The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1983, Volume 29, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

Copley Award Winner, San Diego Historical Society 1982 Institute of History

Images from the Article

The winter of 1868-69 was unusually severe for the settlers of northern California. Many were the long cold evenings when they would sit in front of their fireplaces and dream of warmer climates, where their families could grow and prosper without icy wind and rain. One such settler was Abraham Klauber. He read a book that praised the potential wealth of Southern California, and saw his opportunity. In the early morning hours of March 6, 1869, Klauber boarded the steamer Sierra Nevada in San Francisco, and began the three day journey down the coast to San Diego, to investigate the situation for himself.1 He was not the first pioneer to search for success in the warmth of San Diego, nor would he be the last.

Born on January 24, 1831, in Zdaslav, Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia) Abraham Klauber was the grandson of Rabbi Moses Klauber, and the son of Jacob and Elizabeth Klauber. When his father passed away in 1844, the young Abraham went to work for a merchant named Mandelbaum, as a clerk in his grocery.2 He began to learn the merchandising business, but by the time he was eighteen, there loomed the draft for the army of the Austrian Empire. Abraham heard tales of the freedom in America, and in September 1849 left his homeland to make his fortune in the New World. From the coast of Germany he took a ship to New Orleans, and then a steamboat up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, where he worked for “board and blankets” at $4.00 a month, for the Levi’s, a family with which he would later become close friends.3

After a short time Klauber moved on to Ottawa, Illinois, where he worked for Francis Mandelbaum, the son of his employer in the old country. The two became business partners, and in January of 1852 they went to New York, most probably to set sail for the gold mines of California. There they met the family of Simon and Katie Epstein, who were also from Bohemia, and fell in love with their two daughters. Francis married Louisa in April of the same year, and took her to California. Abraham courted Theresa, and married her nine years later. The bonds of marriage tied the brothers-in-law together as well; Francis and Abraham were joined in their business enterprises by Henry Epstein.

In July of 1852 Abraham sailed for the West, and countless others did, by way of Nicaragua, where he contracted yellow fever, the cause of ill health later in his life. After landing in San Francisco he made his way to Sacramento, where he found that Francis had established a retail clothing business to serve the miners in the foothills of the Sierras. In May of 1853, Abraham and Francis opened a general merchandise store in Volcano, fifty miles east of Sacramento. It was called “The Sacramento Store, A. Klauber & Co.,” and it delivered goods to any mining camp in the area at no additional charge.4

The Volcano Weekly Ledger of October 27, 1855 recorded the selling slogan of the business: “Our motto is Quick Sales and Small Profits.” The store did very well, and soon outlets were opened in other sites in California and Nevada. The operation in Genoa, Nevada supplied all the goods needed by that community. Sold to Fred and Jacob Furth in 1867, the Genoa store was to play an important role in the history of Nevada.5 Klauber divided his time between each of the stores, running supplies across the mountains in his wagon.6

Klauber became an American citizen on March 12, 1859, and sent for his mother and sister in Bohemia to come to California, but when they arrived in New York, they decided to stay there. In June of 1860, his sister Mary settled down with Jacob Spiegl, who was also from Bohemia. Abraham then sent for Theresa, and they were married on November 30, 1861 in Sacramento.7 After three children came (Ella, Melville and Laura; a fourth, Clara, died in infancy), Abraham began to question the value of life in the mountains. The economic boom of the gold rush had begun to sour, and he decided to look elsewhere for a home.

As soon as he arrived in 1869, Klauber knew that San Diego was the answer. But it was not “Old Town” in which he was interested; it was the area called “New Town” that caught his eye. He called upon Alonzo Horton, who, he was informed, had recently bought a large area of the mostly empty acreage on the bay, and on March 30,1869 the two made a deal for a piece of land one hundred by one hundred feet. The deed cited the location as “Lots K and L, Block 112, Horton’s Addition” and Klauber paid $250 for each lot.8 He then took the same steamer back to San Francisco, where there was much to do.

Klauber found a partner in Samuel Steiner, whom he probably met while purchasing supplies for his northern California and Nevada operations, which were all eventually liquidated. They pooled their assets and divided up the tasks of running the business. Steiner was to act as buyer of supplies in San Francisco, the sole source of supply for the West, and Klauber was to manage the store in San Diego. Their general merchandise enterprise opened in the autumn of 1869, in a one story-and-a-half frame structure that used only a twenty-five by sixty foot piece of the original property.9

The upper floor of the building was used partly for living space for one of the clerks, as it was the custom in those days to have someone sleep in the store to protect the merchandise. There were fireplaces on both floors, and water was brought from the Tasker well on Second Street near B. It was sold and delivered by the bucket, and was used for drinking purposes as well as in the store.10 An awning made of wood, supported by wooden posts from the sidewalk, was erected on the east side of the building, and a boardwalk was laid down on the north and east sides, where the main road passed by the store.11

The location was remarkably strategic, as all supplies from Los Angeles or San Diego bound for Arizona had to pass directly in front of the store.12 The wagon road ran from the north county down to Old Town, then in a general way paralleling the shores of San Diego Bay, through New Town south to Tijuana. It came back into the county further east, and continued across the desert into Arizona.13 The road was the lifeline of the company, as it was for other San Diego stores.

