by Paul R. Spitzzeri
One of the more compelling aspects of the Workman and Temple family history has to do with the remarkable financial ups and downs it experienced over the century of 1830 to 1930 that forms the Homestead’s interpretive period. When the Workman family arrived in greater Los Angeles from New Mexico in late 1841, they were starting over in a new and unfamiliar environment. Several months earlier, 19-year old Pliny Fisk Temple came to the area to start his adult life basically from scratch.
Over the following thirty-five years, most of it working in tandem, Temple and his father-in-law, William Workman, amassed significant wealth from cattle ranching and farming and parlayed the proceeds into endeavors in Los Angeles’ emerging business community. A flurry of activity during the region’s first significant and sustained growth boom looked promising, but ended in disaster when the bank owned by the two men failed as the economy tanked.
Walter P. Temple was just six years old when the Temple and Workman bank collapsed and came of age by about 1890 with some land, but little else in terms of resources. After making a deal with the executor of the estate of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, whose loan to the bank led to the acquisition of many thousands of acres of land most of which he kept until his death in 1909, Temple acquired about 60 acres in the Montebello Hills and adjoining flat lands along the Rio Hondo formerly owned by his father.
In 1914, Temple’s nine-year old son, Thomas, made an astounding discovery of oil on that property and a lease was executed the next year with Standard Oil Company of California, which made a similar deal with Baldwin’s two daughters and heirs. After a test well on the Baldwin lease was successful, the first Temple lease well was drilled just a short distance away.
Brought into production in June 1917, Temple #1 immediately propelled Walter Temple into wealth he could only have dreamed of previously. By 1919, he not only had other wells on the lease that were brought in, including #9 a gusher was said to be the biggest well in the nation for a short time, but began to expand his efforts with his own oil company and his first real estate purchases in his new hometown of Alhambra.
The first of two highlighted artifacts for this post from the museum’s holdings and donated by Temple’s granddaughter, Ruth Ann Michaelis is a financial statement dated 12 July 1919. This was just a few months after well #9 was completed, as Temple was launching his namesake oil company, and the same week he made his first significant acquisition of property, a corner lot in downtown Alhambra, a rapidly growing suburb.
The statement is typed on Temple’s letterhead, which still listed his city of residence and business as El Monte, though he would later move his offices for both oil and real estate to San Gabriel, then Los Angeles and, finally, Alhambra. The cash account was just under $51,000, $47,000 of this being the royalties due from Standard on the 15th from the Montebello wells.
That amount is almost certainly a monthly royalty, so this meant that, if production was stable through a year (which, of course, was not the case as fluctuations were normal), Temple would realize somewhere between $500,000 and $600,000 for the year. According to some inflation calculators, the purchasing power of a dollar at the time would be about $15 today, so, by that measure, the income would be about $7.5 to 9 million now. Aside from the expected windfall in royalties, Temple had about $4,000 in three banks in Los Angeles, Alhambra, and El Monte.
Expenses through the 15th included a large sum of nearly $6,000 paid out to Standard, though no detail was provided and nearly $6,000 expended in Liberty Bonds, financial instruments introduced by the government during World War I (which ended less than a year prior) for raising money for the war effort and which yielded interest upon redemption.
Nearly $6,000 further in expenses included two loans, one to Temple’s attorney and business partner, George H. Woodruff. A check to the Bank of San Gabriel is noted as involving “Texas Syndicate #2,” an investment through the institution for a well that was presumably in the Lone Star State.
Separately, a list of checks paid as of 16 July included Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles bonds totaling nearly $5,000 (notably, that bank was founded by Isaias W. Hellman, whose partnership with F.P.F. Temple and William Workman in the second bank opened in Los Angeles ended in 1871 leading the latter pair to open their ill-fated institution.)
A payment of $6,500 was made to the First National Bank of Puente for the “Workman H[omestead]” for which see below. A $5,000 check was made to Augustus H. Gregg, whose Whittier ranch was the scene of much oil exploration in those years, as was much of the area around the Quaker-founded town. There was also payment of just over $3,000 to Ernestine Kauffman, whose son Milton was Temple’s business manager.
There was a separate “Workman Homestead Account” that was to have that infusion of $6500 to the First National Bank of Puente mentioned above. The expenses of improving and maintaining the 92-acre ranch were paid out of the account. Listed on the statement was the payment of $2875 to former owners Thomas H. Pratt and his father-in-law Eugene Bassett, who bought the Homestead in 1907 and sold it a decade later, in November 1917, to Temple for $40,000.
A payment of $350 was made to Earl M. Wheatland, a Whittier building contractor whose firm built the mausoleum Temple was erecting in El Campo Santo Cemetery at the Homestead. Other payments totaling over $3,000 were made to several others, presumably most of this being for other improvements (perhaps the remodeling of the Workman House or the Workman wineries which were being renovated as one payment was for a paint company and another for a manufacturing firm.) That transfer of cash to the bank would leave just over $200 with these several expenses.
The last page of the statement specifically concerned transactions with Mrs. Kauffman, whose younger son, Joseph, was killed in the Battle of the Argonne Forest just before the conclusion of the war and for whom Temple built the first private memorial to a World War I soldier in California. That marker was placed at the Temple lease property at Montebello and was dedicated on 13 July, the day after this statement was issued.
The page noted that there was an “amount due contract” of just under $4,700 and the exact nature of the legal instrument is not known. The expenses, however, totaling a little over $1,600 indicate that the arrangement was for Mrs. Kauffman’s personal expenses.
Merchants like Harris & Frank and Feagans and Company, the Sampson Tire Company, a chauffeur, Stanley Benson, also employed by the Temples; Milton Kauffman; three banks; and the Temple Oil Station are also listed, among others. The Temple gas station was built on the southeast corner of Lincoln Avenue and San Gabriel Boulevard on the oil lease (and across from the Joseph Kauffman memorial) and was operated by Temple’s brother, John, for a period.
The remaining funds totaled $3080.69, and, of this, about $1150 were to be deposited in three different banks than the ones in the expense list, while the rest was to go directly to Mrs. Kauffman.
This statement is an interesting early example of where Walter Temple’s finances were just about two years after the oil revenue began to roll in and just before he made his major investments in his independent oil prospecting endeavors and launched his first real estate projects.
Consequently, as his business portfolio expanded, his financial statements got much more involved and complex. We’ll move next to the end of his business career to see how much changed through an examination of his financial statement from mid-July 1930.