by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It was a little warm when we opened the gates at 2 p.m. for Day 1 of our Ticket to the Twenties festival, but it turned out to be a great day with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 visitors enjoying music, presentations, house tours, vendors, food trucks, games and crafts, and much more.
We were happy with the turnout, but equally pleased with comments we heard from visitors about the quality of the experience. Karie Bible’s compelling talks about the early demise of Hollywood film industry notables, John Cox’s presentations about the fascinating relationship between magician Harry Houdini and author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Mortilla’s impressive keyboard accompaniment to silent films, and concerts by the California Feetwarmers and the Nightblooming Jazzmen, were among the major components today.
But there were many other elements that were not necessarily as prominent, including debates between characters representing those supporting and those against Prohbition; my colleagues Isis Quan and Jennifer Scerra peeling the layers of the complicated history of California orange cultivation; dance demonstrations in between the California Feetwarmers performances by the Hollywood Hotshots; and displays of 1920s automobiles.
Over at the Workman House, some of our staff repurposed our recent exhibit about Temperance in one of the three original adobe rooms of the house, so that visitors could see and learn about the long, gradual process of anti-alcohol activism that culminated in the passage of Prohibition a century ago. Our current exhibit is on display in the Homestead Museum Gallery to continue that story through the end of this year.
During a break, I walked the site snapping photos at many locations. One was where Walter and Sheila Nelson were having their debate about Prohibition and friend of the Homestead Jim Crabtree jumped in to the conversation with an impromptu characterization of his own.
Down at the stage and dance floor where the Feetwarmers were doing their thing and the Hotshots were demonstrating 1920s dance moves, some visitors got very much into the spirit of the day by having elaborate picnics. Of course, quite a number of guests from children to seniors dressed up, adding a festiveness that makes this program unique among our many offerings during the year.
Learning to play Mah-Jongg, strumming a ukulele, making a craft, playing a game of table tennis (ping-pong), buying a vintage piece of clothing, and just strolling the grounds around the Workman House and La Casa Nueva were additional ways of enjoying the day and getting a bit immersed in a decade now nearly a century removed from our own.
When introducing visitors to their self-guided visit to the Workman House, I was sure to point out that, while the festival is about the 1920s, our story goes back to another “Twenties,” meaning the 1820s. It was at the end of that decade, 1828, when Jonathan Temple settled in Los Angeles after a brief stay at San Diego upon coming to Mexican Alta California from Hawaii, where he’d been for several years after leaving his native Massachusetts.
Jonathan became a prominent figure in subsequent years and was joined in 1841 by his half-brother, Pliny, who, being 26 years younger, was born after Jonathan left home and, therefore, never met him. That same year, the Workman family migrated to Los Angeles from Taos, New Mexico where William Workman, a native of northern England, his wife Nicolasa Urioste and their two children José and Margarita, arrived in the mid-1820s after leaving home and living for a couple of years at the western edge of the United States in Missouri.
Over the years, the Temple brothers and Workman became prominent regional citizens, owning large ranches on which they raised cattle and horses as well as farmed, and engaging in business in a small, but growing frontier Los Angeles. Jonathan Temple left Los Angeles as it was mired in economic doldrums during a period of flood and drought and died in San Francisco, but his brother, known as F.P.F. and who married Margarita Workman, persisted and became a business and civic leader after the Civil War years.
When F.P.F. moved aggressively into Los Angeles business circles by the 1870s, his aging father-in-law joined him as a “silent partner,” contributing funds for investment but playing no known direct part in activities. This included banking, in which Temple and Workman found the perfect partner, Isaias W. Hellman, a brilliant young business mind. If the two older men had only given Hellman the freedom to manage their Hellman, Temple and Company bank, who knows how differently the family story would have worked out?
In any case, a rupture developed and Hellman went off to form the highly successful Farmers and Merchants Bank and later ran the Nevada Bank and Wells Fargo and became one of the wealthiest people on the West Coast. As for Temple and Workman, their private banking endeavor was the polar opposite.
A loose loaning policy and poorly kept books (neither of which is a problem for our modern banks, eh?) were crucial problems in a strikingly mismanaged institution that was popular for many wrong reasons. When the state economy cratered in summer 1875, the bank was beset by harried depositors who wanted to close their accounts, but couldn’t because of insufficient reserves, an issue Hellman would never have allowed.
A loan from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin was virtually structured to be unpayable, but a desperate Temple agreed to the deal that was, in his words, “on rather on hard terms,” and, sure enough, the loan could not be repaid, leading to a foreclosure and loss of most of Temple and Workman’s land. William Workman’s tragic suicide soon followed the closure of the bank.
The Workman House, El Campo Santo Cemetery, and various outbuildings on 75 acres were sold by Baldwin to Francis W. Temple, a grandson of the Workmans, so that this property was preserved by the family for almost a quarter century more. Francis’ brother John, however, was hit by hard times in the hard luck 1890s, during which there was a national depression and several years of local drought. He borrowed money from a bank, couldn’t repay the loan and lost the Homestead in 1899.
The Temples were nothing if persistent and, in 1917, John’s younger brother, Walter, purchased the Homestead with funds recently obtained through the staggering good fortune of oil found on his Montebello-area ranch by his oldest child, nine-year old Thomas. The Workman House was renovated and updated for weekend use and, in 1922, La Casa Nueva was started.
The introductions then noted that Walter Temple’s ownership and business life largely repeated the story that occurred with his grandfather Workman and older brother: financial failure and the loss of the Homestead. After a brief tenure by a military school, the site was occupied by El Encanto Sanitarium for nearly three decades and then acquired over a decade in the 1960s and 1970s by the City of Industry.
The City invested a large sum to restore and renovate the Homestead and the museum opened in 1981, with the City of Industry owning and fully funding the institution for almost forty years now.
As for tomorrow, we’ll be doing it all over again, though swapping out the California Feetwarmers for Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys. Houdini and Conan Doyle give way to Art Deco Society of Los Angeles fashion shows, and the Nightblooming Jazzmen are replaced by Bob Baker’s Marionettes.
Otherwise, the dance demonstrations, keyboard-accompanied silent movies, house tours, Prohibition debates, and all the rest will be back on offer. So, we hope to see you tomorrow, though we do expect a larger crowd as is usual for Sundays!