by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In 1919, a couple of years after the first oil well was brought in on the Temple lease operated by Standard Oil Company of California (now Chevron), Walter P. Temple embarked on his first venture into real estate. This was the acquisition of property in downtown Alhambra, where Temple and his family moved after they acquired a home there at the end of November 1917 (the same week he bought the Homestead.)
Over the next few years, Temple invested further in San Gabriel Valley property, including at Puente, El Monte, and San Gabriel. In many cases, it appears that he deliberately selected areas that were where his father, F.P.F. Temple, and grandfather, William Workman, were landowners roughly a half-century prior until their Temple and Workman bank failed in 1876.
Another area of investment for Temple was on what had been public land south of Mission San Gabriel and much of which was purchased by his father in the 1860s. Over time, the area became known as Ramona Acres, a reference to the immensely popular 1880s Helen Hunt Jackson novel, Ramona.
In fact, after oil was first struck at the Temple lease and Standard was readying to use the Basye Adobe, where the Temples lived from 1912, as their headquarters in the area, the Temples rented a large Craftsman style home on Garfield Avenue in Ramona Acres. They lived in it for a few months before buying the Alhambra residence. Perhaps this is how Temple met Thomas Berry, a realtor and insurance agent in the community.
Berry was owner of a large tract in Ramona Acres from at least 1916 and became associated with Temple in real estate purchases there and in San Gabriel. Ramona Acres was, in 1922, renamed Monterey Park and in May of that year, Temple purchased a commercial property, including an existing wood building called Campbell Hall and the Berry Block, at the prime corner of Garfield and Garvey avenues.
In June, the Monterey Park Progress reported that Temple, represented by business manager Milton Kauffman and his assistant Elmer Potter, was seeking a change to the town’s building ordinance so that he could erect a larger commercial structure on the parcel than was current allowed.
While the sentiment among the majority of citizens attending a trustee’s meeting was to amend the ordinance to allow Temple to continue with his plans, there was some delay in consideration of that act. Meanwhile, Kauffman informed those present that “Mr. Temple and myself do not want to build anything that will be a discredit to the town. We are in favor of building the town up, not down”
The delay continued until the end of the year, but in the 23 December 1922 edition of the newspaper had as a major headline the announcement that Temple was planning to build a $40,000 structure where Campbell Hall, which was to be moved, was situated. The brick two-story building was to contain “four stores in the lower potion, while the upper floor will be rented to the Masons on a long-term lease.” An assembly hall was also to be included in the structure and the stores were already rented, including for a bank, bakery and a store. Berry, the agent for the sale, noted that plans were being prepared and that it was anticipated that construction would begin by mid-January.
Five days later, Laura Gonzalez Temple, Walter’s wife, died in Los Angeles of cancer and the stunning blow forced a further delay in plans for the Monterey Park building. Months later, the Progress printed an article in which a local lamented
that old building at the corner of Garvey and Garfield, known as Campbell Hall, is an eyesore and should be removed. Can you tell me if Mr. Temple is really going to build on that corner and when? If he is not going to build, as promised, I would like to buy that corner and build myself—but I would not pay a fancy price.
The paper added that “Walter P. Temple has done a great deal for Alhambra, Montebello and San Gabriel and he has also shown his interest in Monterey Park” through his purchase of the commercial property. Yet, despite the announcement of building the new brick building, nothing further followed and “it may be that Mr. Temple has been influenced to invest elsewhere.” If, however, he was to know the disappointment manifested in the town by the lack of progress (!) on the project, the article continued, “he would make a special effort to see that an immediate effort was made to start on the building.
Pivoting to another approach, though, the paper went on to state that “Mr. Temple has many and large interests elsewhere which demand his time, money and attention” and that “he is daily being asked to invest in this, that and the other thing.” So, if he asked his representatives to begin work on the project, it would be “vastly appreciated” and rescue the prime corner in the town’s commercial core from an “unsightly barn” that was serving to “disfigure its principal corner.”
It turned out that the Progress was right—Temple had other interests to pursue. One was the purchase of 285 acres of land on the Rancho San Francisquito that had belonged to his father and grandfather (and their friend, Luis Wolfskill) in 1875 before it was sold to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin to try and save the ailing bank. In May 1923, it was announced that the land would be developed as the Town of Temple, renamed Temple City five years later.
As for the Monterey Park property, it was swapped that year for an in-progress commercial building, which became a store and the Temple Hotel on Fourth Street just north of Main Street in Alhambra, where Temple had already completed a movie theater and, over the next few years, would build a few other structures. Perhaps the ordinance controversy and the criticism over inaction on the proposed commercial building had something to do with a change in attitude or maybe it was the fact that Temple had bigger fish (the Town of Temple) to fry.
Whatever it was, the accompanying image here from many of Temple’s papers, donated in 2009, is of a map (which, for some reason is oriented with south being at the top rather than the bottom) of the Thomas Berry Tract, including the corner where he planned and then abandoned the project. Incidentally, some years later, one of Temple’s cousins, William J. Workman, whose father was Joseph Workman, son of William and Nicolasa, resided on Baltimore Street, a block west of Garfield, until his death in 1956.
There are a number of familiar historical street names on the map. Isaias W. Hellman and Harris Newmark were prominent Jewish merchants with Hellman becoming a leading banker on the west coast. Benjamin D. Wilson, who came to California with the Workmans in 1841, was a Los Angeles mayor and California senator, as well as developer of Lake Vineyard, north of Monterey Park, with F.P.F. Temple as treasurer of the project before the bank failure. Huntington Avenue, presumably, was named for Henry E. Huntington, builder of the Pacific Electric street railway system, real estate magnate, and art and book collector.
Other areas of interest are the Hellman and Walnut groves and the Midwick Country Club, now the location of shopping and commercial centers along Wilson Avenue, now Atlantic Boulevard. Note also that above (well, it looks like below) Hellman Avenue is the line of the Pacific Electric railway, close to where Interstate 10 runs through today. Berry’s office is shown at the intersection of Garfield and the track, about where the on and off ramps for the freeway are now and just outside city limits in Alhambra.