 11 years younger than his bride.

According to the 1900 U.S. Census, three years after their marriage, Oscar and Mary Emma were settled in Witt Township, Montgomery County, Illinois, where Oscar worked as a farmer. They would have four children together:

Laura Louise Partridge (1898 - 1986)
Samuel Isaac Partridge (1900 - 1922)
Mary Marguerite Partridge (1903 - 1939)
Walter Ralph Partridge (1905 - 1985)

Oscar and and Mary Emma divorced sometime between 1905 and 1920, likely before 1910. The children continued to live with Mary Emma after the divorce. Oscar appears to have moved to Missouri, where he died on March 6, 1951, at the age of 74. It is believed that he remarried at least once, and possibly several times. I have not been able to determine a death date for Mary Emma, but she lived until at least 1940, when she appears in the U.S. Census at age 74, in Harter, Illinois. She did not remarry before her death.


Tragically, Mary Emma and Oscar's son Samuel died at the age of 21. He had been working as a laborer in Bunker Hill at the time of his death. It's not clear whether there was an accident or if he became ill. He was not married before the time of his death and left behind no children.

Mary also died young. At the age of seventeen, she married Virgil Edwin Halterman, son of John Wesley Halterman and Rebecca "Nellie" Riggle. They had two sons: Virgil Edwin Halterman, Jr. (b. 1921) and John Wesley Halterman (b. 1923). She died in 1939, at the age of 36.

Eldest daughter Laura was granted the longevity that Samuel and Mary were not. She lived to be 87. In about 1920, she married Gilbert E. Halterman. Gilbert was the brother of Virgil Halterman, who married her younger sister Mary that same year. Laura and Gilbert had two sons: Gilbert E. Halterman, Jr. (b. 1921) and Charles Wesley Halterman (b. 1923). Laura died in Flora, Illinois, in January 1986.

The youngest Partridge sibling, Walter, married Blanche Esther Thompson, daughter of John Ewing Thompson and Jessie Tate. Together, they had five children: Cleo M. Partridge (b. 1925), Dorothy Partridge (b. 1927), John W. Partridge (b. 1931), Esther Marie Partridge (b. 1934), and Donald E. Partridge (b. 1937). Walter's family settled in Flora, Illinois, and then Harter, Illinois. Walter worked in a shoe factory. He died at the age of 80, in 1985.

George Smith

George D. Smith was the third of Samuel and Ellen Partridge's children. After his elder brother, Walter, moved to Los Angeles, George followed him. He is found in the 1900 U.S. Census living with his brother in Los Angeles. He was 23 years old at that time. Walter had gotten George a job at as a driver at the Union Ice Company, where he worked. By 1904, George married Elizabeth Roberts, and their only child, Milo Robert Smith, was born on May 9, 1904 in Los Angeles. George worked his way up to foreman at the Union Ice Company, and later transitioned to a foreman role at a lumber company. George died on August 10, 1967 in Los Angeles. He was 89 years old.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about George's wife, Elizabeth. She was born in Wales, but was living in Los Angeles by the time she met George. She died in 1962, at the age of 80.

George and Elizabeth's only child, Milo Smith moved from Los Angeles to Berkeley before 1930, where he is found in the U.S. Census. He worked for Pacific Telegraph & Telephone, which was a popular employer in my family. My great-grandparents, George Rutherfurd and Julia Barrett, met while working at Pacific Telegraph & Telephone in Los Angeles. By 1940, George had married a young woman named Capitola Smith, daughter of Frank Smith and Elizabeth Marie Rader. They settled into married life in Berkeley. Capitola died in 1968 in San Francisco, and was buried in her native Missouri. After Capitola's death, Milo moved back to Southern California. In 1972, he married Pauline Cassell in Orange, California. He was 68 at the time. Neither of Milo's marriages resulted in children. He died on June 19, 1987 in Santa Barbara, California. He is buried in Missouri, next to Capitola.


Charles Edgar Smith

Charles Edgar Smith was the youngest of Samuel and Ellen Smith's children. He was born in September 1884, nineteen years after the eldest Smith sibling, Mary Emma. Like his brothers, Charles appears to have bolted for Los Angeles as soon as he finished high school. By 1909, he was living in Los Angeles, where he married Florence Belle Isaac, the daughter of Eli Egbert Isaac and Althea Jane Byers. Charles was 25 years old at the time of his marriage. They settled in Compton, where they would live for the rest of their lives. Charles got work as an electrician, and later became an electrical engineer. He spent 45 years working for the Pacific Electric Railway Co.

