by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It does seem that, if Walter P. Temple, who died in 1938, was alive today, he’d be a communicator primarily by text. This is because, when it came to contacting his children when they were away from the Homestead at boarding schools in northern California and far-flung Massachusetts during the late 1920s, he preferred sending a telegram (our closest analog [!] to texting] to phone calls or letters.
Today’s highlighted artifact is an original Western Union telegram that Mr. Temple sent his eldest child Thomas on this day in 1929. There is actually a fair amount of material embedded in this deceptively simple piece of correspondence.
First, Thomas was contacted via his address at a boarding house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was just a short distance from Harvard University, where he was in his third and final year at the famed law school there.
Secondly, his father sent the dispatch from Indio, a town in the desert of eastern California past Palm Springs. Walter, who had lung problems (likely from a lifelong smoking habit), spent much time in Indio and Soboba Hot Springs (where a Tepee-like structure at a resort was replicated for his home office next to La Casa Nueva) at San Jacinto, near Hemet.
Then there was reference to “finding good results with wells at Ventura.” As a recent post here about Temple’s real estate ventures at Alhambra pointed out, by the end of the 1920s, Walter’s financial tether was quite truncated, due to a slew of risky real estate and oil projects through the decade. One of his last hopes for salvaging what he could of his once-sizable estate was prospecting for oil at the Ventura Avenue field, northwest of that city on the road to Ojai. Unfortunately, the results he alluded to were not nearly enough to turn the tide.
A brief wish was also expressed that “Hope boys are working hard.” Thomas’ younger brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, were seniors at Governor Dummer Academy in South Byfield, Massachusetts, north of Cambridge and Boston. The academy (now called Governors’ Academy, because the word “Dummer” doesn’t seem, to modern eyes and ears, evoke scholarly excellence) has the distinction of being the oldest continously-operating boarding school in the United States, having opened its doors in 1763. The brothers, however, struggled to achieve the grades needed to satisfactorily graduate until the end of the school year, which was in June and when the two managed to make the grade.
The big news, however, was that the only daughter in the family, Agnes, who was in her last semester at Dominican College, an all-girls (now co-ed) Catholic school in San Rafael, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in Marin County, became engaged to Luis Fatjo. Walter referred to the news as “a good thing and a splendid choice,” the latter presumavbly referring to his daugther’s decision.
Luis Fatjo was a native of Santa Clara near San Jose and was a grandson of a Spanish doctor and the heiress to a massive ranch, San Luis Gonzaga (the same size, in fact, as Rancho La Puente) east of Gilroy and Hollister to the south of Santa Clara. Luis and a cousin were the sole heirs to the ranch, in fact, and a significant income came along with the property by lease. Luis was a classmate of Thomas at Santa Clara University, which Thomas attended from 1919 to 1926, going first to the preparatory portion for high school and then getting his undergraduate degree with an emphasis on law before he went on to Harvard.
Agnes and Luis were married, as her parents were in 1903, on Thanksgiving Day with the ceremony taking place at St. Joseph’s Church in La Puente, where Walter donated a 9-foot diameter stained glass window. The reception was held at the Homestead, specifically at La Casa Nueva. Although her father’s finances were rapidly depleting, he hosted the festivities, which was hailed in news articles because of the long pedigree of both bridge and groom among early Californio families.
Luis and Agnes then embarked on a long honeymoon of several months in Europe, including a visit to his father’s native hometown in Spain. A photo album owned by Agnes and including many photos from the trip was donated to the Homestead years ago by the couple’s son, Temple, who passed away in 2001 at age 60.
The Fatjos’ daughter, Paula, still resides on a portion of the ranch that she retained with her family after she and her brother sold off most of their portion of it in the 1960s. The marriage only lasted about a dozen years, as Luis, who had heart trouble, died in 1946 at age 42. Agnes lived another fifteen years, passing away in 1961 at age 54 of cancer.
There are a few other telegrams in the Homestead’s collection and this once-universal form of communication (so much so that people usually received the messages and then tossed them out) is generally only remembered by people “of a certain age,” meaning probably in their 50s, if that, or older. This example, however, could well be seen as the “text of yesteryear.”