Steiner and Klauber used a horse-drawn wagon to deliver goods to the people of San Diego, and they had other customers as well. Miners from the hills around Julian traded their gold dust for boots, canteens, blasting powder and plug tobacco. Chinese fishermen came to the store with sealskins and fish to exchange for China gin, rice, oil, rope and oarlocks for their junks. Originally a retail store, within two years both wholesale and retail departments were established. Bills were to be paid in “US Gold Coin” and interest was charged at the rate of two per cent on accounts due over thirty days.14

In order to compete with the established businesses of the city, Steiner and Klauber advertised in the local newspapers. Their first ad ran on March 31, 1870, with this catchy slogan: “If you want your Money’s Worth of the best goods in town, go to Steiner and Klauber.” Their list of wares was almost endless: Groceries, boots and shoes, crockery, dry goods, liquor, clothing, paints and oils, and mining tools of every description.15 Later ads called “special attention to their stock of new goods, comprising about everything that a first class store can offer.”16 An indication of the variety of goods which the business carried can be found in the costbook pages kept by Sigmund Steiner.

The son of Leopold and Julia Steiner, “Sig,” as his friends called him, was born on April 3, 1865 in Auburn, California. As a boy in his teens, he came to San Diego to work in his uncle Samuel’s firm, where he clerked for five years.17 His costbook recorded all the merchandise Steiner and Klauber sold, and read like an encyclopedia. There were Apollinaris, Apples and Apricots; Bluing, Beams and Bellows; Gelatine, Glue and Prairie Knife Grinders; Mowers, Marlin and Molasses.18 Certain lines of goods eventually were closed out as others were begun, and the company’s personnel changed too. Sig was quick to learn the business, and in 1886 left the company to launch his own. The San Diego Union of August 1 announced the formation of partnership between Sig and a merchant named P.A. Graham. The two opened general merchandise stores in Escondido and Bernardo under the name “Graham & Steiner” and were successful for many years.19

Another nephew of Samuel Steiner also came in contact with Steiner and Klauber, and would contribute to its success: Simon Levi. The son of Bernard and Anna Levi, also from Bohemia, Simon was born on Dec. 26,1850. He came to California in March of 1863 and two years later entered the business of Sweitzer, Sachs & Co., wholesalers to the general stores in the mining towns. January 1873 found Simon on a steamer to San Diego, to work for Louis Wolf, a prominent merchant in Temecula. Here Simon learned to clerk, while filling orders for flour, sugar and drief beef, among other things. On December 20, 1873 Simon placed this ad in The San Diego Union announcing his own store:

Simon Levi
dealer in
General Merchandise
Wool and Hides, Bought & Sold

But, he was not in business for very long. He sold it to Wolf in 1876, and came to San Diego, joining his uncle and Abraham Klauber as a junior partner.20 The firm became known as “Steiner, Klauber & Company,” a grocery and general merchandise enterprise. The announcement of the name change appeared in The San Diego Unionof February 24, 1876. It read:

Of the old members it is needless for us to say anything—they are deservedly esteemed for probity, fair dealing and business enterprise. The new member of the firm, Mr. Levi, is well known as a most estimable young man, of fine business ability and sterling integrity. . . .21

1876 was an especially good year for Simon Levi, as he also married Ermance Meyer on August 8. His brother Adolph arrived in San Diego in March of 1877 and went to work for the company as an assistant shipping clerk.22 The business was really becoming a family affair.

Abraham’s children began to show their business instincts at an early age. In the backyard of their house on C Street between Eighth and Ninth they set up a miniature store. “. . . copying father, they played store with tacks, bits of wire, and small carefully collected pieces of calico— everything in its place and a place for everything.” Melville and Laura wandered all over town with a little wagon, selling grasshoppers to neighbors who kept birds as pets, clams at ten cents a quart, and old tin cans, which they melted down to sell as solder, at ten cents a pound. Alice Wangenheim Heyneman, a grand-daughter of Abraham, wrote of his children: “In them the mercantile spirit was well and early developed.”23

Abraham and Theresa were not through building their family, either. Alice Klauber was born on May 19,1871, quickly followed by Edgar on May 24, 1873. Eight days later he was given the Hebrew name Elias in the ceremony of circumcision in their home. Friends were invited to attend, and The San Diego Union reported that it was “the first time this ancient Hebrew rite was performed in San Diego.”24 Then came Hugo, Stella, Leda and Laurence, the last, on December 21, 1883. (Two sons, Herbert and Arthur, did not survive childhood.) The proud parents sent their children to the best schools available, which at that time were in San Francisco, and hoped that some day they could take over the business.

