An Expatriate in Ensenada: A Letter to Walter P. Temple, 19 July 1930

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Several days ago, a post here discussed a financial statement of Walter P. Temple’s Temple Estate Company from 15 July 1930, issued at a time when his long-precarious financial situation was worsening, as was the case for so many Americans as the Great Depression was in its early stages.

That report laid out the substantial, but mainly encumbered assets, in his portfolio while also detailing significant personal and corporate debts, including large amounts due in payment of bonds issued by the company in 1926 to restructure debt and continue existing projects.  Among the debts owed were many thousands of dollars to Temple’s long-time personal attorney and business partner, George H. Woodruff.

As has been shown in other posts on this blog, Woodruff wrote letters in previous years laying out the increasingly worsening conditions of the Temple finances and made suggestions for how to manage the difficulties.  Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s holdings is a letter written by Woodruff to Temple and dated 19 July 1930.


The missive begins with an apologetic statement that “you have not seen nor heard from me for so long I imagine you are wondering whether I have completely forgotten you.”  The attorney added that “I have intended to write you as matters have come up from time to time,” but Woodruff noted that he had been “so ever lastingly busy” that he could not contact his client.

Strangely, the lawyer went on to suggest that “there has been nothing particular” to say, although he added the caveat that this was in terms of “your being able to do anything by correspondence.”  Yet, Woodruff then pointed to “an uninterrupted struggle to prevent foreclosures,” as well as the need for having “taken care of money obligations,” neither of which can be said to connote “nothing particular!”

Moreover, there were “a number of matters [which] have been accummulating [sic] from time to time which do require your personal attention,” specifically for the signing of documents and approving steps “that I do not care to assume the responsibility of passing upon” without the sanction of the Estate Company’s directors and Temple himself.


Consequently, because there was so much Woodruff wrote that “I will tell you about when I see you,” he asked Estate Company manager Charles W. Tandy “to drive down to your place next Tuesday to bring you up here for a few days.”  This was because

it is imperative that you come in order to hold a board meeting and that you may sign certain papers that are required in order to save both you and the Estate from further embarrassment . . . I am sorry that it is necessary to disturb your peace and happiness down there, but the matters which have come up for attention must be acted upon before the end of this coming week . . .

Tandy was to drive all day Tuesday, stay the night in Ensenada, and return with Temple the following day, so that a special directors’ meeting of the Estate Company could be held on the afternoon of Friday the 25th.

Woodruff concluded his letter by expressing the “hope you are in good health and everything is going nicely with both you and Maude.”  Maude Romero Bassity was a native of Los Angeles who helped take care of Temple’s late wife before her death in late 1922 and then stayed with the household as it moved full-time to the Homestead shortly afterward, becoming Temple’s companion.  Woodruff added that she was welcome to come up to Los Angeles with Temple, but he stated, “it is not at all necessary that she come for our purposes.”


After reiterating that he would wait to discuss any business until they met and making a passing comment about the break in warm weather to something that, the following week, “will be more delightful,” Woodruff closed.  Enclosed with the missive was a “Notice of Special Meeting of Board of Directors of Temple Estate Company” informing the said directors, which then included Temple’s eldest child, Thomas, of the gathering at Woodruff’s office in the Security Title Insurance Building at Sixth Street and Grand Avenue (a structure still standing today.)

Presumably, the meeting took place as requested and Woodruff, business manager Milton Kauffman, and others impressed upon Temple the urgency of the financial matters besetting the Estate Company and urged him to address these issues by signing the required documents.

Obviously, it was a difficult personal period for Temple, who moved from the Homestead just a few months prior as the company arranged to lease the 92-acre ranch to the Golden State Military Academy.  A renovation of the property, including enclosing the open sun decks on the wings of La Casa Nueva for dormitory space for the school, was underway and the academy was preparing to open for the 1930-31 year.

Temples self-exile to Ensenada, where he and his Estate Company partners were investors in a hotel and casino project that is now the city museum, was an attempt to economize, but, within in a couple of years he relocated to Tijuana and then San Diego.  By summer 1932, time ran out, especially as the Depression worsened with waves of bank failures.  California Bank, which was a creditor to the Estate Company, foreclosed on the Homestead and took possession.


Temple, who was diagnosed with cancer, returned to Los Angeles and lived in a small house at the back of the residence of Maud Romero Bassity’s family in Lincoln Heights and he remained there until his death in November 1938 at age 69.

An interesting side note to this letter is that it was addressed to Temple, who lived on Ryerson Street in town, in care of Hussong Brothers, whose famed cantina remains a landmark in the seaside city and even has a Las Vegas branch.  Johann Hussong, born in Germany in 1863, migrated to the United States in his early twenties.  A few years later, a gold rush of sorts took place in the Ensenada area and Hussong rushed down to participate.

Ensenada was largely a community of Anglo expatriates and Hussong had a partner, Newt House, in a mercantile enterprise along the western Baja coast.  After an accident led to House being injured, he and Hussong went to the town’s only saloon, owned by J.J. Meiggs, to recuperate.


Meiggs attacked his wife and was jailed, but upon release, left Ensenada to track her down, leaving Hussong to manage the establishment.  When Meiggs failed to return, Hussong took over and renamed the place after himself.  In 1892, he moved the cantina across Ruiz Boulevard to a former stage stop and the famed Hussong’s Cantina, run with John’s brother Walter and said to be where the margarita was invented in 1941, remains there over 125 years later.

One thought

  1. It seems like there was important business to attend to but the letter would have barely reached Mr. Temple in time. Dated and postmarked July 19 telling him that a car would be arriving ‘next Tuesday’. (the 22nd of July) But the envelope appears the have only arrived in Ensenanda on July 21st, just a day before the car did. From Mr. Temple’s perspective the letter essentially said that ‘a car will be there to pick you up tomorrow’.

    Question: Did Mr. Temple take a car with him when he moved to Mexico? Could he have driven up on his own? (not that he necessarily would have wanted to)

    The meeting was scheduled for Friday the 25th of July. How long was the drive between Ensenada and Los Angeles? Google says its a little over 200 miles. Dirt roads would have given a traveling speed of about 30-35 MPH. Breakdowns and other necessary stops likely reduced the speed to 25 MPH average. Between a 6 and 8 hour drive. A long drive, but possible in one day. The predicted arrival Wednesday evening seems accurate.

    Then just one day to clean up, meet and discuss things before the official board meeting on Friday.

    It doesn’t say how Mr. Temple was going to get back home to Ensenada, perhaps Mr. Tanday would drive him back on Saturday or Sunday? Certainly a long drive for a meeting that you dont want to attend, to hear things that you would rather avoid. But the depression was happening and the stretched finances and paper fortunes of the 1920s were coming due for lots of people all over America.

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