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From Trebisov to Bikini in Two Generations: The Klein Family of Los Angeles

by Stephanie Nordlinger
 

Henry Klein was born in September 1858 in or near the small town of Trebisov in Zemplin province in what was then Hungary and now is eastern Slovakia. He came to the United States in the 1870s and was, according to his son, a peddler in country districts in the Allegheny Mountains before starting a store in Huntington, West Virginia. His wife Minnie gave birth to a daughter, Theresa R. Klein, in Hungary. They and a number of Henry's siblings immigrated to the U.S. and settled mostly in the New York, New Jersey, Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and Los Angeles Henry lived in New Jersey for a few years before coming to Los Angeles in about 1888-91. His wife Minnie died at age 34 in Los Angeles County on May 3, 1895.

On August 23, 1896, Henry married Mamie [Matilda] Norton, the daughter of Simon F. Norton, the son of a Polish Jewish immigrant merchant who had settled in Newark, Essex County, New Jersey, where she was born in October 1870.Times New RomanThe Norton family moved to Los Angeles (to join Simon) between 1876 and 1880. Henry Klein had his own Star Clothing Co. store at First and Main Streets in Los Angeles for about six years. Because of the difficulty of obtaining merchandise from the East while still minding the store in Los Angeles, it was desirable to have a partner. So Henry Klein went into partnership with his father-in-law, Simon F. Norton and Simon's two sons (Isaiah and Aaron Norton) in about 1898.

Simon F. Norton had founded Norton's Dry Goods, in Los Angeles in 1859. Simon Norton was naturalized in Los Angeles on November 21, 1859. A photograph in the author's possession taken about 1897-98 shows a number of people in front of a store labeled  “Norton's Clothing Store Established 1859" at 102-104 Commercial Street in downtown Los Angeles. Two Norton cousins appear in the 1860 U.S. Census in Santa Ana, Orange County, California. The Norton families were allegedly from "Warsaw" or "near Warsaw" according to the Boston Norton family (furriers), but the author has not yet been able to identify the Polish records.

On February 5, 1903, the business was incorporated as the Klein-Norton Co. Originally, it included a retail business, including women's dresses, but in about the first decade of the 20th century, the retail part of the business was sold and until its demise nearly 80 years later the company specialized in wholesale menswear and dry goods (everything except outer wear). Henry Klein retired about 1927 and died in Los Angeles on March 31, 1932. Mamie Klein died in Los Angeles on January 16, 1933. Henry Klein's only son, Arthur Louis Klein, was born in Los Angeles on April 10, 1898. Educated in the public schools, he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1916. His father wanted him to go into the family business, while his mother wanted him to become a doctor. He asserted his independence and attended the relatively new California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, where he earned his B.S., M.A. and Ph.D. in Physics by 1924. He then pursued an academic career - teaching fellow, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and then full Professor of Aeronautical Engineering. Arthur helped to design wind tunnels at Cal Tech to test various airplanes as they were designed. He was a consultant to the Douglas Aircraft Co. for several decades and helped design most of the DC-1 through 10 series of civilian planes and various military aircraft. In about 1946, the U.S. Government included Arthur L. Klein in a delegation of scientists that evaluated atomic bomb tests in Bikini. Quite a way for a Hungarian peddler’s son to go!  Dr. Klein became a Professor Emeritus in 1967-68. He passed away on November 25, 1983 in Torrance, California. Considerable information on him (including photographs) can be found at the Cal Tech website, www.caltech.edu (search on "A* Klein"). The author thanks her cousins and the Cal Tech Archives for their cooperation.

Arthur was also a part-time President of the Klein-Norton Co. from 1927 until he sold his majority interest in the late 1970s. The company was on Ninth and Los Angeles Streets in the garment district of downtown Los Angeles. In perhaps the 1950s, it moved to Culver City (suburban Los Angeles). It was run mostly run by the Nortons until 1940, then by Vice President and General Manager Stephen F. Nordlinger (whose father had married Mamie Norton's sister Esther) from 1940 through his retirement in 1969 and then by his son, Stephen. The company was sold to non-family managers who moved it to Santa Ana, Orange County, about 1980.

Notes:

1Presumably Heinrich Klein in the old country.

2Henry's brother Adolph Klein lived in Los Angeles. Adolph was a partner of Leo Roth about 1890 in a cigar stand at the northeast corner of First and Main Streets in Los Angeles according to Kelly Roth, Experiences and Travels of an Immigrant Boy, etc. (approx. 1943). Henry’s brother Louis Klein (1968-1953) lived in Milwaukee for a time, but died in a Los Angeles suburb. Louis' son, Alfred Max Klein (1896-1967) lived in the Los Angeles area for many years and worked for years for the Klein-Norton Co.’s shipping and receiving department.  Henry had three sisters who were born in Hungary but later lived in New York City: Mrs. Herman Grunberger, Sarah Klein/Mrs. Sigmund Berkowitz, and Mali/Mollie Klein Blum.

3Minnie Klein (1861-1895) was buried in the old Jewish cemetery in Chavez Ravine and reburied on June 26, 1903 in the Home of Peace Memorial Park on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles.  Henry and Mamie Klein are also buried there.

4 Mamie’s mother was Amelia F. Bierman of Newark, New Jersey. The Henry Klein - Mamie [Matilda] Norton marriage license is in Book 43, p. 19 of the Los Angeles County marriage records according to Volume 6 of the Los Angeles County Marriage License Index, 1895-99. Rabbi M.G. Solomon married them. The witnesses were Los Angeles residents Grace Norton and Adolph Klein, Henry's brother. Grace Norton is probably an unidentified relative of the bride. The author has additional information on these families before they came to Los Angeles.

5 Family tradition (Arthur L. Klein) says that Amelia Norton arrived on the day of or the day after the Chinese Massacre, in October 1871, and was shocked by the corpses.  If true, Mrs. Norton apparently went back to a perhaps more civilized Newark, New Jersey, as she had several more children there (through 1876).  Her last child was born in Los Angeles in 1880.

 

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