by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Yesterday I met with Charles and Lisa Duncan, who drove down from northern California to tour colleges with their daughter and to continue their research on Charles’ great-uncle, Los Angeles attorney Will D. Gould (1846-1926). A few years back, Lisa and I had some email exchanges about Gould’s role in assisting Walter P. Temple in salvaging pieces from the Temple Block of commercial buildings in downtown Los Angeles before it was razed to make way for the construction of Los Angeles City Hall.
Visiting with Charles and Lisa and revisiting Gould and Temple’s brief partnership in historical scavenging was another reminder of just how unique the building of La Casa Nueva was. In 1925, construction on the Spanish Colonial Revival mansion was in its fourth year when word came that the Temple Block was on the chopping (razing?) block as planning for the new city hall moved along.
There is where Gould came in. A native of Vermont, he received a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1871 and, within a year, migrated west to Los Angeles. He hung his shingle in the newly completed three-story addition to the Temple Block that housed the recently opened Temple and Workman bank, sometimes working in partnership. Amazingly, Gould kept the same office in that building for over a half-century and his clients were greeted with a door sign that read “Enter Without Knocking.”
His specialty was real estate law and an article in the Michigan alumni magazine noted that he was in his prime “when the struggle over government lands was at its heights.” Often, real estate attorneys wind up becoming investors and Gould was an early buyer of land in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains on the west bank of the Arroyo Seco as it exited the mountain chain. Today, the Gould property, called “Highland Park,” lies within the city of La Cañada-Flintridge, where a Gould Avenue, Gould Canyon, and a Gould Canyon Trail can be found. He also invested in land in the Silver Lake area where he maintained a home (which still stands) for the last decades of his life.
Gould and his wife May were also leading figures in Los Angeles in the temperance movement, which sought to curtail alcohol manufacturing and consumption and they helped organize the first state convention of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), held in Los Angeles in 1883. He was also active members of the Independent Order of Good Templars, an anti-imbibing organization.
When it became known that the Temple Block was going to be torn down, Walter Temple enlisted James Perry Worden to find out what could be salvaged from the block. Worden was an early holder of a PhD history in Amierca, getting his degree from Columbia University in the late 19th century. His best-known efforts in Los Angeles was his work in compiling and editing material for Harris Newmark’s landmark 1916 memoir, Sixty Years in Southern California. Worden also established an archive of historical material starting at the same time. After a deal with retired attorney Johnstone Jones to write the history of the Workman and Temple families ended because of Jones’ failing health, Temple hired Worden to take on the project.
Worden never completed the history, partially because Temple enlisted him for all kinds of side projects, such as the Temple Block salvage effort and searching for private schools in New England and England for Temple’s children. As Temple’s financial situation deteriorated from 1926 onward, the regular paychecks to Worden became significantly less reliable. Finally, when the situation got to the point where Temple couldn’t keep the historian on retainer, the book project faded away. Some of Worden’s papers wound up at the Huntington Library before he died in the 1940s.
Among some papers donated by Temple’s granddaughter, Ruth Ann Michaelis, in the 1990s were some correspondence between Worden, Gould and Temple regarding efforts to retrieve items from the Temple Block.
A letter postmarked on 20 November 1925 from Worden to Temple reported that, after several attempts to get to Gould, Worden “got good results.” The historian went on to state:
He [Gould] is most cordial towards you, having known and always pleasantly recalling your father, and positively promises to see that you get something worth while, in a door, or doors, windows, etc., and thinks that what has been his main entrance, as a door, might be one that you would like.
Gould told Worden that he was friendly with the Temple Block’s custodian who was “also favorable to the preservation of historical souvenirs.” Moreover,
He thinks that even something may be obtainable from the old room, once the banking room, although that, by its later and recent use as a plebian [sic] restaurant, has so deteriorated that it will not be so easy to get what one would naturally want from there.
Worden reported that “Mr. Gould begins to move next week” but that he promised to provide his assistance. Gould was moving from his office in preparation for the building’s demolition and using his Silver Lake home for his business work, even though he was just shy of 80 years old at the time.
In handwritten additions on the margins, Worden wrote that Gould was offering other potential items from the block and told the historian that he intended to take his office doors to be installed in an addition to his home. On another topic, Gould evidently told Worden he was certain that a recent effort to change the name of Temple Street would go nowhere, though Worden wondered why the attorney “is so cock-sure” on that matter.
Several days later, Worden wrote Temple to report that Gould
wrote me that he has had the unexpected good fortune to locate the counters of the T. & W. Bank, and hopes to be able to buy them for you, at a fair price . . . I immediately wrote him . . . expressing my confidence that you would pay a fair price and do the right thing, by both owner and him, to get the counters.
Worden then drove out from his Pasadena home to the Homestead, but found Temple out on a trip, so he wrote his patron that he had “to risk authorizing Mr. Gould to agree to pay any reasonable figure for the counters (as well as for such other souvenir parts of the building as he may get for you).” He continued that he did so because he was “sure that Mr. Gould is very honorable in all his dealings.” In both letters, Worden implored Temple to hire a professional photographer to capture all four elevations of the block before its was removed.
Worden then enclosed his typed copy of a letter from Gould, dated 24 November, in which the attorney wrote
I have found the original bank counters of the Temple & Workman Bank in Temple Block, and have found the man who helped move them, and who can positively identify them. The Bank counters are owned by a private party across the street from Temple Block, and undoubtedly can be purchased at a reasonable price when the tenant who owns the counters will be compelled to vacate the property lately purchased by the City of Los Angeles.
The possessor of the counters probably occupied a commercial structure on Spring Street that were also to be torn down for the civic center project, during which Spring would be routed away from its triple intersection with Main and Temple streets.
On 2 December, an original note on Gould’s home office letterhead to Worden, notified the historian that “yesterday I made arrangements with my friend to ascertain on what terms we could buy the counters that were formerly in the Temple & Workman Bank in Temple Block and I am to be informed to-morrow and then I will communicate with you again.” Notably, the dates of these documents fall exactly fifty years after F.P.F. Temple secured a loan from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin to continue the bank’s operations, although the institution soon failed, as discussed in several posts on this blog in recent months.
Whatever transpired after that date is not known from the Worden material donated by Ruth Ann Michaelis. What we do know is that the bank counters were not purchased by Temple, perhaps because the price demanded was too high or because another valuable item from the former bank quarters came up for sale.
Though there is no known correspondence or documentation for this, the door and opening for the vault that was still in the Temple Block in 1925 were obtained and taken out to be installed in the basement of La Casa Nueva. Ornately done in a neo-classical style and with a beautiful pastoral landscape painted on the door, the artifact was later whitewashed and then meticulously restored when the City of Industry underwent the restoration of La Casa Nueva in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Moreover, when Temple added a detached “Tepee” retreat adjacent to the house in 1927, most of the walls were built with adobe bricks, but the upper courses were of red bricks salvaged from the Temple Block.
Presumably, Gould had a hand in getting the safe and the bricks to Temple. If so, the attorney did not live much longer beyond these acts of assistance. He died in October 1926, less than a year after vacating the Temple Block, and ninety years later, visitors on the Homestead’s “Behind The Scenes” tours get to see both the vault doors and opening and the Tepee.