by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As has been noted on this blog elsewhere, Francis Workman Temple, the second child of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, supervised his grandfather William Workman’s vineyards in the last several years of the Homestead owner’s life during the first half or so of the 1870s.
After the stunning collapse of the Temple and Workman bank in early 1876, it was testament to Francis’ relationship with his grandfather that Workman, on the day of the bank’s closure, changed his power of attorney from F.P.F. Temple to Francis.
Four months later, Workman took his life and it was up to Francis to assume possession and management of the ranch until legal matters could be finalized regarding the disposition of Workman’s vast acreage on the Rancho La Puente, which was subject to a mortgage held by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin on a loan he made to Temple and Workman in a last-ditch effort to save the bank.
Baldwin did not foreclose until 1879, allowing the interest to accumulate to a level where it was virtually impossible for anyone to redeem the loan. When a San Francisco court issued the foreclosure order, Baldwin soon made an arrangement with Francis to sell him the Workman House, outbuildings, El Campo Santo Cemetery and 75 acres for $5,000.
The transaction was completed in 1880 and Francis, who evidently raised the funds by successfully farming the ranch over those three years, promptly had a map made and filed with the county for what generally became known as the “Workman Homestead.”
Francis continued to raise walnuts and grow grapes on the property and made wine in the three brick structures built in the 1860s for that purpose by Workman. He left a few items that have survived the ravages of time and which concern the viniculture he practiced, including two documents concerning the manufacturing of wine.
Tonight’s featured object from the museum’s holdings is a letter from this date in 1888 from Francis to Laura Gonzalez. As also been observed on this blog before, Laura, who was born in 1871 out of wedlock to musician Feliz Gonzalez and Francisca Valenzuela and grew up near the Temples at the Misión Vieja (Old Mission) community in Whittier Narrows south of El Monte, not only worked for Francis at the Homestead, but had significant responsibilities on the ranch.
This was due, it appears, for two principal reasons. First, Francis had chronic tuberculosis which, as he aged, required him to spend more time away from the Homestead and out at Yuma, Arizona, where the drier desert environment gave him some relief for his malady.
Secondly, however, Laura clearly demonstrated great maturity and a natural talent for overseeing the affairs of a 75-acre ranch when she was just 16 years old. Francis wrote her an unknown number of letters, this one being the only known survivor, in which he laid out for her detailed instructions on managing the ranch in his absence.
We know also, though, that there was a clandestine romance between Laura and Francis’ younger brother, Walter, from which a few surviving letters from this period show us the ardor that the young man felt for his beau, even as they had to go to some lengths to conceal the situation from Francis and others in Walter’s family.
The letter is addressed to “Miss Lorenza Gonzales / Puente Station,” which refers to the recent establishment of the town of Puente, created just a couple of years before. Being far away from home and concerned about the upkeep of his property, Francis began by writing that he was “feeling rather uneasy about Louis Ybarra’s order” for wine. The Ybarra family were grantees of a small rancho, Rincon de la Brea (also known as Cañada de la Brea,) which bordered La Puente at the southeast where parts of Diamond Bar and Walnut are situated today.
So, Francis continued, he wrote “to ascertain whither [sic] he had received the order or not.” Moving to the crucial matter of labor, he added
if enough wine and Brandy cannot be sold to carry on the payment of two men, you pay as far as you can with the sales of Wine & Brandy and for the Bal[ance], when Mr. Lambourn comes to the Homestead, you show him the Accounts, and balances of these two men, and he will settle with them. I wrote to Mr. Lambourn to settle with the men when required. Mr. Lambourn will be out to the Ranch monthly.
The reference here is to Frederick Lambourn, also occasionally referred to in the blog. Born in England in 1837, Lambourn came to America with his family when a toddler and was raised in Illinois. In the late 1850s, he came across to plains to California and settled in El Monte. After a short stay there, he was hired by William Workman to teach the Temple grandchildren in the private school established in the Workman House.
Lambourn proved so valuable and able that he was soon made the foreman of the expansive Workman portion of Rancho La Puente, which amounted to over 24,000 acres. He remained in this capacity until well into the 1870s, though he established a side business with William Turner, who operated the Workman Mill, as the two ran a store at that site.
In 1874, a botched robbery led to Turner and his wife being wounded and then miscarrying their child. What followed was one of our region’s last lynchings, when the accused, Jesús Romo, was hanged by Lambourn, Walter Drown (whose guardian was William Workman and who may have been the namesake for Walter Temple), and El Monte merchant Jacob Schlessinger, who referred to themselves by the widely-known appellation of “Monte Boys.”
The following year, Lambourn was elected to the California state assembly, serving a single term, and then returned to Los Angeles to open a wholesale grocery business with Turner very near where U.S. 101 runs through downtown near modern Union Station. The two men prospered with their endeavor so that, by 1888, they were quite well-to-do. Obviously, Lambourn remained close with the Workman and Temple families as this letter demonstrates.