Melville Klauber, the eldest son, soon rose to the occasion. Sent off in 1874 to acquire his education, he attended Boys High School in San Francisco and later came back to San Diego. He started to work at the Lankershim Steam Flour Mill, located on the city block bordered by Twelfth, Thirteenth, K and L Streets. The mill was bought by Steiner, Klauber and Company on February 11, 1882, and proved to be a fine testing ground for young Melville. Farmers brought their wheat from all over the county by wagon to sell to the mill, and it was his task to help bring in the 125 to 150 lb. bags of wheat to the warehouse.25 In 1883, Melville was allowed to come to work at the company store as a bookkeeper, and he was much happier. He later wrote of his preference for balancing the company books that he “. . . always maintained an enjoyable interest” in that branch of the firm’s affairs.26

1883 also saw the retirement of Samuel Steiner, and a chapter of the company’s history seemed to be closing. Abraham Klauber made a major decision. Since his health was not too good anyway, he would assume control of the less strenuous end of the business in San Francisco. The San Diego operation, which was beginning to concentrate on selling wholesale to the city’s smaller stores, was left in the hands of Simon Levi and Melville. His second eldest son, Edgar, would join the firm when he became old enough to take part of the responsibility.26 The San Diego Union reported on September 28, 1883, that “Steiner, Klauber & Co.” was dissolved “by mutual consent” and that the firm would now be known as “Klauber & Levi.”28 Steiner lived the rest of his life in San Francisco, and from then on, Klauber children gradually filtered into the operation of the business as they reached maturity.

As the growth of Abraham Klauber’s children, both physically and spiritually, was always of prime importance to him, so was the growth of his adopted city. Klauber became intent upon involving himself in the economic develoment of San Diego. His daughter Alice wrote of his “great anxiety about the future of the town” and of the many problems that had to be solved by its citizens.29 Her father could not read or write the English language when he first came to this country, and thus his command of the spoken word was limited, but that did not stop him. He went to night school in his younger days after he finished work, and always tried to read as much as possible—that was how he discovered San Diego, in a book.30 Abraham wanted to work hard to improve his city, for what was good for San Diego was good for his family as well.

He ran for and was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1878, and served as its chairman for three years.31 Earlier, in 1870, he was elected to the membership of the Masons, who met at “Dunham Hall” on Fifth Street. Alonzo Horton joined the same year, as did E.D. Switzer, the jeweler, and Charles P. Taggart, part owner of The San Diego Union. The Masons even did business with Klauber, as evidenced by a bill presented to the Lodge on June 13, 1870 for $8.62 for spittoons.32

Klauber tried again and again to bring a railroad company to San Diego. In August of 1869 he helped incorporate the “San Diego and Gila Southern Pacific and Atlantic Railroad Company” but it did not survive. The same was true for the “San Diego and San Bernardino Railroad Company” which was incorporated on November 15, 1891, and the “San Diego and Southern Utah Railroad,” of which he was an original subscriber with two hundred shares in the company.33 All these efforts succeeded for a little while, but then failed.

Klauber also sought to promote San Diego to the rest of the nation. To this end he traveled to the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in May of 1876. Bringing two carloads of San Diego-grown honey “under the inspection of the visitors to the Exposition,” he tried to procure “the favorable attention of the world” on the city’s honey production.34

Along with his business partners, Abraham tried to develop the city from within as well. He interested himself in a tract of about one thousand acres directly northeast of New Town. It was known as “City Heights” or the “Steiner, Klauber, Choate and Castle Addition” after the owners of the property.35 In July of 1888 the Park Belt Motor Line was contracted to build a railway to serve its residents with three trains a day, but problems developed. The real estate collapse of the late 1880s forced the sale of the land, which later became a major part of East San Diego.36 Klauber also bought acreage in the southeast part of town and subdivided it. His eldest daughter Ella named the place Encanto (Spanish for “enchanted”), the name it still bears today.37

In 1881, Steiner, Klauber and Company became one of the original subscribers in the new telephone system, which was organized five years after the invention was patented. The first “telephone book” consisted of a single card, five by six inches, with only thirty-nine listings; Steiner, Klauber & Co.’s telephone number was “7”. The instructions on the card seem humorous today: “Do not place the mouth too near the transmitter when talking,” and “Always hang the Telephone on the hook when not in use.”38 The telephone system was a huge success.

