Hellman, Isaias Wolf

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HELLMAN, ISAIAS WOLF (1842–1920), U.S. banker. Hellman was born in Rickendorf, Bavaria. He immigrated to Los Angeles in 1859 with his younger brother, Herman. For six years he clerked in a cousin's dry goods store until in 1865 he bought a dry goods and shoe store of his own. Hellman early began to buy real estate, ultimately dealing in city lots, subdivision property, and ranch lands, and in time he became the largest single owner of property in Los Angeles. Allowing friends to keep gold dust and other valuables in his safe, he soon established the Hellman Temple and Company Bank (1868), which he sold to his partners a few years later. Hellman founded the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles in 1871, beginning a career in banking which was to make him president or leading stockholder of a large number of banking enterprises in the Los Angeles area. Because of his staunch conservatism and unquestioned probity, Hellman was able to maintain the soundness of his banks in depressions and panics. He single-handedly brought an end to the boom of 1887 by restricting credit on speculative real estate, thus saving the city from serious potential damage. Hellman founded the Main Street Railway trolley line in Los Angeles, which he later merged into the Huntington and the Pacific Electric Street Railway Systems. In 1900 he moved to San Francisco to become president of the Nevada National Bank of San Francisco, later consolidated with the Wells Fargo Bank (1905), then with the Union Trust Company (1924), which was founded by Hellman in 1893.

A major philanthropist of his era, Hellman founded the first synagogue of Congregation B'nai B'rith in 1872, serving as its president (1871–82). In 1865, together with a Catholic and a Protestant associate, he contributed land for the establishment of the University of Southern California. He was especially generous in contributions to orphanages in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. Hellman served on the Board of Regents of the University of California (1881–1918). He was president of the Los Angeles Clearing House Association (1887–1900).

herman wolf (1843–1906) was the brother of Isaias, with whom he immigrated to Los Angeles. Like his brother, Herman was a pioneer in the economic development of Los Angeles. After working in a grocery business, he served as cashier in his brother's Farmers and Merchants Bank, then established the Merchants National Bank. It became one of the principal banks of southern California, later managed by his sons marco (b. 1878) and irving (b. 1883) until it closed in the depression of the 1930s.


H. Newmark (ed.), Sixty Years in Southern California, 18531913 (1916), passim; R.G. Cleland and F.B. Putnam, Isais W. Hellman and the Farmers and Merchants Bank (1965); L.P. Gartner and M. Vorspan, History of the Jews of Los Angeles (1970).

[Max Vorspan]