by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As soon as revenues started to flow from the oil wells brought into production on the Temple lease at the Montebello field in summer 1917, Walter P. Temple and Laura Gonzalez made it a priority to use funds from this fortunate and dramatic shift of circumstance to provide their four surviving children with excellent educations at boarding schools for well over a decade.
For the three sons, Thomas, Walter, Jr, and Edgar, this meant attendance at a popular choice for many American families in the First World War I years: military school. Thomas, the eldest of the quartet, went to Page Military Academy in Los Angeles and then joined his brothers at the Pasadena Military Academy, situated at the western edge of that city. The only daughter, Agnes, was sent to the Ramona Convent School in Alhambra and then to St. Mary’s Academy in southwestern Los Angeles, near Inglewood.
In 1919, Thomas was sent to the Roman Catholic preparatory high school at Santa Clara University (now the University of Santa Clara), where some of his uncles attended in the 1860s. When he finished high school three years later, he enrolled at the California Institute of Technology, evidently with an eye on petrochemical engineering because of his father’s widening interests in oil exploration.
The other three children remained in their nearby schools, but, when tragedy struck at the end of 1922 with Laura Gonzalez Temple’s death from cancer, some changes were made in the schooling of the three sons. Thomas, for one, decided to return to Santa Clara, where some distance from the grief he felt on the passing of his mother appears to have been of great benefit. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1926 from Santa Clara with an emphasis on the law.
Walter, Jr. and Edgar, meanwhile, were transferred to the Belmont Academy, in the city of that name northwest of Santa Clara, and remained there for a couple of years, including their eighth and ninth grade years, the latter also completed in 1926. Although Walter was nearly two years older than Edgar, their parents long before decided to have the pair attend the same grade level.
As for Agnes, she stayed at St. Mary’s Academy about as long as Thomas attended Santa Clara, and completed her high school education there in 1925. An excellent musician, especially on her favored instrument, the piano, Agnes gained renowned at the school for her skills and performed recitals for fellow students, staff, and Roman Catholic dignitaries. When it was time for her to go to college, it was decided that she, too, would move to the Bay Area, not too far from her brothers. She enrolled at Dominican College, an all-girls Catholic school in San Rafael, and pursued a major in music with a minor in Spanish.
In summer 1926, after considerable effort was expended by James Perry Worden, hired a few years before by Walter P. Temple to write a book on the history of the Workman and Temple families but enlisted for other tasks, to find schools in Massachusetts for the Temple children to attend, the family headed east.
Worden traveled to Massachusetts in advance and laid the groundwork for Thomas to enroll in the very prestigious law school at Harvard University and for Walter, Jr. and Edgar to matriculate to Governor Dummer Academy, the oldest continuously operating private boarding school in the nation. While Worden pursued possibilities for Agnes to transfer to a women’s college, she decided to remain at Dominican.
As mentioned in a recent post here focusing on the 1929 yearbook for that school, Agnes completed her degree in music and earned a minor in Spanish, as well. That post also highlighted her senior year biography, which included some very interesting assertions about her as “typically Spanish” in temperament and behavior, though it lauded her musicality.
With regard to the Temple sons, their three years of study in Massachusetts culminated in Walter, Jr. and Edgar completing their high school studies at Dummer (a name only recently decided, after some 250 years, to be a barrier to future success, so that is now known as Governor’s Academy.)
Thomas, in the meantime, completed the rigorous law school course of study at Harvard, taking seventeen courses in the three years he was there and meeting the requirement of a 75% average in any of these classes. The stated goal, apparently, was that, like his uncle William Temple in the 1870s, he would put his legal knowledge to use assisting his father in business.
In so many ways, the circumstances involving the Temple family of the 1920s with their forebears a half-century ago are striking. William Temple got his law degree at Harvard, as well, and, after receiving his degree in 1874, traveled to London to study at the famed Inns of Court. He was there when, in late 1875, word came of the precarious affairs of his father and grandfather’s Temple and Workman bank. William terminated his studies and rushed home as financial ruin was all but a certainty.
