Checks and Balances: A Check from the Temple and Workman bank, 6 April 1872

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of the more remarkable aspects of the history of the Workman and Temple family was the ambitious move by F.P.F. Temple and his father-in-law, William Workman, from ranching and farming in pastoral greater Los Angeles prior to 1868 into the nascent and growing business world of the City of the Angels.

Among the earliest decisions made by the two men was aligning with the brilliant young merchant, Isaias W. Hellman, in the formation of the second bank in Los Angeles, Hellman, Temple and Company, which opened its doors in September 1868 in the Pico Building on the east side of Main Street.

The region was in the early stages of its first significant and sustained period of growth and development and offering capital through loans for these purposes came at the right time and with the right leadership.  Hellman operated an informal banking enterprise in his store for several years and had the skill set, foresight and temperament to be a highly successful banker.  Temple and Workman would have been more than well-served to turn over management of the enterprise to Hellman and let his enormous talent make them plenty of money.

Detail The_St_Johnsbury_Caledonian_Fri__Apr_26__1872_
Mention of the Temple Block building newly finished and housing the Temple and Workman bank in an account of Los Angeles by New York journalist Charles Nordhoff as reprinted from the New York Tribune by the St. Johnsbury [Vermont] Caledonian, 26 April 1872.
Unfortunately, Temple wanted to be more involved and he and Hellman had diverging views on fundamental aspects of banking, such as loaning policy.  Concerned that Temple’s attitude would prevail in being more relaxed about such elements as obtaining sufficient collateral, Hellman decided in early 1871, after just over two years in business, to dissolve the partnership.  He turned to former governor John G. Downey, who was a partner in the first bank in the city, Hayward and Company (also opened in 1868), and the duo developed Farmers and Merchants, a dominant player in the financial world of Los Angeles for decades.

Undaunted, Temple convinced Workman that they form their own institution bearing their names.  While the intention was to open earlier, the new bank of Temple and Workman dawned to the public in November 1871 in spacious and well-ornamented quarters on the first floor of the latest and final addition to the Temple Block, facing the triple intersection of Main, Spring and Temple streets.

With its ornate counter, impressive vault, and the substantial personal fortunes of its owners backing the enterprise, Temple and Workman gave the impression of having the potential to be successful.  The bank building caught the discerning eye of Charles Nordhoff, a German-born and New York based journalist for such well-known publications as Harper’s Magazine, the New York Evening Post, and the New York Tribune.

From 1871 to 1873, Nordhoff, for whom the street in the San Fernando Valley was named and who was the original namesake of Ojai (the name was changed during anti-German sentiment during World War I) spent considerable time in California, as well as a visit to Hawaii, and at the end of that period he wrote California: For Health, Pleasure, and Residence, which was widely read when published in 1873.  The book’s contents were often published in the Tribune and reprinted elsewhere.

This table from the 29 May 1872 edition of the San Francisco Examiner shows that the Temple and Workman bank had far less capital and a little more than half the amount of deposits of rival Farmers and Merchants [not Mechanics] Bank, owned and managed by Isaias W. Hellman, the former banking partner of Temple and Workman.
For example, the St. Johnsbury Caledonian, a newspaper from a Vermont town of about 5,000 residents (now about 7,600), reprinted one of the serialized sections that appeared in the Tribune in its 26 April 1872 edition.  Beginning his description of arriving in Los Angeles after coming in from the suburbs, Nordhoff wrote,

The Puebla [sic] de los Angeles—the town of the angels—is not in its present state a very angelic place.  It is irregularly built, the older part having but one principal street, at one end of which, however, stands a building [actually, four]—the Temple block, built by Messrs. Temple & Workman—which is, both for size and excellence of architecture, worthy of San Francisco or New York.

Nordhoff went on to praise the town and the “abundant signs of a real and well founded prosperity,” which he added, “will surprise you if you have listened to the opinion of San Franciscans about this metropolis of Southern California.”  With his penchant for pungent prose, the journalist went on to say that

Los Angeles has many of the signs of a prosperous business center; its hackmen [horse-drawn taxis] cheat you; its police is inefficient; its streets are dirty; and its roughs but recently got up a riot, in which, as you will remember, a number of Chinese were brutally assassinated.

Nordhoff rather blithely referred here to the horrors of the Chinese Massacre of 24 October 1871 of about six months prior, when nineteen Chinese males (one a teenager) were lynched by a crazed mob of hundreds of Anglos and Latinos who hunted their victims in the decaying Calle de los Negros, southeast of the Plaza.

Temple and Workman also advertised outside our region as shown in this example from the Weekly [Prescott] Arizona Miner of 15 February 1873.
This account was published about three weeks before the highlighted artifact from the museum’s collection in this post was issued, a 6 April 1872 check paid out by the Temple and Workman bank to Frederick Lambourn, a long-time employee of Workman who taught at the private school in the Workman House from about 1860 and then served as foreman for the more than 24,000 acres Workman owned as his half of Rancho La Puente.