Charles and Florence had two daughters: Mirl Florence Smith (b. 1911) and Bernice Esther Smith (b. 1920). Mirl married Walter O. Brown. They had no children. She died on January 11, 2006. Bernice married William D. Barnhart and they had four children. She died on December 23, 2016.

Charles died on June 6, 1962 in Compton. Florence died on February 8, 1978.





Thursday, April 12, 2018

Walter Samuel Smith


Walter Samuel Smith with grandchildren Glenn, Virginia and Barbara Smith


Walter Samuel Smith was my second great-grandfather. He was the father of my great-grandfather Glenn Alvin Smith.

Walter was born on July 13, 1869 in Bunker Hill, Illinois. He was the second of four children born to his parents, Samuel G. Smith and Ellen Henrietta Partridge between 1865 and 1884.

Mary Emma Leticia Smith (b. 1865)
Walter Samuel Smith (b. 1869)
George Smith (b. 1877)
Charles Edgar Smith (b. 1884)


 (L): Charles Smith with wife Florence Isaac (C): Mary Emma Smith Partridge with children (R): George Smith


The Smith children were widely spaced. Walter was closest in age to his older sister, Mary Emma, who was four years his senior. His younger brothers were eight and fifteen years younger than him, which meant they were still young children when Walter left home and moved west to Los Angeles. However, both George and Charles later followed Walter to California, while Mary Emma married in Illinois and spent the rest of her life there.

Bunker Hill was a small farming town when the Smith family lived there. In 1880, when Walter was eleven years old, the population of Bunker Hill was just 1,441. (Wikipedia) Samuel and Ellen had moved their family to Bunker Hill from New England, and were joined by Samuel's parents, Samuel Belding Smith and Mary Hall Smith. They lived next door to each other in Bunker Hill, so Walter would have known his grandparents very well.

Walter's father Samuel worked as a stone cutter. This was a good profession in a growing town where new buildings were needed. Samuel would have cut stone for the floors and walls of new structures. The Smith family's neighbors in Bunker Hill were farmers, carpenters and day laborers. Many were immigrants from England, Ireland and Germany, and quite a few were New England transplants, like the Smiths. Many of the men had served in the Civil War, and having returned to Bunker Hill, were now raising children and investing in their community.

Modern day Bunker Hill. It remains a small town, with about 1,700 residents. (source)

It's not clear why Walter decided to leave Bunker Hill as a young man, but he appears to have moved to Los Angeles alone. He was living there by 1890, but his parents and siblings remained in Illinois. George moved to Los Angeles by 1905, when his son was born there. Charles likely migrated west around the same time, although the first record I find for him in Los Angeles is the 1910 census. Walter's sister and parents would never leave Illinois.

Walter's paternal aunt and uncle, Mary Ann Smith and Philip Howe, had been the first of the extended Smith family to move west. They relocated from Illinois to Southern California in the 1870s. This might have provided inspiration for Walter, Charles and George to follow them. These families appear to have had a strong relationship both in Illinois and California. Walter was on good terms with his cousin, Alvin Jared Howe, who became a doctor and community leader in Santa Ana, Orange County. Walter named his son, Glenn Alvin Smith, after his cousin Alvin Howe.

Walter Samuel Smith (third from left) holding great-grandson Tom Smith. At left, his grandson Glenn M. Smith and son Glenn A. Smith

On March 19, 1890, Walter Samuel Smith married Julia Emrette Bigham in Los Angeles. Julia was the daughter of William John Bigham and Angeline Campbell of Pickneyville, in Perry County, Illinois. Pickneyville is just under a two-hour drive from Bunker Hill today. I can't find any evidence that the Smith and Bigham families knew each other in Illinois, however. I've checked to see if Walter and Julia's fathers might have served together in the Civil War, but they seem to have been in different units. It appears that Walter and Julia met for the first time in Los Angeles.

After marrying, Walter and Julia bought a house at 732 East 20th Street, just south of downtown Los Angeles. There, they welcomed their two children.

