by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As discussed in recent posts here about the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Portolá Expedition of 1769-1770, the more than 60 men who comprised the party that embarked on the first land-based trek through California, the end of July 1769 included the group’s travels through portions of the San Gabriel Valley.
The main purpose for the expedition was to identify sites for Roman Catholic missions in which the indigenous people were to be converted to Christianity and molded into farmers and Spanish citizens. That responsibility fell on Franciscan priest Juan Crespí, who wrote lengthy journal entries during the trip (contrasting him with the expedition’s leader, Captain Gaspar de Portolá and military engineer Miguel Costansó, whose diaries were much sparser).
Crespí found many prospective sites for missions, including an excellent one at what we know as Whittier Narrows. Just over two years later, the Mission San Gabriel, the fourth of the chain of twenty-one missions established in the system, was founded there on 8 September 1771. Within a few years, at least by early 1775, the mission moved to its current location and the former site was long known as Misión Vieja, or Old Mission.
A community was established around the old mission location and among its residents were Antonia Margarita Workman and her husband F.P.F. Temple who were given half of the Rancho La Merced by her father, Rancho La Puente co-owner and Homestead founder William Workman. In 1869, their tenth child, of eleven, Walter, was born at the Temple Homestead and was a keen and enthusiastic student of history.
Notably, for the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the mission, a “Pageant of San Gabriel” was mounted, but not in September, but in late July—though not as a recognition of the Portolá Expedition. Instead, the rector at San Gabriel, Rafael Serrano, was departing and, because of the esteem held for him by the parishioners, it was decided to have the event before he left.
Held at the Old Mission Playhouse, just west of the mission and the home for nearly a decade of the massively popular “Mission Play,’ this pageant aimed to relate the history of the mission as penned by former vaudeville star and prominent local citizen and club woman, Lillian Burkhart Goldsmith.
Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s collection is of Agnes Temple, daughter of the Homestead’s owners, Walter P. Temple and Laura Gonzalez, showing her with several friends, all of whom participated in the pageant. Conjoined with the pageant was the dedication of a granite marker erected by Walter Temple at the corner of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue in Montebello purporting to identify the site of the first Mission San Gabriel.
As noted in a post here two years ago, though, the marker was placed on a part of Temple’s oil lease property, while the actual mission site was to the north along the Rio Hondo. Yet, the marker site is designated California Historical Landmark #161 and, though it sits at the base of the northeast corner of the Montebello Hills and it is clear that a mission could not be built on that hill, those who happen to know of the landmark will, naturally, believe the mission was there, not across the street!
In any case, the San Gabriel pageant was promoted heavily, including by the Los Angeles Times, which, in its 12 June 1921 edition, erred in saying that the performance was for the 115th anniversary of the establishment of the mission. A committee was chosen to plan the event and included members from the Native Sons of the Golden West, the Native Daughters of the Golden West, the San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce, local parent-teacher associations, school teachers and others of prominence in San Gabriel and Alhambra. Though not mentioned, Walter Temple was likely included.
As for the play, Goldsmith was reported to have had a keen interest in having minor roles filled by community members, while hiring professional actors for the prominent speaking roles. The structure included a prologue followed by three episodes: “Before the White Man Came;” “The Miracle” or “The Vision of Our Lady;” and “The Founding of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Angeles.”
Components also included a “Spanish wedding,” a “ballet of sixty Spanish children,” and a salute to the third governor Felipe de Neve, during whose administration Los Angeles was established. In fact, the article stated
Perhaps no more colorful episode has ever been shown in any pageant than the departure of Don Felipe, with his dashing cavalcade of horsemen and the padres to found the new pueblo—Spanish soldiers conquering for Carlos, the third king of Aragon and Castile, Emperor of the Indies and master of half the world, and the Mission Fathers conquering for Christ, both all powerful and both needing fighting men.
The free pageant was expected to attract 25,000 guests.
In its 11 July edition, the Times provided more detail for the pageant and related festivities, including street dancing and songs on the evening of Saturday the 30th, after which “revelry will cease” on the Sabbath as Bishop John J. Cantwell was to preside over a high mass.
Once the service was complete, celebrants were to move out to the patio to the north of the old stone church for the dedication of a statue of Junipero Serra, described by the paper as “that dauntless Franciscan leader who founded the missions of California, routed savagery from the hearts of the Indians and whose vision foresaw the glory of California today.” Serra, recently canonized by the Church, is now a figure of controversy given the treatment of indigenous people within the mission system, and magnified by that wrought upon them by soldiers and settlers outside the missions.
