Santa Cruz County History - People

A Walk Through Time: Louis Schwartz
by Janet Krassow and
by Randy Krassow

In the early 1870s, a meeting was held at the home of Louis Schwartz on Mission Street. During the course of the congenial affair, the men founded a local chapter of The Hebrew Benevolent Society, an organization dedicated to the interests of the Jewish community.

It was a time when racism and anti-Semitism was rampant among certain groups of people in California, and many Jewish citizens chose to hide their ancestry, merely referring to themselves as Germans. Although the Santa Cruz Jewish population was small, they were among the foremost business and political leaders of the time. Prominent in this circle were Louis Schwartz and the three Bernheim brothers, Jacob, Reuben, and Emanual.

Schwartz was born on January 5, 1834 in Schildberg, Prussia, apprenticing as both a butcher and baker. It was a time of great persecution, when Jewish people were being dispossessed, put off of their lands, and had their goods confiscated. When Schwartz was 17 years old, he fled his native land, settling first at Hull, England, and later moving to London. While in England, he learned to make rubber coats (macintoshes). A year later he booked passage aboard the sailing vessel, Henry Clay, bound for New York.

Photograph of the Pioneer Section at Santa Cruz Memorial Park
Pioneer Section at Santa Cruz Memorial Park

After a year on the east coast, Schwartz sailed for California via the Isthmus, arriving at San Francisco with just seven dollars in his pocket, but a head full of ideas and the determenation to go with it. In 1855, he came to Santa Cruz and it was here that his enterprises met with great success.

During the next forty years of his life, Louis Schwartz established several merchandising businesses, maintained interest in a number of sailing ships, as well as real estate. In his later years, he was a major stockholder in the Butcher's Union and in the Santa Cruz County and Pajaro Valley Bank, serving as bank director for almost a decade.

While always taking a leadership role in the Hebrew Benevolent Society, he also took an active part in civic life, being elected to a number of political offices including terms on the Santa Cruz City Council. His disposition was of a jovial and genial nature -- always witty, making him a great companion. Louis Schwartz died May 23, 1893 at the age of 69.

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