Sharing History with Pasadena Heritage

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This morning I had the privilege of sharing the history of the Workman and Temple families and their lives in many areas of greater Los Angeles from 1830 to 1930 in a Zoom webinar with members of Pasadena Heritage, which formed in 1977 for preservation of historic resources in the Crown City. Among its accomplishments is the shepherding of some eighty preservation easements, more than any in a program west of the Mississippi and a Preservation Fund. Among its most high-profile projects are the preservation of the iconic Colorado Street Bridge across the Arroyo Seco and of the Old Pasadena district downtown.

The talk covered the extent of the activities of many members of the Workman and Temple families in our region, from Jonathan Temple’s arrival in the late 1820s through Walter P. Temple’s oil and real estate projects and ownership of the Homestead a century later, with a whole lot of fascinating history in between.

RPPC Town Of Temple Float Tournament Of Roses Parade 2013.1011.1
The Town of Temple float for the 1925 Tournament of Roses Parade.  All images here are from the Homestead’s collection.

An aim of this presentation, given to an array of community groups and societies over the years, is to show that, while the Homestead is based at the historic Workman and Temple family headquarters at Rancho La Puente in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, they were involved in many areas of the region. These include downtown Los Angeles where, for example, the Temple Block was a core element of the business district for decades; the South Bay, where Jonathan Temple’s Rancho Los Cerritos spanned over 27,000 acres in the Long Beach area; to the nascent San Fernando oil district in modern Santa Clarita, where F.P.F. Temple was one of the first prospectors for petroleum; to such places as Alhambra, El Monte, San Gabriel and Temple City in the San Gabriel Valley, as Walter P. Temple developed property in these areas during the Roaring Twenties.

There are some connections with the Workman and Temple families to Pasadena. For example, one of those who came to this area with the Workman family in late 1841 over the Old Spanish Trail was Tennessee native Benjamin D. Wilson, who originally hoped to take a ship to China and was merely “passing through” California, but literally “missed the boat” and remained in Los Angeles. Wilson went on to be a prominent political, economic and social figure in the area and, with John S. Griffin, a Los Angeles doctor, owned the Rancho San Pasqual, from which Pasadena developed. Wilson, whose home ranch, Lake Vineyard, was in modern San Marino and just south of Pasadena, also owned what became Alhambra and his first attempt in the 1870s to create a town there included F.P.F. Temple as treasurer of the Lake Vineyard project.

Women Hiking Arroyo Seco 2016.166.1.1
Happy hikers along the Arroyo Seco in the San Gabriel Mountains above Pasadena, June 1922.

When the Indiana Colony came out from the Hoosier state to establish the new town of Pasadena in 1873, that was during the peak years of the region’s first boom, which began several years prior. There were other new towns launched around that time, including Artesia, San Fernando, and Pomona, the latter borrowing money from the Temple and Workman bank to do so. The collapse of the California economy, during a national depression, obviously affected Los Angeles and its environs and the closure of the bank in what was the region’s first major business failure meant that many of these new towns went into the doldrums.

This was for roughly a decade, though, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad built a direct transcontinental railroad line, passing through Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, a new, much larger boom developed. The mayor of Los Angeles during the peak years of 1887 and 1888 was William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman. Pasadena thrived during the boom years and afterward, as it became a prime destination for the well-to-do flocking to sunny southern California for winters, attracted some to build fine homes, including along “Millionaires Row” on Orange Grove Avenue, or attracted health seekers seeking cures for lung-related and other ailments, among others.

RPPC Arroyo Seco Bridge Colorado Street Bridge 2014.772.1.1
A real photo postcard, from perhaps the late 1910s, looking east along the famous Colorado Street bridge spanning the Arroyo Seco.

The establishment in 1890 of the Tournament of Roses also brought widespread attention and fame to the Crown City and it remains an event known far and wide 130 years later. The creation of Throop Polytechnic Institute, which became the California Institute of Technology (Thomas W. Temple II attended CalTech for a semester in 1922 before returning north to the University of Santa Clara to complete his college education), and the famed observatory of Mount Wilson, were also important for the development of Pasadena. On the education front, Thomas and his brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, attended the Pasadena Military Academy, located where the Annandale Golf Club is today just west of the Colorado Street Bridge in the San Rafael Hills area of the city.

During the Great Hiking Era of the late 1890 through the 1930s, Pasadena was a gateway to the many trails, camps and resorts of the San Gabriel (formerly the Sierra Madre) Mountains range, including to the Mt. Lowe Railway and complex high in the mountains above the city, and the Homestead’s collection has many photos and other artifacts relating to this interesting aspect of the region’s leisure and outdoors history.

RPPC The Orange Inn Pasadena 2014.281.1.1
A 1920s real photo postcard of the Orange Inn, shaped, naturally, like the ubiquitous citrus fruit, located at 293 E. Foothill Blvd., which is along the west edge of Eaton Wash. Today Interstate 210 crosses through this area.

When Walter P. Temple wanted to have a history of his family written and published, he hired James Perry Worden, who held a PhD from Columbia University and who edited the widely read memoir, Sixty Years in Southern California, of Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark, for the task. Worden never completed the work, but he left behind some fascinating and strangely typed letters that have been shared on this blog. He and his wife rented homes in two locations in the Crown City. One was in the Orange Heights district off Los Robles Avenue about Orange Grove and the other was in the Oak Knoll section close to Cal Tech and the Huntington Library.

After running through the story of the Workmans and Temples in whirlwind of forty-five minutes covering a century of history, the presentation concluded by sharing about twenty photographs from the Homestead’s collection showing a diversity of elements of Pasadena. These included views of the Town of Temple’s 1925 float in the Tournament of Roses; the Colorado Street Bridge; Busch Gardens; street and landscape scenes; a Queen Anne, Craftsman, and other homes; a fruit stand in the shape of an orange (it was “all the rage” in the 1920s to have buildings in the shape of what they were selling); and many more.

Fruit Stand Pasadena 2015.460.1.1
Two African-American women and a child posed in front of a Pasadena fruit stand, November 1928.

There were also some photos of people in the Crown City. One was a studio portrait of well-dressed denizens of the city and another of tourists in fine clothes enjoying the grounds of one of the fine hotels. While Pasadena certainly thrived economically in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a few hard-to-find photos drew a contrast in the population of the community, as would be the case for many in our region.

One shows an African-American man in a suit and polished dress shoes and a boutonniere and, though, there was no inscription as to the occasion, one wonders if it was for a wedding or other major event. Another shows a trio of African-Americans, two women and a child, at a fruit stand. These pre-1930 photos don’t have overt historical narratives tied to them but they are reflective of the small, but growing black population in Pasadena.

Two Chinese Men At House Of C A Bond 2012.5.1.1
A pair of Chinese men stand next to a side or rear entry of the home of C.A. Bond of Pasadena (just a few hundred feet or so south of the Pasadena Heritage headquarters), 20 April 1896.

There is also an 1896 snapshot showing two Chinese men, dressed in traditional clothing, shoes and hairstyles, standing outside a side or back entrance of the home of C.A. Bond, whose home happened to be at the corner of Congress Place and St. John’s Street, just a stone’s throw south of Pasadena Heritage’s headquarters. Again, there may not be a major historical story associated with the image, but it is a rare image of an early Chinese presence in the Crown City.

It is always great sharing our regional history with groups of like-minded enthusiasts like those in Pasadena Heritage, which is offering a slate of virtual programming during the pandemic. For more information about it, check out the organization’s website.

Leave a Reply