The Lichtenrade Bohnstedt Line:
The First Bohnstedts in Los Angeles
by Thomas Allen Bohnstedt, California USA
(the text of this page is my intellectual property. Please do not copy and repost without my written permission)
Los Angeles in 1910, looking west on 5th Street from Hill. The street traffic still consisted mainly of horse-drawn carriages and some trolleys
"Los Angeles is a small town..."
The very first Bohnstedt family in Los Angeles California did not leave a lasting family line there, and although they did leave their marks, they were nothing that historians would now remember without doing some research and digging. But because I live in Pasadena, next door to Los Angeles, and because as a private investigator I work in Los Angeles and the nearby cities in Southern California, I saw this as an opportunity and excuse to research this family and some Los Angeles history, and for a little while indulge my taste in history and nostalgia in my own back yard.
Panoramic view of Los Angeles, circa 1911. This view is looking approximately north from the top of a building at the intersection of 6th and Hill Streets overlooking Central Park (later renamed Pershing Square)
In the 1974 movie Chinatown about a private investigator in 1937 Los Angeles, the main character Jake Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, says to Faye Dunaway: "...L. A. is a small town, people talk...". Although the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area is now one of the largest city areas in the world in terms of population, and perhaps the largest in terms of land area, there was a time when Jake's statement was true. But in actual fact, by 1937 Los Angeles was already a rapidly growing city, swelling with transplants from the Midwest states and east coast of the United States, and also from Europe. In the decade between 1920 and 1930 the population more than doubled; in the City of Los Angeles it went from 577,000 to 1.2 million, and in Los Angeles county as a whole, went from 936,000 to 2.2 million. The is does not include population numbers from adjoining cities outside of Los Angeles County.
But in 1911 Los Angeles was at least a smaller, quieter place than it is now. There were no airports since the age of flight had begun only eight years earlier with the Wright brothers. Manufacturers had only begun mass producing automobiles in 1901, and in 1911 motorcars were still relatively new technologies. When Gottfried Bohnstedt first arrived in Los Angeles there were far fewer automobiles on the streets than there are now, and there were still some horse drawn carriages.
Panoramic view of Los Angeles, circa 1913. This view is looking approximately south from the top of a building at the intersection of 4th Street and Grand Avenue.
Gottfried Wilhelm Bohnstedt first appears in Los Angeles city directories in 1911. He is listed as a clerk, working for Simon Lewis, a grocer. Shortly after, around 1912-1913, Gottfried married Wilhemine "Minnie" Weber in Santa Ana, California, about 30 miles southeast of central Los Angeles. In the 1913 Los Angeles city directory Gottfried is listed as a clerk working for J.R. Newberry, another grocer.
1. In 1923 Gottfried was working for Los Angeles Ice and Cold Storage Co. The image on the left was obtained from online sources, and probably dates from between 1903 and 1906. The building was doubled in size in 1906. This is actually a mirror image of the original. During discussions with managers of the Los Angeles Cold Storage Company we found that the image could not be properly matched with the section of the building constructed in 1903. Therefore we believe that the image should properly be viewed as a mirror image (click to enlarge and see both the original and mirror image). The red rectangle indicates which part of the enlarged building was most likely the original structure.
2. Los Angeles Cold Storage Co. in 2008. The "new" (1906) addition is the back half of the building closest to the camera view.
By 1918 Gottfried's professional skills had developed, and he was working as a bookkeeper for the Los Angeles Ice Company. This business was actually the Los Angeles Ice and Cold Storage company, still the most prominent cold storage company in Los Angeles today. These business skills were noticed by his father-in-law, J.H. Weber, who hired him to help manage his egg noodle manufacturing company.
Downtown Los Angeles, about 1927. By the late 1920's automobiles were plentiful on the streets of Los Angeles.