While the city was growing by leaps and bounds in the late 1870s and 1880s, the wholesale and retail merchandise industry also boomed. The location at Seventh and I (Island) Streets soon proved to be too constricted for Steiner, Klauber and Company, and in 1876 a move was made to the east side of Fifth Street between H (Market) and I Streets. The new building allowed for more office and storage space, while it also brought the business nearer to the economic heart of the city. There the company occupied a twenty-five by one hundred foot structure owned by T. J. Higgins. In 1879, however, another move was made “because satisfactory arrangements could not be made with Mr. Higgins, the landlord, regarding the rent.”39 On October 4 of that year the company moved to the basement and lower floor of a building called the “Backesto Block,” after its owner.40

Dr. John Pierre Backesto, a physician from Pennsylvania, saw a future in San Diego, and invested in the real estate along H Street. He financed the construction of a two-story building at the northwest corner of Fifth and H Streets, and it apparently did well enough to encourage a second venture in the adjoining property on Fourth and H Streets. The 1888 City Directory listed the two buildings as the “Old” and “New” Backesto Blocks, for lack of better names. Backesto himself preferred to live in San Jose, where he died on March 17, 1890, not two years after his property in San Diego burned to the ground.41

Klauber & Levi’s stay in the “Old” Backesto Block was uneventful enough; business went well there from 1879 to 1886. The quest for more office and storage space, however, again prompted a move of the firm, this time to the “New” Backesto Block, a three story and basement structure that offered one hundred by one hundred feet of space. The two upper floors were leased by Benjamin Lake as his boarding house; the first floor and basement were taken up by Klauber & Levi.42 Destiny would not let the tenants’ stay be a pleasant one, however. The first trouble began in the autumn of 1887.

About half past six o’clock on the evening of August 24, the foundation piers of the building collapsed and the floor of the first story, along with close to seventy tons of Klauber & Levi goods, fell into the basement. The San Diego Sun reported: “The crash was heard for blocks away, and a large crowd soon collected at the scene of the disaster.” The architects of the building, Burkett & Osgood, stated that an earthquake earlier that same day was the cause of the accident. Simon Levi, on the other hand, attributed the trouble to the weakness of the basement pillars, which should have been designed to bear any weight put upon them.43 George W. Hazzard, agent for Dr. Backesto, and W.A. Fitzpatrick, building contractor, held a third view, according to The San Diego Union. They thought that the first floor was overloaded due to “an unusual amount of hardware” that had just been delivered, but had not been put away on shelves. The estimated loss to Klauber & Levi was between five and ten thousand dollars.44 In spite of the three opinions, eventually the owner of the block reimbursed the company for what was lost, and Klauber & Levi remained at the same location. It seems that the “New” Backesto Block was not blessed with much luck, however, as fire struck the next year.

The headline in The San Diego Daily Bee of September 5, 1888 (the day after the fire) read: “A Destructive Blaze, $350,000 of Property Goes Up In Smoke, The Lake House and Klauber & Levi Burnt Out.” It was described as “the most destructive fire” ever known in San Diego, and with good reason. The entire block was destroyed, with nearly everything in it. Discovered at about twenty-five minutes before seven o’clock, the blaze easily proved to be more than a match for the city’s volunteer fire department, and the battle was lost within a half hour. “The ruins were a curious sight,” the newspaper continued, “all the walls, doors and goods were dropped into the cellar, filling the hole up nearly even with the top of the ground.”45 The roomers of the Lake House barely escaped with their lives, including Barney Benjamin, one of Klauber and Levi’s cashiers. The bucket brigade did manage to keep the flames from spreading, and volunteers continued to furnish the city’s fire protection until June of 1889, when provisions for a full-time paid fire department were finally written into a new city charter.46

For Klauber & Levi the fire was a heavy setback. The firm lost over $250,000 worth of goods, which were only insured for $150,000. Four railroad carloads of canned goods and oatmeal were spared, because they were still on the tracks of the Southern California Railroad, waiting to be unloaded.47 There was also $30,000 worth of salvageable, partly burned merchandise, but in the end the company had to absorb a loss of about $100,000. Fortunately, Klauber & Levi still possessed the land at Seventh Street between I and J, so the fire was not as costly as it might have been had the entire business been located in one place.48

Simon Levi quickly appeared on the scene, directing the volunteers to rescue the company’s safe from the ruins. It was lifted to the street and then trucked to the warehouse of the firm farther south. Levi sent Western Union telegrams to the company’s offices at 122 and 124 Davis Street in San Francisco. That night he wired to Melville Klauber: “Corner fourth and H is a total wreck. Don’t buy or ship anything. Let your father come at once.” The following morning Levi sent out a more cheerful message:

