by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In spring 1921, Walter P. Temple and his wife Laura Gonzalez held a dedication ceremony for a mausoleum, strangely named the “Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum” in the newly renovated El Campo Santo Cemetery at the Homestead. The burying ground, established by Temple’s grandparents William and Nicolasa Workman in the 1850s and which included the ornate St. Nicholas’ Chapel upon its completion around 1860, was nearly destroyed by then-owner Lafayette F. Lewis of Anaheim in the first years of the 20th century.
Incensed by the desecration, Temple successfully sued Lewis in 1907 to halt the degradation of El Campo Santo, but it lay largely in ruins until, remarkably, the Temples were able to purchase the 75-acre ranch at the end of 1917, thanks to a stunning discovery of oil by their eldest child, 9-year old Thomas, on their Montebello-area property.
Because of a lease with Japanese farmer K. [we don’t know the full first name] Yatsuda, that expired at the end of 1918, nothing could be done with the ranch until then, but a priority was the work of remaking the cemetery, including the building of the mausoleum where the chapel formerly stood.
As the renovation work was ongoing, Temple hired a researcher with the Los Angeles Public Library named Luther Ingersoll to find the descendants of Don Pío Pico, the last governor of Mexican California and a former neighbor and compadre, or close friend, of the Workman and Temple families.
Undoubtedly, Temple was well-aware that the remains of Don Pío and his wife, Doña María Ignacia Alvarado, who died in February 1854, were still buried in the long-closed Calvary Cemetery, which opened in 1844 at the base of the Elysian Hills after being moved from its original site next to the Plaza Church.
Though the cemetery closed for burials in 1896, two years after the 93-year old ex-governor died, many bodies remained in the decaying burying ground for decades afterward. Finally, before the Roman Catholic Church repurposed the site for Cathedral High School (nickname? The Phantoms!), as many bodies as could be located were moved to a mass grave at the New Calvary Cemetery, which is still in operation in East Los Angeles.
Ingersoll, however, managed to locate descendants, including a daughter, of Don Pío, though not with Doña Ignacia, because the couple was childless. Instead, Pico had several children by other women in later years and it was one of these who consented to Temple’s request, relayed through Ingersoll, to have the remains of the Picos moved to the new mausoleum at El Campo Santo.
The Picos were married just shy of twenty years. He was the son of a Spanish soldier, born on 5 May 1801 at the Mission San Gabriel, though he spent much of his early life in San Diego. Don Pío rose rapidly in the political scene in the sparsely populated department of Alta California and briefly served as interim governor in the early 1830s after one of several insurrections that the Californios, who adopted that moniker because of their independence in the face of isolation from the rest of Mexico, occasionally fomented, especially when governors were sent from Mexico City instead of generated locally.
Just after his short tenure as governor, he married Ignacia, the 14th of 15 children born to Francisco Xavier Alvarado and María Ignacia Amador, both natives of the Loreto presidio (fort) on the eastern shore of Baja California Sur and from where many of earliest European settlers of Alta California hailed. Francisco was a soldier and came north with his family in 1780 to San Diego. Ten years later, he retired as a sergeant at the presidio of Santa Barbara.
By the dawn of the 19th century, the Alvarados were in Los Angeles and Ignacia was born, like her future husband, at Mission San Gabriel in late November 1808. Nothing is known of her early years, as was the case for most Californios, until she married Don Pío in February 1834, with the ceremony taking place at the Los Angeles Plaza Church.
A decade later, Don Pío was the head of the Alta Californial legislature and took the opportunity to rally Californio distrust of Governor Manuel Micheltorena, another Mexico City appointee. Gathering supporters in Los Angeles, including a contingent of extranjeros or foreigners from America and Europe with William Workman as their captain, Pico confronted Micheltorena at Cahuenga Pass early in 1845. There was more talking than shooting, but the governor agreed to withdrawn and return to Mexico as Pico took office, not knowing he’d be the last chief executive under Mexico.
Don Pío fled to Mexico during the American invasion the following year and returned in 1848. He settled in Los Angeles and then acquired the Rancho Paso de Bartolo in what is now Whittier in the early 1850s. He and Ignacia, however, lived full-time in an adobe on the Plaza and the couple appears in both the 1850 federal and 1852 state censuses.
