by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Last year about this time, an ongoing series of posts chronicled the collapse of the Bank of California in San Francisco, after a speculative frenzy in stocks for companies mining for silver at Virginia City, Nevada fell apart. When the news reached Los Angeles by telegraph, a panic erupted and the two commercial banks in town, Farmers and Merchants and Temple and Workman, were besieged by jittery depositors wanting their funds.
While the first bank, headed by Isaias W. Hellman (then on a European vacation) and ex-governor John G. Downey, was in sound condition, Temple and Workman was low in cash due to heavy investments in a wide array of commercial projects as well as a loose loaning policy. On this day in 1875, Downey agreed to assist Temple by having both banks suspend business for the month to calm the turbulent waters, a decision that infuriated Hellman, who rushed back from Europe, picking up some cash from New York on the way, and asserted control by reopening the bank.
The first of September also happened to be the day of the county elections and Temple and Workman’s president, F.P.F. Temple, son-in-law of the other owner of the institution, William Workman, was a candidate for county treasurer. His opponent was the three-term incumbent, Thomas Rowan, who narrowly defeated Temple for the same office two years prior. Rowan, a baker by trade and whose American Bakery was a well-known small business, was also an associate of Hellman with Farmers and Merchants Bank and went on to be mayor of Los Angeles from 1892-1894.
Temple, as noted on this blog previously, had a long involvement in greater Los Angeles politics. He was the second city treasurer of the town in 1850-52 and then served on the first county Board of Supervisors in 1852-53. He ran for that board in 1863 and 1871, though lost both times and then mounted his unsuccessful campaign for county treasurer in 1873. As a Republican, he was definitely “swimming upstream” when the tide was overwhelmingly Democratic in the region.
However, there were demographic shifts in the boom that Los Angeles experienced in the late 1860s and early 1870s and Republicans were gradually growing in numbers. Still, in both 1873 and 1875, Temple campaigned as an “Independent,” to tamp down the identification with the Republicans.
At the end of July 1875, the Independent Reform Party had their county convention to nominate candidates for county offices and two for the state assembly, with some thirty men gathered for the process. Only two, Ramon Sotelo of Los Angeles and Romulo Pico of San Fernando, were Latino and a few were well known in the region, including Luis (Lewis) Wolfskill, a member of the Los Angeles City Council and business associate of Temple; Thomas A. Garey, a founder of the new town of Pomona, the developer of which had funds deposited in the Temple and Workman bank; and William W. Jenkins, a friend of the Temple family best known for his role in a near riot twenty years before when he killed a Latino man while serving a civil process as a deputy constable.
Showing how much had changed during the boom, there were representatives from new communities like Santa Ana, Orange and Westminster in what later become Orange County, the town of Compton, the Spadra community which became part of Pomona later, and the “Indiana Colony,” soon to be known as Pasadena.
In all, fourteen men were nominated for the various offices, including a young attorney recently settled (seven months!) in Los Angeles named Stephen M. White, who became famous in the 1890s as a U.S. Senator fighting to establish the area’s major harbor at San Pedro and Wilmington. Otherwise, most of the men were not particularly well known or prominent in the region, with the exception of Temple and a couple of others.
In examining the slate, the Los Angeles Express of 30 July observed, “there is a general opinion that Mr. Temple is a tower of strength to the Independent ticket of this county.” Lauding him as someone “so likely to make the demands of public duty the guide and inspiration of his administration of a public trust,” the paper opined that “it is an agreeable thing to see such a man willing to accept such public duties.” While stating that the independents were “remarkably popular in Los Angeles county,” the Express felt that “there are men on the local ticket who will run materially ahead of it. Mr. Temple, we think, belongs to this number to a remarkable degree.”
By contrast, the Los Angeles Herald, which just the prior year was owned by a syndicate including Temple, dismissed the independents’ chances in the election in an article of the same day, writing “If we may judge from expressions on the street the ticket possesses elements of weakness which almost guarantees its defeat. It is made up almost exclusively of Republicans” and, the paper went on, “it was not expected that such weak Republicans would be selected.” The Herald concluded by claiming, “there is a great deal of dissatisfaction among genuine Independents of both Republican and Democratic proclivities . . . [who] do not recognize the ticket as the choice of the Independent voters of the county.”
The Express continued its enthusiasm for Temple’s candidacy, claiming on 5 August that, “we doubt if there is running for office to-day in the United States a worthier man than Mr. Rowan’s opponent on the Independent ticket, Mr. F.P.F. Temple.” Ramping up their admiration, the paper gushed:
Modest, public-spirited, generous, and alive to the rights of the humblest—a millionaire who has no more thought of arrogance than the man who carries his hod [a handled tray or box for carrying bricks]—the people of Los Angeles see in Mr. Temple a man who deserves recognition at their hands.
