by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As the family of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple rose in wealth and prominence in Los Angeles during its first significant period of growth from the late 1860s through the mid-1870s, one of the ways they utilized their improving position was the provision of better educations for their children.
In the early 1870s, F.P.F. took three of his sons to his native Massachusetts to enroll them in schools that would position them for their presumed future place in the family’s business activities back in Los Angeles. For example, the second eldest of the eight surviving of eleven children, Francis, attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, evidently to study the science of agriculture, which he put to use in running his grandfather Workman’s vineyard at Rancho La Puente (and, for a dozen years, operated it under his own occupancy and ownership).
Third child William, who went to Santa Clara College in the late 1860s and into the next decade, was then enrolled at Harvard Law School, one of the most prestigious of its kind in the United States. After earning his juris doctorate degree in 1874, he was sent on to London for post-graduate work at the Inns of Court, another legal institution of great renown.
The fifth child, John, still in his teens, went to his father’s hometown of Reading and attended the high school there. Once he completed his work there, he went to the Bryant and Stratton Commercial School in Boston. Tonight’s historic artifact from the museum’s collection is a letter John wrote to his father. Though it is dated 18 February 1872, and despite John’s latter correction of that last number to a “4,” the actual year was 1875.
We know this because of specific content concerning the Temple and Workman bank from the missive, which began with apologies for not writing more frequently, but also referred to the fact that F.P.F. Temple was “so busy in San Francisco.” John then stated that his brother William could have provided updates on the former’s situation because the latter only recently arrived back in Los Angeles after being recalled from London and stopping at Boston to see John before heading across the country.
The reason for this was referred to in the next sentence, when John mentioned that his Uncle John Bancroft, married to F.P.F.’s sister Clarinda, “received a letter from Mr. Prescott [likely a Reading resident visiting Los Angeles] in which he stated that for the first time he had seen the doors of the ‘Temple & Workman Bank” open,” which the younger Temple reckoned as “exceedingly good news to all of us here.”
John hastened to add, however, that “there are not many of any aware of the ‘suspension,'” Going on to report that “I have had frequent inquiries in regards to the California Bank failure” of late August, John told his father that those asking wanted to know “whether it affected you any” but that he was careful to provide only “a very indefinite answer.”
Another brother of F.P.F., Seth Temple, was also said to be “not aware of the ‘suspension'” and that “it best not to inform him upon the subject as he is liable if pressed upon to disclose all he knows about it.”
The story here involved an economic panic which erupted in San Francisco due to a rapid decline in the value of stock in silver mines at Virginia City, Nevada (during which Elias J. Baldwin sold out his investments to the tune of $8 million and earned his famed sobriquet of “Lucky” when he did so after being unable to sell his stock earlier, but inadvertently profited as the prices temporarily spiked allowing him to dump his certificates at great profit).
The California Bank, the state’s largest, leveraged too heavily in these stocks, collapsed and its president, William Ralston, was found dead in San Francisco Bay the day after the disaster. When telegrams were sent to Los Angeles with the news, locals sped to the two commercial banks in town, Farmers and Merchants (run by Isaias W. Hellman, who was then in Europe vacationing, leaving management to the institution’s president, ex-governor John G. Downey) and Temple and Workman, run by F.P.F., known as the “Ralston of Los Angeles.”
On 1 September, Downey agreed to close his bank in conjunction with F.P.F. Temple’s bank for thirty days to try and calm the waters. Furious with his partner’s decision, Hellman rushed back home, stopping in New York to borrow cash to reassure his depositors, and then quickly reopened Farmers and Merchants (and got Downey demoted in the process).
F.P.F. Temple, whose bank was loosely managed and operated and severely lacking in cash reserves, was forced to spend much of his time with outstretched hand in San Francisco seeking loans to save his bank. This is what his son referred to when he wrote that his father was “so busy in San Francisco.” After fruitless negotiations with capitalists, F.P.F. struck a deal “on rather hard terms” with Baldwin in late November, providing the cash to reopen on 6 December, but the loan was structured to be extraordinarily difficult to pay back.
While John noted that Prescott’s description of seeing the bank doors open was good news, that was to be very temporary. In any case, he wrote his father that Prescott “stated the rapid growth of ‘Santa Monica,” [and] briefly described his trip there.” Prescott also wrote of what, in John’s words, were “orange groves full of the golden fruit breaking down under their burden and valleys and plains literally a perfect carpet of green.”
The town, newly established that year, featured the terminus of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, of which F.P.F. was the inaugural president and then made treasurer when United States Senator John P. Jones of Nevada became the majority stockholder in the railroad with the express purpose of having his new town of Santa Monica be connected by a line of the railroad company, that being finished not long before John wrote his letter.