It was added that, at the unveiling, “a little Indian boy, descendant of the original tribe, will lift Old Glory from the hallowed head” of the Serra likeness, created by Julia Bracken Wendt (1871-1942), who is considered to be one of the premier women sculptors of the American West. A native of Illinois who came to Los Angeles and married prominent artist William Wendt, she had a studio at Laguna Beach and was widely known locally for her sculpture of history, science, and art for the new Los Angeles museum of that name, now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
The pageant was to be held at 3 p.m. in an arroyo, perhaps San Pascual Wash, just west of the mission, with a cast that grew to 200, with the focus on the first ten years of the mission up to the founding of Los Angeles. Notably, “The Prophecy” within the prologue was to depict “a band of Indians filled with unrest because of poverty and distress,” but a soothsayer allegedly foretold the arrival of “brown-robed messengers” when “palefaces” suddenly approached with “tomahawks that roar and smoke.” The play then has natives lying in wait to ambush the arrivals as the play proceeded to its first chapter.
As fathers Angel Somera and Benito Cambón, sent by Serra to found the mission, stop to establish the institution, the “rattle of tom toms and war whoops” were heard as the natives rushed to attack the priests and their military guard of ten. When Somera raised a banner of the Virgin Mary, however, a miracle causes the natives to fall to the ground in awe. Strangely, Gounod’s “Ave Maria,” not composed until 1853, is played, “completing the conversion of savagery.”
The play ends with the performance of a Spanish wedding in 1781, at which Governor de Neve gives away the bride. After the nuptial feast, music and dancing, the governor takes the opportunity to announce the founding of Los Angeles and is cheered by the throng as he rides away.
Cast members were listed including the professional actors and many community members, including Walter Temple, his daughter Agnes, and representatives of such families as the Lugos, Quirozes, Ruizes, Callahans, Zorroaquinoses and Goldsmith’s teenage daughter.
On 24 July, the Times provided additional information on the cast, including Carroll Nye, who was in the film industry from the late 1910s to the mid 1940s, as both the Indian boy reciting the prologue and as Governor de Neve, and Frank Staples, a veteran of the Mission Play as Padre Somera. John Gough, another film actor of some note, appeared, as well.
In noting that “many children and grandchildren of pioneer Spanish families will enact leading roles,” the article highlighted Agnes Temple, who “will be the bride” and was to wear a replica of one worn by her maternal great-grandmother “who was a Gonzalez.” Agnes was also to wear a mantilla said to have been brought from Spain 140 years previously.
Not mentioned before was that Agnes’ brother, Thomas, was appearing as a groomsman in the wedding scene and he was to sport “a costume which is an heirloom of the Lugo family and descended from the great-grandfather, Don Vicente Lugo.” The bridesmaids were listed as Elvira Rowland, Laurita Lugo, Cecilia Olivares, Rosa Rosas, Clara Lugo, and two Anglo girls.
Tonight’s highlighted photo is of Agnes Temple with several of the young women mentioned in the Times article as the bridesmaids, including Clara and Laura Lugo, Elvira Rowland, and Celia Olivares. Also shown are Clarita and Carolina Rowland, and Lita Olivares.
In its coverage of the pageant, two days prior to its presentation, the Covina Argus claimed that “California, of all places in the world, is especially suited to pageantry” and went on to suggest that “just as the Greeks brought a receptive mood to an interpretation of the good, the beautiful and the true, so are the people of Los Angeles and the surrounding towns” to look upon the pageant.
The paper also observed that Lillian Burkhart Goldsmith “is noted as a successful conductor of pageants.” In fact, she was much more than that. Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania from Jewish immigrants who hailed from Russia and Germany, Goldsmith was a highly successful vaudeville comedienne. She first gained attention in Los Angeles in 1893 and was well-known for one act sketches.
First married to a performer who was her partner, she married George Goldsmith, a wealthy businessman, and moved to Los Angeles. Though she gave up acting as a profession to raise her daughter, Goldsmith went on to be very active in club work, including such prominent examples as the Friday Morning Club and the Ebell Club and as a performer and “interpreter” of literature and theater and was a formidable debater of such political issues as Prohibition.
Goldsmith was feted for her successful charity theatrical event to raise funds for victims of the earthquake and fire that devastated San Francisco in 1906, appeared in the first season of the Mission Play, in 1912, as Señora Dominguez, and oversaw the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare with a wide range of performances and events.
For three years prior to the pageant, she oversaw a pageant in Redlands, and then she served as president of the Council of Jewish Women from 1924 to 1930. Evidently, her being Jewish did not seem to be an issue with her writing and directing of the Mission San Gabriel pageant and its celebration of the Roman Catholic spiritual “conquest” of California. In fact, she also produced a pageant of Jewish history for the Council of Jewish Women just several months before the San Gabriel one. Goldsmith, however, was largely a forgotten figure by the time she died in 1958 and no obituary appeared in the Times to mark her passing.