Glenn Alvin Smith (b. 1891)
Laurita Smith (b. 1893)

732 East 20th Street, Los Angeles

Walter worked for the Union Ice Company in Los Angeles. He started as a driver, but worked his way up to foreman at the plant. The Union Ice Company was founded in 1882, and played a very important role in the lives of Los Angelenos. In a time before refrigeration, residents relied upon blocks of ice to keep food cold. This ice was delivered to their home and placed in a cooler called an "icebox." This kept perishable items cool. Ice was a necessity, and Union Ice Company provided it. Walter would work there the entirety of his career. When his brother, George, came to Los Angeles, he also began working at Union Ice Company, likely because Walter got him a job. For more on the history of the Union Ice Company, I recommend this informative article from the Los Angeles Times.

Circa 1920s photo courtesy of the California History Room Photo Collection - California State Library.

Voter registration records show that in 1896, the Smiths were living in downtown Los Angeles, at 176 Hewitt Street. Today, this is Little Tokyo, just blocks from MOCA and the L.A. River. City Directories from 1903 and 1904 show the Smith family had moved again, to 613 Mimosa Drive in Los Angeles. This is in the Glassell Park neighborhood, northeast of downtown Los Angeles. After that, the family appears to have settled for some time at 1427 E. 6th Street, where they remained through the 1920s. Today, no homes remain in this area just east of downtown Los Angeles and just west of the L.A. River. It's completely industrialized and populated by long rows of warehouses.

Walter and Julia's daughter Laurita married Claude Hill, son of John Wilbur Hill and Julia Oatman of Benton, Illinois. They settled into a home at 953 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., where they lived for decades. They had no children, but were close with the extended Smith family and Laurita's brother Glenn's seven children. I have a couple of letters written from Laurita to my grandmother, the wife of Laurita's nephew, all signed "Aunt Laurita."

The Smith family came together for holidays and important occasions. In 1940, Walter and Julia Smith celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. A family party was held in Los Angeles. The photo below was taken that night, and includes Walter and Julia, their children Glenn and Laurita, and all seven of their grandchildren, plus assorted spouses.


Top (L-R): Virginia Smith Ross, Glenn Murray Smith, Genevieve Murray Smith, William B. Ross, Patricia Smith Quinlan, Claude Hill, Joan Smith McDonald

On Sofa (L-R): Glenn Alvin Smith, Julia Bigham Smith, Walter Samuel Smith, Laurita Smith Hill

On Floor (L-R): Kevin Smith, Shirley Smith Connely

Walter lived to a very old age. His wife, Julia, died in 1958 at the age of 89. Two years later, Walter lost his only son, Glenn Alvin Smith, who was 69. Walter lived two more years, dying on January 20, 1962, at the age of 92. He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, alongside his wife, Julia.






Thursday, March 29, 2018

Glenn Alvin Smith and the Winemaking Years

Glenn Alvin Smith in his office

In my last two posts, I've quoted from my great-uncle William B. Ross' recollections of his in-laws, Glenn Alvin Smith and Genevieve Murray Smith. Glenn Alvin was an inventive and successful entrepreneur, who had already founded and closed two lucrative ventures, in wholesale jewelry and in oil exports to China. When those businesses lost their momentum, Glenn pivoted to a new endeavor. World War II was on the horizon, and this presented new challenges and opportunities. Here, I will continue to quote from the notes written by Bill Ross.

