by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Michael Ackerman, who contributed a post to this blog last February on a lynching in San Gabriel in 1857 following a Homestead presentation on the incident, provided a big assist recently when he alerted us to a photograph that the museum acquired that is closely (literally) related to the image discussed in yesterday’s post: a donated late 1890s photo of Lucinda Temple Zuñiga in front of the Bayse Adobe at the Old Mission community south of El Monte.
Michael happened to notice the photo, which was labeled “oil wells near San Gabriel Valley, Calif, Nov. 1920,” but his sharp eye observed a sign on a wooden building in the foreground read, in part, “OIL STATION OLD MISSION.” Because he has an avid interest in the original site of the Mission San Gabriel (hence the term “Old Mission”), he utilized his detecting skills to determine the location.
For example, the range of hills in the distance are the Puente Hills at the east end of the gap we know as the “Whittier Narrows.” Obviously, the scattering of wooden oil derricks in the image were reflective of the intensive search for petroleum that took place at what was known as the “Montebello oil field,” opened in late 1916 with a test well drilled by Standard Oil Company of California, now Chevron, on land leased from Clara Baldwin Stocker and Anita Baldwin, the daughters and heirs of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin.
Baldwin acquired the land in the Old Mission area by foreclosure of a loan he made in late 1875 to William Workman and F.P.F. Temple for their stricken bank. The deal, aptly described by Temple to Workman in a letter penned in November after the loan was executed, was, simply put, “on rather hard terms,” but Temple, the president of the institution, assured his aging silent partner and father-in-law that matters would come out all right.
It was anything but that, as anxious depositors closed their accounts and withdrew the borrowed funds, propelling the Temple and Workman bank into closure and failure by mid-January 1876. Baldwin foreclosed over three years later and took possession of a huge amount of land (including 18,000 acres of Workman’s share of Rancho La Puente, what we know as the Baldwin Hills [another oil-rich area fortunately for the Baldwin daughters], and several ranches in the Whittier Narrows area.
This included the Rancho La Merced, a rare land grant to a woman, Casilda Soto de Lobo, who then lost the ranch to Workman by (wait for it!) foreclosure on a loan in 1850. Workman then, the following year, transferred La Merced to his son-in-law, Temple, and to his La Puente foreman, Juan Matias Sánchez.
While Sánchez occupied the Soto adobe, built on a bluff overlooking the Rio Hondo and the Narrows, and then added to what is now known as the Soto-Sánchez Adobe, a City of Montebello historic landmark, Temple and his wife, Antonia Margarita Workman, built an adobe house east of the Rio Hondo on the flat lands in the Narrows. Notably, Workman retained the deed it was recorded in late 1875 so that La Merced could be included as collateral for the Baldwin loan.
Baldwin sold the Temple adobe, a newer brick house and other structures along with 50 acres to Mrs. Temple just after F.P.F. Temple died in 1880 (he did the same in selling the Workman House, outbuildings, El Campo Santo Cemetery and 75 acres to Francis W. Temple as what became known as the “Workman Homestead” where our museum is now).
After Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple died in early 1892 (during a flu epidemic that also claimed the lives of her mother, Nicolasa, and her oldest son, Thomas), the Temple Homestead passed to her youngest surviving children, sons Walter and Charles. Lucinda, who was in her early thirties, had divorced her first husband, Manuel Arnaz, and married Manuel M. Zuñiga, an Old Mission native. He operated the store and saloon in the Basye Adobe shown in the late 1890s photo highlighted in yesterday’s post.
The Zuñigas moved to Arizona Territory about 1900, living in the mining boom town of Clifton and were joined there by Charles Temple, who sold his interest in the Temple Homestead to Walter after he had a string of problems. This included his shooting and killing of his former brother-in-law, Thomas Basye, in Charles’ saloon, the La Paloma Club, based in one of the Temple homes at the 50-acre homestead.
That’s a whole other story waiting to be told, but, for now, let’s just note that Charles married Rafaela Basye in 1898 and she died within just months. Her family blamed Charles for her death and sought revenge. First there was a semi-comical duel involving one of her brothers and Charles that led to a drunken and tearful (and temporary) reconciliation. After Thomas Basye, however, gave vent to his feelings after drinking in Charles’ establishment, a fight broke out and the latter shot and killed the former.
There was a dramatic trial and Charles was acquitted, but very soon after, sold his part of the homestead to his older brother and left to join his sister and brother-in-law in Arizona. Walter, meanwhile, had recently married Old Mission native and long-time sweetheart, Laura Gonzalez. The couple occupied the Temple Homestead for not quite a decade, during which their five children, four living to adulthood, were born at the ranch.
This large-format cabinet photo, in the Homestead collection since 1980, was taken in July 1919 for the dedication of the memorial, at right, to Joseph Leon Kauffman, brother of Walter Temple’s business manager, Milton Kauffman. Portions of the Temple Oil Station are visible through, above and to the left side of the tent at the center.
