by Paul R. Spitzzeri
On this day in 1841, Pliny Fisk Temple arrived in Monterey in Northern California after a six-month journey by sea from Boston and then traveled several days by land to get to Mexican Los Angeles to meet his much-older half-brother, Jonathan for the first time. Pliny, baptized Francisco (and becoming widely known as F.P.F. Temple) when he married Antonia Margarita Temple, four years later, became one of greater Los Angeles’ most prominent figures over the next thirty-five years, before his Temple and Workman bank (operated with silent partner and father-in-law, Homestead owner William Workman) collapsed in 1876.
When that happened, F.P.F. Temple and Margarita Workman’s tenth child, Walter, was just six years old and grew up in very different financial and family circumstances from his older siblings. F.P.F. died when Walter was just ten and Margarita struggled to stave off financial difficulties until she passed away in 1892, leaving Walter and his younger brother Charles with the 50-acre family homestead in Whittier Narrows.
Years passed and Walter, who married teenage sweetheart Laura Gonzalez in 1903 and had five children with her, four living past infancy, farmed and was a teamster. In fall 1912, a deal made by him with the estate of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who foreclosed on a loan he made for the Temple and Workman bank and took over most of the land of F.P.F. Temple and William Workman, for sixty acres just west of the Temple homestead and embracing the northeastern corner of the Montebello Hills and some flat lands adjacent to the Rio Hondo.
In spring 1914, Walter and Laura’s eldest child, Thomas, stumbled upon indications of oil on the hill property, grandly called “Temple Heights,” and a lease was soon executed with Standard Oil Company of California. A test well, drilled on the portion of the hills still owned by Baldwin’s daughters, Anita and Clara, was successfully completed in late 1916 and a well was started very close by on the Temple lease.
That well came in to production in June 1917 and the Temples celebrated their stunning turn of fortune with a barbecue held behind their house (built in 1869 and long owned by the Basye family and by Manuel Zuñiga, husband of Walter’s sister, Lucinda) at which some 500 friends and family feasted on barbecue.
Several months later, the Temples made two major real estate purchases. The first was a handsome Craftsman home in Alhambra, where they established their residence for the next six years. The other was the 75-acre Workman Homestead, owned by Eugene Bassett and his son-in-law Thomas H. Pratt and under lease to a Japanese farmer only known as “K. Yatsuda.” Because the lease did not expire until the end of 1918, the Temples could not occupy or improve the property until then.
When 1919 came, however, work began in earnest, amply financed by the tremendous revenue generated by the flow of oil from the wells at Montebello. This is why a plaque on one of the concrete planters at the north end of the center drive at the museum reads “Walter P. Temple / 1919.” This was also the year Temple made his first commercial real estate purchases, starting in downtown Alhambra, and he also poured large sums into transforming the Homestead.
The first priority was the renovation of El Campo Santo, the nearly one-acre private cemetery established by William Workman prior to 1855, and which was nearly completely desecrated by Homestead owner Lafayette F. Lewis of Anaheim (a Lewis Street there is named for him) in the first years of the 20th century. Temple successfully sued Lewis to halt the destruction and was handed a financial judgment, but Lewis sold the ranch to Pratt and Bassett in 1907.
So, once Temple bought the ranch and could begin work, he immediately addressed the decrepit conditions at El Campo Santo. It was reported in a newspaper article that he was planning to rebuild St. Nicholas’ Chapel, completed around 1860 by Workman and razed by Lewis, who claimed it caught fire (supposedly some of the bricks were sold by Lewis and used to build structures in El Monte.)
Instead, Temple hired Los Angeles architects Charles Garstang and Alfred Rea to design a neo-classical mausoleum (looking like a Greek temple) on the same spot. Rather than rebuild three of the brick walls removed by Lewis, Temple had pipe-fencing installed, though he did restore the front brick wall, which contains the original cast-iron entry gates. Cement sidewalks and landscaping were added and the cast-iron central burial plot was also improved. In April 1921, the mausoleum was dedicated and blessed by Roman Catholic Bishop John J. Cantwell and a central feature of that project was the reinterment of the remains of ex-Governor and family friend Pío Pico and his wife, María Ignacia Alvarado.
Another core element of the site’s improvement program was the remodeling and updating of the Workman House. Electricity and plumbing were added, as was a simple solar panel system for the new bathroom (the first viable commercial solar panel system in the nation came out of Monrovia, so this was likely the source). Rooms were fitted out for Laura and the children (Thomas, Agnes, Walter, Jr. and Edgar) on the west side of the house.
