Reading Between the Lines While Getting Schooled: Letters from Thomas W. Temple II to Walter P. Temple, September 1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

While, as discussed in last night’s post, J. Perry Worden, a historian under retainer with Walter P. Temple, wrote letters on 9-10 September concerning a tablet commemorating the founders of the Los Angeles Public Library and to be installed at the new central library facility which is still operating in the building today, Temple’s son, Thomas Workman Temple II (namesake of his uncle who was a founding library trustee) was hitting the books for the beginning of his senior year at the University of Santa Clara and wrote two letters to his father around that time.

Previous posts have shared some of Thomas’ missives with his father and they’ve noted that, as soon as the Temples began receiving royalties on oil produced from wells on the family’s property near Montebello, with the discovery made by a nine-year old Thomas in 1914, the four surviving children began to attend boarding schools.

This was not only a reflection of how this stunning newfound wealth allowed for greater educational advantages through prestigious schools, but also reflected elements of family tradition. Walter Temple was only six years old when the family bank of Temple and Workman, owned by his father F.P.F. Temple and grandfather William Workman failed in 1876. His older siblings, however, had the benefit of fine educations at such institutions as Santa Clara College (it became a university later), Holy Names College in Oakland (where a Temple daughter was educated), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University.

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F.P.F. Temple and his wife Margarita Workman sent three of their sons to F.P.F.’s home state of Massachusetts to attend M.I.T., Harvard, and other schools and one of them, third son William, finished work at Harvard Law School in 1874 and then attended post-graduate law courses at the Inns of Court in London. While Walter did not get to attend school out of the Los Angeles area—he went to St. Vincent’s College for high school and then took courses at Woodbury Business College—he was very keen, once the oil money started to pour in, to provide for his three sons (the others being Walter, Jr. and Edgar) and daughter (Agnes) in schools in northern California and Massachusetts and even considered sending all of them to England, the ancestral home of the Workman and Temple families.

For a short time after the first oil royalties arrived in summer 1917, the Temple children stayed local, though Thomas was soon sent north to attend the preparatory high school at Santa Clara, a Roman Catholic school founded in 1851. The younger boys remained in this area until not long prior to these letters when they were sent to the Belmont Academy in that town of that name northwest of Santa Clara and south of San Francisco. Agnes attended St. Mary’s Academy in southwest Los Angeles, completing her junior high and high school educations there, and, was just starting, in fall 1925, her freshman year at Dominican College, a Catholic all-girls school in San Rafael, just north of San Francisco.

So, this pair of missives was written just as all four Temple children were in the same broad area, albeit hundreds of miles from the Homestead, for the first time in several years. It turned out they would only be in northern California as a group for that 1926-1926 school year, as, while the boys were taken to Massachusetts to continue their educations, Agnes declined to leave Dominican.

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Thomas’ first letter was written on a Wednesday, almost certainly on the 2nd, as he made reference to the fact that “no doubt the boys [meaning his younger brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar] are getting ready” to make the trip north from the Homestead to attend their second year at Belmont School in the town of that name northwest of Santa Clara and south of San Francisco. Thomas wrote that “I”ll be on board to met them Sunday morning” and that “we’ll spend a few days in San Francisco and see Agnes while there.”

He acknowledged receiving a telegram, Walter, Sr.’s preferred way of communicating, as well as his usual allowance and an extra $25, which came in handy “as a senior does need a few other things that may lend to his dignity upon the college campus.” He still had not, however, received the package mentioned in his last missive and added “am anxious about it” even as “the service is never too good around here.”

The missive continued with Thomas telling his father he was taking exams “and have done well so far.” After mention of visiting with a Mr. Temple in San José, Thomas asked about news from home and joked “no doubt those Bath rooms up stairs look as inviting as the swimming pool,” referring to the second floor restrooms in La Casa Nueva and the large reservoir next to the Workman House that doubled as a swimming pool.

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He also stated “I suppose the front fence is being put up, meaning here the adobe wall along the north side of La Casa Nueva, though his next question was “Is there any growth on the palm?” What happened with these two elements of the landscape at the house is that the front wall, made of adobe and faced with rough concrete, was completed previously. Walter Temple, however, obtained a large palm tree from San Gabriel, where he had many investments, and had it dug out of its original location and transported to the Homestead.

To get it to its new home off the southeastern corner of the house, part of that wall had to be demolished for the truck and flatbed trailer to drive through so the tree could be replanted. Unfortunately, after over 90 years, the palm died just three years ago and was removed. Because Walter, Jr. and Edgar stayed at the Homestead longer during the summer vacation, their brother wrote “the kids will answer all these questions for me.” Thomas ended his letter by joking with his father “don’t forget to send up some Lunch with” his brothers when they came up on the train.”

