A Christmas Card to the Temple Family, 15 December 1920

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

When, in 1912, Walter P. Temple sold his family’s homestead, established in 1851 on the Rancho La Merced near modern Montebello and South El Monte, to move to a 58-acre property acquired from the estate of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin (and which had been owned by his father, F.P.F. Temple, and lost by foreclosure in the aftermath of the 1876 failure of the bank of Temple and Workman), the new purchaser of the southern two-thirds (the northern third was acquired by winemaker Giovanni Piuma, who’d leased the old family adobe and brick homes for years) of the Temple Homestead was Christian Walter.

Walter Xmas card to Temples 1920

Little was known of Walter until recently, other than that he owned the homestead and, in 1920, sent the Christmas card that is this blog’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s collection.  The card is an unusual 2 1/2″ high by 6″ long single sheet with the year in a narrow vertical decorative element featuring garland, holly, a lit candle, and bells.  The basic message wishes season’s greetings and is printed with the name: “Mr. and Mrs. Chris Walter.”

Walter Xmas card envelope 1920

The envelope came with what was then a common sheet of tissue and is simply addressed, “Mr. & Mrs. Walter Temple / Alhambra / California.”  Time was when you could still send a card to someone in a city of a decent size without a street name and house number and still get it delivered!  The postmark is from Menasha, Wisconsin, which became a clue in how to track down Walter.

A little poking around revealed that Walter was born in 1856 in Bergfelden, Wurtemburg, in what is now southwestern Germany, and southwest of Stuttgart.  After his education was completed, he was a milk wagon driver before emigrating, at age 16, to the United States.  He settled in Milwaukee, which had a substantial German population and, not surprisingly, worked in breweries, including that of Miller and Pabst.

Walter 1880.jpg
Listed as Chris Walter, he appears in the 1880 census at Freedom, Wisconsin, as a hotel keeper and living with his wife, two sons, and a servant.

After a few years, he practiced the craft in other Wisconsin cities and wound up in Appleton and nearby cities where he ran saloons.  In 1888, he moved to Menasha, where he, his brother and a partner bought a brewery, which became Walter Brothers.  He became president of the United States Brewers’ Association and expanded his industry by purchasing a brewery in Pueblo, Colorado.

In 1905, he and some partners opened the Hotel Menasha, which was a successful endeavor for nearly twenty years.  He was also active in local politics, serving as a town clerk, postmaster, council member, and alderman in several towns.  Walter served as a bank director and was a member of a couple fraternal organizations (Odd Fellows and Elks) and a German society.  His first wife, Amelia Bixler, died in 1910 and he remarried the following year to Etta Railsback.

Walter Bros brewery Neenah_Daily_Times_Jun_4__1897_
An article on Christian Walter’s thriving brewery, Neenah Daily Times, 4 June 1897.

Between his hostelry and his breweries, Walter amassed a small fortune and invested in real estate in Florida, where owned apartment buildings in St. Petersburg, and in greater Los Angeles, spending most of his time later in life in these sunny climes.  He owned an orange grove in Rialto and purchased the Temple Homestead to pursue oil development, while maintaining a local residence from 1918 in a large Craftsman home, which still stands on Crenshaw Boulevard near Pico Boulevard, in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles.

The oil development on Walter’s property was done by at least two firms, including, from 1920, the Keeler Oil Company of Los Angeles, which was formed for the purpose of taking over the lease to drill wells.  President F.E. Keeler, an Iowa banker with involvement in cement and brick and tile companies, was previously with the Montebello Crude Oil Company and Globe Petroleum Company, working in that region, and had oil projects in Ventura County, as well.

Temple lease Montebello 1918
This detail from a 1924 oil map of the Montebello area shows the Walter P. Temple oil lease at the upper left and, toward the lower right the Giovanni Piuma and Christian Walter properties, where the Temple Homestead was situated and which were then leased to the St. Helens Petroleum Company and F.E. Keller Oil Company, respectively.

Walter was one of many Midwesterners who invested in the Los Angeles area and had winter homes here and, though he lived in St. Petersburg when the 1930 census was taken, he died in August 1932 at his Los Angeles home at the age of 76.  His funeral and interment, however, were back in Wisconsin.

Walter obit Menasha_Record_Aug_10__1932_
A portion of Walter’s obituary in the Menasha (Wisconsin) Record, 10 August 1932.

Obviously, Walter Temple and Christian Walter met when transacting the sale of the Temple Homestead and remained friendly over the following years.  Though Walter maintained his summer residences in Los Angeles and St. Petersburg in his later years, he likely spent at least some of his Yuletide holidays in Menasha, from where the Christmas card to the Temples was sent.

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