As for Walter, he had his special domain built on the second floor of the circa 1880s brick water tower likely built by his brother, Francis, when he owned the ranch. The remodeling of the tower and the creation of this bedroom gave Walter expansive views of the ranch that he worked diligently to improve.
Just south of the water tower were three brick buildings constructed by William Workman in the mid-1860s as he expanded his viticulture operations for the manufacturing of wine. The structures were most recently used as slaughterhouses and as fruit and vegetable canning buildings during the Pratt and Bassett years.
Because of the onset of Prohibition, the centennial of which is this year, Temple could not, whether he wanted to or not, use them for their original purpose, so he refashioned the largest of the warehouses into an auditorium, featuring a large stage (a backdrop of Mt. Baldy was done by noted artist Boris Deutsch) on which there was a piano; ping pong and pool tables, and a motion picture projector stand over the front door. A tall antenna outside allowed for the easy reception of broadcasts for that newest revolutionary media invention: the radio.
Just to the south was a slightly smaller structure that was converted into a cafeteria, capable of feeding some 150 persons. Across from the auditorium was the smallest of the three buildings and this became a garage with a capacity for nine automobiles. Adjacent to the north end of the garage was a gasoline pump.
At the west end of the ranch where Evergreen Lane entered the Homestead from Tenth Street, soon renamed Turnbull Canyon Road, Walter built two wood-frame houses for his sisters, Lucinda Zuñiga and her husband Manuel (who was an employee of his brother-in-law), and Margarita Rowland (whose husband Samuel, a real estate agent for the Hillgrove Tract directly west of the Homestead, died in 1916) and members of her family.
Finally, a large walnut grove, which appears to have been planted some years before the Temples acquired the ranch, took up most of the southern section from near the west end to the east end of El Campo Santo and adjacent to San José Creek, which had water year-round and is now a flood control channel. Much of the northern portion was planted with new walnut trees soon after the Temples could make improvements to the ranch.
Tonight’s post highlights a copy photograph dated this day in 1921, exactly eight decades after F.P.F. Temple arrived in California, and taken by pioneering aerial photography studio, Spence Air Photos, and showing most of the 75-acre Homestead, to which additional land was acquired for a total of 92 acres.
The plane appeared to be a couple thousand feet in the air and was just to the northeast of the cemetery when this remarkable photograph was taken. San José Creek, the southern border, is clearly noted as a snaking watercourse with abundant plant life in and next to it. The western boundary, Turnbull Canyon Road runs from the upper left to about a third of the way down the right side. A portion of Don Julian Road runs at an angle to the top of the photo.
The northern border of the Homestead is a little harder to make out, but it can be discerned. It is a line that runs from Turnbull Canyon down to the bottom of the photo and cultivated truck farming land toward the right edge ends at that line. The boundary then bisects the main entrance road to the Homestead from Valley Boulevard, known then as Pomona Boulevard, and which is outside the photo to the right. The eastern line, Hudson Road, now Hacienda Boulevard, is also outside the image at the bottom.
Another notable element to the landscape and also visible as a winding light colored feature is an indicator of a change in grade. This appears on an 1880 map of the ranch commissioned by Francis W. Temple when he took possession of the Homestead after acquiring it from “Lucky” Baldwin. Remarkably, much of this change in topography was still there when the City of Industry acquired the Homestead in the 1960s and 1970s and grading eliminated that feature.
Looking completely new and pristine is El Campo Cemetery toward the lower left, including the heart-shaped planter, still there, in front, the mausoleum, the center plot and walks and landscaping. Also new were the tennis court and large reservoir/swimming pool just below (to the east) of the Workman House, below which is the water tower and the recently renovated wineries. Note the seven trees, perhaps walnuts, planted in two rows just northeast of the house.
In the fields north and to the sides of the Workman House can, under magnification, be seen a bunch of dark points, these being the new walnut trees planted by Temple. In the middle of the field northwest of the home is some kind of feature that can’t be made out.
Meanwhile, there is nothing just to the west of the Workman House, but a year after the photo was taken, the Temples went on a summer trip to Mexico and were so inspired that, in the last months of 1922, they designed and started building La Casa Nueva.
There wasn’t another aerial photo taken, so as far as we know, until 1940, eight years after Walter P. Temple lost the ranch to foreclosure and once the property was sold to Harry and Lois Brown, and that image was featured here a couple of years ago.