Gottfried moved up quickly in the Weber Egg Noodle Company. His father-in-law, John Weber, probably hired him directly into position as a manager, and in a 1923 Los Angeles city directory Gottfried appears listed as an "egg noodle manufacturer", indicating that he was already a manager, or the manager of his father-in-law's company. At that time Weber Egg Noodle Company was listed at 4703 Compton Ave., just south of downtown Los Angeles. The following year the company is listed at 4862 Compton Ave.
In both 1923 and 1924, and throughout the rest of the 1920's and up to 1936, Los Angeles city directories continue to list the Weber Egg Noodle Company at 4862 Compton Ave., and Gottfried and Minnie's residence at 4868 Compton Avenue, right next door. The 4868 entries read "h4868 Compton Ave." and "r4868 Compton Ave.". The small "r" and small "h" represent "residence" and "household", respectively. This is curious though, because the building at 4868 is obviously intended for commercial use, and was never built to be a residence.
1. When Gottfried Bohnstedt appears in city directories managing Weber Egg Noodle Company, the business was listed here at 4703 Compton Avenue, Los Angeles.
2. 4862 (left) and 4868 (right) Compton Ave. Weber Egg Noodle Company was later listed at these two addresses, suggesting that the company leased or bought both buildings.
Apparently the Weber Egg Noodle Company made and distributed several types of pasta products to grocers throughout Los Angeles. The 1928 Los Angeles city directory lists the Weber Egg Noodle Company with an additional comment: "Mrs. Webers Egg Noodles, Macaroni, and Spaghetti..."
The 1939 Stammbaum lists Gottfried as a "Fabrikbesitzer", or "Factory Director", in Hollywood California. In this case the stammbaum was referring to Gottfried's residential address at 6464 Odin, in the Hollywood hills area of Los Angeles. 6464 Odin first appears as Gottfried's residential address in the 1936 city directory.
1. Odin Street, January 2005. The residence at 6464 is at the left.
2. 6464 Odin Street, Los Angeles California, Hollywood area
6464 Odin Street is in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles. The homes in this area are extremely expensive and were probably expensive in the 1930's as well. Gottfried's success as a business manager is evidenced by the fact that Gottfried was listed in the 1942-1943 edition of Who's Who in California as the President of Weber Egg Noodle Company.
In addition to the 6464 Odin Street address Who's who in California 1942-1943 also listed a secondary home address for Gottfried at 4401 Ocean Drive in Manhattan Beach. At this time it is unknown whether this was the same building that existed in the early 1940's, but it probably was.
4401 Ocean Drive, Manhattan Beach, Gottfried's second home address
During the next two decades Gottfried's two brother's, and at least one of his sisters, also went to Los Angeles.
Helene Bohnstedt and Werner Bohnstedt
Helene Bohnstedt first showed up in California in a 1928 Los Angeles City Directory listed as a bookkeeper for Weber Egg Noodle Company. But the 1923 Stammbaum lists her profession as a "Lehrerin", or teacher, in Breslau, Germany. It is unknown whether she continued teaching after moving to California.
For the sake of avoiding confusion, it would be useful to point out here that there were two Helene Bohnstedts in this family; Helene Hedwig Aline Bohnstedt, born 1892 and Hedwig Helene Ingeborg Bohnstedt, born 1894, both daughters of Wilhelm and Martha Bohnstedt, and younger sisters of Gottfried Bohnstedt. In this case we are talking about the older of the two, Helene Hedwig Aline.
It appears that after moving Helene married Karl Bender, a Los Angeles businessman. The Mitglieder de Bohnstedt'schen Familien-Verbandes März 1938 listed "Helene Bender geb. Bohnstedt" at 12615 Long Beach Blvd. I visited this address in Lynwood California near Los Angeles, but where this address should be there is only an asphalt parking lot. It is possible that a house or apartment building once stood there, but was removed years later.
