On This Day: A Letter to Walter P. Temple, 12 July 1926

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In the summer of 1926, the Temple family was at a particularly interesting transitional point.  That spring, Walter P. Temple and his business associates, manager Milton Kauffman and attorney George H. Woodruff, engineered the issuing of bonds to finance the projects of two companies.  The first was the Temple Townsite Company, which was the development firm for the Town of Temple (renamed, in 1928, Temple City.)  The other was the Temple Estate Company, which handled all other development funded by Walter Temple’s fortune, made primarily from oil income from the Temple lease to Standard Oil Company of California at Montebello.

The latest in a series of extraordinary booms in greater Los Angeles peaked about 1923 and then slowly receded, just as Temple was moving into real estate development projects in downtown Los Angeles, Alhambra, San Gabriel, El Monte and Temple City and oil drilling in Whittier, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Texas, Mexico and Alaska.  All too often in speculative enterprises such as these, timing is critical and much of that is due to both skillful planning and execution and good fortune.

Having worked with Kauffman and Woodruff on executing the issuance of the bonds, Temple decided to proceed with a long-held dream of his and something of family tradition.  In the summer, he and his four children boarded a steamship at San Pedro and headed for a long trip to the East Coast.  The primary goal was to enroll his three sons in schools in the family’s ancestral home state of Massachusetts, while also enjoying a long vacation.  In addition, the Temples got acquainted with relatives, included one of Walter’s first cousins, Ellen Temple Bancroft, who still resided in the town of Reading, where Walter’s father, F.P.F. was born over a century prior.


Eldest child Thomas completed his bachelor’s degree, in liberal studies with an emphasis in law, at the University of Santa Clara in northern California that spring. He then was accepted to the law school at Harvard University, where Walter’s older brother, William, took the course in the 1870s.  The idea was for Thomas to assist his father as a legal advisor in business.  Though he did receive his degree in 1929, Thomas never pursued a legal career, instead becoming a historian and genealogist.

Younger sons Walter, Jr. and Edgar were in the midst of high school, having completed two years at Belmont Academy, south of San Francisco and northwest of Santa Clara, and were heading east to finish their secondary education at Dummer Academy in South Byfield north of Boston.  The school, which opened in 1763 and was named for a governor of the Massachusetts Colony, remains the oldest operating school in the United States, though the name “Dummer” was excised about a decade or more ago and the school is now known simply as Governor’s Academy.  The pair did graduate high school from Dummer in 1929 and went on to one year of college at Santa Clara.

Daughter Agnes, who, at one time, was being considered for one of the well-regarded women’s colleges, such as Wellesley, in Massachusetts, finished her first year at Dominican College, then an all-girls (now coed) school in San Rafael, north of San Francisco.  Rather than head east with her brothers, however, Agnes decided to remain at Dominican and pursue her major of music with a minor in Spanish, graduating in 1929.  She married a few months later and moved to the Bay Area, where she lived the remainder of her life.


The Temples traveled by ship through the Panama Canal and then through the Caribbean on the way to New York, where they were to met by the family’s chauffeur, Don Godman, who was taking a Temple-owned car across the country and meeting them on the East Coast.  While en route by ship, Walter Temple was sent a letter by Kauffman, dated 12 July 1926, and which is in the Homestead’s collection, being donated by one of Temple’s granddaughters, Ruth Ann Michaelis, last year.  The document is on the letterhead of the Temple Estate Company, headquartered in a company-owned building at San Gabriel across from the historic mission.

The missive was addressed to Temple “On Board Steamship Ecuador c/o Panama Mail Steamship Company, Havana, Cuba.”  Kauffman began his letter by noting, “I suppose by the time you receive this letter in Havana you will have become an accustomed sailor and will be able to ride on most any sea.”  Temple’s business manager continued that he expected to get a telegram from his boss at Panama and hoped Temple received a wire sent to Manzanillo, a city on the Pacific coast of Mexico.  Having hear nothing, Kauffman observed “as no news is good news we presume that everything must be to your entire satisfaction.”

As to business back in greater Los Angeles, Kauffman reported that “everything here is progressing as well as can be expected.”  In particular, he noted that “we have cemented Well No. 5 at Long Beach at a depth of 4835 ft. and expect to put [it] in on production in about a week.”  The belief was that this well would do better than a previous one, though Kauffman wryly repeated a favored saying of Temple: “you can only couny your money when you get the oil in the tank.”

Kauffman then turned to affairs at the Workman Homestead, where La Casa Nueva was in its fifth year of construction, writing “we have made regular trips out there and things are progressing very nicely.”  In an effort to speed up work, an attempt was made to rig up a cement mixing machine to do the same for adobe-making material.  Kauffman alluded to the fact that “the Adobe machinery is all hooked up and seems to be just about right,” though early attempts proved to be problematic because “of the mix.”

Temple Family In Massachusettes ca 1926
The Temple family, including Walter P., fourth from right next to his daughter Agnes (in the dark dress and hat), Walter P., Jr. at far right, Edgar, at far left, and Thomas, kneeling in front, with Maud Bassity, next to Walter Temple and wearing the wide-brimmed hat, and cousin Edward Bancroft, with glasses second from left, and his family, in Massachusetts, summer 1926.

For yet another summer, ranch foreman (and Temple’s nephew by marriage), William Knueven “has Pablo Urzua on the job and things are looking better.”  Urzua was a master stone mason from Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco in Mexico and was credited for his work in a plaque dedicating La Casa Nueva to Laura Temple in December 1923 on the first anniversary of her death.  Kauffman went on to comment that “they are making a better quality of brick, however, they have not as yet gotten the thing on to steady production, as there are many details to work out.”

That part of the letter ended with the observation that “otherwise the Ranch is in very good condition, only we miss all of you folks when we go out there.—it seems to be very lonesome.”  The rest of the missive mentions the forwarding of “considerable mail” to an acquaintance in New York (connected to someone Thomas knew from his days at Santa Clara); the starting out of Godman in a few days; the pleasant weather before the dog days of August; and that Woodruff “has been in consultation with us every day” and that he was “very well pleased with the management” of Temple’s estate.

Thomas Agnes Walter Sr Wally And Edgar Temple Plymouth Mass 1926
A photo of the Temples at the same location and date.

After sending a postscript (P.S., that is) the regards of Woodruff, Estate Company employee Elmer Potter, and its secretary Miss Heitzman, Kauffman added second one in the form of a little joke: “Tell Maude to look out for the New York Sheiks.”  Maude Bassity, who helped care for Laura Temple in her last illness, stayed on to run the Temple household and was Walter Temple’s beau until the end of his life.

By the end of summer, the three Temple boys were busily engaged in their studies at their new schools, Agnes returned to northern California to resume her work at Dominican College, and Walter Temple continued with his final real estate and oil projects, as well as the long-delayed completion of La Casa Nueva in late 1927.

Yet, their financial situation was not rectified by the issuance of the bonds and worsened as the real estate projects did not yield anticipated returns, nor the oil wells the projected output.  Within four years of the issuance of the letter, Walter Temple lost most of his holdings and vacated the Homestead, renting it out to a military school in the hope of finding a way to save the ranch.  By July 1932, all options were exhausted and the Homestead was lost by foreclosure to California Bank.


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