Plans to build the line east of Los Angeles (and through William Workman’s portion of Rancho La Puente) to the original terminus at Independence in Inyo County near burgeoning silver mines were underway, including surveying and grading at points along the long route to eastern California.
John contrasted the near-perfect weather of greater Los Angeles with the frigid winter of Massachusetts, noting that it was five degrees the morning of his letter, though his father likely well remembered, thirty-five years after he left for California, the brutal winters of the east coast.
Young Temple did report, “I was in Boston this morning and was greatly taken up with the fine things they have on show for the holiday presents,” it being, of course, a week before Christmas. He added that “one desiring to invest a little currency can very much dispose of it without any ceremony” and noted that turkeys had not yet been sold in large numbers “as they are kept back for the current week,” though he observed the amusement of going down Market Street near Fanueil Hall (a loose replica of which was built as a market house by John’s uncle, Jonathan Temple, in the late 1850s) “to see the turkey sale.”
After mention of greetings passed to his uncle and aunt through Prescott from Dr. Henry S. Orme, a Los Angeles doctor who appears to have been the Temple family physician, John told his father that he’d written William, but did not receive a response. He asked his father if, because William was in San Francisco along with F.P.F. during a trip to secure that bank loan, “it has come to hand” because “at the time of writin I addressed it to Los Angeles.”
In further acknowledgement of Christmas, John wrote “as the 25th will have arrived before you receive this I will greet you and the rest of the family with a Merry Christmas and a ‘Happy New Year.'” He went on to say he’d received some letters from José Sánchez, likely a son of Juan Matias Sánchez, co-owner with F.P.F. Temple of the Rancho La Merced and a former ranch foreman at La Puente for William Workman, including a catalog from an unspecified college.
John didn’t say much about his own education, simply writing that “as for my school I am getting along quite nicely in my studies but as yet have not taken up French.” In the spring, he completed his certificate program at Bryant and Stratton. He then asked his father “if you enjoy good health, do you anticipate coming to the Centennial?” This referred to the celebration of America’s one hundredth birthday at Philadelphia in the summer of 1876.
John added, “you have been applying yourself exceedingly close to business and I think you need you need some recreation.” He noted that “as William is back [in Los Angeles] I think you can have him in charge of things in general.” We see here why William Temple was sent to law school and post-graduate work—the intention was to have him assist in the management of F.P.F.’s business affairs, though the eldest child, Thomas, who was not sent to Massachusetts to go to school, was a cashier in the bank and, presumably, was expected to succeed his father some day in running that institution.
The imploring of John to his father to take a break from the stress of business life foreshadows what his nephew, Thomas W. Temple II, would communicate to his father, Walter, in the 1920s in terms of taking a break from the stress of managing business to go on a European vacation. F.P.F. Temple did not go east to the centennial celebration nor did Walter make the trip to Europe a half century or so later.
John concluded his missive by passing along the best wishes of Clarinda and John Bancroft for Christmas and the New Year and sent his own love to his family. Unfortunately, the high hopes for the bank’s reopening were quickly dashed as the funds borrowed from Baldwin quickly diminished with depositors at the Temple and Workman bank closing their accounts.
On 13 January 1876, the bank closed its doors permanently. A resulting inventory revealed the poor management of the institution, including its long list of debtors unlikely to repay loans and notes and the bank’s own significant debits. Four months later, a bewildered William Workman took his life in despair at the situation.
F.P.F. Temple, who was elected Los Angeles County Treasurer the day of the bank’s suspension on 1 September 1875, took office in March 1876 (it being remarkable he was not asked to resign, though he had a deputy conduct the day-to-day management of the county’s funds) and served his two-year term quietly, despite his personal bankruptcy. A series of strokes, however, rendered him a physical wreck and he lived only four years longer.
As for John, he completed his education in spring 1876, did visit the centennial celebration and then returned home after several years away. At just 20, he took possession of property held by his mother where the Whittier Narrows Nature Center is today and engaged in farming. Married to Anita Davoust in 1886, John, two years later, took ownership of the Homestead after the death of his brother, Francis, and the acquisition of his brother William’s half-interest.
John, however, was beset in the 1890s with financial problems during a decade of depression in the economy and drought in the region and borrowed money from a bank. Unable to repay the loan, he lost the Homestead to foreclosure in 1899. He lived with his wife and several children in Los Angeles for nearly two decades, but when Walter came into a stunning fortune through oil found on his ranch near Montebello, John went to work for his younger brother.
This included running a service station at the Temple oil lease and living at the Homestead for a short time as its foreman. Poor health led him to return to Los Angeles where he died in 1926. John was the first Temple family historian, amassing documents and letters and writing accounts of his family’s lives that have been passed down, some remaining in family hands and others donated to the Homestead.
This letter is one of many items associated with him and, without John’s foresight in collecting and preserving family material, the museum would know a great deal less about the Workmans and Temples than it does thanks to his efforts.