by Paul R. Spitzzeri
A particularly rich source of historical information about people’s personal lives is in the form of correspondence, including letters. What’s interesting to ponder for the future is what will we leave now that will be comparable and survivable. Our growing tendency to communicate through electronic and digital formats such as email, texts and social media posts leads to the question of what will be left for future historians to mine for research on our personal lives.
In this context, it is notable that the Homestead collection has some examples of the correspondence of members of the Workman and Temple families that help us better understand their lives and, in some ways, life generally in a given period and place. A donation last year by Ruth Ann Michaelis, a Temple family descendant, included many letters, primarily from the late 1910s through early 1930s, that we can use in a variety of ways to interpret the family.
Today’s post highlights a letter, donated by Ruth Ann, and written by her uncle, Thomas Workman Temple II, to her grandfather, Homestead owner Walter P. Temple and postmarked on 11 October 1928. Penned on high-quality stationery (the envelope is addressed to “Walter P. Temple, Esq. / Workman Homestead / Puente, Calif.”) with the embossed logo of Harvard University, at which Thomas was in the final year of his studies at the institution’s vaunted law school, the letter was written not long after he returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Boston, to make that last push for his law degree. Most of the letter concerned education, specifically the struggles of middle son, Walter, Junior.
The missive begins with the salutation of “Dearest Dadup,” an affectionate nickname for Walter used by all four of Walter’s children and Thomas acknowledged receiving a letter or, more likely, a telegram, which his father preferred to communicate with his children.
He followed with “no doubt Puente is very anxious to know how the well on the Ferrero property is going to turn out.” The Ferrero family owned large tracts east of the Homestead and along Valley Boulevard, known previously as Pomona Boulevard. Though Thomas added “let’s hope for the best,” there was no success with this exploration, as local sources of oil were basically confined to the Puente Hills to the south on land owned by members of the Rowland family. Still, he expressed the idea that, should oil be found at the Ferrero place, “nothing would be better than to see the old town wake up again under a boom.”
His younger brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, were nearby at South Byfield attending Dummer (yes, “Dummer,” named for a colonial governor of Massachusetts) Academy and beginning the last year of high school (as sister Agnes was in her final year at Dominican College in San Rafael north of San Francisco). Dummer was founded in 1763 and was rechristened as “The Governor’s Academy” in 2005 out of concern that (after 240 years!) that the name would keep potential students from applying. The school remains the oldest continuously operating independent boarding school in America.
Thomas turned to the situation involving Walter, Jr. He informed his father that “I had a letter from Walter the other day, a very sincere letter, telling me that he won’t be able to get the necessary nits at the end of the year for him to graduate.”
While Thomas and Agnes were excellent students pulling top grades at their respective colleges, their younger siblings were not academically inclined, though they did well in music and sports. Poor Walter, Jr. was taking his third-level English course again after failing it and “was quite put out about it.” Fortunately, for the struggling scholar, he had the support of his older brother, who noted “I wrote him a very encouraging letter to cheer him along and urge him to do much better in the face of it all.”
Moreover, Thomas asked his father not to judge too harshly and “please don’t scold him,” observing that, while Walter, Jr, admitted he did not study as he should have, he “tries very hard and if he’ll devote more time to his work, he’ll make it all right. Thomas asked his father to “encourage him as you have always done.” He also suggested to his brother “to forego athletics and put all his spare time in the books for he must get into college.”
Probably as an attempt at a little levity, Thomas added, “I can’t believe that we have a moron in the family for there have been none in the past” and reminded his father that the move to Massachusetts two years prior was a factor as well as “not applying themselves when they were at Pasadena,” attending the Pasadena Military Academy, located where the Annandale Golf Club had been west of downtown.
Continuing with admonitions, Thomas wrote “now you are wont to blame the schools for that [Walter Jr.’s educational struggles], but really they have attended some of the best schools in the country,” with another institution being the Belmont School, south of San Francisco. What Thomas suggested is that his brother receive a commercial diploma, rather than a standard high school one, which, he added, “will admit him to Santa Clara,” meaning the university which Thomas attended and from which he received his bachelor’s degree in 1926.
Further, Thomas told his father that he would write Dummer Academy’s school master, Dr. Charles Ingham, whose lengthy tenure from 1908 to 1930 included great advances in the school’s viability and then visit Walter, Jr. and Edgar. He again advised his father, “don’t get excited about it for they will come out O.K.”
After mentioning he’d heard from Agnes and her beau, Luis Fatjo, whom she married in November 1929, Thomas mentioned that “I am going to wrote ‘Doc’ Worden soon, for I’m sure we did slight him this last summer.” James Perry Worden, whose editorial work on Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark’s well-known autobiography, Sixty Years in Southern California, led him to be hired in 1921 by Walter Temple to write a biography on the Workman and Temple families, was given a monthly salary for years.
Worden’s work wasn’t limited to research, acquiring books and manuscripts and writing his opus, he was also asked to assist in unrelated projects, such as researching schools for the Temple children in Massachusetts and England. A sensitive soul, Worden’s letters (a couple samples of which have been featured in this blog, with more to come) are particularly curious documents, self-conscious about his achievements, defensive about the length of his work on the book, and supplicating to his patron in ways modern historians wouldn’t think to approach.
It appears that Walter Temple’s worsening financial condition, which came to a head in 1926 when he had to issue bonds to continue real estate work, such as at his Temple City project, and take out a mortgage to complete La Casa Nueva, led to suspending Worden’s stipends for a time. Thomas added that whatever happened in the summer “was probably my fault” but he stated “I hope to see him on the pay roll soon.”
This was because “no one but him can finish it [the family history book] in [the] right style & get back at old Graves.” The reference here was to the 1927 autobiography, My Seventy Years in California by Jackson Graves, who was an attorney and banker of long standing with Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles, founded by Isaias W. Hellman, former partner of William Workman and F.P.F. Temple.
In his book, Graves, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1875 just as the state economy tanked and the Temple and Workman bank faced disaster, was direct about the shortcomings of that institution. Defensive about that characterization, the Temples and Worden apparently had a plan to counteract Graves’ views, but Worden’s work was never completed.
The letter then ended with Thomas expressing his hope that “you are well & happy” and ending the love of all three Temple boys and the Bancrofts, the children of Walter’s cousin, Ellen Temple Bancroft.
Obviously, if the Temple sons were in their respective schools now, there would be cell phone calls, texts, and the like and we wouldn’t likely have the opportunity to have the information in these forms of communication available to us 90 years from now, as we have with this letter. Thomas Temple was an inveterate letter writer and there are many dozens of his missives from the late teens to the early thirties that have preserved elements of the family’s history we would not otherwise have.