World War II broke out in 1939 in Europe, shipping lanes were in peril, and soon any remaining oil exporting ceased. So, Glenn was looking around for something new and this is how he became a success in the wine and brandy business. You might say he was just lucky in getting started, but he took full advantage of the opportunity.
Prohibition ended in the United States in December 1933. By 1939, Europe was sputtering into war and France was unable to ship its fine wines into the profitable American market. California wines were grown in the Napa-Sonoma region north of San Francisco, but were unknown nationally. The Cucamonga area east of Los Angeles was the other wine producer, but of lesser quality except for fortified wines and brandy. Dad Smith heard about the fine Chilean wine which could be imported via open sea lanes on the west coast and thought there was an opportunity. France and Italy, Spain and Portugal couldn't deliver and imported wines were preferred by the haute cuisine trade and in homes of the rich and famous. 
First, Dad found contacts in Chile who put him in touch with vintners and he began testing and tasting samples. He did a lot of reading on what made good table wines, and then began to blend various Chilean wines. To my uneducated taste, he put together some good mixtures and then put his own labels on them. I don't know where he found his distribution outlets but he began to sell some. This led him to buying a good supply of Chilean wines and putting them into a bonded warehouse. A bonded warehouse was one in which you could pay no liquor tax until you took the product out of bond. In other words, the alcohol tax people had the key and you didn't get product until you paid the tax on what was withdrawn for sale. So there he was, sitting on a big stock of Chilean wines when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. And because the U.S. Armed Forces needed alcohol for war purposes, the price of all alcoholic beverages soared... the good, the bad and the indifferent... and Glenn's stuff was good.
I will never forget December 7, 1941, the day that Franklin Delano Roosevelt said would "live in infamy." It was a day that would revive Glenn Smith's bankroll and give birth to the Del Norte brand of wines and a cognac-type brandy whose formula he himself perfected. But back to the "infamy/prosperity" day. Virginia and I took a drive into the San Fernando Valley that December 7. At 1 PM that day, when it was 10 AM in Honolulu, I turned on the car radio and heard all about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We rushed back to our home in View Heights, but stopped by Virginia's parents' home on the way. Dad Smith was in the kitchen pouring wine from a big bottle into a little one-- still working on his own wine blending. We told him about the bombing. He said that was ridiculous -- probably another Orson Welles radio play. We said that the White House had issued a statement. He said it was another Roosevelt trick. We went home, leaving him still unconvinced. Remember, we had no TV set to turn on and see the pictures of battleships and harbors and aircraft facilities in flames. Maybe Dad Smith went to be that night not realizing that a new business career for him was launched that day.
Del Norte was on its way, but Glenn Smith knew he couldn't depend upon Chilean suppliers alone. He quickly bought the Santa Nella vineyard and bottling house near Guerneville in Sonoma County from an Italian named Mario Barsotti1. Later, he leased the Cherpin Vineyards near Etiwanda in the Cucamonga region, and ultimately bought a warehouse on a railroad signing in nearby Alta Loma and installed a rectifying plant (type of distillery) to convert grape alcohol into his excellent Del Norte brandy.

The house on the property of the Santa Nella vineyard, now a bed & breakfast.

Dad Smith's son, Glenn Murray Smith, was an invaluable aid in those days. He and his wife LaVerne lived in a lovely home owned by the winery on the south bank of the Russian River-- complete with sandy beach and a dam downstream which created a swimming hold in front of the sandy beach and a dam downstream which created a swimming hole in front of the sandy beach. A good living, but plenty of work keeping up production with aging and somewhat obsolete equipment and a wartime shortage of labor. When the rectifying plant went into production, Glenn Murray was called from the idyllic life to manage brandy production at Alta Loma and live in Pomona. Son-in-law, Frank W. Doherty, handled all the legal contract problems and mandatory reports. My agency did magazine advertising, label and point-of-purchase design, publicity articles and promotional pieces. Working for Del Norte and Dad Smith guaranteed a wonderful "perk"-- a ready supply of good brandy and fine red and white wines. Scotch was unavailable, but brand and soda or water made a good substitute. 
In the Del Norte years, the producers of good California wines who guided the industry and won nation and international awards could be counted on the fingers of your hand -- possibly on the hands of a four-finger man. Herman Wente was the acknowledged leader in white wines and Louis Martini for reds. Add in Korbel, Beringer, Beaulieu, Christian Brothers-- that's all I can remember. But the important thing is that Glenn Smith became good friends of these people-- buying their grapes to blend with his wine, gathering information and supporting the concept of naming wines after the dominant variety rather than the old world practice of naming wines by regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc. His distinctive Del Norte Brandy couldn't be called cognac, because cognac is a region in France. But Dad Smith got around that with his advertising slogan: "Sip it slowly, the Cognac way." Hey, it was good stuff and carried in the better liquor stores. 
The war rolled on to its atomic-capped conclusion in August of 1945 and that capped the rise and led to the end of the Del Norte years. The big distillers moved into brandy production. Big advertising budgets soon dominated the wine markets, profit margins narrowed, and Glenn Smith withdrew from the market. He sold the Sonoma County vineyard at a handsome profit, I presume, for good wine properties were in short supply. He dropped his lease on the Cucamonga acreage and closed the Alta Loma plant. It had been a great ride, but it was over in his eyes. It is my opinion that Glenn Smith was an entrepreneur and not a marketer. He was a genius at searching and finding an import-export niche that yielded big bucks, and when it became too competitive he moved on to the next opportunity.