Returning to the labor matter, Francis wrote Laura “I think that two good men can attend to all that is required on such a small farm.” He then went into great detail about how these laborers could work in the vineyards, denoted Zinfandel, the Old Vineyard, and “Bleau Elben,” or Bleu Elben, a variety of grape.
Mentioned specifically here was “Genero” or Genaro, which was the middle name of one of Laura’s brothers, Francisco, born in 1862. Francis discussed the plowing, weeding and other work, including the digging out of dead vines and the gathering of sarmiento, or branches, presumably from the vines, needed to be done in the vineyards by the two men.
Having explained this, Francis went on to implore Laura that “it is most important to have the vineyard plowed so as to keep the weeds down and it should be plowed when the ground is neither to[o] wet nor to[o] dry [or] you will do a bad job in plowing.” He continued “you must do your plowing in time, so as to get your land as pulverized as possible, you know that clods look horrid on plowed land.”
By moving in a timely manner, he went on, “the cultivator can also be used when the clods are damp, and can be easily broken, but when left too long will harden like a rock, and [it] is useless to attempt to crush them.” The reference here was to the very rich soil that made the Rancho La Puente remarkably fertile, but had a heavy clay element that, as Francis noted, could “harden like a rock.”
Emphasizing time, Francis continued, “the idea is to have the vineyards, walnut orchard & Gum trees [this seems to refer to a grove of eucalyptus trees] plowed as soon as possible.” Once this was completed, there was a better chance of preventing “weeds getting ahead of the plow,” otherwise, he cautioned, “you will have trouble all the way through from beginning to end.” That would mean using a hoe with hand work “and that is too expensive.”
He noted that if more help was needed than just two laborers, Laura was to let him know in her reply letter and Francis would arrange for someone “to run the ship,” though he added “you see there is no wine to be racked off till May.” This process involved the removal of dead yeast and sediments (or “lees”) from the wine, which was placed in a clean barrel as part of the aging and maturing process.
Returning to business, Francis asked Laura “has Rambaud been at home for wine?” and then went on to tell her that “if he wants wine let him pay for it. You follow instructions as stated in your last letter. If they want it at that price it is all right. If not, let them go somewhere else and buy their wines. I cannot sell any cheaper. It is cheap enough as it is for that class of wine.” This appears to refer to Seraphim Rambaud, a French native who owned a Los Angeles saloon in the 1880s.
As he wrapped up, Francis informed Laura that “Christmas & New Year past [passed] off without any unusual notice. Every thing was very dull, not even a fire craker [sic] was exploded.” He then lamented that “it was the dullest Holidays I have ever experienced in my life.”
No farmer in greater Los Angeles could likely write such a letter and not ask, “has it rained much in L.A. Co. of late?” Francis then inquired “has the San Jose Creek risen any in volume of water since the rains.” He asked because “the Zanja [irrigation ditch] I suppose wants cleaning” noting that “in March is time enough” and that “the ditch must be well cleaned from the cellars up to the Alanno group” and “from the group to the dam only the weeds can be cut off.”
What Francis was discussing was a ditch that was dug from the north side of the creek, which is now a cement flood control channel but then usually had abundant water year round, east of the Homestead and ran up to and between the two larger of the trio of brick cellars.
These stood about where the Homestead Gallery is, directly south of the Workman House and circa 1880s Water Tower. It is not known what the “Alanno group” refers to, though it may have involved a way to move the water more quickly in lieu of a pump system from the dam where the ditch started and through the hundreds of yards or so to get to the vineyards, orchards, and wine cellars.
Finally, Francis ended his missive by simply telling Laura, “I am improving slowly,” but that, unfortunately, proved not to be true longer term. On 2 August 1888, just three days prior to his fortieth birthday, Francis succumbed to the terrible lung condition and it was said that he died in the same room of the Workman House in which he was born.
He was laid to rest at El Campo Santo Cemetery and the Homestead was left to his two next youngest brothers, William and John. The former was out of the area, having recently finished a several year stint in the Army, and sold his interest in the ranch to the latter.
John owned the Homestead from 1888 to 1899, but struggled financially with a devastating blight wreaking havoc to almost all of the region’s vineyards. The 1890s also included several drought years and a national depression that burst forth in 1893 and, having borrowed money from a bank, John could not pay back the loan and was foreclosed upon as the century neared its end.
As for Laura, she was one of the beneficiaries (along with her mother, who may also have worked for Francis), and then left the Homestead when John and his family took possession. She lived in Boyle Heights during the Nineties and taught piano before she finally married Walter in 1903, more than fifteen years after the romance was initially kindled.
In 1922, just before her death, Laura filled part of a “Day Book” with what look to be transcriptions from an earlier document recording events that transpired at the Homestead while she was managing it for Francis during his extended absences. Some day, we’ll feature that “Day Book” as a post on this blog.