Opened safe today books & papers are all right are doing business on Seventh St. keep cool we will come out all right can’t write yet have no time accept best wishes for the new year. 49

Levi’s greeting for the Jewish New Year reflected the optimism and confidence of the men who ran the business in those days, providing an example for those who worked under them. Unshaken by the disaster, they soon opened at their original location, and operations were never suspended. The San Diego Daily Bee reported: “It was only a very short time after the fire before the sign of Klauber & Levi was up and the firm was ready to transact business . . . The firm has no idea of going out of business.”50

The company remained there until 1889, by which time a new brick building was completed at the northeast corner of Fourth and H Streets. Its two stories and basement served Klauber & Levi well. A third floor was added in 1909, along with an additional brick structure in the rear of the store.51 The business continued to prosper, even though times were hard, but the directors of the firm sensed that new blood was needed. Julius Wangenheim wrote in his autobiography:

The firm had successfully withstood the collapse of the 1887 boom, as well as the panic of ’93, but its assets were by this time pretty well tied up in real estate, and it sorely needed more liquid capital.

Melville Klauber suggested that his uncle, Henry Epstein, and Julius Wangenheim each invest $25,000 and become partners in the firm. Wangenheim wrote: “Being particularly fond of Melville, and influenced, too, by the old-time prestige of the firm, I agreed to the plan.”52

Born on April 21,1886 in San Francisco, Julius was the son of Sol Wangenheim, a grocer, who clearly provided the model for his children to emulate, just as Abraham Klauber did. Julius was fascinated by his father’s business and “used to haunt the place at every opportunity. . . . The whole place was wonderfully untidy, and redolent of fruit, steam and sauerkraut.” The Wangenheim children all went to school in San Francisco, which was where Julius met his future partner. “One of my close friends was Melville Klauber, who was one class ahead of me,” Julius recorded, and the two remained friends all through their lives.53

Both men were active in social clubs and also organized their own activities. Julius’ favorite was poker:

This activity I pursued in San Francisco, where a crowd of us, with Melville Klauber at the head, indulged in the game. I usually won—though not as much as Melville—and, as we played a lot, I won considerable money.54

The families of the two men also grew close, especially when Julius fell in love with Melville’s sister Laura. They were married on November 21, 1892 in the Klauber family house at Thirtieth and E Streets, affectionately known as “Coyoteville.”55

Julius drew the following picture of San Diego at that time:

The streets were all unpaved, dusty in summer, impassably muddy in winter . . . The population remained fairly constant—sixteen to seventeen thousand in both 1890 and 1900—and life ran along at an even pace. Downtown it was quiet, and often you could look up and down Fifth Street without seeing a single person or equipage.

Like Abraham Klauber before him, Julius was attracted to San Diego by its raw potential. The Wangenheims rented a newly-built house on the corner of Twentieth and H Streets for thirty dollars a month, and Julius became more involved with the family business.56

The executive responsibilities of the company were divided between Melville, Julius and Simon Levi. Julius wrote, “Melville managed the credits and outside activities; Mr. Levi was in charge of selling, although we all took part in this; and I handled the buying.” He went on:

As Melville and I were naturally very close, Mr. Levi began to feel that he was being overlooked in the management of the business. He finally decided that the situation was intolerable, and we bought out his interest.57

Simon Levi resigned on November 9,1896, and soon established the “Simon Levi Company” in San Diego, designating himself a commission merchant and shipper, dealing in honey, beeswax and produce.58 He was to remain a leading figure in the city for years to come.

In February of 1897 “Klauber & Levi” became “Klauber Wangenheim Company,” and that was not the only change in the business. The turn of the century brought profound technological advances to the wholesale and retail merchandising industry. Horse-drawn delivery wagons gave way to automobiles and trucks, and paved highways replaced the county’s dirt roads. Typewriters took the place of pen and ink; cash registers, adding and posting machines made their appearance. New methods of production and distribution were always being discovered, and with the innovations there also came a search for new customers.

In 1895 a chain of retail stores, partly owned by Klauber Wangenheim Company, was established in San Diego’s back country. The La Punta Salt Works at the south end of the bay was purchased in 1901, and provided the company a private supply of salt for several years.591901 also saw Klauber Wangenheim Company, or KWCo for short, buy out Harbison Grocery Company, a business that had been stiff competition for many years.60 In July of the same year KWCo stepped into the Los Angeles market. A small wholesale operation was established at Main and Court Streets, with Edgar Klauber as manager, and later a store was opened in Long Beach to serve the people there.61

The taste of commercial success was suddenly soured, however, by the death of Abraham Klauber. He passed away on July 23, 1911 in the family cottage at Encanto, and many eulogies were given by friends and family. Perhaps the most eloquent came from Alice W. Heyneman, who wrote: “. . . he never lost that characteristic twinkle in his eye, or his gentle interest in the doings of the grandchildren.”62 Klauber delighted in his family because he knew that his deeds would be overshadowed by those of his children. He would have been very pleased with their success, as KWCo continued to grow and prosper.

