Getting a grip on Isaias W. Hellman, a very private man, is not easy. He has not been the subject of a complete biography. Not that he did not merit one; he was, one historian noted, "probably the most important citizen in Southern California in the decades of the 1870s and 1880s." His accomplishments and civic involvement were as grand as those of the state's greatest titans, yet his name most often appears in their biographies, not his own. Isaias Wolf Hellman was born Oct. 3, 1842, in the small Bavarian village of Reckendorf. Nearly a third of the town's 1,000 residents were Jewish. Two events changed life in Reckendorf. First, a revolution to promote social and political change spread to Germany in 1848. It was supposed to unify the nation-states, but it fizzled and its supporters reaped the price of failure. Many Jewish families felt the wind of change and decided to leave.