Helene Bender, Gottfried's sister, at the Odin Street house in 1964. Picture provided by Martin Bohnstedt
Helene must still have been in Los Angeles in 1939 because she is listed in the 1939 Stammbaum as being married to Karl Bender, a "kaufmann" (businessman) in "Lynwood Cal."
Apparently Gottfried's brother, Werner, was also in Los Angeles, at least for a short time. He appears in the 1932 Los Angeles city directory, listed as an assistant manager at J.H. Weber (the noodle company). He does not appear in any other directories, and whether or not he stayed in California or moved back to Germany remains unknown.
Hans Joachim Bohnstedt was listed in the Mitglieder de Bohnstedt'schen Familien-Verbandes März 1938 as "Kaufmann (businessman Hans Joachim Bohnstedt, Los Angeles (Californien) 780 Kensington Rd." Today this address is actually designated 780 N. East Kensington Rd., and is near central Los Angeles where Hans worked for several years as an auto mechanic.
The house at this address still stands, but over the decades this neighborhood has deteriorated. However, at one time this was a fairly nice middle class neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles. Nearby this address is an area with several elegant, protected, landmark homes called the "Carroll Ave. Homes".
1. 780 N. East Kensington Road, the home address of Hans Bohnstedt in 1938
2. View of downtown Los Angeles from N. East Kensington Road
Looking through records it becomes apparent that Hans and Elsie were married in 1927 in Santa Ana, probably near Hans' brother Gottfried. Going back through the old Los Angeles City directories we first find Hans Bohnstedt listed in 1929, almost 20 years after his older brother, Gottfried, arrived in Los Angeles. He is listed as a foreman for G.W. Bohnstedt, an obvious reference to Gottfried. But he is also listed with his wife, Elsie. Although Hans must have worked for Gottfried for a short time, the next year he is listed as a "master mechanic", and the year after that, as an "auto mechanic". During these years (1929, 1930, 1931) Hans and Elsie are listed as residing at 415 S. Lake in Los Angeles. Where this address should be is in a hilly district near central downtown Los Angeles. There is no longer a house here, but a paved parking lot for a medical facility.
It is in the next year, 1932, that Hans and Elsie are first listed at 780 E. Kensington Road in Los Angeles. But as previously mentioned, the current correct street name for this location is N. East Kensington Road. In the movie Chinatown, set in 1937 Los Angeles, private detective Jake Gittes is asked to drive to 848 1/2 E. Kensington Road in Echo Park (the Echo Park area of Los Angeles). This address is actually just a few yards up the street from 780 N East Kensington Road where Hans lived from 1932 until at least 1938.
Hans is no longer listed in the Los Angeles city directories after 1933, except for one listing in 1940, and then another in 1946. Because Hans is listed with his wife Elsie as late as 1933, and because Charlotte's son, James, was born in 1932, it seems clear that Hans and Elsie were divorced sometime after 1933, and Hans later married Charlotte, who may have been widowed or divorced herself. A petition for naturalization by Elsie in 1937 lists her husband as Hans Bohnstedt. This means one of two things: either Elsie and Hans were still married (at least technically) in 1937, or Elsie lied on her petition/application, on which she listed her profession as "actress". The 1940 census does list Hans living in Beverly Hills, but no one else is listed living with him, not Elsie or anyone else, indicating that he was probably divorced or separated by this time.
Bohnstedt researcher Duane L. "Sparky" Bohnstedt remembered that Charlotte had told him that she had been married before. He also believed James' middle name may have been taken from the name of Charlotte's first husband, at least in part. Sparky acquired a clipping from a newspaper society column discussing a wedding between Baroness Charlotte von Stein and Roy Acer Ballagh in nearby Glendale California. This was Charlotte's first marriage, before Hans Bohnstedt. The date and publication are unknown, although the article was most certainly from the 1920's. A 1940 census for Los Angeles shows Roy A. Ballagh living with his wife Charlotte, and son James, seven years old. Charlotte's age is listed as "36", which is almost certainly a distortion since this would mean she was born in 1904, whereas every other record shows Charlotte being born in 1898. Did Charlotte lie about her age, either to her husband Roy, or the census taker, or both? This provides a glimpse into Charlotte's propensity for exaggeration and distortion.
