Towers of Gold

How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California

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Published by: St. Martin's Press; First Edition
Release Date: November 11, 2008
Pages: 384
ISBN13: 978-0312355265


Isaias Hellman’s story captures a pivotal moment in American history: the rise of California from a frontier economy driven by the barter of hides and the exchange of gold to an economic steam engine leading the nation.

Starting in the days when Los Angeles was more Mexican pueblo than American city, continuing through the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and World War I, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California follows the life of the Jewish banker who many consider the greatest Pacific Coast financier of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In a classic American rags-to-riches story, Hellman came to Los Angeles from Germany in 1859 with almost nothing and went on to build up three of the West’s most important banks—the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Los Angeles, the Nevada Bank in San Francisco and Wells Fargo Bank. At the height of his power in the early 20th century, he controlled more than $100 million in capital and served as president or director of 14 other banks.

Hellman was instrumental in developing at least seven other industries that shaped California: transportation, oil, electricity, land development, water, wine and education.

He controlled the California wine industry for almost twenty years, and helped develop the famous Pacific Electric red cars that crisscrossed the Los Angeles region. Hellman led the building of Los Angeles’ first synagogue, now the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, donated the land for the University of Southern California, and served as Regent of the University of California for 38 years. His summer home at Sugar Pine Point in Lake Tahoe is now a state park.

Based on years of research and review of more than 50,000 archival documents, Frances Dinkelspiel’s groundbreaking history brings to life the early days of California. It also tells the little-known story of the Jewish contribution to the settlement of the state.

With cameos by Collis Huntington, Henry Huntington, Meyer Lehman, Edward Doheny, Edward Harriman and Levi Strauss, Towers of Gold paints a rich portrait of the man whose financial acumen catapulted the state into the modern era and laid the groundwork for one of the world’s most dynamic economies.

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“impressively researched and engagingly told.”
—The Los Angeles Times

“A marvelous resource, a dramatic story, and a splendid read.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“This is a must-read for anyone who loves Los Angeles history.”
—Larry Mantle, Airtalk, KPCC FM

“… elegantly restrained prose.”
San Francisco Magazine

“Towers of Gold is a thorough and compelling portrait of a hugely influential man whose role in the rise of California can hardly be overestimated.”
—William Deverell, Director of the Huntington-USC Institute of California and the West

Towers of Gold is a vivid portrait of the financier who changed California forever. Attempted stagecoach robberies, an assassination attempt, bank runs, the 1906 earthquake—it’s all here in Frances Dinkelspiel’s meticulously researched and masterly crafted biography. After reading Towers of Gold, you’ll never see downtown Los Angeles or San Francisco’s financial district in quite the same way again.”
—Julia Flynn Siler, author of The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty, a New York Times bestseller and 2007 by Business Week best book.