La La Landscapes: San Juan Capistrano Mission Gardens, ca. 1926

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This installment of “La La Landscapes” focuses on a trio of snapshots taken by members of the Temple family when they visited San Juan Capistrano and enjoyed its beautiful gardens, probably in summer 1926.  The mission, the seventh established of the twenty-one in Alta California, has its official founding date as being on this day, 1 November, back in 1776.  This, of course, is just a bit shy of four months after the Declaration of Independence.  If the year of the photo is correct, that would be the sesquicentennial year of the mission’s founding.

Thomas W Temple II In The Garden At Mission San Juan Capistrano
This snapshot photograph from the Homestead’s collection shows Thomas W. Temple II seated in the lush gardens of the Mission San Juan Capistrano, ca. 1926.

One of the images shows Thomas W. Temple II, the eldest of the surviving four children of Walter P. and Laura G. Temple, sitting in the midst of a profusion of flowering plants, shrubs, bushes and an enormous pepper tree situated in front of the northern section of buildings erected around a quadrangle

Another is taken from one side of the large raised pond looking towards the belfry and what is likely the best-known element of the mission, the ruins of the chapel largely leveled in a devastating 1812 earthquake.  A modern photo pulled from the mission’s Wikipedia page gets a pretty decent approximation of the location.

Then, there is third and final photo taken from directly south of the belfry and chapel ruins with more of the gorgeous gardens in view.  Visitors to the mission today can experience much of the same general feel when it comes to the landscaping at the site.

Church Ruins Mission San Juan Capistrano 2009.16.21.33
A view, probably taken by Thomas, showing the ruins of the mission chapel, destroyed in a massive 1812 earthquake, and the belfry with more beautiful landscaping in the foreground.

San Juan Capistrano has an interesting historical connection to the Workman and Temple families dating about eighty years prior to the taking of the photos.  In late 1846, American forces marched north from San Diego, after they took a beating from inspired Californios defending Alta California at the Battle of San Pasqual, to retake Los Angeles.  The “City of the Angels” was seized by American forces in August, but was quickly liberated by Californios.

As Commodore Robert F. Stockton, for whom the central California city was named, reached the mission just after New Year’s Day 1847, he was approached by William Workman and two other men bearing a white flag.  The purpose was to deliver a letter from Californio commander José María Flores offering peace in exchange for a general amnesty for Californio fighters.

The letter read, in part:

it is probable at this time the differences which had altered the relations of friendship between the Mexican republic and that of the United States of America have ceased . . . a number of days have elapsed since the undersigned [Flores] was invited to enter into a communication with you . . . to obtain an honorable adjustment for both forces . . . and for that reason has thought it opportune to direct to you this note, which will be placed into your hands by Messrs. Julian Workman and Charles Flugge, who have voluntarily offered themselvesé to act as mediators.

According to Dr. John S. Griffin, who was with Stockton’s force and later was a prominent physician, landowner, and enthusiastic Confederate supporter in Los Angeles, Workman returned the next day (perhaps he stayed the night with fellow Briton, John Forster, owner of a large ranch near the mission) and “after some talk with the Commodore—Commodore Stockton sent a proclamation to the Californians offering them peace.”

Courtyard Of Mission San Juan Capistrano 2009.16.21.35
This picturesque view shows more of the gardens from behind a raised pond and looking towards the belfry and chapel.

Workman and Flugge then returned to Los Angeles to report the results of this diplomatic mission to Flores.  Several days later, on 9 January, the final battle of the war in California took place and, the next morning, Workman, Eulogio Célis and Juan Avila brought out a flag of truce to end the conflict.


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