by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The sudden and startling surge to wealth experienced by the Temple family in the late 1910s resulting from the accidental discovery of oil on their Montebello-area ranch transformed their lives in so many ways. For the four surviving children (Thomas, Agnes, Walter, Jr., and Edgar), one of the most direct was with their educations.
All of them started schooling at the little La Puente School, situated close to their home and partly founded by their grandfather, F.P.F. Temple, in 1863. Once the royalties from the oil wells started to roll in, however, the family left the Old Mission area, moving briefly to Monterey Park and then to Alhambra.
Public school education also ended as the quartet enrolled in private schools. Because of the patriotic fervor that occurred during World War I, the boys attended the Pasadena Military Academy, while Agnes went to St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic girls’ school in Los Angeles. Though the children boarded at these schools, they did come home on weekends and holidays, as well as summers.
In 1919, Thomas, the eldest child, left the area to go to the preparatory high school at Santa Clara College in the city of that name next to San Jose. Tradition in education was very important to Walter P. Temple, especially as he did not get the education his older siblings did before the failure of the Temple and Workman bank in 1876. So, he sent his son to the school where some of Walter’s older brothers attended in the 1860s and 1870s.
Thomas completed high school in 1922 and went to the California Institute of Technology to study petrochemical engineering (apparently with an eye to helping his father’s burgeoning oil interests beyond Montebello). After Thomas completed a very difficult first semester, however, his mother, Laura Gonzalez Temple, died of cancer.
He underwent a great deal of soul searching about his education and decided, with his father’s approval, to return to Santa Clara, which was a familiar and comfortable location and also not as rigorous as CalTech. He thrived at the college and earned his bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in law in 1926.
Meanwhile, Agnes finished high school at St. Mary’s in 1925 and went north to San Rafael across the bay from San Francisco to attend Dominican College, another Catholic institution for women (though now it is co-ed). She was followed by Walter, Jr. and Edgar, who transferred from the Pasadena Military Academy to the Belmont School, located between Santa Clara and San Francisco. So, for a short period all the Temple children were in close proximity in the north, though they were at home less often.
Then came an even more dramatic transformation. Walter Temple, always mindful of both tradition and enhancing his children’s educational experiences, looked to transfer them to schools in Massachusetts, the ancestral home of the family.
So, Thomas was enrolled at the very prestigious Harvard Law School in Cambridge, which was no mean achievement just in getting accepted. His uncle, William, received a degree from Harvard Law over a half-century before, matriculating in 1874. His brothers were placed at Governor Dummer (now Governor’s) Academy, which is the oldest continuously operating private school in the nation, in nearby South Byfield.
While Walter Temple hoped to have his daughter go to the well-known women’s college at Wellesley, she evidently resisted and remained at Dominican, where she graduated in 1929. This also allowed her to go home far more often than her brothers, who were now some 3,000 miles from the Homestead. Consequently, she was home at some major holidays, as well as summer.
The Temples traveled to the East Coast in summer 1926 combining the enrollment of the boys in their respective schools with a general vacation. It was also an opportunity for them to meet some of their relatives in Massachusetts for the first time, including Walter, Sr.’s first cousin, Ellen Temple Bancroft, who was in her mid-80s and nearly thirty years older than him.
The presence of Ellen Bancroft and her two children, Edward and Edith, and Edward’s wife and children, were very important for the Temple boys, who relied heavily on the Bancrofts to make the difficult transition to Massachusetts more manageable.
This is vividly depicted in one of Thomas Temple’s many and regular letters to his father, this one dated 11 December 1926 and from the museum’s collection. In the two-page missive, which begins with a typical greeting of “Dearest Dadup,” the nickname for Walter, Sr. used by all his children, Thomas started by acknowledging a “wire,” or telegram, from his father’s business manager, Milton Kauffman and expressed relief that his father was feeling better after an unstated illness.
He then wrote that one of the novelties of being new to the East, though it might well have quickly become a nuisance, was that “Walter also wrote & tells me that they have been having great fun in the snow—with sleds and skis.” The Temple boys had not experienced much, if any, snow prior to their recent arrival in Massachusetts. Thomas then noted that he looked forward to seeing his brothers the following weekend.
He then mentioned not having seen cousin Ed Bancroft for a few days, but wrote to Ellen Bancroft, still living in Reading, where the Temple family had lived since the late 17th century, to thank her and her family “for the dandy time we had” staying with them during the Thanksgiving break.
In fact, Thomas was so grateful that he made a suggestion to his father:
I feel it would be much in order to send them a cheque for $100—say as a Christmas thought, for really they have been so nice to us and they’ve helped to make our stay here in the East so much easier.
He went on to discuss happenings at the law school, with the first semester nearly completed. He pointed out that there were examinations for scholarships for first year law students underway, but Thomas wasn’t eligible for one of the fifteen awards because it required “indigence or impecuniousness” on the part of the applicant.
Clearly, the Temples’ means were far above and beyond that, though earlier in 1926, Walter Temple and his associated took out bonds to restructure debt and provide funding for current building projects, including the ongoing work at the Town of Temple (renamed Temple City in 1928).
Thomas followed by noting that he was “in the midst of my case” and explained that though the unstated issue had matters of law against him and his partners in the project, they were “mostly arguing on principle.” He also intended to send briefs of the case to his father’s attorney and business partner, George H. Woodruff, “to see what he thinks of them.”
Returning to mention of the upcoming Christmas holiday, Thomas observed that Agnes would be back at the Homestead soon, where La Casa Nueva was gradually nearing completion (it would be almost another year before the house was finished.) He added “I got her a little present the other day from the 3 of us and I hope it arrives in time.” He mentioned also sending a photograph of F.P.F. Temple, copying an original from Ellen Bancroft.
He ended by referring to the experiences of his former Santa Clara chum Luis Fatjo, who was a new beau of Agnes Temple, and one of Luis’ cousins who was living in Spain but also spent some time in California. Thomas mentioned that he hoped to get a travel guide to Spain, as there was considerable discussion about the Temples traveling to Europe, partly because Walter, Sr. was exploring the idea of sending his children to schools in England, where the Temples lived before migrating to New England in the 1630s. That trip never materialized, nor, obviously, did further research into extending the educational reach of the family.
After a brief reference to portrait photos that he was expecting to receive, possibly taken at the same time as a surviving family image that we display in La Casa Nueva, Thomas closed with best wishes for his father’s recovery from whatever illness he’d been experiencing.
This letter is an interesting insight into the condition of the separated Temple family just a few months after the three sons were enrolled in their Massachusetts schools, a situation that remained for three years. By the time all four children graduated from their colleges and high schools in summer 1929, the economic situation for the family was dire and they were less than a year from vacating the Homestead and three years from losing the ranch. Documents like these help fill out the notable and interesting narrative of their lives and look for more like this one in future posts.