by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Yesterday’s post examined a financial statement of Walter P. Temple from July 1919 as his wealth rose dramatically not long after Temple lease oil well #9 at Montebello, a gusher touted at one point as America’s largest producing well, poured more money into the family’s swelling coffers. It was also just as he was moving into independent oil prospecting and the day before he made his first major real estate purchase, a corner lot in downtown Alhambra, that marked his foray into development.
In the next decade, Temple aggressively pursued oil projects in Alaska, Mexico, and Texas and several locations in greater Los Angeles, such as Whittier, Huntington Beach, Signal Hill, and Ventura. Some of these ventures were totally independent and others in league with syndicates.
In real estate, his inaugural project was the Temple Theatre, a movie house on Main Street between Third and Fourth streets in Alhambra that opened in December 1921. In short order, Temple built a mortuary next to the theatre, and acquired existing retail buildings and a commercial structure in progress that became the city’s post office and the Temple Hotel. With the family living in a large home on the east side of town, investment in the rapidly growing community with convenient access to downtown Los Angeles was a major focus.
The historic town of San Gabriel where he and the Temple family had longstanding ties, he purchased a block directly across from the mission and built three business buildings, the single-story Arcade Block, the two-story Temple Block, and the city post office. At the far east end of the parcel, he donated land for a new city hall, completed in 1923. Temple had his oil company headquarters and general offices in the Temple Block for a couple of years.
El Monte was another area of development and was the closest town to where Temple grew up as well as being the longtime home of his business manager Milton Kauffman, whose father had a successful store there. On the city’s Main Street, just off Valley Boulevard, Temple bought two properties that were developed into a movie theater and a store.
Other real estate investments were pursued in Monterey Park and Puente, including the acquisition in the latter of the Rowland Hotel, built in the 1880s as the town was being launched. In neither, however, did Temple do much developing.
In downtown Los Angeles, he joined a syndicate including Kauffman, his personal attorney George H. Woodruff, and others in purchasing two properties where Main, Spring and 8th streets meet. This was not far south of where Temple’s uncle and father, Jonathan and F.P.F. Temple owned, for nearly a half-century, the Temple Block, the center of the business district for decades.
In 1924, Temple and his associates completed two height-limit (eleven stories was the maximum by city ordinance for aesthetic purposes) business buildings. One was the Great Republic Life Building, named for its anchor tenant, an insurance company in which Woodruff was a principal officer. This building also became the new headquarters for his oil company and the Temple Estate Company, created to be the entity to manage his expanding real estate portfolio. To the south was the National City Bank Building (obviously named for its major tenant.)
The largest of Temple’s real estate projects, however, was the Town of Temple, originally comprising 285 acres of the western edge of Rancho San Francisquito, once part-owned by William Workman and F.P.F. Temple and lost by them to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin after the failure of their bank in 1876 and the resulting foreclosure on his loan to them. Slated for development of a town, the property was purchased by Temple and his associates, Kauffman, Woodruff and Alhambra sheep rancher Sylvester Dupuy, for what was renamed Temple City in 1928.
Meanwhile, there were two more major projects in Alhambra launched between 1925 and 1927, including the Temple Estate Company building, adjacent to the theater and finished in 1926, and on leased property to the east of that building and the northwest corner of Main and 3rd, the Edison Building, which proved to be the last of his real estate endeavors when it was opened in spring 1927.
Lastly, there was the Homestead, which was 75 acres when acquired and soon expanded to 92. The renovation of El Campo Santo Cemetery and the building of the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum; the remodeling and modernizing of the Workman House; the renovation of the Workman wineries into an auditorium, dining hall and nine-car garage; the addition of a reservoir/swimming pool and adjacent tennis court; and, finally, the five-year construction of La Casa Nueva, a mansion with many decorative and ornamental features of significant expense—all of this was done while Temple poured large sums into his real estate and oil projects.
During those years, however, his main source of revenue, the wells at the Temple lease at Montebello, slowly declined as the field proved to be fertile, but relatively short-lived in terms of large production. Few of his other oil projects, though there were a number of producing wells, were enough to make up the shortfall.
With real estate, the construction and acquisition of a portfolio of buildings in several cities and the rents received from tenants (private and public, such as the federal government for the post offices) was also not keeping pace with the expenditures.
By spring 1926, it was decided to issue bonds, a common practice to generate capital, to continue the work and a mortgage was also taken out on the unfinished La Casa Nueva. It didn’t help that the real estate market softened, the oil wells continued to be insufficient in yielding black gold (including his last major attempt at Ventura) and, at Temple City, speculators stopped buying lots when a well-intended law creating assessment districts to fund sidewalks, street lights and other amenities required adjoining property owners to pay the assessment of their delinquent neighbor.
When tonight’s highlighted object from the Homestead’s holdings, a 15 July 1930 financial statement for the Temple Estate Company, was generated, he had sold off several Alhambra properties and vacated the Homestead and moved to Ensenada, Baja California, México, where he, Woodruff and Kauffman were investors in a hotel and casino project that is now the city museum, to save money.
