by Paul R. Spitzzeri
She was the 20-year old daughter of the owner of a substantial tract of land within the City of Los Angeles and east of the Los Angeles River in what was commonly called Paredon Blanco (White Bluffs). He was a 28-year old saddler in partnership with his brother and who was a rising figure in the town on the cusp of its first sustained period of growth.
On this day in 1867, Maria (pronounced Mariah) Boyle and William Henry Workman were married and remained so for just over a half-century, during which they experienced major transformation in their lives and that of their family and took part in great changes in the city.
Maria was born in 1847 in New Orleans, where her Irish-born father, Andrew, was a merchant and trader. On one business trip, transporting goods to Mexico, Andrew’s ship sank and it was reported that he’d perished in the disaster. His wife, Elizabeth, prostrated by the news, had what was then called “brain fever” and died just before Andrew returned home.
Shortly afterward, Andrew, leaving his young daughter in the care of his wife’s family, migrated to San Francisco. His pocket diary of the trip is in the Homestead collection and will make an interesting series of posts, though he ran out of paper before he’d reached California. After a few years in the Bay Area, he sent for Maria and then, in 1858, the two traveled down to Los Angeles and soon settled on the Paredon Blanco property he acquired. Andrew expanded the existing vineyards and manufactured wine under the Paredon Blanco name and owned a boot and shoe store in town.
William Henry was born in 1839 in Boonville, Missouri, the youngest of three sons (the others being Thomas and Elijah) born to David Workman, older brother of William Workman, and Nancy Hook. He was educated in that area, attending the Kemper Institute for a period. David was a saddler by trade but also engaged in mercantile pursuits shipping goods as far south as Chihuahua, Mexico.
After an attempt to operate a store in Gold Rush Sacramento literally went up in flames in a conflagration that burned most of the city, David was enticed to move south by William. In 1854, the family left Missouri and traveled overland to northern California and then arrived at Rancho La Puente that fall to live with William. David worked for his brother, superintending cattle and sheep drives to the gold fields. On one of these trips, in summer 1855, he went searching for a lost animal and fell down a cliff and was killed.
Nancy Workman and her sons moved into Los Angeles and William Henry found employment as an office worker with the Southern Californian newspaper before joining brother Elijah’s saddlery. Over about two decades, the siblings ran what was usually called Workman Brothers, located on Main Street, and the business did well.
Not only was William Henry succeeding in business, but he was becoming involved in civic life, as well. He served for several years on the city’s Board of Education, beginning about the time he married Maria. Later, William Henry served six one-year terms on the Common [City] Council between 1873 and 1880 and, in 1872, served on committees for the first high school in Los Angeles and that helped negotiate to bring the Southern Pacific railroad to the city. He was also an alternate delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 1872.
William Henry mounted failed campaigns for Los Angeles City Treasurer in 1870 and for the California Assembly three years later, during which contest he was described as a self-made man with “a most honorable reputation” and “a generous friend,” though he was known to “sometimes get ‘warm’ when in debate.”
In 1871, Andrew Boyle died at age 53, leaving his daughter and sole heir his valuable property, including a comfortable brick house, in Paredon Blanco. By then, Maria and William Henry had started a family of several children and the rising fortunes of the Los Angeles Workmans was steady and sure.
By the time Andrew Boyle died, growth in greater Los Angeles continued rapidly and, by the mid-1870s, William Henry decided to subdivide much of the property Maria inherited, working with partners John Lazzarovich (who was married into the Lopez family which settled Paredon Blanco in the late 1830s) and banker Isaias W. Hellman to develop what was christened Boyle Heights.
Just after Boyle Heights was placed on the market, though, an economic crisis hit, punctuated by the stark failure of the bank owned by William Henry’s uncle, William Workman, and the latter’s son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple. The disaster was followed by a decade of stagnation in the local economy and Boyle Heights languished. William Henry also ended his partnership with Elijah in the saddlery and focused on real estate and managing his property at Boyle Heights.
After a direct transcontinental railroad line was built to Los Angeles in 1885 by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, however, a new and much larger boom erupted in greater Los Angeles. It peaked in 1887 and 1888, which happened to comprise the two-year mayoral term of William H. Workman. Boyle Heights also grew rapidly during the boom, so his financial and political fortunes blossomed together, though the boom had its inevitable bust before the decade was over. William Henry’s tenure as mayor included the completion of the first true city hall as well as the adoption of the first city charter.
During the 1890s, William Henry continued his real estate, ranching and farming interests and also served for several years on the Los Angeles Parks Commission, when that body worked on some of the many important park projects that yielded such facilities as Eastlake (Lincoln), Westlake (MacArthur), Elysian, and Hollenbeck, the latter on land given to the city by William Henry and by the widow of banker and real estate investor John E. Hollenbeck, one of William Henry’s many friends.
As the 20th century dawned, politics again beckoned and William Henry secured election as Los Angeles City Treasurer (the seat he’d lost three decades before), serving three terms from 1901-1907. Among his most important projects in that post was working on the bonds taken out to finance the Los Angeles Aqueduct, completed in 1913 and which enabled the seemingly unstoppable growth of the city.
In his late 60s when he retired from politics, William Henry continued his real estate work for much of the remaining decade of his life. Meanwhile, two of the children he and Maria raised became very involved in civic life.
Daughter Mary Julia, educated at the state Normal School branch that was situated where the Los Angeles Public Library is now and which evolved into U.C.L.A., was a teacher, but also a leading figure in a local settlement house for working class ethnic groups (as covered here in a recent post on a yearbook of the Brownson Settlement House). She was also the first woman to serve on the Los Angeles Civil Service Commission, was very active in Roman Catholic Church charitable endeavors and a host of other projects in the city.
Eldest child Andrew Boyle, known by his middle name, served as assistant city treasurer during William Henry’s years as treasurer and then came into his own as a member of the Los Angeles City Council from 1919 to 1927, serving as its president for much of that time. This was during a particularly interesting period in the city when it came to major public works projects, including the building of the Coliseum, the erection of city hall, and the early planning for Union Station. In 1929, Boyle ran for mayor but fell short, though, given that the Great Depression broke out just then, perhaps it was better he didn’t win! Boyle’s book The City That Grew, published in 1935, became a well-regarded memoir of his life in Los Angeles.
As for William Henry and Maria, they celebrated their fiftieth anniversary on this date in 1917 with a party featuring family and many friends. By then, William Henry was in poor health and he lived just four months later, passing away in February 1918 at age 79. Maria, who moved from Boyle Heights to be closer to family living west of downtown, lived another fifteen years, dying in 1933 at the age of 86.
From their arrival in the 1850s in a remote frontier town to their end of their lives decades later when Los Angeles was a rapidly growing major metropolis and the center of a widely expanding suburban region, William Henry Workman and Maria Boyle were surrounded by and were part of enormous transformations in the area. Their stories are part of the larger Workman and Temple family narrative that gives a human face to the history of greater Los Angeles during the Homestead’s interpretive period of 1830 to 1930.