In 1919 the San Diego and Arizona Railroad opened. On December 2 of that year KWCo shipped an entire trainload of groceries and general merchandise to the merchants of the Imperial Valley. The total weight of the goods alone was over three hundred and seventy-five tons, and the cars were gaily decorated with banners and pennants. The credit for the successful completion of the immense undertaking was due largely to the efforts of Hugo Klauber, secretary and treasurer of KWCo. There were many delays, strikes and uncertain freight conditions, but through it all Hugo was persistent and untiring in his efforts to secure the railroad, like his father before him. Billed as “the biggest event of its kind in the history of California business,” it was but one step in KWCo’s history.63

The business became strictly wholesale in 1916, when the liquor license, the last vestige of the retail operation, was sold.64 In November of 1919, C.F. Guenther Corporation, Manufacturers of Candy of Venice, California was purchased, and in March of 1920, KWCo bought the Delta Mercantile Company, Wholesale Grocers in the Imperial Valley.65 The company outgrew its building on Fourth and H Streets, and made a decision to return to its original property on Seventh and Island Ave.

The old warehouse was torn down, and a huge concrete structure took its place. The San Diego Union of February 10, 1929 reported that “all features found in a modern grocery house” were installed in the new building. There were high-speed elevators, double spiral chutes, and jack-type floor trucks for moving merchandise, and a pneumatic tube system for communication between employees.66 The company was not settled in its new site very long, however, before tragedy struck again.

Ella Klauber passed away in 1932 after a long illness. Then on November 23, 1932 Melville Klauber died, to be followed three short years later by Hugo, on October 11, 1935. Julius Wangenheim wrote: “All these left the family broken and the business crippled . . . but Allan stepped into the business and took the place of both Melville and Hugo.67 Allan Salz Klauber, son of Melville and Amy Salz Klauber, graduated from Stanford University in 1927, and trained with Sussman Wormser Company in San Francisco, where he learned the wholesale “cash and carry” business, a relatively new innovation in the grocery field.68 Allan Klauber most ably filled the shoes of his predecessors, and under his leadership KWCo thrived.

The company weathered the Great Depression, and even maintained a high level of employment during those difficult years. Rather than cutting the number of employees by discharging unneeded people, the payroll was slowly reduced by natural causes, such as resignation, illness and death.69

During the 1950s, as independent retail grocers sold their businesses to the growing supermarket chains, there was less and less of a market for KWCo goods. At first the directors of the company tried to remedy the situation by organizing independent grocers into a group called Allied Food Stores. It was “dedicated to better methods of merchandising and lower prices, made possible by group action,” and was supposed to allow the “home-owned grocery store” to compete successfully with other food stores.70 Inevitably, however, the supermarket chains spread all over the nation, and KWCo’s leaders began to see the demise of the independent retail grocer. KWCo directed its attention toward schools, restaurants, hospitals and bakeries. Interest was even taken in such potential customers as gas stations, churches and Little League groups.71

The shift to a more “food service” orientation was a wise one, and KWCo just rolled right along. The Tobacco Leaf of August 1,1959 reported that the company owned and operated six sites around the San Diego area: “Downtown, North Park, Logan, Five Points, South Bay and Oceanside.” Even though the 1950s brought the close of the Los Angeles and Long Beach operations (both were losing money), the firm still had two affiliated companies south of the border, one each in Tijuana and Ensenada.72 As late as 1973, the business was still operating at a profit, as judged by Herbert Lockwood of the San Diego Daily Transcript. Howard Gardner, who joined the company in 1930 at $50 a month and had been President of KWCo since 1965, was interviewed by Lockwood. He said that customers were still being served “… from Yuma to the east, Ensenada to the south, and the county line to the North.”73 Soon, however, the food service, or “institutional feeding,” industry just began to dry up. Competition from well-capitalized national food distributors cut sharply into the market, but fortunately, the directors of KWCo were still on their toes. They closed the merchandise operations of the business and shifted the company’s assets into securities and real estate.74 KWCo became an investment company and auctioned off the remnants of its merchandise operation in the early part of 1981.

Klauber Wangenheim Company today would be just another investment company among many, if it were not for the legacy left by the founders of the firm. Theirs was a time when scarcity and hardship were commonplace, when San Diego was a frontier town with dusty streets, but they survived because of their inner qualities. Abraham Klauber, Samuel Steiner, Simon Levi, Julius Wangenheim, and all the Klauber children and grandchildren will not be best remembered for building this store in this location or that store in another; they will be remembered for the kind of pioneers they were, and what they stood for. The memorial that appeared in The San Diego Union on the day after Abraham Klauber’s passing spoke of his character and personality, but it applied to all the people who worked for KWCo. They were “of the stuff of which the pioneers were made, qualities that produced probably the most remarkable men in latter American history.”75 Their legacy will live on.


