by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In late June 1841, Pliny Fisk Temple, who’d turned 19 while at sea en route from Boston, arrived at Los Angeles for what apparently was to be a one-year visit in the frontier Mexican pueblo. When he came to the City of Angels, Pliny made the acquaintance of his half-brother Jonathan (they had the same father, but different mothers, and Jonathan was the oldest and Pliny the youngest, by 26 years, in a large family) and decided to stay. For nearly eight years, Pliny resided with his brother, working as a clerk in Jonathan’s store, the first to be opened in the town.
A little over four months after Pliny landed in Los Angeles, the family of William and Nicolasa Workman, including their son José Manuel and daughter Antonía Margarita, made landfall in the region after a two-month overland journey along the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Workmans settled on the Rancho La Puente, twenty miles east of Los Angeles, and took up raising cattle, which was the backbone of the regional economy.
There’s no way to know, but it’s tempting to think that the Workmans traveled to Los Angeles and stopped to shop at Jonathan Temple’s store when Pliny met Margarita and a romance ensued. Another possibility is that the young couple met at a fiesta at one of the local ranchos, perhaps at La Puente, or at a picnic, or merienda, put on by friends. Whatever the origin was, it is likely that the courtship lasted for some period and involved chaperones and observed rituals.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any documentation about how the relationship between the two developed, but, on this day, 30 September 1845, the pair was married. Pliny, age 22, was born into a Congregationalist family in Massachusetts, so, in order for the nuptials to be done properly within the Roman Catholic Church, he had to be baptized into that faith. Margarita turned 15 in July and, though this seems awfully young to us now, this was a pretty common marriageable age just about anywhere at the time.
That ceremony took place immediately before the marital rites and he took the baptismal name Francisco. This gave him his distinctive moniker, F.P.F., by which he was formally known (he was informally called Frank or Pancho), though some referred to him as Templito, ostensibly because of his 5’4″ size or because he was “little Temple” compared to his brother.
Another distinctive element to the dual ceremonies was that this was the first wedding ever performed in greater Los Angeles in which both parties had non-Spanish surnames. Prior to that there were a number of American or European men who married local Californio women, but, with Margarita being half-English and half-Latina, this nuptial was different and reflected something of the gradual demographic change coming to the region.
F.P.F. and Margarita were married for just shy of 35 years. A little more than a year after the ceremony, they had their first child, Thomas, and in the following twenty-six years had ten more children. The couple were given, in spring 1851, half of Rancho La Merced by William Workman, who obtained the 2,363-acre ranch from foreclosure and gave the other half to his La Puente ranch foreman Juan Matias Sánchez.
The Temples lived in a large L-shaped adobe east of the Rio Hondo (the old channel of the San Gabriel River) near today’s intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and Rosemead Boulevard in the Whittier Narrows. F.P.F. and his father-in-law Workman did very well in the Gold Rush years transporting cattle and sheep to the mining towns of the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains and gradually increased their agricultural production on their ranches.
F.P.F. was also involved in politics, holding the offices of Los Angeles City Treasurer and Los Angeles County Treasurer and was a county supervisor. When Los Angeles entered its first significant period of sustained growth in the late 1860s after a dire first half of the decade punctuated by flood and drought, he entered heavily into the town’s business world.
This included banking, including a partnership with Workman and Los Angeles merchant Isaias W. Hellman in the second institution to open in the town: Hellman, Temple and Company. The enterprise was short-lived, due to fundamental differences between Hellman and Temple in how to manage the bank, especially with loaning policies. In early 1871, two-and-a-half years after the institution opened, Hellman bought out his partners and formed Farmers and Merchants Bank with ex-governor (and co-owner of the city’s first bank) John G. Downey.
Temple and Workman went on their own with their own bank which opened later that year. After four years, the bank went into suspension when the state and local economy went into a nosedive. For three months, the hiatus continued while a loan was sought, with one finally obtained from San Francisco capitalist Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, but the loan came “on rather hard terms,” as Temple expressed in a letter to Workman announcing the loan.
The bank reopened, but quickly the borrowed funds were gone as depositors closed their accounts, with many of them presumably going to Hellman’s bank. In early 1876, Temple and Workman failed, just as Temple was ready to assume office as county treasurer, making him a rare bankrupt and failed banker serving as the county’s fiduciary officer.
Workman, blindsided by the turn of events, took his life several months later, and Temple, by fall, suffered the first of a series of strokes, the last of which ended his life in April 1880, at age 58. His widow was not yet 50 and lived another dozen years until an influenza epidemic claimed her life and those of her mother and eldest child within a few weeks early in 1892.
One of the couple’s children decided to get married on the same month and date as his parents, when John Harrison Temple wedded Anita Davoust, whose mother was from the prominent Dominguez family and whose father was a French immigrant, on 30 September 1886. John had a strong sense of tradition as he was the first family historian, compiling many of the documents that have survived and writing some of the earliest accounts of the Temples and their history in our region.