This part of Glenn Alvin Smith's story is particularly meaningful to me, as I now live not far from Santa Nella Bed & Breakfast, formerly my family's winery. I've taken my children there, and we've walked around the property and admired the vines growing on the adjacent hills, which are now the property of Korbel. While Glenn Alvin may have gotten into wine and liquor production strictly for the profit, it sparked a love of wine in some of our family members that continues today. I remember, as a preteen, my grandfather, Glenn Murray Smith, telling me how to read a wine label properly. It was years before I would need to use that skill, but it was a moment that is still special to me. My grandmother, Glenn Alvin's daughter-in-law, always told me that her years living in Forestville, while she and Glenn Murray tended to the Santa Nella vineyard, were some of the happiest of her life. She adored the big dinners with the local Italian families, and the beauty of their property on the Russian River. I loved sitting with her while she described that time, and watching her face light up with those happy memories.

I'm very thankful to my great-uncle Bill Ross for having written down these recollections of my great-grandparents. It's the best account we have of Glenn Alvin Smith's career and personality. In just ten pages, Bill helped pass on wonderful memories that my family will always treasure. It's another great reminder that writing about your ancestors is so important.

1 Mario Barsotti was born in 1878 in Italy. He arrived in California about 1909, where he established himself in the wine industry in Sonoma County. He is not to be confused with the Mario Barsotti who was a judge in San Francisco in the mid-1900s. Described at the time of his death in 1967 as a "retired winery operator and grocer," Mario sold the Santa Nella Winery to my great-grandfather, and then moved to San Rafael, where his lived in his later years.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Glenn Alvin Smith, Standard Oil, and "Dirty Tricks"

Glenn Alvin Smith, my great-grandfather

In my last post, I quoted from my great-uncle William B. Ross' recollections of Glenn Alvin Smith. Bill recounted the relationship between Glenn and his wife Genevieve, and Glenn's early career in wholesale jewelry. However, the business venture Glenn is best known for is his oil exporting company. Here, I will continue to quote Bill Ross as he describes Glenn's adventures in oil.

Glenn Smith made his first big money as a petroleum exporter. And he made it as he always did, as an independent, almost one-man operation who could find a marketing niche ignored by the big companies and make big money. In this case it was discovering the "oil for the lamps of China" trade, which incidentally, inspired a great novel of the same name. In the 1920s and '30s, California was awash with oil. Signal Hill north of Long Beach was a forest of oil derricks. Huntington Beach and Venice reeked of the smell of oil and at night acres of rigs were silhouetted by flaming jets of surplus gas for which there was no market. The big oil companies were here, but so were the scores of independents, and these successful wildcatters were Glenn Smith's suppliers.

Oil for the Lamps of China by Alice Tisdale Hobart. From Amazon.com: "Oil for the Lamps of China (1934) was a best-selling novel when it was first published... The hero of the story is a keen, young American businessman who wants to bring "light" and progress to China in the form of oil and oil lamps, but who is caught between Chinese revolutionary nationalism in the 1920s and the heartless American corporation which has built his career."

The major oil companies were shipping tankers of a kerosene type oil to the Orient to big merchant companies who in turn sold to big distributors who sold to smaller distributors who sold to retailers who finally dribbled it out in small measures to the wretchedly poor consumer. Glenn Smith, operating as the American Petroleum Exporting Company (APEX) out of a two-man, two-secretary office, had a radically new idea. He put the oil distillate into five gallon tins, slapped a big red ball on the container sides, and sold "Red Ball" to Chinese distributors who could finance big quantities of packaged oil but could not buy in tanker-loads. Several layers of profit-takers were removed and lamp oil from Red Ball tins burned brightly at less cost in Chinese hovels.


 The vintage oil can on the left shows the kind of red ball packaging that APEX used to distinguish their product. (Here, the oil is from Imperial and is in a 4 oz. container). In the center is a 5-gallon Standard Oil container from the 1930s, around the time that Standard Oil started to edge APEX out of the market. On the right is a 5-gallon Amoco container from the 1960s, demonstrating that this size container continued to be popular decades after Glenn Smith made his name pioneering the export of the 5-gallon drum.

