Musical Prodigy George Hodel Raching Out with World Renowned Composer Sergie Rachmaninoff – Family Photo Circa 1917-1923
February 26, 2019
Los Angeles, California
The below family photographs were included in Black Dahlia Avenger (Arcade 2003). The top photo is of George’s mother, my maternal grandmother approximately age-29. The lower photograph was taken at the Hodel family residence circa 1919-1923. The world-renowned composer Sergei Rachmaninoff is seated center between an individual believed to be Alexander Zelenko, who at that time was the Russian Minister of Culture and one of Russia’s most famous architects. (Mrs. Zelenko is seen seated to the left of Rachmaninoff)
Zelenko, a good friend of my grandfather was commissioned and brought from Russia to Los Angeles, to design and build the Hodel residence on Monterey Road, in South Pasadena. Zelenko also built a second residence on the property, a “Tea House” specifically for my father to reside in, which was completed and gifted to the boy genius then attending the California Institue of Technology (CalTech) by my grandfather as a 15th birthday present. (1921)
Hodel Family Photograph was given to me by my grandfather’s third wife, Alice Hodel after his passing.
Original 2003 HB ed. “Boy of Nine Chief Soloist at Shrine”
Sergei Rachmaninoff California 1919 Sergei Rachmaninoff 1921
Hodel Residence and Tea House Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument No. 802
Designed and built by famed Russian architect, Alexander Zelenko
I’m just getting started with your sites Wow
Bruce S: Careful, it’s a Black Hole going back with twenty-years of investigation and five books.
I just started getting into your work and wow – I had no idea how deep this rabbit hole is! I just thought I was going to read about this mystery that has finally been solved, lol. But I just wanted to say you deserve a medal! Not only for all the work you have done on this and so many cases that this ties into, but also for the mere fact that it is your biological father and all that entails for you. I myself am a daughter of a man that abandoned his children and then barely showed up, as well as the emotional toll all of that plays on you. So anyway, not to get into my story, just wanted you to know that some of us out here acknowledge how tough it has been to separate emotions and that you deserve a medal for that alone. Thanks and keep up the good work!
Jennifer: Thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated. Yes, a whole lot of families out there having to deal with various forms of abandonment, estrangement and emotional abuse. Single mothers and father’s struggling to raise children. Lots of variants of that and most families have hidden “secrets” many of which never surface. Albeit the Hodel story is definitely EXTREME. Best to you and yours. Steve
Rachmaninoff didn’t visit the U.S. until 1918. , “On 1 November 1918, the family boarded the SS Bergensfjord in Oslo, Norway bound for New York City, arriving eleven days later. News of Rachmaninoff’s arrival spread, causing a crowd of musicians, artists, and fans to gather outside The Sherry-Netherland hotel where he was staying.” Norris, Geoffrey (2000). Rachmaninoff. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-198-16488-3. Your photo must be circa 1918 or later…..
Just an FYI
Thanks for all of your amazing information!!!
Alf Y.W Martin: Yes, I’ve dated it in the blog from 1919-1923. Thanks.
Makes sense, Steve. Thanks. I was confused because one of the photos – the one with Rachmaninoff – says it’s circa 1917.
Thanks so much.
I submitted a second, deeper question and look forward to your response.
Wishing you peace and all the best,
Alexander Zelenko was “a life-long friend of Madame and G. Hodel” (“Boy’s Home is Planned by Russian,” Los Angeles Times, 10/15/22). In addition to being a celebrated architect and educator, he was head of the All-Russian Union of Co-Operative Societies. Haven’t seen anything about him being Minister of Culture, and I suspect that is a misnomer. Zelenko had set up an HQ in San Francisco by March 1919 (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/6/19). As far as I can tell from contemporary reports, Rachmaninoff took a break from performance and spent time in San Francisco in April 1919 and then headed to Los Angeles in May (LAT 5/4/19). He had announced plans to summer in LA but instead returned up north, summering in Menlo Park. Seems perfectly possible he connected up with Zelenko and the photo, which clearly shows both men, is from May 1919.
For those who did watch IATN, an interesting sidenote regarding the (imaginary) scene with Rachmaninoff is that the composer was a big booster of Ampico’s mechanical reproducing piano — you can see a bunch of Ampico newspaper ads with his name in 1919. I have a collection of his Ampico recordings somewhere. Anyway, I suspect that might have inspired some of the dialog for the scene.
