On This Day: The Dedication of the Joseph L. Kauffman Memorial, 13 July 1919

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Last Sunday, journalist Edmon Rodman gave a fascinating presentation here at the Homestead based on his article in the Jewish Journal called “Searching for Sgt. Kauffman.”  His work began by seeing Joseph Kauffman’s name in a stained glass window mentioning several Los Angeles High School graduates who’d died in World War I.

Intrigued, Edmon embarked on his search, which eventually led him to the Homestead where many pieces of the puzzle were located.  Kauffman, whose brother Milton was Walter P. Temple’s business manager for nearly fifteen years, was drafted into the American Expeditionary Force and then went into action late in the war.

On 26 September 1918 in the decisive and bloody Battle of the Argonne Forest in north-eastern France, not far from his father’s hometown, Joseph was struck by a high-explosive artillery shell and instantly killed.  Several weeks later, the conflict was over, and, Temple soon decided to have a memorial shaft of granite made to honor Joseph and the monument was completed in March of the following year.

Kauffman memorial dedication
This large-format cabinet photograph from the Homestead collection was taken by well-known Los Angeles photographer George Steckel and shows the dedication ceremony of the memorial shaft erected by Walter P. Temple and placed at the corner of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue on the Temple oil lease at Montebello.  In the background are three oil wells on the Temple lease.  The American flag is next to the “Temple Oil Station,” a gas station on the opposite corner.  The speaker next to the memorial may be Johnstone Jones, whose typescript of the speech is also in the museum’s holdings.

On this day, 13 July 1919, a dedication ceremony was held at the corner of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue, at the north-eastern tip of Montebello, where Temple’s oil lease property was located.  The marker was placed at the base of the extremity of the Montebello Hills and several of Temple’s oil wells drilled by Standard Oil of California were on the hillside.

Across Lincoln was a new gas station built and operated by Temple, while a short distance east was the Basye Adobe, built in 1869 and long used as a store and saloon before it became the Temple family residence.  In 1919, the house served as the Standard Oil office for their operations in the Montebello field, the Temple having moved first to Monterey Park and then to Alhambra.  At the time of the dedication, the Temples were busily involved in renovations and improvements at the Homestead, which they bought at the end of 1917.

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A portion of a 14 July 1919 article in the Los Angeles Times covering the memorial dedication ceremony.

As Edmon noted, it must have been a hot day, because there were covered areas for the speakers’ dais and for many of the attendees, some of whom wielded umbrellas to shade themselves from the bright sun.  The Los Angeles Times in its coverage from the following day’s edition noted that “upon the speaker’s platform were seated men high in the esteem of the State, former Gov. [Henry T] Gage, former State Senator [Newton] Thompson and Gen. Johnstone Jones.”  The paper continued that Temple and Milton Kauffman’s personal attorney and future business partner, George H. Woodruff was the master of ceremonies.

The article went on that “a splendid address was given by Rabbi Hecht, who spoke with feeling of the young hero.”  In fact, as Edmon noted in his talk, the rabbi was closely involved in the religious education of Joseph, whose family were members of the Congregation B’nai B’rith, and Hecht talked a great deal about his recollections of young Kauffman.

The Times‘ coverage observed that, “following him [Hecht] Gen. Jones gave an address, touching on the historic interest of the spot of the dedication, and during this speech the monument was unveiled.”  The photograph shown here might well have been taken during Jones’ speech and after, obviously, the unveiling.

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Further details of the ceremony and the monument from the article.

On that point of the “historic interest of the spot,” the Times devoted some space to the fact that

Years ago the land had belonged to the Temple family, but little by little it was sold.  Walter Temple gave great energy to regaining the old home land, and with the advice of Milton Kauffman, a lifelong friend and brother of Joseph, it came into his possession again.  Later came the discovery of oil and today Walter Temple is wealthy, and Milton Kauffman is his confidential business manager.