This was no doubt the inspiration for James' middle name "Charlesballa", spelled in California birth records, with no "gh" at the end. James was clearly Roy and Charlotte Ballagh's son. So how did James come to be known with the last name of Bohnstedt? This is curious because we now know that Charlotte was married to Roy Ballagh until his death in 1945. Charlotte and Hans then married in 1953, at which time James was approximately 20 years old; he was no child. It seems unlikely that he would consent to an "adult adoption". As for records and newspaper articles that list James as "James Charlesballa Bohnstedt", this could only have been done with James' consent, especially where government records are concerned. The reason why is uncertain.
But there was a lawsuit appeal from 1958 involving Charlotte Bohnstedt, Appellant vs. James C. Ballagh, Respondent", Charlotte's son. The lawsuit appeal was over a property dispute. But it suggests that enmity between Charlotte and James did not take long to develop, and James had already returned to using the last name of Ballagh. The only reason I can reasonably think for James using the Bohnstedt name in the first place was if he thought it might make things easier with regard to inheritance.
According to Sparky Bohnstedt, Hans and Charlotte had moved to Northern California sometime after they married, bought a pear orchard and took up farming. During an interview with Charlotte Bohnstedt in 1978, she told Sparky that one year a severe frost destroyed the entire crop, effectively ending the venture. Records indicate that in the early 1960's Hans and Charlotte were living in Santa Cruz, on the northern California coast near Monterey.
While living in Northern California Hans tried his hand at writing a novel. In 1962 Exposition Press of New York published his first and only mystery novel; No Corpus Delicti, A Story of Suspense. Perhaps Hans hoped that he would be the next Dashiell Hammet or Raymond Chandler, mystery writers in the 1930's and 1940's, whose fictional private detectives later inspired movies like Chinatown. But having acquired a copy of No Corpus Delicti I have to say that, not only is it not very suspenseful, this seems to be more of a short story than a novel. It is fifty-nine pages long, including title pages, dedication, and introduction, and is not very well written.
1. Hans Bohnstedt, circa late 1950's or early 1960's.
2. No Corpus Delicti, a story of suspense, a murder mystery written by Hans. No Corpus Delicti was first published in 1962 by Exposition Press of New York
3. Lugosi, by Gary Don Rhodes, 1997, listed Hans Bohnstedt for "men's wardrobe", in the credits for The Body Snatcher, by RKO pictures, 1945
Apparently Hans tried a number of different professional fields during his life besides writing, repairing cars and growing pears. The inside flap of the dust jacket for No Corpus Delicti described Hans' professional life thus:
Hans Bohnstedt has been connected with the entertainment and motion-picture business for more than four decades. As a young man he came to the United States to work as a stage manager, dance instructor, choreographer and actor. He later learned the technical aspects of film production and worked as a camera operator, cutter, translator, costumer, and technical advisor for several major studios, including M.G.M., Warner Brothers, Paramount, Twentieth Century-Fox, and Republic. Mr. Bohnstedt's varied talents and interests have also led him to work as an assistant engineer and inspector in airplane and missile production.
A native of Germany, Hans Bohnstedt received his early education at the the Naval Academy in Kiel and at the university of Breslau. In his adopted home of California he has studied at the University of Southern California and San Fernando Valley Junior College.