LW: Thanks for the additional info. So many spokes in this Mega wheeled investigation. skh
On further inquiry I’m unclear if the Alexander Zelenko in San Francisco in 1919 is the same as the Alexander Zelenko who built the Hodel Residence and Tea House for GHH in 1922, but the matter is puzzling. It appears that the San Francisco Russian coop / export-import guy is also sometimes referred to as Alexander J. Zelenko in contemporary articles, while the architect-painter with the “puppet queen” wife in Pasadena is Alexander U. Zelenko. Only, they seem to have a lot of biography in common: both ping-ponged between the US and Russia multiple times, both former lecturers at Moscow University and it looks like they both held the position of chief of education at the Russian coop union at some point. An article in The Harvard Magazine of May 1920 describes Alexander J. Zelenko as “the most important Russian in the country today,” and portrays him as a shadowy, secretive figure with the keys to the kingdom in regards trade with the Soviet Union. Add to that the fact that “U” was a contemporary and “life-long friend” of the senior George Hodel, himself something of a fixer and mystery man, and that his claims about Maxim Gorky in 1922 LA Times piece on the Hodel Residence seem pretty suspect, and it makes me wonder if “J” and “U” were relatives, associates or perhaps even one and the same person.
LW: I’m thinking SAME. Sounds like too many “coincidences” for them not to be the same man. I think the “Chief of Education at the Russian coop” pretty much seals it.
Just to document that particular point, as there’s a bit of deduction involved:
1. “J” was chief of education for coop (in other places he’s identified as “managing director” or “Director of the Information Bureau” for the organization). See: Harvard Alumni Bulletin, 4/8/20: “Alexander J. Zelenko…Chief of the Department of Education of the Russian Cooperative Societies…”
2. “U” was chief of education for coop. See “Community Services Classes Offered,” LAT 2/18/23: “Alexander Zelenko…until recently chief of education of the Russian co-operative union” and “University of California Extension Division Correspondence Classes 1923 – 1924” published by UC Berkeley, which lists Anna Zelenko and Alexander Zelenko as profs. Anna was “queen of puppets” so this UC economics prof Zelenko is presumably “U.” See “Puppet Queen” in the Daily News, 12/10/22 and “Petrushka and his Russian puppet show…” in the LAT, 12/10/22.
Just found “Helen Valeska Bary / LABOR ADMINISTRATION AND SOCIAL SECURITY / A WOMAN S LIFE,” an oral history in the Berkeley archives, in which Bary discusses “Professor Zelenko” in his role at the Coop. Bary confirms what I suspected — that some thought of the coop society as a front for Lenin, which would make Zelenko a Soviet agent under NOC. However, per Bary, the coop movement actually opposed the revolutionary government and the Bolsheviks attempted to undermine them by using The Daily Worker to falsely promote this notion. She also says that “Zelenko… was a typical intellectual” which lends further credence to the idea that the camera-shy mastermind of The Harvard Magazine was the scholar-architect, “U,” who subsequently built a house for spoiled boy genius George Hill Hodel.
Interesting twists and turns…
J and U – one person. His full name Alexander Justin (short name is Ustin or Iustin) Zelenko. Even in Russian his name was written differently. He is a well-known Russian architect and writer. He published a book about his journey to America in 1925, but unfortunately he did not mention any personal details (meetings, names). I know very well his biography in Russia, but nothing – about his 3 trips to America. Thank you very much for you publication!
I am writing you from the house built by Zelenko in Samara in 1903. Now it is a local history museum. Here there are several buildings in Samara and Moscow built by Zelenko. Now all of them are in the List of historical and cultural monuments. I can send you some photos. Also we have photos of Zelenko from different years. It is interesting to compare them with photo published by you. How do you know that they are Zelenko and his wife near Rachmaninoff? Was it written on the picture or this is a family legend? It’s amazing!
Anna Zelenko is his second wife. First time he married in Samara in 1898, his wife died here in 1914. Anna also wrote a book (about children’s clubs and kid’s movement). I can send you a photo of their books. The Zelenko were involved in pedagogy. Both worked for Soviet Ministry of education, but Zelenko never was a Minister. He was a high level official very close to Nadezhda Krupskaya – Lenin’a wife, who was in charge of Soviet education system. Sorry for my English.
Steve, we here in Samara will be happy to get any material (like newspaper article, chronicle or records) about Zelenko’s journey to California. His meetings and activity. I will be grateful for any advice – where to read about it in the Internet (library? Archives?), how to find it.
Thank you very much for huge investigation and work you did.
Elena Zhidkova , Samara museum
Thank you for the information on Zelenko. Much appreciated. Yes, I’ve done some research on Zelenko, which I will be including in an introductory chapter in a book I am currently working on that relates to my father and “The Early Years.” Would love to see the Zelenko related photos. Best email for me is: [email protected] As far as the photo with Rachmaninoff and the Zelenko’s, I am going by what my grandmother-in-law, Alice Hodel told me back then. Alice was George Hodel Sr. third wife and was married to him from approximately 1946 until his death eight years later. She didn’t provide his name but did say she thought the couple was “A Russian Minister and his wife.” Also, I think the Zelenko photo that I’ve seen looks pretty close to him, yes? I will email you some additional information. Best, Steve