All Over the Map: Jonathan Temple and the Ord Survey of Los Angeles, 1849

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In this afternoon’s presentation, Life During Wartime: The Workman and Temple Families in 1840s Los Angeles, much of the discussion focused on the involvement of family members in the events involving the American invasion of Mexican Alta California and the seizure of Los Angeles, first in summer 1846 and, following a revolt by Californios who took back their town from a military garrison, then again early in January 1847.

What followed was a protracted period of military government as Congress wrestled with the particularly problematic issue of what to do with its new territory with statehood finally achieved in September 1850. During that period, the Gold Rush burst forth bringing intense and instantaneous changes to California in virtually all areas of life.

In Los Angeles, another major transformation was an order by the military government and recorded in the minutes of the town’s ayuntamiento, or town council. Despite the conquest, military officials thought it wise to keep the existing structures of government from the Mexican era, including the office of the alcalde (mayor), jueces (judges), and ayuntamiento until the status of California was determined by Congress.

What authorities decided, though, early in June 1849, was to send a communication to Los Angeles officials “ordering the making of a City Map to serve as a basis for granting vacant lots out of the unappropriated lands belonging to the Municipality.” While the council, in its meeting of 9 June, wished to let the government know that it would “give prompt and due compliance to its orders,” it informed territorial leaders “that there is no surveyor in this Town who could get up such a map.”

A rendering of Los Angeles from a few years or so prior to the making of the Ord Survey and taken from the southwest of town.

Consequently, the council “desiring to have this done” sent word to the territory’s officials “to send down a surveyor to do this work, for which he will receive pay out of the Municipal Funds,” though if such monies were not available, as was too often the case, “he can be paid with unappropriated lands, should the Government give its consent.” The communication was sent by the six members of the ayuntamiento, including alcalde José del Carmen Lugo, his assistant Juan Sepulveda, José López, Francisco Ruiz, secretary Jesús Guirado, and the sole American or European on the council, Jonathan Temple, who was the syndico, or equivalent to a city attorney, with respect to representing the town in legal matters.

While Temple had no known legal training, he moved, at the meeting of 7 July, “that a Committee be appointed to confer with the Surveyor who is to make the Map of this City” and that he, along with Manuel Requena, a prominent figure in Los Angeles, be the members “and report to [the] Council as to the result of their labors.” By that point, it was determined that Lieutenant Edward Otho Cresap (known usually as E.O.C.] Ord would take on the project and Temple was given the go-ahead to work with Requena on the arrangements.

On the 18th, Temple returned to the council with the report he and Requena developed, telling the body that they “had a conference with that gentleman and he offers to make a Map of the City demarking thereon, in a clear and exact manner, the boundary lines and points of the Municipal lands, for which work he demands a compensation of fifteen hundred dollars in coin, ten lots selected from among those demarked on the map, and vacant land . . . or, in case the proposition is refused, then he wants to be paid the sum of three thousand dollars in cash.”

A photo from the museum’s collection of Jonathan Temple with his wife Rafaela Cota and their son-in-law, Gregorio de Ajuria, ca. 1855.

Temple and Requena advised that “the first proposition [is] very disadvantageous to the City” because giving Ord the land would mean “the City would deprive itself of the most desirable lands and lots which some future day may bring more than three thousand dollars.” They were, however, fine recommending the latter even though “the City funds cannot now defray this expense.” So, the alternative was to get a loan at 12% per year and which “could be repaid with the proceeds of the sale of the first lots disposed of” with a mortgage on “the lots which the Map will show as available.”

Requena and Temple further advised that the area covered by the survey go from “all the land actually under cultivation from the principal water-dam down to the last cultivated field below” with the marking of lots from “the Cemetery and end with the house of Botiller.” These were north-to-south indicators with the dam being, obviously, off the Los Angeles River and feeding the zanja madre, or main water ditch, and the cemetery being the Calvary at the base of the Elysian Hills.

With respect “to the commonalty lands of the City” it was recommended that the Plaza Church be the center of the four points of the compass with two leagues measured from there in each direction. This would provide the four sides of a square for the City’s limits “the areas of the same being sixteen square leagues and each side of the square measuring four leagues.” A league constituted about 4,400 acres.

One of the drawings of Los Angeles rendered by William Rich Hutton, who drew the Ord Survey map, and reproduced from a 1942 publication by the Huntington Library of Hutton’s diaries.

As for Ord’s compensation, it was suggested that “the surveyor shall receive for his work the sum of 3000 dollars which is the amount he asked for, with the understanding, however, that he must pay his own help. As for the loan, it was understood that “The City [is] reserving itself the right to sell these lots [to repay the loan] in the meantime on three months time, which will enable it to send notices to various points to the effect that these lots are being sold to pay the said 3000 and other incidental purposes.” The report concluded by advising that owners of any lots sold be require to improve them before they were “allowed to speculate on them.”