Hans died in 1963 in Santa Cruz, one year after his book was published. After a few years of living in Santa Cruz Charlotte returned to the Los Angeles area. In 1978 Duane "Sparky" Bohnstedt located Charlotte and visited her. It was at that time that Charlotte told Sparky the story about the "aristocratic" Bohnstedts, Schleswig Holstein, and the "thousand year old castle". As I previously mentioned it seems that Charlotte was given to exaggeration, and liked to embellish family history, not only her own, but her husband's as well. An article from a 1965 edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel tells the story of Charlotte Bohnstedt, beginning like this:
Once upon a time in a castle in the faraway hills of southern Austria there lived a little girl with her sister and two brothers. Now this little girl's mother was a lady-in-waiting and her father was in the court of Emperor Francis [Franz] Joseph I and her grandmother was a renowned pianist who performed with and was a close friend of Franz Liszt. This little girl's name was Charlotte von Stein, after the famed Charlotte von Stein of Germany, who was a close friend of the Goethe's.
And the article goes on like this, telling Charlotte's tale of how she wanted to take a trip to America, did so, and met her husband Roy Ballagh. The article continues to relay Charlotte's story of how her husband Roy died suddenly, and how she filled her empty hours until she met her second husband, Hans Bohnstedt. If the first part of the story, of Charlotte's childhood, seemed fanciful, the best was yet to come:
Then she [Charlotte] met and married Baron Hans von Bohnstedt of a Danish titled family.
I have to confess that I laughed out loud when I read this last part about Baron Hans von Bohnstedt and the Danish titled family. It seems clear that Charlotte wanted to believe that her family heritage was a fairytale life of castles, nobility, and the rich and famous. This apparently wasn't enough because she also embellished her second husband's family heritage. Of course, it's also possible that Hans embellished it for his wife, in order to impress her. But Hans was NEVER a Baron, nor were his ancestors, and he certainly was not from a "Danish titled family". As for the story that Charlotte told Sparky about the Bohnstedt "castle", near Schleswig-Holstein, this is also most likely not true.
Here are the facts of Han's family heritage: the Bohnstedt line which Hans descended from WAS an upper-class family, and there were some senior military officers, including a general and a colonel or two. They were connected to other upper-class families. The ancestors of this group of German Bohnstedts in the 1700's managed and/or owned large farming plantations in east Prussia, a tradition that goes back to the days of the Teutonic knights in the years following the crusades. In fact, Hans' great-grandfather, Ferdinand Wilhelm Adolf Bohnstedt, was the owner of one of these estates in Lichtenrade, now a suburb south of Berlin. Bohnstedtstrasse (Bohnstedt Street) is named for the family there.
But as for the rest? No. There would have been a large manor house on the Lichtenrade Estate, but there was probably no "thousand year old castle" that the Bohnstedts lived in near Schleswig-Holstein. Perhaps Charlotte, or even Hans, had learned of the town of "Bohmstedt" near Schleswig-Holstein, and made the same mistake that others have: thinking it was named "Bohnstedt", and then jumping to the next conclusion, that the Bohnstedts had originated there centuries ago. Both Hans and Charlotte wanted to think of themselves as part of the upper classes, connected to the rich, famous and powerful, and even descending from aristocracy, and to that end, embellished family histories, or even their current circumstances, with Hans enlarging the facts of his own employment, especially in the movie industry.
The Next Bohnstedts in Los Angeles
Besides Gottfried Bohnstedt and his siblings, We know that there was at least one other Bohnstedt family in the Los Angeles area prior to World War II; August E. Bohnstedt and his wife Berniece Bohnstedt, listed in an Alhambra city directory as early as 1926. We don't know who they were or which branch of the Bohnstedt family they came from. However, my suspicion (and this is only a guess) is that this could have been August Ernest Bohnstedt, born in 1899 to Perry and Gertrude Bohnstedt. But again, this is only a wild guess, based upon the fact that E.A. Bohnstedt would have been about the right age to move to the west coast and start a career - about 27 years old - and based upon the fact that I don't know of anyone else this might have been. The August and Bernice Bohnstedt listed in Alhambra were an insurance agent (August) and a comptroller, or accountant, for a Los Angeles area manufacturing company (Berniece).