The second letter was from San Jose and postmarked on the 9th, a week apparently after he composed his missive. He began by informing his father that “I met the boys at the station Sunday morning and was delighted to see them looking so well,” this meaning that they’d taken the train from home and arrived in the north to begin the school year at Belmont.

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He then stated that “I am staying as you see [from the address at the top right corner of the letter] with my good friends the Lindemans. This family included Bert Lindeman, a civil engineer of German extraction who married Emilia Vogel, who was a half-German, half-Mexican, in Colima state in Mexico in 1904. They had several children, the oldest born in Mexico and the younger two in Los Angeles, where the family moved in the early 1910s, perhaps because of the turmoil of the revolution in Mexico. After several years in the Angel City, the Lindemans moved to San Jose.

It is not known whether the Temples met the Lindemans in Los Angeles and then Thomas renewed the friendship at Santa Clara or if they met in the north, but he told his father that “they asked me to spent the vacation [see below for the likely reason why] with them and also they invited Walter & Edgar over for dinner Sunday.” It turned out that a Belmont classmate of the younger Temple boys was in the San Jose area and returning her son to school so she “suggested that she take the boys along also, which she did and got them back safely to Belmont.”

As young men are wont to do, Thomas told his father “they forgot the keys to the trunks that are at school, not the one they brought along [for the new school year]” so Thomas asked that they be mailed noting “they are the drawer of the cabinet at the foot my bed or in the ‘little barrel’ at my bureau.” Construction on La Casa Nueva was progressing slowly, so this refers undoubtedly to Thomas’ bedroom on the west side of the Workman House, where the children had their quarters, while Walter Temple’s bedroom was on the second floor of the late 19th century water tower to the south of the old house.

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Returning to his brothers, Thomas noted “I am sure that they will do very good work this year being used to the place and realizing more and more the necessity of application to study.” He also admired their new suits and promised these would be properly cared for, adding, as big brothers should, “I’ll see to that.”

Yesterday was the 170th anniversary of California statehood, though that event is usually honored in the breach and the COVID-19 pandemic and horrendous fire season made commemoration even more unlikely this year. In 1925, however, there was a California Diamond Jubilee, with a week’s worth of festivities in San Francisco lasting from the 5th to the 12th. Thomas wrote that “it must be getting along fine” and told his father “I intend to go tomorrow and see Agnes at San Rafael” while speculating that “no doubt there are a lot of the old families up here from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles” for the jubilee and Thomas wrote “[I] will send you a souvenir program under separate cover soon.”

Packages from home, generally filled with fruit, cooked food and other goodies, were eagerly awaited, but, unfortunately, Thomas reported “I have not seen or gotten a smell of it,” though he intended to go to the express office and look into it. Soon, he continued, “I hope to get some satisfaction out of them” and get his box of eatables.

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Meanwhile, the first round of exams for the new year were completed, with it being “the first time that we have had an exam in August for there was only work for 2 wks. upon which to be examined on.” He went on to note that there were two new professors, including an Ivy Leaguer who studied at Yale and Harvard and “who insisted on working on Harvard law school standards and giving Bar Examination questions.” The result was that “every one in the class including star pupils flunked out right.” This shock led the students to act and Thomas reported “the class as a body will protest these [standards] as the teacher is over conscientious and we can’t allow the marks to go home, for it is not a just marking.”

After informing his father that he was taking French and an advanced English course, Thomas added “the fathers tell me here that since Santa Clara is not a Class A Law school, I will not be able to finish my Law [study] at Harvard or Stanford, but must start all over again as a Freshman in the Graduate course at these institutions.” He would, however, earn his bachelor’s degree “which will admit me as a first year man at Harvard Law School.” Though he continued that “every one that takes a professional course, Law especially or even medicine, must take a graduate course of 4 years,” Thomas wound up at Harvard for three and earned his juris doctorate degree in spring 1929.

As he wrapped up this missive, Thomas added a postscript asking his father to send “my tuxedo, and a few shirts and collars, also a white vest you’ll find in my cedar chest” as he needed them for an unspecified event three nights later.

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These letters are among a cache of letters, photographs and other artifacts donated to the Homestead by Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis, daughter of Edgar and, therefore, a niece of Thomas and granddaughter of Walter, Sr. Her generous gift, along with others she and other family members have made, have added significantly to our knowledge of the history of the Workmans and Temples and sharing them here allows us to better tell the story of the family.

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