by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Last month, a “Portrait Gallery” entry was on Ygnacio del Valle, one of the most prominent Californios of this time and owner of the famous Rancho Camulos, a part of the larger Rancho San Francisco, in Ventura County west of modern Santa Clarita. Today’s entry is a carte de visite photograph of Don Ygnacio’s son, Reginaldo (1854-1938), who became a major figure in local politics as a rare example of a Latino holding major offices at the local and state level.
Reginaldo’s photo was taken by Valentine Wolfenstein, who was very active in Los Angeles during most of the 1870s and who will be the subject of a post on his remarkable life and career. The photo, like that of his father, was sent to the Temple family and remained in their possession until just a few years ago.
Del Valle was born in 1854, as the Gold Rush was coming to a close and greater Los Angeles’ years as the main supplier of fresh beef to the teeming hordes in the mining regions was starting to wane, at the family’s adobe facing the Plaza, the historic center of the pueblo of Los Angeles. It was seven years after the American seizure of Mexican California and mistrust and violence generally ran high among many Latinos and Anglos in the region.
In 1861, when he was seven, del Valle’s family moved to Camulos. This was just prior to the devastating dual disaster of deluge and drought that decimated the region and its cattle industry, the backbone of the regional economy, through the middle of the decade. Del Valle’s father quickly turned, as many Anglos like the Workmans and Temples did, to farming, including citrus, grapes and nuts, but the transition proved to be traumatic financially as portions of Rancho San Francisco were sold due to mounting debts.
The del Valle sons, Reginaldo and his younger brother Ulpiano, were given excellent educations, with Reginaldo attending St. Vincent’s College in Los Angeles, which included our modern junior high school age students up to college-level students, and finished his high school education in 1871 with high academic honors. He then went north to Santa Clara College, where he completed his bachelor’s degree at age 19 in 1873.
His intellect and talent led him to “read law” at a San Francisco firm and he was admitted to the bar in 1877. Del Valle opened a law firm in the Temple Block, built over about fifteen years by Jonathan Temple and, after his death in 1866, by his half-brother, F.P.F. The Temple Block was long known for being the preferred address of the city’s growing cadre of attorneys because it was adjacent to the county courthouse, built by Jonathan Temple as a commercial market house in 1859.
During the time when he was establishing his legal career, del Valle’s father took out mortgages amounting to over $25,000 with Henry Newhall and, when del Valle ran for the California Assembly in 1879, a $2,000 loan was taken out to pay for campaign expenses. A Democrat at a time when the party was at the end of its dominance in regional politics, del Valle emerged victorious and was sworn in on 2 January 1880 as one of the 79 members of the Assembly, one of just six from the south and the only Latino in the entire body. Remarkably, the nascent politician was just 25 years old.
There were tremendous changes underway and coming for the state and greater Los Angeles. Anti-Chinese sentiment grew dramatically, a Workingmen’s Party became prominent and a new state constitution was adopted just as del Valle entered politics, bringing many changes to government operations, such as the reformulation of the court system among many others.
Del Valle took a particular interest in the drive to have a second branch, the first being in San Jose, of the state normal school for teacher education, and he introduced a bill to establish one in Los Angeles. His father died in March 1880 as del Valle was deeply invested in fighting for this project, but he returned from a week’s absence only to see the session end without a victory.
In 1881, however, having been reelected to his seat and narrowly losing a vote to become speaker of the Assembly, he introduced a new bill and, this time, a Senate bill was offered by the Los Angeles representative, probably with del Valle’s assistance, and the young Assembly member quickly became known for his parliamentary skills. After the Senate approved the bill, the Assembly turned to del Valle’s legislation and was successful in the canvass.
At the end of 1881, the groundbreaking ceremony on the hill overlooking Central Park, later Pershing Square, was held and del Valle was said to have “made one of his stirring speeches.” The structure was completed by late summer and the opening took place in September 1882, giving del Valle an achievement that continued with the morphing of the normal school into the University of California’s Southern Branch, now known as U.C.L.A.
Having proved himself particularly adept at navigating the complex operations and political mazes of state government, especially at an unusually young age, del Valle decided to try and move up the ladder to the state Senate. Winning election in late 1881, he took his seat in the upper house of the legislature early the next year. He continued his interest in the normal school and successfully lobbied to have it be an autonomous institution, rather than be a branch of the San Jose school.
Del Valle ran for the United States Congress in 1884, but was defeated and his term in the state Senate ended the following year. It was at the end 1885 that the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad completed its direct transcontinental railroad line to Los Angeles, ushering in the great Boom of the Eighties that followed for the next few years. Perhaps because of the dramatic demographic shifting that came about during that period which also swung the political power bloc to the Republicans, del Valle’s attempt at further political office with a run for lieutenant governor in 1890s was unsuccessful.
As soon as he left the state Senate, however, del Valle, who returned his attention to real estate and formed the California and Mexican Land Company with several Los Angeles partners, including Thomas W. Temple (1846-1892), the eldest child of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple. Thomas, referred to as “Lord Chesterfield” for his good looks, manners, and fine clothes, first went into business with the tinware firm of Childs and Hicks in the late 1860s.