In October 1912, however, Temple and his friend, El Monte merchant Milton Kauffman, approached Hiram A. Unruh, “Lucky” Baldwin’s nephew and executor of his estate, and inquired about purchasing a small portion of the Montebello Hills and the flat land adjacent to it, including the 1869 adobe house built by Rafael Basye, father of Charles Temple’s short-lived first wife and of the brothers who accused Charles of her untimely demise.
Remarkably, Unruh agreed to a deal in which Temple acquired about 60 acres, but, because he didn’t have the money to pay for the property outright, an arrangement was made for a gradual repayment. It should be noted that this land was owned by Temple’s father before the bank closure, loan, and foreclosure.
Whether Temple and Kauffman knew that there was the possibility of oil in the area is not known, but it seems a reasonable surmise because petroleum was being successfully located along the Puente Hills in Whittier and modern Rowland Heights, with a clear line extending out to Brea.
If there was such a supposition, it proved to be prescient because, in April 1914, Temple’s oldest son, Thomas II, who was all of nine years old, was playing with friends on “Temple Heights” which the northeastern extremity of the Montebello Hills was named and saw indications of oil (bubbling, a black color, and a rotten egg smell) in a pool of water after a recent spring rain.
The following year, Standard Oil executed a lease with Temple and, having done so with the Baldwin daughters, the firm drilled a test well on the Baldwin section and successfully brought it in in late 1916. A few months later, Temple well #1 was begun just a short distance east of the Baldwin well and it was brought in as a producer in June 1917.
Over the next several years, about two-dozen wells were drilled on the Temple lease, with several becoming gushers and fine producers, thereby enriching Walter Temple and his family. By the end of 1917, they’d moved to Monterey Park and then, in one week in November, acquired the Workman Homestead, lost to foreclosure in 1899 by Walter’s brother John, and a fine residence in Alhambra.
The Basye Adobe was used by Standard as a headquarters for its Montebello oil field operations and it survived until the mid-1930s when it razed. Meantime, shortly after royalties poured into Temple’s coffers he built a service station on the southeast corner of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue, which heads south into Montebello and passes by the Soto-Sánchez Adobe.
The Homestead only has one photograph, an original large-format cabinet card, that shows the “Temple Oil Station,” though it is obscured by a large white tent installed for a dedication ceremony, held in 1919, for a memorial built by Temple for his friend and business manager Kauffman’s brother, Joseph, who was killed in the Battle of Argonne Forest just before the end of World War I in 1918.
This brings us to the photo Michael located and which the museum acquired. The view shows portions of a few buildings at the left, a car parked next to the structures, the aforementioned derrick and hills and, at the right of center, the steel supports for a bridge where San Gabriel Boulevard, a curving portion of which is in view, crosses the Rio Hondo.
When I first saw the image I thought that the road continued off the right side of the photo and surmised that the buildings might be from the El Aliso Ranch of William S. Prugh, who had several successful oil wells on his spread just north and west of the Temple lease.
Michael, however, pointed out some maps and photos he found online that showed that, with the pronounced curve in San Gabriel Boulevard being much greater than I’d recalled, the buildings shown at the left were not from the Prugh property, but were on the Temple lease, and, specifically included the Temple Oil Station.
Once I’d taken a look at the Kauffman dedication photo and some details, it became clear that Michael was right and I was, as I put it to him in an email a couple of days ago, “way off.” A tile roof on a two-gabled roof, the raised corners of the brick structure in front of that, and the sign (which was replicated, but with different wording discerned, in the Kauffman memorial photo), made it perfectly clear that this was the Temple Oil Station, as Michael discerned.
The photographer stood on the west side of Lincoln Avenue and at the base of the hills and, obviously, was focused on the derricks as a panoramic view of the oil wells in the Whittier Narrows area. The service station was somewhat incidental, though it was likely included as part of the general scene of busy petroleum prospecting.
The Kauffman memorial, then about sixteen months old, was just to the left or north of where the photographer snapped his shot and, about nine months later, in July 1921, Temple added another marker. This was to commemorate the site of the original San Gabriel Mission and the monument was dedicated as part of the 150th anniversary of the mission’s establishment.
The problem was that the mission was not actually located where the marker was placed and still is today (the Kauffman memorial and a pair of cannons, said to have been used by Californios during the American invasion as part of the Mexican-American War, and fished out of the dry Rio Hondo bed and purchased by Temple, was moved to Temple City in spring 1930 and remains at the city park today.)
Rather, the original mission site was north, across San Gabriel Boulevard and just west of the Rio Hondo, very close, in fact, to the Prugh ranch. But, because Walter Temple didn’t own the actual mission site, he decided to place the marker on his nearby property, which still causes confusion for those who think that the mission was either on a small patch of flat land at the base of the hills or on the steep slopes of said hills, both of which are not possible!
In any case, this was a stunning find and discovery and thanks to Michael for his eagle eye in spotting the photo and his discerning detective work in deciphering the identity of the Temple Oil Station. It is amazing that, twice in one week, two photographs connected to the Temple family made their way to the Homestead collection in very unexpected fashion.