This description glossed over the fact that the Temple half of Rancho La Merced mentioned was lost because of the failure of the bank owned by Temple’s father, F.P.F., and grandfather William Workman and taken through foreclosure of a mortgage by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin.

Kauffman memorial invite
One of several original invitations to the event from the museum’s collection.

It was through Milton Kauffman’s previous dealings with the Baldwin estate in buying land near El Monte and the new town of Baldwin Park, that the arrangement for Temple’s purchase of the 60 acres that became the oil lease took place in 1912.  Temple’s nine-year old son, Thomas, then found indications of crude in spring 1914 that paved the way (!) for the successful discovery of oil by Standard that launched the Temples to wealth.

In wording very typical for the time, the paper reported that,

a flavor of the old days of Spanish gaiety and hospitality marked the close of the ceremonies, when the company, all personal friends of Mr. Temple and the Kauffman family, were bidden to partake of refreshments, lemonade, and cigars were passed to the men guests.

Concluding its coverage by observing that the marker’s tablet “bears the names of Mr. Temple and his sons,” while excluding Mrs. Temple and daughter Agnes, the Times noted that

The monument gleams whitely against the bronze hillside, and has a huge groaning oil well as a background.  At its unveiling a big wreath of gladioli and bluebells was placed around it and at its foot were many  floral tributes.

Another artifact from the museum’s collection is the 11-page typescript of Johnstone Jones’ speech.  Jones, an attorney in Los Angeles and close friend of Walter Temple was later hired to write the history of the Workman and Temple families, but died in 1921 before he could produce much from the project.

Kauffman memorial speech pg 1
This and subsequent images are portions of the speech read by attorney Johnstone Jones during the ceremony.


In his oration, Jones started by stating that Joseph Kauffman “made the supreme sacrifice in the cause of freedom, justice and humanity” in dying at Argonne.  Walter Temple wanted to not just honor Kauffman but “hundreds of brave boys of Los Angeles who fell fighting for the flag.”

As the Times noted, Jones reminded the audience that the first site of the Mission San Gabriel was at the location.  In fact, two years later, in July 1921, Walter Temple placed, behind the Kauffman memorial, a marker commemorating the founding of the mission in September 1771.  Later archaeological research, however, indicated that the mission was built across San Gabriel Boulevard and to the north.  Temple, however, didn’t own that property, so his marker was built where he did!  Jones then mentioned more of the Temple family associations with the site and area.

Kauffman memorial speech pg 3

The lawyer then stated that the shaft was “the first individual monument to be erected to the memory of an American soldier who fell in the Great War” in the county, state or Pacific coast “so far as I know.”  Jones went on to talk of Joseph’s parents before giving more information about the fallen soldier’s life.  In discussing his many good qualities, Jones proclaimed that “life spread out before him a beautiful vision blossoming with promises of success, achievement and joy!”

This forecasting, however, was followed by a discussion of Joseph’s military service, leading up to the battlefield action at Argonne.  It was there, Jones continued, that the death of Kauffman and his comrades was part of an effort that helped bring the war to an end.  Without the success of the battle, he asked rhetorically,

Would the Germans not have taken Paris? Would not France have been at the feet of the Kaiser? And would not London itself been put in peril? Who can deny or doubt this?

Whether Jones’ claims had merit or not, his speech probably stirred the audience.  He turned to the specifics of Kauffman’s death, stating that “at dawn that fateful morning,” he formed his company and when ordered to move forward

over the top he went, at the head of his company,  and attacked the German position in his front.  Gallantly he advanced in the face of a storm of iron hail, shot, shell, shrapnell [sic] and bullets pouring from thousands of rifles, machine guns and field artillery that darkened the air and shook the earth with the roaring tempest of battle, on and on, into the jaws of death, into the very fires of hell, on and on, until he was struck by a high explosive shell, and instantly killed.