After his father and grandfather, William Workman, opened their bank in late 1871, Thomas joined the firm as a cashier. In 1872, he was among the trustees of the Los Angeles Public Library and briefly announced his candidacy the next year for county treasurer, before yielding to his father. The Temple and Workman bank’s spectacular collapse in 1875-76 included the revelation that Thomas was in debt to the institution for tens of thousands of dollars.
In the aftermath of the failure of the bank and of his family’s substantial fortune, Thomas, who married Nettie Friend of Santa Cruz in 1876, settled down on 100 acres of Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, north of the family homestead at Whittier Narrows and which was given to him by his mother. He remained there for several years, but then left in the early Eighties for Hermosillo in the Mexican state of Sonora, where he ran a club room and dabbled in real estate.
It was after his return to Los Angeles and likely because of his experiences in northern Mexico that Temple, who went to work as the manager of the Spanish-language newspaper La Cronica, became associated with del Valle and the California and Mexican Land Company. The boom was on and it seems likely the firm was formed to take advantage of the hot real estate market, though there is scanty evidence of transactions.
Incorporation of the firm, with $100,000 in stock, was in January 1887 and an announcement in the Los Angeles Times of the 29th stated that the company “proposes to buy lands and form colonies in California and other Pacific coast States and Territories and in Mexico.” The following month when officer elections were held, del Valle became president and Temple secretary. The Times reported that
after a careful study and thorough investigation into business matters on this coast and in Mexico, this company has been established for the purpose of facilitating matters and showing its great advantages for the stockman, farmer and mining man. The company can render great assistance to parties desiring to enter into business enterprises in Mexico, as to land, mining and commercial matters.
Ads were taken out in local papers, listing the company’s office in the same quarters as La Cronica and indicating that the enterprise would “secure privileges, concessions, grants and franchises in Mexico” and would “survey, segregate and colonize lands”, while also doing general real estate in that country and in California.
In July 1887, the firm offered a lot for sale in a tract off Pico Boulevard and five years later there was reference to the firm offering land warrants to nearly 5,000 acres of land, presumably in Mexico. The company marketed and sold the 13,000-acre Rancho Temescal, which was adjacent to Rancho San Francisco and Camulos and acquired by del Valle’s father. It was sold in 1887 for some $67,000 to an Illinois transplant and publisher, David Cook, who then developed the town of Piru on the ranch.
By the time the Mexican land warrants were on offer, Temple, who was the sole proprietor of La Cronica for several years, was dead when a flu epidemic in the winter of 1892 hit and also took the lives of his mother and grandmother Nicolasa Workman within just a couple of weeks.
As for del Valle, he retained a prominent place in Democratic Party politics, though it was largely overshadowed locally by Republican dominance for years. He was chair of the state party conventions in 1888 and 1894 and traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to serve as a delegate to the national party convention in 1900. A close friend of William Mulholland, who oversaw the Los Angeles Aqueduct project, del Valle was given much credit for his role in developing this monumental engineering marvel. He also served on the Los Angeles Board of Public Service for some two decades, including a long stretch as its president, from the late 1900s to late 1920s. He was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to be a representative of the administration in Mexico, though his tenure there was notably unsuccessful.
In March 1928, Mulholland’s St. Francis Dam collapsed, sending massive amounts of surging water down the Santa Clara River path and killing over 400 people. Among the property damage was some $300,000 lost at Camulos, though del Valle and his family sold the ranch four years prior for $3 million.
For much of his life, del Valle was held up as a preeminent “Spanish” Californian and he was a frequent guest speaker at many civic events. His family and Camulos were widely known as primary inspirations for Helen Hunt Jackson’s best-selling novel Ramona, published while del Valle was a state senator. He grew to dislike the book, but the romantic fantasy of pre-American California that the book epitomized was further represented by del Valle’s daughter, Lucretia (1892-1972), his only child with wife Helen White Caystile, whose father Caleb was an early settler in Pomona where White Avenue is named for him and who had a daughter from her previous marriage.
A talented actress, Lucretia was well-known and widely regarded for her role of Josefa Yorba in The Mission Play, John Steven McGroarty’s celebration of the Spanish missionaries and their work in Christianizing and “civilizing” the indigenous people of the area. Lucretia performed in 850 shows starting with the inaugural year of 1912 and another connection to the Temple family was that Walter P. Temple became a fervent supporter of the play to the extent that, in the mid-1920s, when a new playhouse, still hosting theatrical and musical performances today, was being planned, his business manager, Milton Kauffman, was on the board of trustees and Temple and Henry E. Huntington were the largest single donors to the project. Later, Lucretia followed her father into Democratic Party politics, serving as a state party committee member.
Reginaldo continued his work as a lawyer for much of the remaining years of his long life and represented Mexican immigrants, was a founder of the San Gabriel Spanish-American League, and was awarded a medal from La Liga Protectiva Latina for his work with the Mexican community. Long a resident on Figueroa Street directly across from the University of Southern California, del Valle died on 21 September 1938, two months before Walter P. Temple passed away. His portrait is an excellent representation in the Museum’s collection for his associations with the upper-class Californio community, regional and state politics, business, law, and many others.