A week later, the Express went further with a longer paean to the banker, praising him as “honest, generous and public-spirited” and as someone who “identified himself with the progress and prosperity of this section.” His philanthropy was pointed out and the paper insisted that “of all the men in the community he is probably the one who thinks least of himself.” In fact, the paper claimed, when the county convention nominated him “the plaudits of his fellow citizens [led him to] cover his face with blushes after the lapse of fifty years [Temple was 53 years old.”
As someone with “a combination of such modesty and generosity [which] is so rarely to be found,” Temple, the Express went on, was
an unmistakable success as a private banker,” which meant that “he will of course know how to manage the fiscal affairs of the county to the satisfaction of all.
Yet, there were, naturally, statements to counter the Express. For example, a correspondent to the Anaheim Gazette claimed that Temple passed through the towns of Orange and Tustin and then “paddled [his] canoe down toward San Juan [Capistrano] . . . without deigning to cast a look in this direction,” giving Rowan a big boost in that southeast portion of the county.
As the election neared and on the eve of the financial panic, the Herald attacked the Express, stating the latter “was published at [by?] the expense of F.P.F. Temple and John P. Jones,” the latter a Nevada senator developing his seaside town of Santa Monica and who partnered with Temple to built the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, which completed its line to Santa Monica from Los Angeles shortly after the election.
The Independents, meanwhile, launched what is almost certainly a first for Los Angeles: a special election season newspaper to promote its candidates and platform. The Los Angeles Daily Independent obviously pushed Temple’s candidacy vigorously. In its 17 August edition, it had good things to say about Rowan, who was well-liked, but argued his seeking a fourth term was simply too much. On the other hand, the sheet argued
It is universally conceded that Mr. Temple us a man of the highest sense of honor, one in whom everybody places implicit trust . . . He has done more to advance the interests of this section than any other ten men combined . . . His money has been made by honest industry and praiseworthy enterprise, and it has been freely given to foster every worthy object.
By extreme contrast, another recent and short-lived paper, published by Anaheim resident W.C. Wiseman, was provocatively called The Broad-Axe, and one sample of its prose makes a sharp point referring to the Daily Independent:
The hired tool of Black Republicanism, under cover of the Independent party, is till peg[g]ing away at the Broad-Axe. Go on, little Bastard, squirt, flunkey. You cannot raise to the dignity of a sycophant, or a yellow, bobtailed, mangy dog. You have tried but failed. And in your efforts have sunk low down in to the salevated [salivated?] cesspools of corruption, from when you eminated [emanated[ . . . to publish the fatherless Bastard hat has ruined and damned their hopes of election. . .
Notably, the paper didn’t mention Temple by name, other than to say that, because “Tomy” Rowan had done a superlative job of managing the county’s funds (which, to all appearances, was true enough) and was “a poor and deserving man,” the result would be that “the people will not elect Temple, at the sacrifice of a needy, and better man.” Ironically, the 31 August issue of the combative Broad-Axe was its last due to “the overpress [!] of business that is always the case on the eve of an election,” but Wiseman promised a reboot under the name Southern Intelligencer, which did not materialize.
One pertinent, though less colorful, rejoinder of Temple from the Herald on 29 August, had to do with the fact that “Temple and Workman agreed with the City Council to pay a stated interest on the city funds . . . [but] have never paid a cent of interest and do not intend to.” In fact, the city did lose its $23,000 deposit in the bank when the institution failed in January 1876. Echoing an anonymous remark “that Mr. Temple only wanted the Treasurer’s office for the money he could make out the county funds [a charge made today on the national stage!],” the paper offered that “Rowan has proved an honest custodian of the county funds, and if the people are wise they will retain a tried and faithful servant.”
The vitriol and disinformation employed in the campaign was to such an extent that, on 30 August, both Temple and Rowan took out ads in the papers to counter rumors that Temple had withdrawn as a candidate. Rowan stated “I have contradicted this rumor several times before this,” while Temple maintained that despite the work of “untruthful and malicious persons,” he was “in the field, and shall be to the end.”
The end wound up handing Temple a narrow victory over Rowan, with the former receiving 2,643 votes to the latter’s 2,365. Only one other race was closer, with most landslides, as Temple was the only Independent (Republican) to prevail in the campaign. At the time, however, winning candidates did not take office until the following March, an entire half-year and Temple’s assumption of the position took place about two months after his bank permanently closed–creating a unique situation in Los Angeles political annals in which a failed banker was assuming responsibility for the county’s funds.
More on that, however, in about six months!