When Doña Ignacia died, on 2 February 1854 at just 45 years of age, her husband and his brother, Andrés, spent a considerable sum on a cast-iron tomb imported to Los Angeles from an unknown manufacturing site. For a small frontier town of just several thousand, this was undoubtedly a notable event.
In fact, when the tomb arrived, a funeral service was held for Señora Pico that was briefly covered in the 7 August 1855 edition of the newly founded El Clamor Público, the first Spanish language newspaper in Los Angeles. Accompanying the article was a lengthy poem that was unattributed, but may well have been penned by the paper’s young and brilliant publisher, Francisco P. Ramirez, who was still in his teens when he launched El Clamor earlier that year.
The short piece about the funeral noted that
yesterday at four in the afternoon there was a very large attendance at the cemetery [Calvary] to witness the interment [actually reintement] of the mortal remains of the late Doña Maria Ignacia Alvarado de Pico, in the mausoleum that her husband Don Pío Pico has erected and dedicated to her memory. The interment was conducted with all of the solemn and imposing ceremonies of the Catholic religion in the final refuge of this world. Rest in peace!
The tomb has the following inscription engraved on the memorial tablet:
The Mortal Remains of
MARIA IGNACIA ALVARADO DE PICO
Wife of Pío Pico
Born the 15th of December 1808, Died in
Santa Barbara, the 2nd of February
Her grieving husband and his brother Andres Pico have
Erected this Monument in her memory
and in which
they hope her remains
may eternally rest.
As for the poem, titled “Elegy to the Memory of Doña María Ignacia Alvarado de Pico” and dated Wednesday, 6 August 1855, it is a lengthy and impressive homage. My colleague Liliana Martinez and her father José undertook a translation, though Liliana told me that there were some challenges because, as her father observed, it is in an old Castilian style that has long ago passed from common usage.
In any case, the poem is redolent with highly moving emotion, filled with evocative language, and, yet, is buttressed by a piety and faith to sustain the suffering spouse, in this case, Don Pío. Here is a sample of the verse:
Unhappy husband! Yes it’s true
That in hurt souls
Sublime and firm hope
Mitigates holy pain,
Calms the crying, and to that frozen
Grave, may the delight
Of your glowing youth
Be guarded in wretched ruins
Ask if it hides well
All the good that was your joy,
And if from the greedy death,
Nothing can calm the anger.
The beautiful eyes, the roses
Of the countenance, the harmony
Of the forms, with which the world,
Ephemeral beauty, spells,
Everything is already dust. It is not enough
To know, neither undefeated force,
Nor beauty, nor scepter
To avoid the precise law
Those hymns that to his glory
Celebrating prophets dedicate,
They will fall with them to the place
Where the centuries plunge into despair.
Even the name they celebrate
Will die; the stone itself
In which you engraved your pain
Will in time turn into ashes.
Only for the virtues
There is no death. From heaven daughters
Give eternal life in heaven
To the soul that cultivates them.
Ramirez did write poetry for his paper, but his skills in reporting and editorials were also highly impressive for one so young. He shown a keen understanding of American political ideals and challenged Latinos and Anglos alike to aspire to better meet them, even as frontier Los Angeles was suffused with levels of ethnic antagonisms and staggering violence during the late 1850s.
Even in the best of circumstances, publishing a small town newspaper was difficult and Ramirez lacked the support from Spanish-speakers he needed to keep El Clamor going. At the end of 1859, he shut down the presses.
As for the hope expressed on the plaque on the mausoleum in which she (and, many years later, her husband) was interred that Doña Ignacia would rest in peace eternally at Calvary, that did not happen as intended. Walter and Laura Temple, however, moved the Picos to their new resting place in 1921 and gave that hope a second chance.
We’re approaching the centennial of the dedication of the mausoleum and, all things held constant (and they all too often are not), we can maintain that hope that the Pico can maintain eternal rest next to their compadres from the Workman and Temple families at El Campo Santo.
We also hope to see you at Sunday’s “Sorrowful Soiree” where you can learn more about El Campo Santo and the reinterment of the Picos; see and hear magician Misty Lee conduct a seance; hear seasonal music from pianist Dennis Aguilar in La Casa Nueva’s Music Room; and much more. The free event is held from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and you can learn more by browsing the event flyer.