Books

Frey's L.A. errors are easy pickings

Old bankSteve Harvey debunked some of author James Frey's so-called quirky facts about Los Angeles in his Only in L.A. column on Saturday. Author Frances Dinkelspiel picks up the cause and destroys a bunch more of the historical color in "Bright Shiny Morning." New York reviewers adore the book because they think it nails L.A., but even Frey disclaims "nothing in this book should be considered accurate or reliable." If that was the object, Dinkelspiel says he succeeded — misstating the city's population throughout and completely misreading the often-told story of the Owens Valley water and the riches made on San Fernando Valley land. More oopses:

You would have thought after his public humiliation on Oprah he would have learned to double-check what he wrote....

Frey says "in 1873, the city's first newspaper, the Los Angeles Daily Herald, opens."

What Frey Gets Wrong: He’s off by many years. The Herald was hardly the first newspaper. The Los Angeles Star and the El Clamor Publico started publishing in the 1850s.

Frey says that in 1895 all of the 23 incorporated banks in Los Angeles County are robbed at least once and one bank was robbed fourteen times.

What Frey Gets Wrong: My book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, focused on one of those banks, the Farmers and Merchants Bank, and I found no evidence it was robbed in 1895. A search of the Los Angeles Times Historical Newspaper Index does not support Frey’s claim either.

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What Frey Gets Right: I am glad to report Frey got one historical fact correct. He writes that in 1871 John G. Downey and Isaias Hellman formed the city’s first incorporated bank, the Farmers and Merchants Bank. That’s right!

Hellman — whose gorgeous old bank at Main and 4th Street gives the name to Downtown's Old Bank District — was Dinkelspiel's great-grandfather. Her book is due out in November.


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