The success of Red Ball lamp oil was eventually noted by Standard Oil which responded by smart marketing coupled with what in our era are identified as "dirty tricks." They put their lamp oil into five gallon tins, slapped identical Red Balls on the sides and cut prices. There were no trademark protections in China in those days and Red Ball became generic for lamp oil... and Smith sales slumped.
Much of this information came from Mother Smith and Virginia, for Glenn Smith was not one for recounting past troubles and triumphs-- he was always looking for today's buck and future possibilities. One of Genevieve's story about dirty tricks she attributed to Standard Oil concerned the arrest and overnight jailing of her husband. Someone with political clout said that APEX had falsified documents, cheated on L.A. Harbor or some other fees and Glenn Smith was responsible. He was removed one day from the office, put into a jail uniform, mugged and otherwise given the common-criminal treatment. Prominent corporate attorney Byron Hanna1, partner in the prestigious firm of Hanna and Morton, was the hero of her tale. He got Dad Smith out on bail the next morning, presented the documentation to then district attorney Buron Fitts2 and charges were dropped with a "sorry about that" explanation.
Speaking of the harbor brings back another remembered tale. APEX was storing Red Ball-filled containers in a harbor site leased from the Harbor Department. At some "dirty-tricker's" instigation, an inspector ruled that this was a fire hazard and ordered Glenn to vacate. Always a quick and innovative thinker, Dad Smith bought an old sailing vessel in San Francisco, had it towed down to Los Angeles harbor and anchored it at a very low fee in the outer harbor. The warehouse was emptied, the old sailing vessel became a storage ship, and the fire hazard charge was destroyed. Glenn named the ship the S.S. Mesa and when he ultimately scrapped it, he made the helmsman's wheel and a capstan into what he called "the ship's table." For years it was the centerpiece of the "Shiproom" playroom at 1744 Buckingham Road, and now it is on the Ross patio at 532 S. Lucerne.
When I met Dad Smith in 1933, it appeared to me that his biggest moneymaker was in exporting tanker loads of oil and oil products to the Orient from Los Angeles and Texas ports. Gradually, this Orient business decreased for reasons I do not know for sure (drying up of supplies in California? Oil exploration in Arab countries and the Far East?). Glenn went to Texas to "wildcat" new fields. Sadly, he found nothing but sand and water and a lot of money was spent with no return.
There has been much speculation in our family as to why APEX eventually fizzled out after so much success. I have heard a number of theories, but it's likely a combination of increased competition and the onset of World War II, which limited shipping. This period was a challenging one for the Smith family. My grandfather, Glenn Murray Smith, wrote in his memoirs about suddenly losing the funds to continue his education at Stanford University. He also accompanied his father to Texas in 1935 to wildcat for oil, which proved to be a difficult and unsuccessful venture. However, Glenn Alvin Smith was a man who knew when it was time to find a better idea, and a new one was just on the horizon. In my next post, I'll share Bill Ross' memories of Glenn's years in the wine and liquor business.



1 Byron Hanna was a very well known defense attorney in Los Angeles in the mid-twentieth century. In 1940, he served as mobster Bugsy Siegel's defense attorney when he stood trial for the murder of Whitey Krakower. The firm which bears his name still exists.
2 Buron Fitts was one of only a handful of individuals to serve three terms as Los Angeles District Attorney. During his term, he worked on a number of infamous cases, including the suspicious death of Hollywood producer/director Paul Bern, the husband of actress Jean Harlow. He was indicted for bribery and perjury, and in 1937 survived being shot multiple times in an assassination attempt. The Los Angeles Times wrote a wonderful article about his accomplishments and scandals that is worth reading.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Glenn Alvin Smith, as Remembered by His Son-In-Law

Glenn Alvin Smith, my great-grandfather

My grandmother described her father-in-law, Glenn Alvin Smith, to me many times in the course of our conversations about the Smith family. She talked about his wonderful business instincts, and how, when her husband Glenn Murray Smith told his father he intended to propose to her, that Glenn Alvin said, "Well, that's the smartest decision you've ever made." However, in my grandmother's paperwork, I discovered another amazing source of information about Glenn Alvin Smith.

