San Francisco County
PHILIP N. LILIENTHAL
Though nearly a quarter of a century has passed since “Phil” Lilienthal came to an untimely end as the result of an automobile accident, “there are still a host of people in every walk of life through the length and breadth of land,” said a contemporary biographer, “whose eyes grow moist when speaking of him. A handsome man he was. Tall and imposing, of courtly manner and distinguished bearing, possessed of a charm that few could withstand, he attracted attention wherever he went. Yet, petted though he was by nature, brilliant though his success, he was neither pompous, proud or lordly. He was a man in the noblest sense of the term. Jew to the core, his heart throbbed in loving sympathy for the unfortunate of every creed. Phil Lilienthal was not known to be a rich man in the sense in which that term is usually understood. Great wealth did not give him that remarkable prominence in the civic, business and social life of this state and the nation. It was rather his sterling qualities as a man and a citizen; his splendid ability as a man of affairs, his fine sense of honor, his civic virtues, his love of mankind, his innumerable deeds of loving kindness—all that and much more gave him such a wonderful hold upon the people that knew him. Despite his great responsibilities and arduous duties, he was intensely democratic. Whether it was the seeker of advice or assistance, or the merchant prince—everybody was welcome. No announcement was necessary. His office was no sanctum sanctorum of the latter-day man of importance. All one had to do was to approach his desk—in the Anglo-California Bank—the simplest piece of furniture in the establishment—and state one’s business. One was ever sure of a hearty greeting, a kind word. He loved to give and do good and the number of his benefactions probably will never be known. Had he possessed the necessary ambition he could have had any office in the gift of the people of California, for he enjoyed the respect and affection of all men, and the republican party of this state, through its leaders, had approached him time and again with a view of becoming their standard bearer. But the pomp and glitter of political office had no charm for him. He was a banker par excellence and the beau ideal of a man. When in 1890 persecutions drove hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews to this country, Phil Lilienthal with Dr. Jacob Voorsanger and others founded the Russian Jewish Alliance, and assisted thousands of people. At that time he was director in the Union Iron Works, and it is common knowledge that he procured work for hundreds of Russian Jews in that institution. Space does not permit the mention of his innumerable deeds. He was ever ready to help. God had given him a commission and his task was well performed.”
He was born in New York city, November 4, 1850, and was the son of Rev. Dr. Max and Pepi (Nettre) Lilienthal. Dr. Lilienthal was one of the most distinguished members of the American Rabbinate and was foremost in the reform movement. Phil Lilienthal was educated in Cincinnati, Ohio, until the age of fourteen, when he was employed by Stix Krause & Company of that city, and at the age of seventeen went to New York, where he entered the office of J. W. Seligman & Company, the famous firm of bankers. Mr. Lilienthal proved an apt pupil in the financial school. He rose quickly through the different stages of clerk, cashier and manager and in 1869 came to San Francisco to take charge of a Seligman bank, which had been founded in San Francisco during the Civil war. Seeing the opportunities here he made an independent move for his firm and in 1873 founded the Anglo-California Bank, Limited, of London, the institution with which he had been associated until his death, on September 9, 1908. For thirty years he devoted his splendid powers to the strengthening of that bank, sharing his labor for part of that time with Ignatz Steinhart, the co-manager of the institution. To a man as generously endowed as Mr. Lilienthal, the work of the bank became only a part of his activities. He interested himself in the development of banking in this city and throughout the state. He founded the Porterville Bank of Porterville, California, and became its president. He also assisted in establishing many other interior banks, in most of which he held important official positions, and was president of the Bank of South San Francisco, the Bank of Pleasanton, the Bank of Willits, and the Bank of Eureka. He was director of the California Title Insurance & Trust Company of this city. Despite the many claims on his time and strength, he found opportunities to demonstrate in a practical way his sympathies as a citizen. No important public or semi-public movement in the city was ever considered well managed unless it had behind it in some capacity this resourceful and energetic man. He was one of the men who made the Midwinter Fair a success. He was for some time director of the San Francisco Free Library. He was president of the Philharmonic Society, member of Temple Emanu-El and of all the charitable institutions. He was a prominent member of the Bohemian, Family, Pacific Union, Union League, Commonwealth and Argonaut Clubs and his membership in each meant something. In each organization he left his mark.
Mr. Lilienthal was married December 10, 1879, to Miss Isabella Seligman, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Seligman of New York. There were four children: Joseph L Lilienthal; Elsie, wife of Dr. Edwin Beer of New York; Philip N. Lilienthal, Jr.; and Theodore Max Lilienthal.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Byington, Lewis Francis, “History of San Francisco 3 Vols”, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, 1931. Vol. 2 Pages 311-314.
© 2007 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.