On This Day: A Letter from Thomas W. Temple II to Walter P. Temple, 8 April 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It continues to be very interesting to note how often a historic artifact from the Homestead’s collection has a direct, or surface level, value, but lurking in the background or, as in tonight’s highlighted example, the other side are elements that prove to be of significance.

On this date in 1929, a letter from Thomas W. Temple II to his father, Walter, was postmarked in Cambridge, Massachusetss and sent across the country to an address simply given, as befitting a rural route district, “Workman Homestead / Puente, Calif.”  Thomas was nearing the end of a three-year program of study at the prestigious Harvard Law School and readying to receive his juris doctorate (J.D.) in the law when he wrote the missive.

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This and the next two images are a letter and envelope from Thomas W. Temple II to his father Walter P. Temple, Sr., postmarked on 8 April 1929 and sent from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Thomas was finishing his studies at Harvard Law School (note the Harvard letterhead).

The correspondence is typical of many such letters Thomas wrote to his parents and then, after his mother died in late 1922, to his father, from his several schools that he attended away from home for about a dozen years.  That is, he mentioned that he’d been late in sending his usual weekly letter because of a cold, but, he added, “[I] hope to be back in the saddle tomorrow.”

Thomas observed that it was unusually hot in Cambridge for the time of year, a scorching 86 degrees and reported that his younger brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, visited the prior week during their spring break from Governor Dummer (yes, that was the name of the school) Academy in nearby South Byfield.  He, however, informed his father that Edgar needed a lecture about finishing strong so that he could graduate, with Walter, Jr. , from high school at the end of the term.

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Thomas lamented that Edgar “really is indifferent at times” given that he and Walter Jr. “have made such a fine record of themselves,” but expressed the hope that his brother would “come out of it I’m sure and graduate with the rest of them.”  As for Walter Jr, “he’s getting along fine & deserves a lot of credit for his fine work.”  Obviously, the older brother was tasked, or took it upon himself, to keep a careful watch over his younger siblings.

Thomas also briefly referred to his younger sister, Agnes, then in her last semester at Dominican College, a Catholic girls school in San Rafael north of San Francisco, noting he hadn’t heard from her for about a month and wondering how she “and Don Luis [Fatjo, a former classmate of Thomas at the University of Santa Clara near San Jose] are coming along.”

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Agnes and Luis were dating for some time to that point and Thomas added “he would make her a fine husband I think” and concluded “I hope she loves him, for marriage without love is great mistake.”  The two did, in fact, get married on Thanksgiving Day 1929.

After mentioning a couple of other items about a relative in the Boston area and fruit sent to the Temple boys by Maud Bassity, their father’s paramour and who ran the household at the Homestead after Laura Temple’s death, Thomas mentioned a news item of note:

I see Clara Baldwin left over 10 million dollars—and no doubt Rosebud was well taken care of & also her brother.  So she had 1700 acres of the Puente & valued at $996,000.  Such is life & we all have to go sometime.

This brief reference was to the recent death of Clara Baldwin Stocker, eldest of the two daughters of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, whose late 1870s foreclosure on a loan to the Temple and Workman bank significantly added to his landholdings in greater Los Angeles.  After Baldwin died in 1909, Stocker and her half-sister Anita Baldwin became heirs to a substantial estate, ably managed and enlarged by Hiram Unruh, Lucky Baldwin’s business manager.

Los Angeles Times, 28 February 1929.

Stocker’s remaining two decades of life were widely known for her love of the finer things in life, particularly diamonds, of which she owned a reputed $1.5 million worth.  Less than a decade after her inheritance, her son Albert Snyder tried to have her declared mentally incompetent to manage her own affairs, purportedly because of the growing influence upon her of her business manager, Walter T. McGinley.   This legal wrangling proved unsuccessful and McGinley continued to oversee Stocker’s affairs until her death, which took place on 27 February 1929, when she was about age 81.

An inventory revealed that she was worth about $15 million and it was said that, excepting the estates of her father and Henry E. Huntington (transportation and real estate mogul and renowed book and art collector, who died in 1927), it was the largest such property in Los Angeles County history.

Times, 19 March 1929.

While Snyder and Stocker’s other child, Rosebud Mullender (to whom Thomas referred to in his letter), were the only heirs and were administrators of the estate, at least one “shirttail relative” came out of the woodwork soon after their mother’s death.  Styling himself George W. Baldwin, a 59-year old fruit dealer who migrated to Los Angeles from Wisconsin a few years prior, this long-lost son filed suit claiming he should have been included as a legatee of the Stocker estate.  This effort soon fizzled out, however.

