. . . Very few would speculate that San Diego, California, would rank among the ten largest cities in the United Sates a little more than 100 years ago after Abraham Klauber, 1811-1911, arrived there during the Gold Rush era in 1850s. 2 He had traveled a long way from Zdaslav, a small village of mud-brick houses, his Bohemian birthplace near Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. Grandson of Rabbi Moses Klauber, Abraham had become sole support of the family at 13 when his father, Jacob, the village butcher, died. With prospects of military service threatening, he packed up and moved to America in 1849. Following a circuitous route he ended in the American West where he had engaged in ranching and several successful business enterprises including mule freight lines between Soldiers’ Gulch (later called Volcano) and Sacramento, where the family all ended, in northern California and Nevada Territory before settling in San Francisco and San Diego. The bases of the family fortune was not from seeking or mining gold, the main reason many settlers came westward, but from mule-freight lines, ranching and merchandising. In this southwest community of about 2,300 hardy souls, in an era of unpaved streets and wooden boardwalks, Klauber established a grocery-wholesale business that continued to flourish profitably through several generations. Inheriting their father’s business acumen, his sons later branched out into surrounding communities including El Centro, Long Beach and Los Angeles.

. . . In 1870, Klauber moved his family from San Francisco to, what must have seemed, the remote wilderness of San Diego. In a description of the area in 1865, Mary C. Morse, an early teacher at the only school in the county, about the size of Massachusetts, noted that upon her arrival from San Francisco the area looked brown and barren without a trace of greenery. 3 There were no wharves and she was taken from the ship by a small skiff to shore in the Bay Region of San Diego, a common practice for passengers that arrived by ship. Wild looking horsemen flaunting riatas and nearly naked Indians with long streaming black hair idled in the plaza in Old Town. Children were irregular in attending school because of the many fiestas and bull fights. She was amused by the Spanish ladies of all ages smoking at social events and the duration of wedding receptions usually held at the Ramona House in Old Town observed by Indians squatting in corners and sitting on window sills. Any improvements were only several steps above the picture of Mission San Diego as described by writer Henry Dana, 1815-1882, who described it when he first arrived from Boston on the hide and tallow freighter, Pilgrim, “Once on shore, he…steered for the first grog shop, a small one room mud building. The small settlement lay directly before the fort, composed of about forty dark brown looking huts, or houses, and three or four larger ones white-washed, which belonged to the gente de Razon.” 4 Apparently the grog shop was the only architectural structure worth recording. It would be the style of the Mission architecture that would persist architecturally in the development of modern San Diego.

. . . The status of the visual arts was likewise unimpressionable. When they first laid eyes on a recently secularized Mission San Diego, American artists George Catlin, 1794-1872, John Stanley Mix, 1814-1872, and James Woodhouse Audubon, 1812-1862, had passed through the area quickly and uninspired. 5 Other artists, mostly amateurs, accompanying United State expeditionary forces charting newly acquired territories of an expanding nation and mapping its topography, were limners and artists with varying degrees of skill who were soon forgotten. In Alonzo Horton’s ‘New’ Town, modern San Diego about a mile south of Old Town, conditions by all accounts were little better until the land booms of the 1880s. 6 Abraham bought a lot from Horton for $50.00 in 1869. Klauber and his wife Theresa, nee Epstein, 1841-1921, whom he married in Sacramento in 1860, reared nine children: Ella, 1862-1932, born in Carson City, Nevada; Melville, 1865-1932, born in San Francisco; Laura,1869-1947, born in San Francisco; Alice, 1871-1951, born in San Diego; Edgar, 1873-1960; Hugo, 1883-1968; Stella, 1878-1942; Leda, 1881-1981; and Laurence, born in San Diego, 1883-1968. The family brought, from the so-called Paris of the West, San Francisco, a degree of culture and erudition and a desire to contribute positively to the economic growth and social life of the community extremely rare to early western frontier life.

Unknown photographer, Alice’s mother and father, date unknown,
courtesy of the Klauber family.

. . . Although educational opportunities were limited in early San Diego, the children were not to be deprived. When they were ready for high school, one at a time they were sent to stay with their grandparents in San Francisco for the duration. Here there were no idle moments as the children excelled in foreign languages, the musical and visual arts, as well as indulging in all that the city had to offer, theatre, museums and social functions. Paramount among their learning activities was reading, the principal source of knowledge, albeit second hand. Julius Wangenheim, a member of the extended family through marriage, believed that the greatest achievement of the human race was its language and its greatest art was writing. 7 Certainly the written word is the most common and easiest understood icon in a community.

. . . Abraham’s health had begun to deteriorate in 1883, and motivated by business pressures, he decided to move his family once again to San Francisco in 1885. By 1892 the family had returned to San Diego, presumably with the children properly educated. The end of formal schooling did not mean the process of learning ceased. The entire family, including the San Francisco cousins embraced learning as a continuing experience and entered into its pursuit enthusiastically, if not passionately. The love of learning and joy of living was passed on subsequently through generations.

. . . The youngest, Laurence Monroe, became Chairman of the Board of San Diego Gas & Electric Company and a recognized herpetologist, an authority on rattlesnakes. His published ground breaking research of the subject is considered a standard reference for serious students in the field today. 8

. . . Gifted and talented in no small measure, the children’s curriculum vitae had included the fine arts. It could be expected that at least one would excel in the visual arts. Ella showed special drawing ability. Leda’s name appeared regularly in early local press items as an exhibitor at the San Diego Museum of Art where she was a member of long standing of the San Diego Art Guild and the Asian Arts Committee. 9 She studied with local painter Charles Reiffel, perhaps San Diego’s most progressive early artist, describing him in conversation as “a man of great charm with a personality appealing to everyone. He taught his classes to depict, not what the eye saw, but the inspiration and interpretation of the natural object.” Laura, who wed businessman and former Museum President Julius Wangenheim, may have been a student of Arthur Mathews, 1860-1945, and Emil Carlsen, 1853-1932, at the Art Students’ League in 1889 or 1890. Paintings by both San Francisco painters were represented in her collection. The alternative may have been that she acquired them early from an exhibition of their work while living in San Francisco. Stella was an early camera enthusiast, having studied in New York City with Clarence White, 1871-1925, one of the most innovative and influential figures of the Pictorial Photographic Movement. She had studied drama and dancing, also, and had performed according to media accounts, on the stage of the Isis Theatre in New York City. One family member felt it should read, the Isis Theater in San Diego. 10 Antique glass collecting and piano were other of her special interests. While the family may have been supportive, there was some sibling rivalry. One family member mentioned that Stella and Alice were often at odds.


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