by Paul R. Spitzzeri
One of the more notable aspects of the Homestead’s history during the ownership of the ranch by Walter P. Temple from 1917 to 1932 is that he and his wife, Laura Gonzalez, having amassed a small fortune through the stunning discovery of oil on their Montebello-area ranch, decided to send their four surviving children to boarding schools in the belief that they would receive a better education at private schools than at public ones.
This was the case for over a decade, at schools in greater Los Angeles, then in the Bay Area and finally, for the three boys, in Massachusetts. After Laura’s death at the end of 1922, the distances between the children and their father were even more pronounced, especially as they moved to schools that were further away.
The Temple family was, however, close-knit and they did all they could, despite the miles between them, to stay in touch and keep family bonds connected. When the children were at boarding schools locally, they returned home on weekends, though the eldest, Thomas, was the first to leave the family nest when he went to the preparatory high school at the University of Santa Clara in the late teens.
By 1923, less than a year after Laura’s passing, the other two sons, Walter, Jr., and Edgar, were sent to the Belmont School, a prep school north of Santa Clara on the way to San Francisco. Two years, after her high school graduation from St. Mary’s Academy in Los Angeles, Agnes journeyed north to attend Dominican College in San Rafael, north of San Francisco, so all four children were in the same general Northern California region.
In 1926, the momentous decision was made to send all the children to Massachusetts, the home state of Walter, Sr.’s father and where some of his brothers went to college in the 1870s, to continue their schooling. Agnes, who was being considered for Wellesley College and other all-girls colleges, decided against leaving Dominican, however, so it was her brothers who went.
As the children moved further from home, they relied on regular telegrams from their father, though these were by necessity brief, while they wrote letters to each other and to their father. The only of the quartet, though, who wrote regularly; in fact, it was religiously, was Thomas. He was generally very consistent in writing, especially home to his parents and, after his mother died, to his father, often on a weekly basis.
These missives are not only representative of what a young man, writing over a decade, from junior high through college was going through, but a reflection of the challenges of being separated from his family for long stretches, especially once he’d gone to Northern California and then to New England. References were frequent to missing his father and siblings, but also to his friends and, in Massachusetts, Temple family members, who provided him the support he needed being so far from home.
Today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a letter from Thomas to Walter, Sr. and dated 20 March 1926. It came at the end of his undergraduate work, which started at the California Institute of Technology for the fall semester of 1922 and then, after Laura passed, back to Santa Clara, where Thomas felt more at home, having been there for four previous years at the prep school.
He was going to be heading east in a few months to begin the challenging curriculum of the prestigious Harvard Law School, but, in this letter, Thomas referred extensively to the network of friends that made his eight years in Santa Clara far more bearable and a home away from home.
Thomas began his missive, addressed to his father at “Rancho de la Puente, Puente, Calif.,” by noting that it was St. Joseph’s Day the day before, and that, at the Roman Catholic college, it “was one of pomp and circumstance” with it being “fittingly celebrated 75 years ago” with the founding of what was then called Santa Clara College, which remains the oldest continuously operating institution of higher learning in California. Thomas related to his father that “Father John Nobili, through Arch Bishop [joseph Sadoc] Alemany, received the keys to [Mission] Sanra Clara from the last of the Franciscans, and founded the College under the name of St. Joseph, who was the patron of Junipero Serra.”
Here Thomas showed another example of his passion for history, though he was being groomed by his father for a legal career, and would forsake the law to become a genealogist and historian of early California. It is also worth noting that St. Joseph was a key religious figure for our local area, including being the namesake of Rancho San Jose, comprising Pomona, Claremont, La Verne and San Dimas, while the San Jose Hills range from Pomona to West Covina and St. Joseph’s Church was established as Puente’s Roman Catholic Church in the 1880s.
For the St. Joseph’s Day and the founding of the university, Thomas added that “we had a holiday and many dignitaries of the Church officiated at Mass,” while Archbishop Edward J. Hanna was to dedicate the new prep school and the brother of Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop John J. Cantwell was to be present, being Hanna’s secretary.
Thomas then turned to another topic, telling his father that he and classmate J. Howard Ziemann, who was from Monrovia, “were the guests of the Leet family in San Francisco.” Ziemann went on to be an attorney after returning to the San Gabriel Valley, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, and the first dean of Loyola Law School, while a son became a Roman Catholic bishop.
A little piece of trivia about Ziemann is that his mother’s brother was vice-president at Kimberly-Clark Corporation when, under his leadership, it introduced Kotex, the first disposable feminine hygiene product, in 1920, followed four years later by Kleenex tissue, both of which became the firm’s primary profit boosters. Frank Sensenbrenner’s great-grandson, Jim, is a long-time Republican member of the House of Representatives from Wisconsin and his wealth is based on shares he inherited in the company.
This Golden Gate excursion included “a supper dance at the Cliff Hotel Roof Garden lately built, then a theatre party to hear John McCormack.” McCormack was a famous and wildly popular Irish tenor, whose peak was during the 1910, and it was said he could sing without amplification to crowds of many thousands.
Thomas gushed to his father, “it was a perfect evening, Dad, and these good people have been so nice to me—you remember Mrs. Leet saying that she would take care of me—she has kept her promise.” With Thomas and Ziemann coupled with the Leet sister, Adelia, who apparently had a thing from Thomas, and Winifred, “we made an evening of it.” Naturally, Thomas concluded, “the Irish tenor was greatly applauded by the S.F. Irish.”
He then turned to the ending of the letter, writing that “no doubt Agnes has told you when she gets out” of school for the year, though he stated “I haven’t heard from the boys. Walter promised to come down Thursday P.M., but he did not show up.” After noting that a San Jose family was going to Europe, Thomas added, “sorry our plans for this summer have fallen through to go across, but there will be another time.”
Several of Thomas’ letters to his father talked about plans for a European jaunt and he sent Walter guidebooks to help planning, but summer 1926 turned out to be a family trip to New England, including to enroll the boys in their respective schools. While there was talk of going to Europe over the next couple of years, that never materialized.
Much of the problem was that Walter Temple’s finances became more strained and complicated, including the financing of bonds in 1926 to complete building projects in Alhambra and to continue work in the Town of Temple, founded by Walter three years prior and renamed Temple City in 1928. The reorganization effort, however, could not stave off further financial problems and, by the Great Depression, the end was inevitable.
As he wrapped up his missive, Thomas asked his father to send money for train tickets for he and his brothers, who were to head home on the last day of May. After extending “my love to you all,” at the Homestead, Thomas wrote, “and soon we are shall be reunited again.” He ended by stating that he’d enclosed, “a few snaps taken at Belmont last Saturday,” Thomas being an avid photographer, including his documentation of the construction of La Casa Nueva during much of the Twenties. This trio of photos, taken on the 13th, of the three Temple sons were still in the envelope and are shown here.