Snyder and Mullender, however, went after McGinley, filing suit months after Stocker’s demise and claiming fraud and undue influence by him over their mother.  Among the claims made was that McGinley illicitly secured 100 acres of the Rancho La Merced, where Stocker and her sister had oil wells, and procured millions of dollars in profits that should have gone to Stocker (and, of course, by inheritance to them.)  McGinley survived the legal attack and died three years later in 1932.

Covina Argus, 22 March 1929.

Notably, this was land owned by F.P.F. Temple as part of his half of La Merced given to him by his father-in-law William Workman in the early 1850s, but lost to Lucky Baldwin the bank loan foreclosure.  Long considered of little value as mostly barren hill land, this section of the ranch was suddenly extremely lucrative when oil was found there in the mid-1910s.

In fact, Thomas, when he was just nine years old, was said to have made the discovery of crude in spring 1914 on a section of about 60 acres his father managed to acquire from the Lucky Baldwin estate less than two years prior.  Though Walter Temple didn’t have the cash to purchase the tract outright, Unruh agreed to a deal by which Walter could pay off the amount over time.  When this happened in October 1912, nobody knew there was oil there, but everyone soon did!

Times, 2 August 1929.

The Temples cashed in quickly after the first well on their portion of the Montebello Hills came in at the end of July 1917, just a short distance from a test well drilled successfully on the Stocker/Baldwin portion, which was over 800 acres.  While the Temples made a small fortune that allowed them to pursue other oil projects, get into real estate development, buy the Homestead and build La Casa Nueva, and other endeavors, Stocker and Anita Baldwin merely added significantly to their already staggering wealth.

Another property lost by F.P.F. Temple and William Workman to Lucky Baldwin was another set of barren hills southwest of Los Angeles on a ranch that was developed for a town called Centinela before the economy collapsed and the Temple and Workman bank failed.  Denoted the Baldwin Hills, that region, too, sat largely useless until oil was discovered there and further enriched Lucky’s fortunate daughters.

Times, 21 September 1929.

Albert Snyder and Rosebud Mullender, who, like their mother and aunt, were half-siblings finally closed on the estate of Stocker and came into substantial fortunes just as the Great Depression worsened in the early Thirties.  Snyder lived in San Francisco and mended fences with his mother not long before he died and the same was apparently true for Mullender, who lived with her husband on a part of the Baldwin holdings on Rancho La Puente, which Thomas also noted in his letter to his father.

The Mullenders lived north and a bit east of the Homestead and, in fact, were occasional visitors to the Temples at the Homestead.  In spring 1928, for example, the Altar Society of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Puente, as La Puente was called before it was incorporated nearly thirty years later, had a costume party at the Homestead and Rosebud Mullender was one of the attendees.

Times, 12 November 1929.

Snyder and Mullender moved quickly to liquidate personal effects and land left to them by Stocker.  A major auction of personal property was held in Los Angeles not long after Stocker passed away and 2,000 acres of the Rancho La Puente, formerly owned by Workman and north and east of the Homestead, went on sale.

While conditions were hardly prime for realizing top-dollar on that land because of the worsening of the Depression, the local Covina Argus newspaper pointed out that the opening up of that territory was similar to the boon realized after Lucky Baldwin’s death and his estate was settled in the early 1910s.

Notably, the paper asked in the town of Covina would benefit from the development of the Baldwin property, though the newly incorporated town of West Covina, created in 1923 to fight a proposed Covina sewer farm in the area, would up incorporating most of that territory.

Argus, 13 December 1929.

When Clara Baldwin Stocker died, the Temple family was in deep financial straits.  Thomas wrote at the end of his letter that “we shall all be home soon and hope we shall not be separated again for a long while.”  This was wishful thinking, because, while the four children did graduate from their respective schools, and spent the summer together at the Homestead, they soon split up again.

Agnes was, as noted above, married, took a long European honeymoon with her wealthy husband, Fatjo, who owned half of a massive ranch near Gilroy in the north, and moved to San Francisco, where she remained until her death in 1961.  Walter Jr. and Edgar managed to get in one year of college at Santa Clara before funds ran out.  Thomas, eschewing the law, turned to his passion for history and genealogy.

Argus, 27 December 1929.

When Walter Temple leased the Homestead in spring 1930 to a military academy, which moved from Redondo Beach, he went to Baja California to live cheaply to try and save the Homestead.  That faint glimmer of hope dimmed in summer 1932 when California Bank, which held a mortgage on the ranch, foreclosed.

As for Clara Baldwin Stocker, a local legacy of hers is a home for women that she established in her will.  The 48-bed facility still operates in Covina, though most people who would know of it are probably unaware of the remarkable history behind the name.

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