*This article was excerpted from the web site of the Historical Society of Southern California
I believe Los Angeles is destined to become, in not many years, a world-center prominent in almost every field of endeavor. [Just] as nineteen hundred years ago the humblest Roman . . . would glow with pride when he said, "I am a Roman!" so will the son of the metropolis on these shores . . . be proud to declare, "I AM A CITIZEN OF LOS ANGELES!"
-- Harris Newmark, 1913 “My Sixty Years in Southern California: 1853-1913”
Harris Newmark (1834-1916) arrived in Los Angeles from West Prussia in 1853, learned Spanish before he learned English in order to run his downtown merchandise and grocery business, and began collecting his impressions of people and events in the cultural backwater that Los Angeles was at the time. As one historian noted, Newmark "knew almost everyone and knew almost everything that went on in town."
Following an older brother, Joseph, to California, Newmark made the journey from Europe by ship, crossing the Isthmus of Nicaragua, arriving in San Pedro on October 25, 1853. Here he was greeted heartily by another Los Angeles pioneer, Phineas Banning, the father of the Port of Los Angeles. Banning who was building a business as a Wagoner, hauling goods in and out of San Pedro and Los Angeles, would eventually join in many business enterprises with the new arrival.
After working in partnership with his brother, Newmark eventually established his own wholesale grocery business, H. Newmark and Company, in 1865, with headquarters on Spring Street. He went on to invest in real estate, holding large tracts in the San Gabriel Valley, and once winning a lot in what was once the "wilderness" just west of the city for $2. He later sold the same lot for $10,000 profit. In 1875 he sold eight thousand acres of what was then the Santa Anita Rancho to rancher E.J. "Lucky" Baldwin for $200,000. He had purchased it a few years before for $85,000. Newmark, his nephew Kaspere Cohn and a small group of men also purchased "Repicito Ranch" in 1885, which spread from downtown Los Angeles through Whittier. From those holdings Harris and Kaspere developed the city of Newmark which later in 1920 was renamed Montebello.
He married a cousin, Sarah, in 1858. Her memorable comment upon arriving in Los Angeles for the first time was: "Where's the city?" The Newmarks were parents of eleven children; only seven of which survived.
Newmark was a charter member of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, one of the organizers of the first Los Angeles Board of Trade, one of the organizers of the Los Angeles Public Library, President of the Los Angeles congregation of B'nai B'rith (now Wilshire Blvd.Temple). A founder of the Jewish Orphan’s Home, now called Vista del Mar. He was instrumental in the early years of the Southwest Museum and a charter member of the California Club. Newmark’s business acumen and real estate holdings propelled him into the front ranks of civic leadership in turn-of-the century Los Angeles. As a patriarch of the city’s Jewish community, he endowed Jewish charities and assisted the broader community by organizing a board of trade and founding the public library. He also helped bring the railroad to Los Angeles.
Late in life, working with his sons Maurice and Marco and Pasadena historian/researcher Perry Worden, Newmark assembled his recollections in a landmark book, Sixty Years In Southern California: 1853-1913, a work described by California historian and State Librarian Kevin Starr as "the single most valuable memoir to deal with the rise of the Southland in the 19th century,"" an informed, gossipy Pepys’s Diary of Southern California," as Lawrence Clark Powell later described it, and, according to another source, "one of the great autobiographies of the American Jewish experience." A fourth edition revised and augmented with an introduction and notes by W.W. Robinson was published by Dawson's Books in 1984.
Newmark's eldest son Maurice, born in 1859, was sent to Europe for his education and eventually took over management of his father's commercial interests and joined him in many of his civic activities. His youngest surviving child, Marco, was a noted local historian, and served for a time as president of the Historical Society of Southern California.
--Contributed by Albert Greenstein, 1999