1. Alice Wangenheim Heyneman, Abraham Klauber (San Diego: Rover Printers, 1963), pp. 7-8.

2. Laurence M. Klauber, “Abraham Klauber-A Pioneer Merchant (1831-1911),” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, II (July, 1959), pp. 69-70.

3. Alice W. Heyneman, Klauber, pp. 1-2.

4. Laurence M. Klauber, Pioneer Merchant, pp. 71-72.

5. Carson Valley Historical Society, Guide to Old Genoa, Nevada (Sierra-Nevada Printing Co., Carson City, Nevada, 1970).

6. Alice W. Heyneman, Klauber, pp. 4-6.

7. Laurence M. Klauber, Pioneer Merchant, pp. 77-78.

8. Melville Klauber, Typed note, undated, on the original location of the business, from Klauber Wangenheim Company Scrapbook I, hereinafter, KWCoBook I.

9. Alice W. Heyneman, Klauber, pp. 7-8.

10. Melville Klauber, Typed note, dated October 30,1919, on J.W. Wescott’s remembrance of the original building, from KWCoBook I.

11. Melville Klauber, Typed note, dated November 4, 1919, on George W. Hazzard’s remembrance of the original building, from KWCoBook I.

12. “Klauber Started Firm As Trading Station in 1869,” The San Diego Union, April 6, 1934, pp. B-3 and 4.

13. Melville Klauber, “Brief Historical Notes Regarding Klauber Wangenheim Co.,” June 10, 1920, from KWCoBook II.

14. Allan Salz Klauber, “A History of KWCo., With Many Personal References,” Klauber Wangenheim News, III (November, 1962), p. 2, from KWCoBook II.

15. “Steiner & Klauber,” Their first advertisement, The San Diego Union, March 31, 1870, p.2.

16. “Steiner & Klauber,” A later advertisement, The San Diego Union, March 9, 1871, p. 4.

17. Frances B. Ryan, “Sig Steiner: Father of Escondido’s Grape Day,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, VIII (July, 1976), pp. 361-369.

18. Melville Klauber, Two typed notes, both dated June 4,1920, on the original location of the business and on a page from Sig Steiner’s costbook, from KWCoBook I.

19. Sigmund Steiner Biographical File, including The San Diego Union of August 1,1886, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

20. Henry Schwartz, “The Levi Saga: Temecula, Julian, San Diego,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, VI (April, 1974), pp. 161-164.

21. “Steiner, Klauber & Co.,” Announcement of the addition of Simon Levi to the firm, The San Diego Union, February 24, 1876, p. 2.

22. Henry Schwartz. “Levi Saga,” pp. 167-171.

23. Alice W. Heyneman, Klauber, pp. 9-13.

24. “Infant son of Mr. & Mrs. Klauber was given the name Elias in the ceremony of circumcision in their home Sunday,” The San Diego Union, June 3, 1873, p. 3.

25. Allan S. Klauber, KWCo, Historical Calendar, 1869-1969, Research notes, dated July 3, 1969, from KWCoBook IA; and Melville Klauber, Typed notes, dated August 30, 1920, on the Lankershim flour mill, from KWCoBook I.

26. Melville Klauber, “Some Early Memories,” dated June 1920, and typed note, dated August 9, 1921, on his interest in bookkeeping, both from KWCoBook I.

27. Alice W. Heyneman, Klauber, pp. 16-18.

28. Notice of the Dissolution of “Steiner, Klauber & Co.” and the Formation of the “Klauber & Levi,” The San Diego Union, September 28, 1883, p. 2.

29. Alice W. Heyneman, Klauber, p. 14.

30. Melville Klauber, Typed note, dated June 11, 1920, on Abraham Klauber, from KWCoBook I.

31. Interview with Laurence M. Klauber, conducted by Edgar F. Hastings on May 12,1960, p. 13, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

32. Letter to Louis Dante, from unknown author, dated April 25, 1957, on San Diego Lodge #35 stationery, from KWCoBook I.

33. Melville Klauber, Typed note, dated March 20, 1920, on the efforts to secure a railroad, from KWCoBook I.

34. “Two Carloads of San Diego Honey for the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia,” The San Diego Union, May 27, 1876, p. 2.

35. Julius Wangenheim, “Julius Wangenheim, An Autobiography,” California Historical Society Quarterly, XXXV (December, 1956), p. 347.

36. Herbert C. Hensley, “Steam Trains To East San Diego,” San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, II (January, 1956), pp. 4-5.

