by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Next Sunday is the centennial of Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, which marked the end of major hostilities in the First World War. The Homestead, which has put on programs and developed exhibits, including our current one on the end of the war and the postwar period, is hosting “The End of the Great War,” an event that includes a staged reading of Journey’s End, a play about the war by R.C. Sheriff, music from the period by “The Roses of Piccardy,” crafts and refreshments. This free event is from 2-5 p.m., but reservations are required, so be sure to call the museum at 626.968.8492 to save your spot.
As a lead-up to this event, tonight’s post spotlights the unusual circumstance in which four Temple brothers served in the military during the war and specifically looks at information written by their father and included in a 1918 history of Los Angeles. The brothers Adrian, George, Edmund and Robert were sons of John Harrison Temple (1856-1926) and Anita Davoust (1866-1942). John was the fifth child of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple and raised on the couple’s Rancho La Merced in the Whittier Narrows. He received his early education at the private school located in the Workman House and then went to Santa Clara College for what was likely the equivalent of middle and early high school.
After a brief time at home at La Merced assisting F.P.F. Temple in running the family’s ranch, John was sent for two years to his father’s hometown of Reading, Massachusetts to attend high school for the first year and then a business college for the second. He was in the east when news reached him of the disastrous failure of the family’s Los Angeles bank, Temple and Workman. Still, he remained to finish his education and did not return home until the end of summer 1876, having visited the American centennial celebration at Philadelphia.
Upon his arrival home, the twenty-year old found his family’s finances in tatters, but he did inherit some property on the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, just a short distance from the Temple Homestead on La Merced. His ranch on the west bank of the San Gabriel River included his home and a large acreage of walnuts which were raised there.
On 30 September 1886, a little more than four decades after his parents were married on that date, John married Anita, whose mother was from the prominent Dominguez family and whose father was an immigrant from France. The couple settled in on what was known as the “John H. Temple Homestead” and began their family, which eventually numbered six sons and one daughter.
In August 1888, John’s elder brother, Francis, who took possession of the 75-acre Workman Homestead after the bank disaster, died just shy of his 40th birthday of tuberculosis. Francis was unmarried and left no direct heirs, so the Homestead passed to William W. Temple (1851-1917) and John.
William, who’d been completing his study of the law when the bank failure happened and tried to represent members of his family in the resulting legal action, notably bankruptcy proceedings, was so worn down by the difficult work that he abruptly joined the U.S. Army and left greater Los Angeles. Though he mustered out at the end of the 1880s, he spent years in Mexico and didn’t come home until about 1910. So, he decided to sell his share of the Workman Homestead to John, who then moved his family to the property and into the Workman House.
Unfortunately, John’s ownership of the Homestead was beset with problems. The economy was in difficult straits, especially after the national Depression of 1893, and greater Los Angeles experienced drought during six of the ten years of the decade. Consequently, John borrowed money from a Los Angeles bank to weather the financial storms, but was unable to repay the loan. In 1899, the bank foreclosed and John, Anita and their family moved to Los Angeles, living in Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles.
In 1914, John’s younger brother, Walter, was living near the old Temple Homestead at the base of the Montebello Hills when his oldest child, Thomas, made a stunning discovery of oil on what Walter called “Temple Heights” in a corner of the hills. Three years later, the first of about a couple dozen oil wells came in and Walter and his wife Laura and four surviving children were suddenly experiencing significant wealth. Walter immediately asked John to come out to the Temple oil lease and operate a service station he built on the property.
It was there in August 1918, in the waning months of the war, that John, who was the first family historian (a trait assumed later by his nephew Thomas, the discoverer of the oil mentioned above), wrote down a series of notes that wound up published in 1921 and authored by journalist, playwright of “The Mission Play,” and California poet laureate, John Steven McGroarty in Los Angeles: From the Mountains to the Sea. The two-volume work is one of many examples from the late 19th century and early 20th centuries that featured biographical sketches by persons who provided their story and who usually paid a subscription for the book including the submission of the sketch.
John Temple wrote his submission or at least an early draft of it in summer 1918 and this was edited and amended by McGroarty and/or his editors, including the typical introduction that Temple’s “career [had] a special interest for all who esteem the builders and makers of Southern California and the historical progress of the past.”
The idea of John being a regional builder or maker and part of a “historical progress of the past” is qualified by the financial problems he faced in the 1890s leading to the loss of the Homestead. In fact, the foreclosure of the ranch was carefully excluded from the narrative and replaced by the statement that John moved to Los Angeles in 1898 for better educational opportunities for his children.
A large part of John’s biography is devoted to descriptions of his seven children, with particular attention given to the four who were serving in the armed forces at the time of writing. Adrian, born in 1893, was said to have had “a romantic life” due to his prior service with the U.S. Navy over a four-year span, including travel to England, continental Europe and Egypt. He was a captain on the U.S.S. Vermont, was regarded a crack shot, and was home just about a year before the outbreak of the war. He then reenlisted and was an aviator, receiving training in Florida and then serving on the front in France for eight months. He then transferred to duties in England and remained there when his father wrote the sketch.
George, two years Adrian’s junior, had much less written about him, with his wartime service described simply. He was at home until the outbreak of the conflict “when he enlisted, and received his military training at Camp Lewis, Washington.”
Edmund, born in 1895, “was just past nineteen when the war broke out,” though it was another three years until the United States entered the conflict, upon which “he volunteered his services to the Government like his other brothers.” Edmund worked for a period as a recruiter in Los Angeles and “was then sent to Camp Pike, Little Rock, Arkansas, to qualify for an infantry officer.”
Finally, there was Robert, two years younger than Edmund, who was twenty and was involved in driving and building cars, but “expects soon to join the colors.” When he did enlist, the description continued, “four of the Temple family will be enrolled in the United States service—a record of unqualified patriotism, but only what might be expected from the sturdy qualities exhibited by the Temples in the various generations.” This wasn’t enlarged upon, but would have included the service in the Army of John’s brother William and that of their grandfather Jonathan Temple, who was a militia captain in Massachusetts during the early years of the republic.
However glowingly the service of the quartet of Temple brothers was expressed in McGroarty’s book, it was remarkable to have that many siblings in the armed services at one time during the “war to end all wars.” As we commemorate the centennial of the end of the conflict this Sunday, we remember the service of Adrian, George, Edmund and Robert Temple to their country.