There is one other factor that leads me to believe this: I have found no other Bohnstedt descendants in the Los Angeles area descending from anyone named August Bohnstedt, and it was told to me by a descendant of Perry Bohnstedt that August had no children, therefore he would not have left a family line in the Los Angeles area.
Another Bohnstedt couple who appear in the Los Angeles area (in fact also in Alhambra) were Edward and Ida Bohnstedt, in the 1952, 1956, and 1964 Alhambra City directories. Ida appears as the widow of Edward Bohnstedt. But as with August and Berniece, their identity remains uncertain. I have a working theory that this Edward Bohnstedt was the son of Wilhelm "William" Bohnstedt from Illinois, but this is just a theory.
But who settled next in the Los Angeles area? The very last listing for Gottfried Bohnstedt was in the 1955 Los Angeles telephone directory. But the very next year, in the 1956 Los Angeles telephone directory, is a listing for Virgil D. Bohnstedt at 803 N. Mariposa Avenue, between the Hollywood and Silverlake districts of Los Angeles. Virgil's story is told in The Descendants of Verner Bohnstedt in Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona / South, to Los Angeles California.
Note: In this chapter I make frequent references to "city directories". City directories used to be published at a time before telephones, and were created and published by book publishing companies. They listed a person's name, address, and sometimes his occupation or profession. Later, when telephone usage and ownership became widespread city directories also included telephone numbers in the listings. Also, city directories listed businesses and the principals (top company officers) in that company. In time telephone companies began publishing their own directories, and included a persons name, phone number, and sometimes their addresses. However they did not list things like professions and occupations because that required research, something that phone companies were not willing to spend time and money doing since telephone directories were usually given away free. Research libraries often contain many old city directories and are sometimes used by police detectives working on cold cases and by private investigators working on civil cases in which the particulars of the case, including witnesses, date back several decades.
Research Update: January 2016
Recent evidence has been found that confirms the theories discussed above. This evidence includes census records and grave markers. With regard to August Ernest Bohnstedt: We now know that August was born to Harold Harper Bohnstedt and Gertrude Bohnstedt. August later married Bernice Sheeler in Michigan in 1922. Within the next couple of years the couple relocated to Alhambra California, near Los Angeles, where August worked as an insurance agent, and Bernice worked as a financial controller for a Los Angeles company. We still don't know where Bernice died or was buried, but August died in California in 1936 and was buried in San Gabriel California, a few miles east of Alhambra.
Regarding Edward and Ida Bohnstedt: Edward was Edward Harrison Bohnstedt, the son of Wilhelm "William" and Maggie Bohnstedt about 1878-1879 in Illinois. He was married to a woman named Ida (middle name "Maud"), but her last name remains unknown. Also, we don't know whether Edward married Ida in Illinois, or in California. We do know that Edward and Ida were living in California, also in Alhambra. It's very unlikely that Edward and August never ran into each other in Alhambra because it appears that Edward and Ida never show up Alhambra directories until well after August had died by more than 15 years. One thing that does seem somewhat certain is that Ida was from Mississippi. After Edward died in 1950 in Los Angeles (possibly in Los Angeles County general hospital), Ida lived for another 24 years. She must have returned to Mississippi to be near family as she grew older, and died there. She is buried in Pleasant Grove Mississippi.
- Who's Who in California. 1942-1943
- Bohnstedt, Hans. No Corpus Delicti: A Story of Suspense. Exposition Press, New York. 1962.
- Rhodes, Gary. Lugosi: His Life in Films, on Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers. McFarland & Company. 1997 (ISBN 0786402571)
1-24 / The Lichtenrade Bohnstedt Line; The Descendants of Ferdinand Wilhelm Adolf Bohnstedt
1-43 / Genealogy 1-6-2: Prussia and Eastern Germany: Lichtenrade
5-8 / Appendix G: Mitglieder de Bohnstedt'schen Familien-Verbandes März 1938
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