Lambourn, born in England in 1837, migrated to Illinois with his family when he was a small child and then came to El Monte in 1859.  Soon finding employment as the teacher of the Temple grandchildren of the Workmans, he was entrusted with the major responsibilities of supervising the massive acreage of the Workman portion of La Puente, including the significant increase in agricultural production after the floods and droughts of the first half of the 1860s forced a move away from cattle ranching as the backbone of the ranch’s economic productivity.

Lambourn, who was given a 40-acre parcel of the ranch at its northern border probably in modern West Covina, teamed up with William Turner, who operated the Workman Mill, to run a general store next to the mill and the Turner residence, situated about where Workman Mill Road and Crossroads Parkway South meet in the City of Industry at the base of the Puente Hills and near the junction of the 605 and 60 freeways.

One of several Temple and Workman bank checks in the Homestead’s collection, this one, donated by descendant Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis, is from 6 April 1872 and made out to Frederick Lambourn, William Workman’s ranch foreman, for $716.00 paid from a promissory note to Workman from Los Angeles viniculturist Mathew Keller.

The check was paid “on Mr. M. Keller’s note” for $716.00 and this refers to Mathew Keller, a prominent viniculturist and winemaker in Los Angeles, who has been profiled here previously.  It was quite common, though hardly these days, for one person to borrow money from another and then issue a promissory note, stating the amount loaned, the period of the loan, and the accruing interest, which could be quite high.  It is not known what the circumstances and conditions were of Workman’s loan to Keller, but, in earlier years, it could easily have been 3-5% interest per month.

From scanty evidence available, we know that Workman occasionally loaned money to friends and neighbors of his in the region, including viniculturist and former Los Angeles mayor Benjamin D. Wilson (who came to California with Workman in 1841 and from whom he received a part of Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, better known as the Beverly Hills area), attorney and judge Jonathan R. Scott (from whom Workman acquired a vineyard in what is now southwest Glendale), and Casilda Soto de Lobo, grantee of Rancho La Merced and whom Workman foreclosed upon when a $2,000 note plus interest came due in 1850—Workman then deeded the ranch to his son-in-law, Temple, and La Puente foreman Juan Matias Sánchez.  Sánchez, in turn, loaned money to Workman on a note, but his former boss was able to repay the loan on time and we know that Workman also had notes with Hellman at the latter’s informal banking operation in his store.

The check was signed “William Workman per Fredk. Lambourn,” meaning the document was filled out by Lambourn and presented by him to the bank on Saturday, 6 April 1872, with the “PAID” stamp applied to the face.  Incidentally, using the Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for adjusted inflation, that $716.00 translates into over $15,000 in current dollars—a pretty substantial sum!

Frederick Lambourn
Frederick Lambourn from Rebecca Humphreys Turner’s book, My Story.

Lambourn continued in Workman’s employ for another three years, during which a botched robbery in early June 1874 at the Workman Mill store led to the serious wounding of his partner, Turner, and Turner’s wife Rebecca, who miscarried as a result of the attack.  When a suspect, Jesús Romo, was captured while hiding on the bank of the San Gabriel River and then turned over to an El Monte constable to be taken and jailed in Los Angeles, three masked men intervened, took Romo to a nearby tree and lynched him.

The identity of the men was not publicly known (or revealed), but Rebecca Turner, years later, identified Lambourn as one of the trio.  The following year, 1875, Lambourn won election to the state assembly and one wonders if it was unstated common knowledge about his involvement in the lynching of Romo that helped him win the seat.

After serving a single term, Lambourn returned to the area, by which time Workman was ruined by the spectacular collapse and failure of the Temple and Workman bank in 1876.  Lambourn and Turner then opened, that same year, a wholesale grocery business in downtown Los Angeles that flourished for many years, providing its owners a comfortable life.  Lambourn died in 1914 and Rebecca Turner’s book was not published, and then in a very limited private edition, for over 45 years after that.

Workman Keller portraits City That Grew
A woodcut image of Mathew [one T] Keller, with his friends and neighbors in the Boyle and Workman families from The City That Grew, by [Andrew] Boyle Workman, grandson of the David Workman and his wife Nancy Hook and of Andrew Boyle shown here, and published in 1935.
As for Keller, as covered in the post from last December, he was a very prosperous man and, about the time of the Temple and Workman bank failure and worsening economic situation, he was experiencing financial stresses from sagging sales, an overabundance of inventory and growing interest on debts.  So, he went east to try to open a market for his wine, opening a dealing house in Philadelphia.

After a couple of years, however, he returned to Los Angeles as Keller “felt age creeping on” and as he needed to devote himself more personally to managing his affairs in Los Angeles.  In April 1881, the 69-year old “Don Mateo,” as he was commonly known died of a heart attack.

This check, one of several Temple and Workman examples in the collection, is a representative artifact for the bank, as well as for Lambourn and Keller, who were notable and interesting figures of their day.


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