Victorian Fair Themes: Workman and Temple Family Portraits, early 1870s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Next weekend, the Homestead hosts its Victorian Fair festival and this is the second post in a series devoted to themes connected to that event.

One of the key parts of our museum’s story is the peak of the wealth and influence of the Workman and Temple families in greater Los Angeles during the first half of the 1870s.  It was a pinnacle followed by a dramatic fall due to the failure of the family’s bank in 1876, but for several years they were among the most prominent families in the region.

A visual element that reflected the prosperity of the families are photographs from the Homestead collection, such as those of the homes of William and Nicolasa Workman and their son Joseph highlighted in yesterday’s post.  The Workman House’s remodeling by 1870 is an obvious demonstration of how the prosperity experienced by the family allowed them to dramatically transform their home into a eye-catching architectural showcase, especially for the rural hinterland twenty miles from Los Angeles!

Another indication of the family’s situation are portrait photographs, a couple of which are shown here.  Both were taken by Valentine Wolfenstein, who was very active in Los Angeles photography during the 1870s, though they were taken at different times, judging by the printing on the matte card for Wolfenstein, as well as the varied studio props used in the images.

Cabinet Portrait 2015.384.1.2
This Valentine Wolfenstein cabinet card photograph from about 1872 shows Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple (seated) and Julia Davis.  Davis lived with the Temples, appears to have helped raise the younger children in that family, but her appearing in photos with the Temples indicates she was like one of the family.  Donated by Ruth Ann Michaelis to the Homestead.

The first photograph shows Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple, daughter of William and Nicolasa and husband of F.P.F. Temple, and Julia Davis.  Raised in New Mexico until she was about ten or eleven years old, she migrated with her family to Los Angeles and lived at the Homestead until her marriage to Temple in 1845, when she was 14 or 15 years old.  She lived in Los Angeles until her father gave her and her husband half of Rancho La Merced in the Whittier Narrows area, where she lived for forty years.  She bore eleven children, eight of whom lived to adulthood, but also had other persons in her household over the years, including Davis.

Julia (1852-1917), the daughter of Joseph Davis and Venancia Peña Davis, who lived near the Temples in the Whittier Narrows, several miles west of the Homestead, was described in her obituary as a “nurse” for the Temple children.  She did live with the family and appears to have had something of a “nanny” type relationship with the children, but the fact that she was photographed with Mrs. Temple and appears in other family portraits shows that there was a deeper relationship as if she was one of the children.  Twice married and then widowed while in her forties, Julia later resided in the Rancho La Merced area with two of her brothers until her death.

The other image is that of Francis W. Temple and his sister Lucinda, two of Antonia Margarita’s eight surviving children (three died in early childhood.)  Francis, who was likely in his early to mid twenties in this photo, attended Santa Clara College near San Jose and then took a course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. Returning home from the east, he became the winemaker for his grandparents at the Homestead.  He lived on the Homestead during the three years after the bank failure when the estate was in assignment pending foreclosure.  Earning enough money from winemaking to buy the Workman House and 75 acres of the Homestead in 1880, he owned the property until his early death from tuberculosis in 1888.

Lucinda, born in 1860 and aged about twelve or so in this image, later married twice, including for about thirty years to Manuel Zuñiga, a near neighbor from the Rancho La Merced area.  The couple lived in the Whittier Narrows area where he owned a store and saloon and then resided in the mining town of Clifton, Arizona for some years.  By the late 1910s, they lived with her brother Walter in Alhambra and at the Homestead.

Francis W Temple Lucinda A Temple 2015.384.1.1
Another Wolfenstein photo from a slightly different period shows siblings Francis W. Temple and Lucinda A. Temple.  The clothing in both images reflects a prosperous family at their peak of wealth and influence during the first half of the 1870s, though that would soon change dramatically with the failure of the Temple and Workman bank.  Donated by Ruth Ann Michaelis to the Homestead.

The well-off nature of the Temples is reflected in their clothing.  Francis wears a fashionable and well-fitted suit, consisting of a dark waistcoat, black vest, white shirt with neckwear, striped light-colored trousers and dark-colored boots.  His sister’s light-colored dress has velvet striping and tasseled fringe and looks to be of high quality.

Julia Davis’s outfit is very striking with her dark blouse featuring a white lace collar and a large bow tie, while her long flowing white skirt is trimmed with a dark cut edge on the bustle.  What is striking about Mrs. Temple’s clothing is that, over her black dress with a very wide skirt is a beautiful black shawl with brightly colored embroidered flowers and long and thick fringe work.  While the clothing of her children reflect modern popular styles for young people of the time, her shawl evokes older Mexican-era fashions.

These portraits show persons who are well-to-do and prosperous, and the clothing worn by Mrs. Temple, her children, and Julia Davis show a strong sense of fashion during the first boom era of Los Angeles in the late 1860s and early to mid 1870s.  As noted above, conditions would change radically within a few years, however.

Check back for more Victorian Fair-related posts!

Leave a Reply