Sharing History on Double Duty at the Homestead and in Chino Hills

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Baseball Hall of Famer and Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks once reportedly said, “It’s a beautiful day—let’s play two.”  On those rare occasions like today, I could easily adapt the great infielder’s quote and exclaim, “It’s a beautiful day—let’s give two talks.”

The first presentation was at the Homestead for customers and staff of a Hacienda Heights OneWest Bank branch just down the street from the museum.  I gave some basic background of the Workman and Temple families, putting some emphasis on their economic involvement, including banking.

The most obvious connections were tied to the tragic tale of the bank of Temple and Workman, which operated from 1871 to 1876 after an earlier partnership with the young, brilliant Isaias W. Hellman, under the moniker of Hellman, Temple and Company, ended in disagreement about fundamental banking principles, including loans.

Payne Temple Block area 1872
The three-story building at the center of this ca. 1872 photo by Henry T. Payne from the Homestead’s collection was the last of the structures comprising the Temple Block (where Los Angeles City Hall now stands) and housed the Temple and Workman bank from 1871 to 1875.

If F.P.F. Temple (William Workman being the proverbial silent partner investing his funds and refraining from direct involvement) had allowed Hellman to manage the bank and enjoyed the fruits of the young man’s able handling of its affairs, the story would have been very different.

Instead, when Hellman withdrew, Temple persuaded his father-in-law to carry on with their own bank, which opened in late 1871 in the newly completed and final portion of the Temple Block of commercial structures.  With its gleaming, polished carved wood counter and substantial vault, the bank gave every visual indication of stability and substance.

When it came to issuing loans, using depositors’ funds for a wide array of development projects (oil, real estate, railroads, and more), and basic accounting procedures for keeping the books, however, the problems were serious and endemic.  They were also hidden from public view, especially so long as the local and state economy were humming alone during greater Los Angeles’ first significant period of growth, which roughly lasted from 1868 to 1875.

Temple Block from Main looking north 1870s
Another Payne view from the museum’s holdings of the Temple Block, this time from Main Street and looking towards Temple Street and the business block by ex-governor John G. Downey

That August, the state economy, largely inflated by unsustainable stock speculation in silver mines at Virginia City, Nevada, cratered.  The telegraph sent the dire news south to Los Angeles and a run on the banks of Temple and Workman and Hellman’s Farmers and Merchants (which had ex-governor John G. Downey as president) led Downey and Temple to partner in suspending business for both banks for a month to try to manage the situation.

Hellman, vacationing in Europe, was furious at Downey’s decision and rushed home with a pile of cash borrowed in New York to repair the damage, quickly reopening Farmers and Merchants.  Temple, who was elected Los Angeles County Treasurer the day his bank suspended operations, was in a serious quandary, only somewhat mitigated by a loan “on rather hard terms” with San Francisco capitalist Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin.

The loan, totaling nearly $350,000, was quickly withdrawn by jittery depositors and badly failed to resurrect the fortunes of the Temple and Workman, which was closed for over three months.  In mid-January 1876, the bank’s doors closed for good and its owners were basically wiped out.  Several months later, Workman committed suicide, a tragedy that shook many in the region.

WW & AMW dag 2 1852
William Workman, shown here with his daughter Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple about 1852, committed suicide after the failure of his bank nearly a quarter century later.

Other family members were involved in banking, as well, including Workman’s namesake nephew, William H. Workman, who was also mayor of Los Angeles in 1887-88 during the famed Boom of the 1880s and the city’s treasurer from 1901 to 1907.  Grandson Walter P. Temple was director of a couple of small banks in San Gabriel and Temple City during the 1920s, though he experienced financial disaster by the end of that decade.

My economical presentation lasted just shy of a half-hour and, hopefully, gave the twenty visitors at the OneWest event a good overview of the compelling history of the ups-and-downs of the Workman and Temple families.

Tonight was the second part of the doubleheader as I gave a talk to the Chino Hills Historical Society on the history of Tres Hermanos Ranch.  This 2,500-acre property is the last of its kind in the area and has been owned by the City of Industry for forty years and is situated within the city limits of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar.

About 140 people attended tonight’s presentation for the Chino Hills Historical Society on the history of Tres Hermanos Ranch, acquired by the City of Industry in 1978 and now under a joint powers authority arrangement with the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar.

Despite controversy over plans to use the ranch for a reservoir or a solar farm, the ranch was recently the subject of a joint powers authority agreement between the three cities, which will work to manage the property going forward.  My purpose was to lay out much of the history of Tres Hermanos in ways that could be useful for the future, whatever that may entail.

The presentation, attended by about 140 persons, included references to native peoples in the area; the ranch being part of public land during the Spanish and Mexican eras; its acquisition by the Vejar family, who owned the adjacent Rancho Los Nogales; the ownership of several Americans from the early 1870s to the 1910s; and its purchase by the “three brothers” William B. Scott, William R. Rowland, and Harry Chandler.

