by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In April 1930, with few options at his disposal, Walter P. Temple, desperately trying to salvage the Homestead as his last major property from his once significant portfolio, moved from the 92-acre ranch to Ensenada, Baja California. The move, emulated decades later and today by Americans in the thousands, was to reduce expenses as much as possible while hopes were maintained that the ranch could be saved.
A deal was made to lease the Homestead to Major Lawrence Lewis and Lewis’ sister Evelyn Horton, proprietors of a boys’ military academy from Redondo Beach called (with that nice British touch) Raenford. The goal was to take in some income and augment that with walnuts raised on the property, while seeking ways to pay off debts and salvage the ranch.
Meanwhile, Temple’s four surviving children were in major transitions in their young lives, as well. Daughter Agnes, a 1929 graduate of Dominican College in San Rafael in northern California, had just completed a long honeymoon in Europe with husband Luis P. Fatjo and was taking up residence in a tony neighborhood in San Francisco with a country estate of roughly 24,000 acres near Gilroy. The younger sons, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, were completing the first and only year of college at Santa Clara University, which their father insisted on sending them to despite the precarious condition of the family’s finances.
Eldest child Thomas, who earned his J.D. at Harvard Law School the previous summer, contemplated taking the bar exam while taking a job at a bank, though neither profession had much attraction to him. In fact, Thomas was spending some of his spare time doing his initial researches at Mission San Gabriel with that institution’s vital records as his budding passion for history and genealogy was rapidly taking precedence over law and banking.
He was then living with his mother’s sister, Luz Vigare, in a historic adobe walking distance from the mission and, on this day in 1930, he received a letter from Evelyn Lewis Horton about happenings about the Homestead. The receipt of the missive was undoubtedly bittersweet, as the Temples’ leaving the ranch was, perhaps, leavened with the anticipation that, one day, the family would return.
The missive began by stating that Horton’s brother received a letter from Thomas some weeks before asking her to reply, though she apologized for the delay because of the busy schedule the siblings kept preparing the Homestead for the opening of the 1930-31 school year.
She continued by expressing her hope that Thomas was “contented in your new environment and work . . . with the Bank,” though the specific institution is not known. Meantime, Walter, Jr. and Edgar had returned to Puente after the completion of their studies at Santa Clara, though Horton stated “we haven’t seen much of them, just a passing glimpse now and then.”
The second page of the document began with a report that
the new dormitory, on the west wing of the house, is completed & looks very nice as it conforms to the rest of the house. It takes care of twenty boys quite comfortably, & so is a great asset to us. Bill Knueven did the work for us & we found him very honest and helpful & so will have him for all our work in the future.
The addition to La Casa Nueva referred to is what we call “West Wing Storage” and its twin is “East Wing Storage.” When the home was completed just less than three years prior, these areas were open patios on the second floor over the wings projecting south from the main block of the house. In order to accommodate the number of students anticipated to attend Raenford, however, Lewis and Horton decided they needed to make the additions for what would house forty students.
William Knueven was the husband of Walter Temple’s niece, Angeline Rowland, and had been the Homestead’s foreman for a few years during the first half of the 1920s. He, his wife and their children then moved to the Town of Temple, developed by Walter in 1923 and renamed Temple City five years later, where Knueven, who worked as a building contractor, erected the family home which is still standing.
As for those dormitories, they are still very much in use nearly nine decades later, with the “East Wing Storage” area housing most of the 30,000 or so historic artifacts in the museum collection, including this letter, while “West Wing Storage” also is the domicile of a small number of artifacts, but is the work room for two of our staff, a staging area for exhibit changes, a cataloging and photography space, and more.
With regard to the remainder of the letter, Horton added:
Everything is going along just splendidly here, we are enrolling new boys all the time & feel sure that we will have a full house by Fall. We gave a concert in the auditorium the other night & it was a great success, we invited some of the Puente townspeople & they seemed to enjoy it.
The auditorium was the largest of a trio of brick wineries built by the Workman family in the 1860s, but which were converted in the early 1920s by the Temples into the auditorium (with a stage, pool and ping pong tables and a movie projector platform, among other aspects), a cafeteria or dining hall that could seat 125 persons, and a nine-car garage. All are gone now and the site of the auditorium now houses the Homestead Museum Gallery.
The letter then closed with best wishes to Thomas and his welfare and regards from Major Lewis, Horton and their mother. There are a few other pieces of communication between the owners of the school and the Temples and some photographs from visits by the latter to the ranch. The idea, however, of being able to raise enough funds from the lease to keep the Homestead in the Temples’ hands was beset with problems.
Key among these was Walter Temple’s insurmountable debt, which was compounded by the worsening of the Great Depression, which broke out about eight months prior to the writing of the letter. In summer 1932, the year when the depression was at its worst and massive waves of bank failures washed over the U.S., California Bank, which held a mortgage on the ranch, foreclosed and took possession.
Horton and Lewis, who renamed the school “Golden State Military Academy,” also struggled to attract enough students to justify the lease, a function of both the depression and a declining interest in military school education. After the end of the 1934-35 school year, the fifth year of operation at the ranch, it was decided to relocate to Encino, where the academy survived for some years before closing. Lewis lived in San Diego County until the 1980s and it was said that he still possessed some of the furniture and other items the Temples left behind in 1930 and which he took with him.
In October 1940, Harry and Lois Brown purchased the Homestead for their El Encanto Sanitarium. The Browns sent their three sons to the military school at the ranch and then were surprised to find that the Homestead was available for their institution, which functioned in the Workman House (offices and nurses’ station) and La Casa Nueva (the main residential building) through the mid-1960s. As a post from a couple of days ago noted, they sold the Workman House and El Campo Santo Cemetery to the City of Industry in 1963 and La Casa Nueva a dozen years later and the City restored the site and opened the museum in 1981.
Documents like this letter help give us a better picture of what transpired in the transition from Temple family occupation and ownership of the ranch to succeeding ones, including changes to the buildings like the addition of the dormitories to La Casa Nueva. It’s a period we’ve generally known relatively little about, so having this artifact is a helpful one for fleshing out our knowledge of that era.