On This Day: The Death of Walter P. Temple, 13 November 1938

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of the most remarkable aspects of the story of the Homestead and the Workman and Temple families is the fact that the families owned and lost the property three times.

The first time was in 1879 when Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin foreclosed on over 18,000 acres of William Workman’s portion of Rancho La Puente as part of a loan he made to the Temple and Workman bank, which collapsed over three years before.

The second instance was twenty years later when John H. Temple, grandson of William and Nicolasa Workman and son of their daughter Antonia Margarita and her husband, F.P.F. Temple, lost the 75-acre Homestead (purchased in 1880 by John’s brother, Francis) to a bank foreclosure.

A tribute to Walter P. Temple, who died on this date in 1938, by Perry Worden, who was hired by Temple to write a history of the Workman and Temple families that went unfinished, Pasadena Star-News, 15 November 1938

Then, there was Walter P. Temple, another grandson of the Workmans and son of Antonia Margarita and F.P.F. Temple.  Purchasing the Homestead at the end of November 1917, Walter embarked on an intensive program of renovation and built La Casa Nueva, a home that celebrated the family and regional history through its remarkable architecture and interior decoration.

However, extensive investments in oil and real estate through the 1920s, coupled with his work at the Homestead, put Temple in a precarious financial position and he took out loans and bonds to finance his continuing work, but to no avail.  After moving from the ranch in spring 1930, so that it could be leased to a military school, Temple spent several years in Ensenada and Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, during which time the Homestead was lost to a bank foreclosure in 1932.  He then lived in San Diego before returning to Los Angeles by the mid-1930s.

Temple’s last years were spent living in a small house in the rear yard of Joe Romero, whose son Frank was ranch foreman and a driver at the Homestead and whose daughter Maud ran the household and became Temple’s romantic partner.  He died there on this date in 1938.

Los Angeles Times, 15 November 1938.

Obituaries to Temple were in several local papers, including the Los Angeles TimesPasadena Star-NewsAlhambra Post-AdvocateArcadia Tribune, and Temple City Times.  For the Los Angeles Times, in its edition of 15 November, Temple was known as “scion of the pioneer family of Temple Block fame,” this being the center of the city’s downtown business district for many years and then razed for the building of the city hall that opened a decade before.

Temple was also recalled as the son of F.P.F. Temple “who came here at the age of 19 when Los Angeles was a pueblo” and “a nephew of John Temple, Yankee pioneer of 1826 [actually, 1828] after whom Temple St. is named.”   A brief biographical sketch included the statement that “Temple rose from moderate circumstances to wealth through discovery by his son Thopmas of oil on the family property, resulting in the establishment of the later famous Montebello oil fields.”

Alhambra Post-Advocate, 14 November 1938.

The paper went on to observe that “He founded the town of Temple City in 1922 [well, 1923], wishing to perpetuate the family name” and noted his donation of the property for San Gabriel City Hall and Alhambra’s Elks Temple.  Temple’s establishment of “a stone and table[t] to mark the site of the Old Mission” and financial support for the once-famed Mission Play were also highlighted.

A lengthy tribute to Temple was written in the Pasadena Star-News by [James] Perry Worden, who’d been hired by Temple to write the Workman and Temple family history, a project that went unfinished.  Worden wrote that his former boss was “a native son, of Spanish-American lineage more than ordinarily honored.”  One of the more interesting portions of Worden’s paean was that

in a life of alternate wealth, poverty and affluence, he labored hard and effectively, when opportunity was at last afforded, to help develop and improve more than once locality in which he had unbounded faith while others could not always see the vision.

Worden noted that Temple died just before midnight on the 13th “after a long and painful illness” and “at his bedside, when he closed his evenful life, were all of his children, tenderly devoted to the last.”

Going into great depth into his subject’s life, Worden talked about the failure of the Temple and Workman bank and cited one of Temple’s sayings that

the silver spoon was no sooner put into my mouth than it fell out again.

A story told by Worden and not found elsewhere related how Temple’s mother faced the loss of the family’s home at Rancho La Merced, until her son Francis, who also bought 75 acres of the Workman portion of Rancho La Puente including the Homestead, hired a special train to San Francisco to make sure that “Lucky” Baldwin fulfilled a promise to deed her 50 acres of the Temple Homestead.  Worden included a quote said to be from Francis that, if Baldwin reneged on the deal, despite his “mother’s terrible need” and the prospect of “making her and little Maggie, Walter and Charles homeless” that he was determined “to kill him [Baldwin] then and there.”

Pasadena Star-News, 14 November 1938.

Another tidbit that does not appear elsewhere that the birth of the eldest Temple child, Thomas, in 1846 led William Workman to throw a week-long fiesta, including many well-known “old timers” and John C. Fremont, apparently in the area, if true, during the American invasion of Mexican California during the Mexican-American War.

Worden talked about the discovery of oil by Temple’s oldest son, Thomas W. Temple II, the building of La Casa Nueva, and then the change in fortunes that Worden attributed to the fact that

Walter, affectionately genial and disposed to give the right hand of fellowship to everybody, made the monumental mistake of trusting too much to human nature and committing his affairs to others when he himself ought to have retained the management and personally grappled with problems.

This statement was more than a little interesting, given the fact that one of the pallbearers at Temple’s funeral was his long-time friend and business manager, Milton Kauffman.

Worden continued by noting Temple’s “patriotic impulses” and “his public-spiritedness” through those acts mentioned by the Times and adding that he built “a monument to the first American youth to go from the Montebello district and fall in the World War.”  This, as covered here earlier this year, was the memorial to Kauffman’s brother, Joseph.

Worden concluded with another remarkable statement:

Thus ended the life, and this ends the story of one of California’s many noble-minded native sons, always a great favorite among old Spanish families; a manly man, and a true gentleman of genuinely cavalier spirit, ever kind and sympathetic, with a noted capacity for helpful and never-failing friendship.

Then, there was this:

but when death struck down Walter Temple himself [after having restored El Campo Santo cemetery at the Homestead], his own mausoleum gates were closed against him, and burial denied just where, near his beloved [wife] in the long, long sleep, most of all he would desire forever to lie in peace!

In 1938, the Homestead was owned by California Bank, which only four years before, allowed the funerals of Temple’s nephews, Adrian and John H. Temple, Jr. within the outdoor fenced plot behind the mausoleum.  However, when the Temples requested use of an empty crypt inside the mausoleum, this was rejected.  Consequently, Temple was interred at Mission San Gabriel Cemetery.

Temple City Times, 16 November 1938.

Over six decades later, the diligent efforts of his granddaughter, Josette Temple, finally culminated in the removal of Walter’s remains from San Gabriel to El Campo Santo at the Homestead.  Though there was no room inside the mausoleum any longer, it was decided to reinter Temple in the fenced plot next to his son and daughter-in-law, Josette’s parents, Walter P. Temple, Jr. and Nellie Didier.

I had the privilege, on that day fifteen years ago, to delivery a eulogy during the ceremony, and it was a particularly important moment for all of us who were there to welcome Walter P. Temple home to the place he’d done so much for over his lifetime.

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