13 October 2014

A Little History of Laband Village in Chino Hills

The last post concerned some of the history of the people behind the name of the Gordon Ranch subdivision in Chino Hills and now is a similar excursion into Laband Village.  This community abuts Gordon Ranch to the north, starting off of Chino Hills Parkway between Eucalyptus Avenue and Grand Avenue and extending past Grand and into the hills to the northwest.  As with the Gordons, there is some interesting history about the Laband family.

The Labands, an Ashkenazi Jewish family, hailed from what was then the city of Breslau in Prussia, which was an independent nation before being incorporated into a unified Germany in 1871.  After the German empire collapsed in World War I, the region became Poland and the city's name changed to Wroclaw.  This blogger has maternal ancestors, the Levys, who were also from Breslau.

One of the more famed of the Labands, Paul Laband, was a professor of international law, was a major supporter of the unified Germany, and wrote many important and influential works before his death at Strassbourg in 1918.

Born in Breslau in 1900 was Walter Hermann Laband, who came up in the banking trade in his native city but developed contacts throughout Europe and especially in Amsterdam in Holland.  Starting in the 1920s he began to make trips to New York as part of his business and, by the end of the decade, he was hired by a prominent Wall Street firm, Maurice Wertheim and Company, to work for them by facilitating stock transactions in Europe, principally London and Amsterdam, through companies acquired from Colbin and Company

In September 1929, Laband was a party in the first trans-Atlantic telephone stock transaction between his firm and a Milan bank.  Several weeks later, however, the stock market crashed in New York ushering in the Great Depression.  Fortunately for Laband, his firm had disposed of all of its bad stock prior to the collapse.

Walter Hermann Laband and his second wife, Katharina Steinweg, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1932.  From the Amsterdam City Archives and the Red Een Portret Web site.
Laband was married first to Ruth Hilde Steinlitz, from whom he was divorced in 1931.  In August of the following year in Amsterdam, he was wed to Katharina Steinweg.  Notably, while Laband was born Jewish, he was obviously not observant, as Katharina was a Roman Catholic.  The union bore a daughter, Kathleen, and a son, Stephen, and, in 1939, as the Second World War erupted, the Labands left for England, settling in the town of Sevenoaks.  Just several months later, Katharina Laband died a few weeks shy of her 33rd birthday.

Laband continued working for Wertheim & Co. until 1946 when he retired, taking with him about a quarter of the company's stock and providing the gift of a week's pay for each employee of the business.  Interestingly, according to an obituary for this last wife, Francine Lombard, he was working as an intelligence officer for the British Army at Versailles in France after the conclusion of World War II.

Francine, who was born in 1920 and grew up in Versailles, studied at the famed Sorbonne university in Paris and was a MASH unit nurse during the final assault of Allied forces into Nazi Germany as the war came to a conclusion.  The obit mentioned that, after their honeymoon, the couple relocated to the United States, settling in, of all places, Covina.

Walter Laband then formed General Air Conditioning, a firm that may well have been financed with the stock he took with him from Wertheim & Co.  The use of air conditioning was starting to expand exponentially in the post-World War II era and General Air became one of America's largest and most successful firms, operating offices all over the United States.

General Air's plant was located near the intersection of Interstate 5 and Interstate 710, but it was incorporated in Florida in 1953, for obvious reasons of tax advantages, with its offices in Jacksonville.  Clearly, the company made a significant fortune for Laband, whose wife, Francine, was a director.

The couple, who had three children of their own (Stephen, from the first marriage, died after an accident in 1951 while still a teen), purchased 400 acres in the southeastern corner of what is now West Covina near Grand Avenue and Cameron and lived on a large home there.  Within a few years of settling in the area, the Labands bought a large estate and property on a promontory overlooking Lake Arrowhead.