William B. Ross and wife Virginia K. Smith Ross

Glenn's eldest child, Virginia Kathryn Smith, married William B. Ross. In 1995, at the age of 80, my great-uncle Bill wrote a 10-page recollection of his in-laws, which sheds a lot of light on Glenn Alvin's personality. I'll quote directly from this document in my next couple of posts.

Mother and Dad Smith were a handsome couple. He was average size, of good physique, pleasant features, with a full head of beautiful silver-gray hair which I heard he gained in his late thirties. In the Spring of 1934, when I first met him, he was 43 years old, boasted a beautiful tan obtained, no doubt, from a passionate love of gardening and time spent on the court for tennis and badminton. And how that man could dress... somewhat conservative, but sharp in his use of style and color.
Mother Smith had black hair, beautiful skin, a very nice figure for a "fortysomething." Her clothes came from Bullock's Wilshire and you soon knew her love of coats for every season and always a hat for church and shopping. But what you remembered about her were her eyes-- they simply sparkled when she was conversing happily, and shot fire when she was angry. My nickname for her (but never to her face) was "Sparkle Plenty Smith."1 
If her eyes stand out in memory, Dad Smith matched it with a curly smile that would light up his whole face. In pictures he usually put on his "businessman face" -- serious and determined -- but his smile changed him completely.
How this couple ever met I don't know, but their courtship must have been worthy of a TV sitcom. She was a fervent Catholic in the practice of her faith-- not one to talk about it or proselytize, but "defender of the faith" would be an apt title for Genevieve Murray. Glenn Smith had no religious background that I ever heard of, but apparently he had heard of all the old tales of nuns and babies, cash payments in the confessional for sins forgiven, and so on. Unfortunately for him, he expressed these beliefs to Genevieve and she blew! How do I know? She told Virginia and Virginia told me. But apparently, after a few blowups and makeups, Genevieve got Glenn straightened out and they were married. Glenn was very successful in business, they had five daughters and two sons, and the rest is history of which most of you who read this are a part.
However, you may be interested in just how Glenn became successful. He was never one to sit you down and tell you his life history, but I learned that he was a good accountant and became a partner with a jeweler in the wholesale jewelry business. The jeweler knew the trade and Glenn knew business and accounting and so they made a good partnership.
I know just a little bit of his career phase because in the 1930s it was customary to ask the father if you could marry his daughter. He agreed, rather promptly, I thought, and said he could get me into the wholesale jewelry houses to buy a ring. Considering the fact that I was still at USC and working my way through as a low paid editor of a weekly community newspaper, I thought a ring at wholesale was a brilliant idea.
The wholesale jewelry center in those days was located on Seventh Street, near Grand, I believe. What I remember about that visit was the great welcome that Glenn Smith got from people in the building. He was grinning that curly grin of his as one after another came up to ask him how he was doing in the oil business, and how big was his family. As one would say in today's vernacular, he got a lot of respect. And I got a lot of diamond engagement ring for my little cash.
Reading this account of my great-grandfather is amusing to me, because a number of these traits and proclivities sound quite familiar. His son, my grandfather, Glenn Murray Smith, was also very interested in gardening and plants. He served as President of the Southern California Camellia Society for several years. Glenn Murray's daughter, my mother, is also an incredible gardener. Her vegetable beds are a thing of wonder, and I can never understand exactly how she gets such a beautiful bounty from them. That green thumb definitely runs in the Smith family. Another trait that runs in the family is a love of tennis. Glenn Alvin and his son Glenn Murray both enjoyed tennis. I play, as do a number of my cousins, and now my children are learning the sport. Also, my husband and I bought our engagement and wedding rings from a jeweler located just two blocks from the corner of 7th & Grand in Downtown Los Angeles. Little did I know, as I walked through the Diamond District, that I was walking a path that would have been very familiar to my great-grandfather.

In the next post, I'll continue to quote William B. Ross as he recalls my great-grandfather's career in oil exporting.


1 Sparkle Plenty was a character in the Dick Tracy comics, which were popular for many decades, but especially the 1930s-1960s. Sparkle was known for her great beauty and long, flowing hair. She married Dick Tracy, Jr., son of the comic's namesake.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Glenn Alvin Smith

Glenn Alvin Smith

My maternal great-grandfather was Glenn Alvin Smith. Glenn was born on April 2, 1891 in Los Angeles, California. He was the first of two children born to his parents, Walter Samuel Smith and Julia Emrette Bigham.