The children of Walter Temple were only vaguely aware and informed as to the worsening condition of his finances as they all graduated from their respective schools in late spring 1929. Thomas was the most knowledgeable and was, in fact, already tangentially involved as a nominal shareholder in his father’s Temple Estate Company.
In fact, he was thoroughly disenchanted with the law, it being apparent that he was steered in that direction by his father. Thomas officially received his Harvard law degree on this date and left four days later with his brothers to travel by train across the continent and, though he thought of taking the California bar exam, he decided against it. Thomas briefly considered going into banking, but that, too, was discarded. Inspired by some early research efforts in local history and genealogy, however, he was completely smitten with those subjects and later said that he was “bitten by the bug” of both.
Walter, Jr. and Edgar, who were more into sports and music and not so much into scholastic work, as was the case with their brother and sister, were admitted to Santa Clara for the 1929-30 academic year, which meant another year away from home.
Agnes, not long before her graduation, accepted a marriage proposal from one of Thomas’ closest friends from his days at Santa Clara. Luis P. Fatjo was the son of a Spanish-born doctor and a woman who inherited half of the massive Rancho San Luis Gonzaga southeast of Santa Clara and San Jose, not far from Gilroy. He courted Agnes for a couple of years before they were engaged earlier in 1929.
By the time, Agnes and Luis were married on Thanksgiving Day 1929 at St. Joseph Church in Puente, followed by a reception at the Homestead, Thomas was pondering his future, while his younger brothers were home for a holiday break during the first semester at Santa Clara. Agnes and Luis then went on an extended honeymoon with a cruise to Europe and several months spent with his relatives in Spain, with their return not taking place until about May 1930.
By then, Walter Temple’s deteriorating financial position was worsened by the onset of the Great Depression, introduced by the crash of the stock market in New York just about a month before Agnes’ wedding. Though the Temple Estate Company sold what it could of its assets and Temple and his associates arranged for the liquidation of their investments at Temple City (this latter finalized in spring 1930), matters were so strained that a last-ditch effort to save the Homestead meant vacating it and leasing it to a military academy that moved from Redondo Beach.
As Agnes returned with Luis from their honeymoon and settled into a comfortable life in San Francisco, Walter, Sr. moved from the Homestead into humble lodgings in Ensenada in Baja California, foreshadowing what more and more Americans would do decades later.
Thomas, who’d stayed at the ranch until then, found a place to stay with his mother’s sister, Luz Vigare, in a historic adobe house in San Gabriel just south of the mission. This location proved to be perfect for his budding passions of history and genealogy and, with the exception of a few years in Alhambra, Thomas remained a resident of San Gabriel for some forty years, becoming the official historian of the city and the mission.
Walter, Jr. and Edgar managed to finish out the 1929-30 year at Santa Clara, with the second semester ending about the time that the Homestead was vacated. The two, as well as Thomas, were the fortunate beneficiaries of a trust fund established by their mother years before and this proved to be providential for them during the dark years of the Depression. Agnes, too, was provided for by the fund, but her husband’s wealth obviated the need to rely on it.
Years ago, Walter, Jr. told me a few times of the mixed feelings he had about being sent away to school for so long. He was truly appreciative of the efforts his parents made to provided him a fine education, but he also shared his regrets about not being around his mother and father and at home for so many years.
Walter, Sr. did not get the educational opportunities some of his older brothers received prior to the failure of the Temple and Workman bank and he was determined that he would provide his children access to good schools, a goal wholeheartedly shared by his wife. Even when his financial situation was beyond redemption, he continued to expend funds for his youngest children, even if just for that single year in college.
When the four surviving Temple children graduated from their respective schools in 1929, there was cause for celebration. Looming on the not-too-distant horizon, however, was a reality that was almost certainly unforeseen just a few years before when the Temple sons went to Massachusetts and Agnes returned to Dominican for her sophomore year.
The focus on providing good educations for the Temple children is a part of the interpretation we discuss at La Casa Nueva during our tours, but it is also done in conjunction with the flip side of the coin. That is, the interesting comparison of what defines a house and what exemplifies a home becomes part of that discussion.