I reviewed the history of these men in some detail.  Scott, the least known, was a native of Missouri who settled with his family in Ventura County and, though his wife, Luna Hardison, became business partners with the founders of Union Oil Company.  He eventually controlled several oil firms, including Columbia, Orange and Pico, and amassed significant wealth through consolidation, including arrangements made in 1903 and 1912 with other firms and topping it off with a 1919 deal involving Union Oil of Delaware.


Mortgage sale Los Nogales Los_Angeles_Herald_Fri__Mar_8__1878_
An 1878 reference to the Rancho Los Nogales, which was granted in 1846 as a 1,000-acre ranch, but expanded through purchase of adjacent public lands, including what became the Tres Hermanos Ranch, to some 9,000 acres by the early 20th century.

That arrangement proved very lucrative and Scott celebrated by giving his Columbia employees a 10% bonus.  In his letter to the firm’s workers, he repeated a quote:

Live each day so that you can look every damn man in the eye and tell him to go to hell.

Scott claimed that was his company’s view and that of his employees if they were satisfied that they were doing the right thing.  Unfortunately, for the 51-year old oil tycoon, he died not long after sealing the deal and left his estate, including the interest in Tres Hermanos, to his children, Keith and Josephine.

William R. Rowland was the son of John Rowland, grantee of Rancho La Puente and the ranch’s co-owner for over thirty years with William Workman.  William Rowland was the only of his family born in California (the rest hailing from New Mexico) and he embarked on adult life assisting his father in running the Rowland part of La Puente.

Portrait ca 1870s
William R. Rowland (1846-1926)

In 1871, he secured election as Los Angeles County Sheriff, being the youngest to ever hold the position at just 25.  He was best known in these years for his oversight of the capture of the notorious bandido Tiburcio Vásquez in 1874, remaining in plain sight in Los Angeles while carefully managing deputies and citizens as they closed in on the wanted murderer as he hid out in modern West Hollywood.

After serving a second stint as sheriff in the early 1880s, Rowland and partner William Lacy hit it big with a discovery of oil on Rowland’s inherited portion of La Puente in what is now Rowland Heights.  The Puente Oil Company proved to be very successful and propelled its owner into wealth.  Married to Manuelita Villanueva, the illegitimate daughter of Isaac Williams, owner of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, Rowland decided to ship the oil by pipeline to the new town of Chino, where a refinery was built.

By the early 1900s, Rowland and Scott decided to merge their oil companies and the aforementioned deals enriched the two men and their several partners.  Rowland, who had many other business endeavors, died in 1926 and was referred to as a “settler-hero” who experienced radical changes in greater Los Angeles over his eight decades in the area.

Puente Oil Central California Oil Times_Jan_21__1892_.jpg
Los Angeles Times, 21 January 1892.

Harry Chandler hailed from a small town in New Hampshire and it was said that a college-age dare to jump into a freezing vat of starch ruined his health, leading him to migrate to California.  In Los Angeles, he took a low-level position with a relatively new newspaper called the Times and parlayed delivery contracts into enough profit to buy company stock.

Times President Harrison Gray Otis took notice of the ambitious and hard-working employee and put him in charge of circulation.  After Chandler’s first wife died, the young man married Otis’ daughter, Marian, and he rose in the ranks to be his father-in-law’s right hand man.  When Otis, a powerful figure in Los Angeles, died in 1917, Chandler took the reins of the highly influential paper.

Unlike Otis, however, Chandler was not a dyed-in-the-wool journalist, but he did have a keen eye for business and a remarkable network of connections in the region, including prodigious real estate holdings in greater Los Angeles (and in Mexico and New Mexico) and in many other enterprises.

Becomes President The_Los_Angeles_Times_Mon__Aug_27__1917_
Times, 27 August 1917.

By the time Chandler died in 1944, his empire was remarkable and his real estate holdings were consolidated under Chandis (get it?) Securities, which also owned Tres Hermanos.

Much of the later history of the ranch was run through quickly, including the running in the early 1960s of a Metropolitan Water District feeder line through Tres Hermanos to the Diemer treatment plant in Yorba Linda and plans by the Pomona Valley Water Company to flood the ranch for a reservoir, if it could acquire the property.

In 1978, as early stages of planning for the Chino Hills area were in the works, Chandis decided to sell Tres Hermanos, fielding an offer from Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ, before the City of Industry succeeded in acquiring the property.  Now, over four decades later, the ranch enters into a new phase of its history and we’ll see whether the past outlined in the talk will have a part to play in its future.

Tres Hermanos 1951 ranch house on knoll
A 1951 snapshot of the ranch house at Tres Hermanos.  Courtesy of Gwendolyn Garland Babcock, a granddaughter of Harry Chandler.

There is actually another doubleheader on the upcoming schedule.  On 29 June, I’ll be talking about the Rowland family at an early afternoon barbecue at the Rowland Heights Community Center.  That evening, I’ll head over to Pomona and give a talk for the Historical Society of the Pomona Valley on Louis Phillips at his mansion, where I was caretaker for a few years in the 1990s.  That will, for sure, be another beautiful day for sharing our local history.

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