As a result, Kauffman’s heroism in the defense of democracy meant that his “brave spirit winged its luminous way from the dark and bloody battle-ground of Argonne Forest upward to the Paradise, where the souls of brave soldiers, killed in action, are said to go.”  Jones pointed out that Joseph died not far from the birthplace of his father and freed the Alsatians “from the iron yoke of the German Crown.”

Kauffman memorial speech pg 7

Kauffman was buried where he fell, Jones went on, and “he will be gratefully remembered by the people of France” and those of Alsace-Lorraine “who must ever recognize in him one of their saviours.”  Interestingly, as Jones wrapped up, he made some interesting observations.

For one, the Allied victory, “overthrew Autocracy, and established democracy, in all parts of the Old World” and “broke to pieces the crown of the Czar and set the people of Russia free.”  Moreover, “it has carried to the hearts of all the oppressed nations of the earth the hopes of freedom, justice and permanent peace.”  For this new order and “to make permanent the peace of the world, what is to be done?”

Kauffman memorial speech pg 9

To Jones, “is it not to establish the League of Nations?  There lies the hope of the world.”  For America to reject the league meant that the treaty ending the war was meaningless “and the blood of Sergeant Joseph Leon Kauffman, and the blood of the myriads of brave soldiers killed in the great war would have been shed in vain.”

Of course, the League did form, but it ultimately withered in the face of forces that fomented the next “great war,” World War II.  As to the body of Kauffman, the family had it returned to Los Angeles and, in 1921, it was reinterred at the Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles.

Kauffman memorial speech pg 11

Finally, the Kauffman memorial was moved.  As Walter Temple’s financial situation worsened and he was unable to stave off the inevitable failure that loomed by the end of 1920s, it was decided to relocate the shaft, but not the pair of massive granite slabs on which it was placed, to Temple City Park.  The move was made in spring 1930 and the monument remains there today at the southwest corner of the park next to the city hall.

For some reason, the commemoration of the centennial of the First World War seems to be of little interest, even though it was, in its time, “the Great War,” and “the war to end all wars,” leading to the optimism of the Treaty of Versailles and the formation of the League of Nations.

Joseph Kauffman’s death and memorialization were actually part of that optimism, at least for Johnstone Jones, but the monument sits in its home hardly recognized or discussed, though perhaps that will change in two years when the centennial of its dedication comes up?


2 thoughts

  1. Hi Paul, pretty much everyday I google the day’s date, 100 years earlier, for fun. Today, this showed up. As a resident Angeleno, this was an interesting and educational read. As I’ve now found all your posts are since I’ve read deeper into the blog. Thanks for doing what you do.

    After reading this post, I went to Google Maps out of curiosity to see the intersection of Montebello and Lincoln. (I’m not super familiar with the San Gabriel Valley, I live on the Westside.) I expected to see a gas station, a strip mall or two, and the massive granite slabs that once held the shaft utilized in an entirely different way. I was VERY surprised to see nothing at the intersection. Nothing! Probably everyone who passes through the intersection would think nothing had ever been developed there. I would as well.

    I get two different street views for the intersection. Sometimes it shows the southwest corner under some type of small construction/clearing. The other street view, which seems to match the satellite view, shows that little construction project turned into a historical marker. I’m guessing the marker probably cites the first location of Mission San Gabriel? However, as far as I can tell it appears sometime in the last two years, based on your post, the granite slabs were removed, taking away any trace of what once was there.

    It’s all very interesting. I love learning local history. Again, Thank you.

  2. Hi Lisa, thanks for the comment and the kind words about the blog. The Kauffman memorial and the marker for the first site of the Mission San Gabriel were together on that southwest corner of Lincoln and San Gabriel until the former was moved to Temple City Park in 1930. The mission monument is still there with the recent landscape improvements, but the actual mission site was across San Gabriel Boulevard to the north. As to that area, much of it is flood plain under the management of the Army Corps of Engineers, though a significant part of the hills behind the marker are slated for development. Again, thanks for your support!

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