The first page, listing assets, looks quite impressive when the total was just over $900,000. This included a declared value of $111,000 for 74 acres of the Homestead, and $150,000 for the lease on the remaining 18 acres to the Golden State Military Academy, which was readying for the start of the 1930-31 academic year. The surface rights to the 58-acre Montebello oil lease was determined to be $40,000.
At Alhambra, there was a lease for the Temple Estate Company Building at $40,000 and a deed of trust on the Edison Building at $1500,000. Lots in San Gabriel were valued at $9,000—these were likely other properties with the commercial structures across from the mission apparently sold.
In Los Angeles, any interest in the Great Republic Life and National City Bank buildings was gone, but there was a lot at the northeast corner of Sixth and Hartford streets, west of downtown and across from today’s Good Samaritan Hospital. The property, valued then at $45,000, is now a parking lot.
Temple had significant investments in the harbor town of San Pedro, including thirty-one vacant lots and three houses, possibly bought for planned oil prospecting, and interest in a trust for nearly 100 acres with “said interest to be paid out of oil to be produced.” The total for all of this was just shy of $200,000.
Finally, there was just over $170,000 in advances made to the Temple Townsite Company at Temple City, even though Temple already had sold off his interests there just a couple of months earlier and a new company, the Temple City Company, formed to take over development of the town.
Then there was the debit side of the ledger, starting with a summary of the Temple Estate Company’s outstanding obligations, including just north of $200,000 in bonds and interest; over $140,000 in notes payable and interest; over $22,000 in unpaid federal taxes; and $30,000 in various loans, advances, unpaid bills of the company and Temple personally and large sums due to Young’s Market Company and Woodruff, the latter being listed below. $38,000 owed to Great Republic Life Insurance Company minus the value of six houses reckoned at $21,000 and a trust company note of over $11,000 were also on the list.
Those notes mentioned above were to such persons and entities as the California Bank (totaling over $70,000); the Pasadena Furniture Company for nearly $2,000 (we know the Dining Room furniture in La Casa Nueva came from that firm); an iron works, a supply firm and a tool company ($32,000); and several others. Interest to each was also listed as were the due dates, most of which were from late 1928 to mid 1930 and only three of the fifteen were due later.
The Temple Estate Company’s unpaid bills were for amounts from $4 to nearly $400 in all but one instance, including small amounts to a towel service, typewriter company, stationery firms, a tractor company for repairs to a mower, and so on. Insurance premiums, title fees and “medallions made for Mr. Temple’s house,” constituted some of the larger amounts. J.M. Kemmerer was owed nearly $400 for “map work and engineering services” at the Homestead and an appraisal of the ranch was unpaid at $125. The largest bill was to Woodruff’s law firm at over $1,500.
As for Walter Temple’s personal debts, these included his great nephew’s painting of the Rowland House, meaning the wood-frame home at the west end of the Homestead which Temple’s sister, Margarita Rowland, occupied (in fact, she lived there until the ranch was purchased in late 1940.) Others were to the maker of a monument at El Campo Santo Cemetery; the La Puente Ice Company for bills two years old; a florist owed $300; Soboba Hot Springs near Hemet, where Temple frequently stayed and from which he had the inspiration for his Tepee home office next to La Casa Nueva; two auto garages (one specifically for Temple’s Locomobile); Lupe Garcia, who did house work at the ranch; Brooks Brothers for $265 in clothing purchased by eldest child, Thomas; and the Homestead telephone bill of over $110. Barker Brothers, a Los Angeles furniture company, was owned the most, totaling nearly $1,400.
Finally, there was an addendum, dated 24 July and concerning the Temple Townsite Company as debtor to Woodruff for the over $5,000 mentioned in the above summary. Over 90% of the amount comprised interest on bonds he paid on 1 July 1929 and the interest accumulated in the year since. There was also the payment of interest on a trust deed totaling nearly $500, while there was an appearance fee for a month prior in Woodruff’s representation of Temple in a lawsuit filed by the Anglo-California Bank.
The document clearly represents the straitened financial circumstances of Temple and his estate company in mid-1930 as the Great Depression was worsening. His asset value of over $900,000 was subject to a lease of the Homestead that could not be fully guaranteed to be paid; to a trust deed on the Edison Building in Alhambra; to $100,000 in a trust that needed oil production from the San Pedro property to pay interest; and to almost $175,000 in advances to the crippled Temple Townsite Company.
What was not shown was cash on hand, which, in the face of the many debts incurred by Temple and his company, was almost certainly very limited. The large amounts of bonds payable from the 1926 issue; principal and interest accrued to the Great Republic Life Insurance Company, and the many notes payable were large debts of pressing concern, but there were many smaller ones that added up, as well.
The move to Baja California both lessened living expenses and removed Temple from the scene of his many mounting difficulties, but he couldn’t escape the reality of foreclosure when it hit as the Depression worsened. In July 1932, as banks failed in huge numbers across the country, California Bank foreclosed on the Homestead and took ownership, which it kept for the rest of the decade.
Temple moved to Tijuana and then San Diego, but, stricken with cancer, returned to Los Angeles where he lived in a small house behind the home of his companion, Maud Bassity. He remained there until he died in November 1938 at age 69. His story of ups and downs, as shown in the financial statements discussed in this post, as well as yesterday’s, is a common and instructive story during the Roaring Twenties and the Depression.