by Paul R. Spitzzeri
From within a very short time of settling on the Rancho La Puente in spring 1842, William Workman planted grapes, likely from cuttings obtained from the Mission San Gabriel, and began to manufacture wine. He’d actually had prior experience as a producer of alcoholic beverages dating back at least to his years in Taos, New Mexico. In February 1826, shortly after arriving there from Missouri, he wrote to his brother David, in a letter that still survives in the Homestead’s collection, requesting materials to build a still (though he requested they be packed carefully as they were contraband—it was illegal for extranjeros of foreigners to make liquor, probably because of the indigenous people living at the pueblo there.)
Over some thirty-five years at La Puente, Workman expanded his vineyards and his production of wine and brandy, especially as he made the transition from cattle ranching as the backbone of his enterprise at the ranch to farming. By the mid-1860s, after a punishing drought following terrible floods before that, he built three large winery buildings directly south of his home and increased production significantly during the region’s first sustained period of growth and development lasting through the mid-Seventies.
The devastating failure of the Temple and Workman bank early in 1876 left the aged Workman, then 76 years of age bewildered and bereft and his suicide shocked the community as the boom suddenly went bust. In his last years, the maintenance of the vineyards and the oversight of wine-making was handled by his grandson, Francis W. Temple, the second child of Workman’s daughter, Margarita, and her husband, F.P.F. Temple. As a large loan made to the bank by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin was secured by mortgages of many properties, including Workman’s nearly 20,000-acre portion of La Puente, it was three years before the San Francisco millionaire foreclosed.
Temple was able to work out an arrangement by which the Workman House, El Campo Santo Cemetery, wineries and other outbuildings, along with 75 acres of land, were acquired by Baldwin. The transaction, consummated in 1880, involved a consideration of $5,000. A gifted viticulturist and wine-maker, Temple continued to make good use of the products of the vine until his death from tuberculosis in August 1888.
The Homestead then passed to two younger brothers, William and John. The former was out of the state and sold his interest to the latter, who moved from the Whittier Narrows area to the ranch. Whether he was unable to work the vineyard as successfully or rather, more likely, it was issues with a disease that wiped out most of the region’s vines (the Rancho Cucamonga area being a rare example that was spared the destruction), wine-making stopped very shortly afterward.
Meanwhile, in the Whittier Narrows, Baldwin sold, in 1881, the houses and buildings and 50 acres owned by the Temples at La Merced to Margarita Workman de Temple and took over the remainder of the family’s holdings there by virtue of the foreclosure of the bank loan. After her death just over a decade later, during a flu outbreak that claimed the lives of her mother, Nicolasa Urioste, and eldest son, Thomas, within a few weeks, the Temple Homestead passed to her youngest children, Walter and Charles.
Though it is not known whether any vineyards were still left at that property, the brothers did lease the family’s adobe house, built in 1851 and which had a wooden second-story addition, to wine-maker Giovanni Piuma, a native of Italy. Piuma later became a prominent figure in that industry in downtown Los Angeles. When Walter Temple, who acquired his brother’s interest in the tract, sold the family homestead in 1912 and moved a short distance to the west, he was the fortunate beneficiary of oil discovered on his new holdings by his nine-year old son Thomas.
In summer 1917, the first oil well drilled on the Temple lease by Standard Oil Company of California, now Chevron, yielded royalties which, over the next several years and a couple dozen wells later, provided a substantial fortune to Walter, his wife Laura and their four surviving of five children. Just four months after the first crude was extracted at the lease, Walter and Laura bought the Workman Homestead, as well as a home in Alhambra. The lived full-time at the latter and went out for weekend stays at the former.
In 1919, after decades of persistence by temperance figures, the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution made the manufacture and sale of virtually all alcoholic drinks illegal. There were some products, such as sacramental wine and those used for medicinal purposes, that were allowed and “near beer” and other concoctions comprised of one-half of 1% alcohol were legally allowed. Generally, however, Prohibition was honored excessively in the breach and the law was repealed after fourteen years.
Out at the Homestead in rural Puente, the Temples appear to have easily avoided any scrutiny about their consumption of alcohol. A quarter-century ago, an oral history with Jack Romero, whose father, Frank, was a ranch foreman and driver for the Temples and who lived at the Homestead when he was a boy, stated that his father had a specially constructed false bottom under the rear seats of a large sedan so that he could safely transport illicit booze. Moreover, there were a number of folks in the agricultural region surrounding the ranch who made wine, beer and liquor quite freely.
So, tonight’s highlighted artifacts from the museum’s holdings, comprising the Form 1541 issued by the Internal Revenue Service and titled, in a typically cumbersome fashion by the feds, “Notice of Intention to Produce Not In Excess of 200 Gallons of Nonintoxicating Fruit Juices Exclusively For Use in the Home of the Producer,” are interesting artifacts from the Prohibition era.
The first was issued to Walter P. Temple on 25 August 1924 and the second was from just over a year later, on 30 September 1925. These documents, signed by Temple with the first executed at Los Angeles and the second at Puente, attested that he gave notice that, about a week after the signing date:
“I intend to commence producing nonintoxicating fruit juices exclusvely for my use in my home, and not to be otherwise removed, consumed, sold, or delivered, and that I do not intend to produce more than 200 gallons of such fruit juice during the year from which this notice is given and is in effect.”
If Temple was to exceed the specified amount, he was to “give timely notice thereof on Form 698 and execute a bond as required . . . and will further comply with the provisions” of applicable IRS and Prohibition laws and regulations. We don’t know with certainty which “fruit juices” were manufactured or whether this was done for more than just these two years.
It does seem possible that some vineyards were maintained on the ranch, which was expanded by Temple to 92 acres, and a note at the bottom states that the form “is not required from the maker of cider.” So, it would be interesting to know if anything other than wine or brandy would have been possible. Maybe someone out there knows.
By the time Prohibition was rescinded, Temple lost the Homestead to foreclosure in summer 1932 as his finances fell precipitously during the latter part of the previous decade. At this point, we don’t have any other documentation about what he was doing to manufacture “nonintoxicating fruit juices,” but we may get lucky someday and find out more.