The Labands quickly became prominent in their new home, with the couple being active with Intercommunity Hospital, now part of Citrus Valley Health Partners, which offers a Laband Award honoring major supporters; Casa Colina, a rehabilitation center that was started next to Boys Republic here in the Chino Hills area before it moved to Pomona in 1960 and at which there is a Laband Building; Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, for which the couple endowed the Laband Art Gallery in 1984 and also supported the Kelly Art Gallery; and very active involvement in the Roman Catholic Church.  The couple each were knighted by the Church and served as regents and associates at Catholic universities, he at Immaculate Heart and she at Loyola Marymount.  The Walter and Francine Laband Foundation was formed in 1961 to support their charitable endeavors and dissolved in 2012.

Walter and Francine Laband at the opening of their Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles, 1984.  The photo is from the university archives' Web site.
It may have been because of their involvement at Casa Colina, when it was still in Chino/Chino Hills, that the Labands purchased a ranch on what was the former Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, just north of the Gordon Ranch discussed in the last post.  It hasn't yet been learned when the property was acquired, how large it was, and what was done with it (presumably, cattle raising), but it remained in the family until the late 1980s.

As the Chino Hills area became part of a major planning effort by San Bernardino County in the late 1970s and early 1980s and then the real estate market became red hot by the end of Eighties, the Labands benefited mightily.  Newspaper reports from October 1988 revealed that 89 acres of the ranch were purchased for a staggering $18 million by Fieldstone, a Newport Beach-based builder and that Riverdale Management was overseeing a planned community of 1,700 units, now known as LaBand Village (curiously, the spelling of the family name is everywhere else "Laband.")  Notably, just a short time after the Laband Ranch sale, the real estate market, grossly overheated and overvalued, tanked, leading to a depressed market which lasted through most of the 1990s.

Less than a year after the fabulous windfall in the sale of Laband Ranch, on 1 July 1989, Walter Laband died at the age of 89.  His widow lived until 2010 when she died at the same age.  Their large West Covina home, on a 2.44 acre parcel, as the rest of the 400 acres were sold off over their years for residential development, was sold in 2012.

There is an interesting little footnote to the story of the Labands.  Before he married Francine and while still in the banking industry in Europe, Walter bought bonds from the Republic of China that were backed by gold reserves and, allegedly, the full faith and credit of the government.

It is said Walter Laband began buying Chinese-issued bonds in 1913, but that would have been when he was only thirteen years old, unless a relative made those transactions for him, and continued for twenty-five years until the late 1930s.

Then came World War II and the Japanese invasion of China, followed by the campaign of Mao Tse-Tung and the Communists which led to the 1949 revolution that ushered Mao to power.  Nothing was done by the Chinese on these bonds until the People's Republic formally disowned any responsibility for the bonds as being from a previous government.  By 2008, when CBS News covered the issue, 15,000 persons were due an estimated $260 billion, so some of them took their complaint to Congress.

Part of the effort was to show members of the House of Representatives that the bonds included, in four languages, wording that bound the Chinese government "and its successors" to pay bondholders what they were due for their 5% interest payments over time.  Among those who went to Washington was Pierre Laband, son of Walter and Francine, who said in the CBS piece that his father needed the payments to "make ends meet," which, given the Labands very successful lifestyle, seemed a tad overstated!  In any event, the issue remained unresolved.

Like its neighbor, Gordon Ranch, Laband Village is generally viewed as a collection of tract houses and other residences, along with the Laband Shopping Center, as part of a new city with little history, but there is actually some interesting history behind the names of these communities within Chino Hills.  As the city approaches its 25th anniversary in 2016, that history can be an interesting part of the celebration.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating!!! And great work! Thanks again for doing all you do on Carbon Canyon Chronicle! -- JA, Mountain View NHood

prs said...

Thanks JA, the Labands were an interesting story, as will, hopefully, be the next one on the name behind English Road and English Springs Park. Appreciate the comment and support.

Greg said...

Thanks for this very fascinating story about my grandparents!

prs said...

Hi Greg, you're welcome. If you have any other information about the Labands, that would be great. Glad you found the blog.

Martin Siggins said...

Hi! Greg's younger brother here, Marty. Walter is our grandfather, and any information on him is welcome! This read was amazing! Thanks so much!

prs said...

Hi Marty, Glad you also got a chance to read the post. As I said to Greg last summer, if you have anything further to share about your grandfather, I'd appreciate hearing about it.