37. Allan S. Klauber, “A History of KWCo, With Many Personal References,” Klauber Wangenheim News, III (August, 1963), p. 3.

38. “Telephone Company to Hold Open House; First Local Directory Will Be Displayed,” The San Diego Union, March 12, 1937, p. 10.

39. Melville Klauber, Typed note, undated, on the building at Fifth Street between H and I, from KWCoBook I.

40. Melville Klauber, Typed note, undated, on the first Backesto Block, KWCoBook I.

41. Jerry MacMullen. “He Saw San Diego’s Future,” The San Diego Union, March 22, 1964, p. H-3.

42. Melville Klauber, Typed note, undated, on the second Backesto Block, from KWCoBook I.

43. “Backesto Block, The Brick Piers Crumble Away Under Their Load and The Lower Floor Falls,” The San Diego Sun, August 25, 1887.

44. “Almost A Disaster, A Portion of the New Backesto Building Falls,” The San Diego Union, August 25, 1887, p. 3.

45. “A Destructive Blaze, $350,000 of Property Goes Up In Smoke, The Lake House and Klauber & Levi Burnt Out,” The San Diego Daily Bee, September 5,1888, p. 1, reprinted in Klauber Wangenheim News, I (March 13, 1950), p. 3 and 4.

46. “City Observing Anniversary of Fire Volunteers,” The San Diego Union, October 24, 1948, p. 13-A.

47. Jerry MacMullen, “Disaster Was Far From Their Minds,” The San Diego Union, December 8, 1963, p. J-2.

48. Melville Klauber, Typed note, undated, on the second Backesto Block, from KWCoBook I.

49. Western Union Telegrams sent by Simon Levi to Melville Klauber, dated September 4, 1888, and to Abraham Klauber, dated September 5, 1888, both from KWCoBook I.

50. “A Destructive Blaze,” The San Diego Daily Bee, September 5, 1888, p. 1.

51. Melville Klauber, Typed note, undated, on the second Backesto Block, from KWCoBook I.

52. Julius Wangenheim, “An Autobiography” (September, 1956), pp. 272-273.

53. Ibid. (June, 1956), pp. 121 and 127.

54. Ibid. (September, 1956), p. 261.

55. Ibid., pp. 268-269.

56. Ibid., pp. 273-274.

57. Ibid. (December, 1956), pp. 345-346.

58. Henry Schwartz, “Levi Saga,” p. 171.

59. Wilmer B. Shields, “A Century in Retrospect,” Essay in KWCo Centennial, 1869-1969, from KWCoBook VI.

60. Julius Wangenheim, “An Autobiography” (December, 1956), pp. 345-346.

61. Edgar E. Klauber, “Edgar Klauber Relates His Early-Day Experiences As A Drummer,” Klauber Wangenheim News, I (November, 1950), p. 4.

62. Alice W. Heyneman, Klauber, p. 27.

63. D.F. Hancock, “Realization of Dream of 50 years Is Told In Sketch of Well Known San Diego Firm,” The San Diego Union, November 30, 1919, pp. 14 and 21.

64. Allan S. Klauber, “A History of KWCo, With Many Personal References,” Klauber Wangenheim News, III (November, 1962), p. 2.

65. Melville Klauber, “Brief Historical Notes,” dated June 10, 1920; and typed note, dated August 30, 1920, on the Delta Mercantile Company, both from KWCoBook II.

66. “Pioneer Plant To Construct New Building,” The San Diego Union, February 10, 1929, pp. 1-2.

67. Julius Wangenheim, “An Autobiography” (June, 1957), p. 163.

68. Allan S. Klauber, “History of KWCo,” III (February, 1963), p. 2.

69. Allan S. Klauber, “100th Anniversary, Melville Klauber,” Klauber Wangenheim News, III (September, 1965), p. 1.

70. “San Diego Welcomes Allied Food Stores; Independents Join With Klauber Wangenheim to Gain Buying Advantage,” The San Diego Union, September 3, 1932, Good Will Section, p. 1.

71. Russell Van Denburgh, “Klauber Wangenheim Builds On Three Basic Principles,” The San Diego Union. May 4, 1969, p. H-12.

72. “The Klauber Wangenheim Co. Marking 90th Anniversary,” The Tobacco Leaf, August 1, 1959, from KWCoBook VI.

73. Herbert Lockwood, “Oldest Family Firm in S.D. Still Thriving,” The San Diego Daily Tmnscript, August 14, 1973, p. lA, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

74. Donald C. Bauder, “Oldest Business Here To Close Shop,” The San Diego Union, October 7, 1980, p. B-l.

75. “Abraham Klauber, Pioneer, Is Dead,” The San Diego Union, July 24, 1911, p. 8.