These recommendations were approved by the ayuntamiento and the contract was recorded at the meeting of the 22nd. It stated that Ord agreed “to lay out streets and blocks . . . from the Church [south] to the last house before the vineyard of [Eulogio de] Celis and from the vineyards [along the west side of the river] to the hills [to the west]” and from the Church north “to the ravine beyond the house of Antonio Ygnacio Avila.” Streets on the southwest area of the survey were to be staked out at 75 feet width, while “the streets which run from the vineyards towards the hills of 60 feet width.” Blocks were to be, respectively 112 and 200 yards long and there were details given as to staking each corner of blocks for these two main areas.

Included on the survey were to “streets, roads, zanjas outside of the fenced land, hills, plazas and crossing, between the vineyards and lands” along with the identified four fixed points two leagues from the church in all directions. Further, all stakes used in the project were to be provided by the City. Signatories included Ord, Requena, Lugo and Temple.

Fewer than two months later, the work was finished, with William Rich Hutton, a 23-year old payroll clerk with the invading American Army, assisting Ord by drawing the map from the lieutenant’s field work and making sketches of the pueblo. Hutton’s diaries were published by the Huntington Library in 1942 and he complained several times of the interference of Temple in the work he and Ord were doing. It is assumed that Temple, who made the $3,000 loan to the City for the project as well as serving as, essentially, the city attorney, felt it within his realm of responsibility to conduct “quality control” checks on Ord and Hutton.

A detail from a pre-1930 framed copy of the Ord Survey in the Homestead’s holdings.

At the council meeting of 19 September, which was a special session “called at the instance of the syndic [Temple] for the purpose of formally turning over to [the] Council the new City Map,” it was also noted that “the Syndic thereupon submitted the finished City map as well as a receipt showing that he himself had paid the surveyor” and, therefore, loaned the funds to the City under the conditions agreed upon.

Temple then proposed to his colleagues that he was “offering to accept a piece of land lying in the rear of his house and having the same width as the latter and extending as far as the high hill, in lieu of the three months’ interest.” Approved on the 28th, this involved land the ascended uphill west from his residence at the northwest corner of the merging of Spring and Main streets, which came to a point having been parallel streets. At that tip formed by the conjoining of the thoroughfares was the two-story adobe he built around this time, while his home was later razed when John G. Downey, a druggist, real estate speculator and later governor of California, built a two-story brick commercial building there (still later the main city post office occupied that property.)

Several years later, Temple petitioned the Common Council, which replaced the ayuntamiento when Los Angeles was chartered as a city in April 1850, to allow him to built a short street up the lower part of hill at this location and this was the modest origin of Temple Street, which joined the junction of Main and Spring and later became a major route west from downtown.

At the 6 November meeting of the ayuntamiento, a committee, including Temple, proposed that 54 lots, measuring 40 varas wide and 56 deep [a vara was roughly three feet] from both the upper [northern] and lower [southern] surveyed areas be sold the following day. Temple specifically suggested that “lots sold at this auction must be paid for on [the] spot in silver or current money” and that the title should be signed by Lugo and Guirado, as president and secretary. As an incentive, buyers were to be allowed to, for the same price, buy “the lot adjoining in the rear & facing the parallel street on [the] same Block.” Once title was received, the purchaser was to stake the property to avoid disputes “&when ready to build he shall abide by the line of the street as laid down in the City Map.”

A photo from the Homestead collection of Temple in his later years, ca. early 1860s.

On Christmas Eve, Temple reported to his colleagues “that [the] auction of lots produced $2490.00 & there still remains $510 due Temple for money advanced to pay for the City Map.” There were future auctions out of which that deficiency was satisfied. A few months later, a resolution was approved by the council concerning how property owners could seek out Temple “who will show them how to fence [their lots] in conformity with the City Map.” Added to this was “that every piece of property . . . near a street can be extended up to the line of said street, [with] the Council to make a donation of the strip intervening” once a petition (and there were many) was received and the property inspected.

A glance at the survey shows just how different standards of land tenure were under Mexico and Spain than with the new American regime. The arrangements of properties and the layout of some roads were, the standards of the latter, irregular and haphazard, but they worked for the conditions, wants and needs of those from the former. The rigidly straight lines of streets and lots laid out by Ord represented different strains of thought about land use and development and became, of course, the new standard. Also notable is that this map, for the first time, provided names of streets in Spanish and English, so that Calle Principal was Main, Calle Primavera was Spring, and Loma was Hill and so on.

The Ord Survey was a literal and figurative milestone in the transition of Los Angeles from a Mexican pueblo to an American city and it, naturally, had major consequences for its development in subsequent years. Jonathan Temple should also be remembered for his paramount role in arranging and paying for the project. The material from the ayuntamiento came from W.W. Robinson’s “Story of Ord’s Survey As Disclosed by the Los Angeles Archives,” Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, Volume XIX, Nos. 3-4 (September-December 1937,) pp. 121-127.

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