Glenn Alvin Smith as a young child

Glenn's parents were both originally from Illinois but met in Los Angeles. After their marriage in 1890, they bought a home at 732 East 20th Street, just south of downtown Los Angeles. Amazingly enough, the bungalow they lived in still stands today. This was Glenn Alvin Smith's first home.

732 East 20th Street, Los Angeles (Google Maps)

On April 5, 1893, Glenn's sister Laurita Smith was born. She was his only sibling.

 

Glenn and Laurita Smith as children

Glenn's father, Walter, was the foreman at a local ice company, supplying ice to home ice boxes, and later refrigerators. His mother, Julia, stayed home to raise the children. In 1910, the population of Los Angeles was 319,198, the 17th most populous city in the nation. It had not yet become America's second largest city and a major industrial force. While Glenn was young, the foundation for the city that Los Angeles would become was laid. In 1910, director D. W. Griffith shot In Old California, the first movie ever to be filmed in Los Angeles. Over the next decade, Los Angeles would become the epicenter of filmmaking, as the pioneers of Hollywood set up shop there and made international stars of their actors. Los Angeles began to boom, the population grew, and my great-grandfather got to experience an enormous amount of change there during his lifetime.



On June 5, 1913, Glenn married my great-grandmother, Genevieve Frances Murray. None of my family members knows exactly how Glenn and Genevieve met. Genevieve had recently moved to Los Angeles from Oakland and was working as a secretary in a downtown office. She may have met Glenn through her work, but we don't know for certain. The following year, in 1914, the first of Glenn and Genevieve's seven children was born. They raised seven children in Los Angeles:

Virginia Kathryn Smith (b. 1914)
Glenn Murray Smith (b. 1916)
Barbara Frances Smith (b. 1917)
Patricia Anne Smith (b. 1920)
Shirley Mary Smith (b. 1922)
Joan Yvonne Smith (b. 1924)
Kevin Anthony Smith (b. 1929)



While Genevieve had her hands full at home, raising her five girls and two boys, Glenn built a series of businesses. He was a true entrepreneur, with a head for business and a knack for knowing what was profitable at any given moment. He was successful in his endeavors, and the family settled into a large home on Buckingham Street in central Los Angeles.



Glenn founded and operated a series of businesses; sometimes more than one at a time. When my grandfather, Glenn Murray, was young, his father, Glenn Alvin, owned a wholesale jewelry business located in the diamond district of downtown Los Angeles. He later founded the American Petroleum Exporting Company, which shipped oil in barrels from Los Angeles to China.

When his oil enterprise weakened, Glenn found other ventures. He wildcatted for oil in Texas, which was one of his only failures. Then, he purchased a wine and liquor business and bottled wine and brandy for the American market. This company was named Del Norte, and did very well during World War II. Glenn bought a vineyard in Forestville, in Sonoma County, to help supply grapes for the business. He would later split and sell this property after the war. Today, the house on the property is the Santa Nella Bed & Breakfast. The vineyards are owned by Korbel. Glenn was always looking for the next great way to make a profit, and he nearly always succeeded.



Due to his business commitments, Glenn traveled quite a bit. Sometimes, his wife Genevieve accompanied him. He journeyed to China several times, and also to Australia and South America.

Glenn at his desk in later years

At home, Glenn enjoyed spending time with his children. His son, Glenn Murray, later recalled that his father would challenge him to games of tennis and bouts of boxing.


Top (L-R): Virginia Smith Ross, Glenn Murray Smith, Genevieve Murray Smith, William B. Ross, Pat Smith Quinlan, Claude Hill, Joan Smith McDonald
On Sofa (L-R): Glenn A. Smith, Julia Bigham Smith, Walter Samuel Smith, Laurita Smith Hill
On Floor (L-R): Kevin Smith, Shirley Smith Connelly

In the late 1940s, Glenn and Genevieve moved to San Marino, a suburb just east of Los Angeles. They settled on Mill Lane. At that time, Glenn was serving as president of Glenn A. Smith & Associates, continuing to seek out new business prospects. 

Glenn and Genevieve lived happily in San Marino for the next two decades. On April 27, 1960, Glenn died of lung cancer at a hospital in neighboring Pasadena. He had been a smoker, and was just 69 years old at the time of his death. Glenn was survived by all seven of his children and a multitude of grandchildren.