Then and Now: The visionary immigrant with a golden touch
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Sandy Weill, who created the world’s biggest bank with Citigroup, raised some eyebrows recently when he said on CNBC that large banks should be broken up, and the industry better regulated.
A Bay Area model for this kind of banking and philanthropic vision goes back to German-Jewish immigrant Isaias Hellman (1842-1920), who became L.A.’s first banker and a founder of the University of Southern California before moving to San Francisco to become the West Coast’s most important financier.
He is best known today for turning Wells Fargo into a financial powerhouse, but his larger impact was in creating a culture of economic possibilities for California, linking its future — by bank, education and public works — to the rest of the country’s.
His leadership or funding of the Napa wine industry, the Southern Pacific Railway, the University of California and a group of major banks is outlined in the award-winning biography “Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California” by Berkeley resident and Hellman’s great-great-granddaughter, Frances Dinkelspiel.
This column is provided to j. by Daniel Schifrin, writer-in-residence at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, where stories of local Jewish life are explored in “California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present.”
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