Reading Between the Lines: A Letter from J. Perry Worden to Thomas W. Temple II, 13 December 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

There have been several posts to date concerning the fussy and relentlessly self-referential James Perry Worden (1868-1945), one of the early American PhD recipients in history, and editor, if not ghost writer, of the important memoir, Sixty Years in Southern California, by the long-time merchant and community leader Harris Newmark. Most of these have involved his very idiosyncratic and entertaining letters to Walter P. Temple and Temple’s eldest child, Thomas W. II, reflective of the historian’s seemingly pathological need for recognition and desire for airing grievances, while pleading poverty and asking for more money to do his work.

This involved the roughly decade-long project to write the history of the Workman and Temple families and, while Worden seems to have done quite a bit of research and to have issued chapter drafts, the work went unfinished, even as the historian was asked, or volunteered, to engage in other tasks, such as assisting in the placement of the Temple children in various private schools and taking up the cause of combating name changes to the Town of Temple (which became Temple City in 1928) and Temple Street in Los Angeles (which remains so today) and, pertinent to this letter, writing articles about the Thanksgiving Day wedding of Agnes Temple and Luis P. Fatjo, a San Francisco rancher and heir to a substantial fortune. Today’s featured artifact from the museum’s holdings is a missive written, in Worden’s inimitable typed style, to Thomas and dated 13 December 1929.

19811 J Perry And Effie Worden At South Side Workman House Christmas
J[ames] Perry Worden and his wife Effie, who carries Christmas presents, at the south side of the Workman House in an undated photo [presumably not 1929 given the tone and comments of his letter?!]

Grandly addressed to “Thomas Workman Temple, Esq.” (Thomas received his juris doctorate degree from Harvard Law School about six months prior) at the “Workman Homestead, Puente, CALIFORNIA.” and with the opening of “My dear Sir Tommy,” Worden acknowledged a letter from Temple “on the very tasteful note-paper that your affectionate, foreseeing and generous Father provided, and that I helped to design and select!” Pleading limited time because of the rapidly approaching Christmas holiday, Worden said he wanted to answer “to assure you of our friendly feeling, d e s p i t e [this double spacing was for deliberate emphasis as were many examples of underlining and capitalization—not unlike how some people text these days!] . . . . . !”

This self-conscious trailing off led to a lengthy rant having to with the recent wedding and the grievances nurtured since by the historian and his wife, Effie, and it deserves to be reprinted in full and, as written:

For Mrs. Worden and I both think that we, a m o n g y o u r T R U E S T, R E A L F R I E N D S, notwithstanding our unpretentious appearance, w e r e t r e a t e d r o t t e n l y at the Wedding; and you may best judge of this, as it has appeared to others, when I saw that MRS. WORDEN, (who has always liked both Mr. Temple and yourself, as she l o v e s AGNES,) said: “That is all very well for Tommy to say, Write your Book, instead of writing about the neglect to us, b u t p e o p l e w h o H A V E B E E N U S E D T O B E T T E R T R E A T M E N T, c a n n o t e a s i l y f o r g e t s u c h r u d e n e s s .” And I am sure, as one also who has had very great deal of the BEST SOCIAL ATTENTION, that Mrs. Worden is r i g h t : somebody blundered, that day ,—somebody sat eating and [d]rinking, somebody rushed in ahead, and got good places, and sat complacently, NOT THINKING OF THEIR FRIENDS OUTSIDE, waiting, dependent, neglected.


Having burst forth with this fusillade of fault-finding, Worden quickly, and characteristically, changed tack, stating “However, dear Tommy, all that is now g o n e —while I think y o u yourself might have stirred your stumps a little more, the envent [sic] is past, the pages of history have been turned, and—I am quite willing to forget, and to try to forgive [isn’t it supposed to be the reverse?]” He went on to say that this would not be a problem, but (and so much for forgetting!) “someone UNDERestimated Mrs. W. and me—thought we were less deserving of attention, perhaps,—and so needlessly neglected us, while thinking of others.” He professed sorrow that he could not offer a toast to the happy couple “and have introduced that very fine TEMPLE-PACHECO item I had, from the 70s,” Fatjo being a descendant of the prominent Pacheco family and whose ranch (with a small portion still owned by a daughter of Agnes and Luis) is in Pacheco Pass east of Gilroy. But, wait, there’s more . . .

What I don’t like, is the suggestion that I would better spend time on the book, when MRS. WORDEN AND I ARE GETTING POORER AND POORER, day after day, more and more unable to pay our necessary bills, because of the days and days I already give, AT OUR EXPENSE ENTIRELY, to try and finish that book. Now important this is, may be seen from the neglect of the TEMPLES in recent publications; and his d i f f i c u l t and slow all this is, may be seen from the fact that IN THREE LATE PUB[LICATIO]NS . . . I have found the three r i d d l e d with mistakes!!!

This left the poor, unappreciated Worden feeling that he was “occupying the UNenviable position of a tearing-down critic to pretty near everybody, simply bec[ause] they do their work so miserable.” Even here, the huffy historian tosses out a backhanded compliment to Thomas, who was beginning the earliest stages of his growing fascination with history and genealogy, saying “you seem a CRACKAJACK in stirring up good data” and then tossing out that “of course, a good deal you quote” and informing the young man that “I a l r e a d y have but I did NOT know of your family relationship with the Lugo’s [the late Laura Gonzalez Temple purportedly had Lugo ancestry].”


Abruptly returning again to the wedding, Worden added that his wife “still speaks with great satisfaction of the VERY FINE toast your good Father made to the Bridal Pair, and the affectionate, tender and splendid advice he gave them,” although Worden professed to rue that he missed it.” Not one, apparently, to miss a chance to follow praise with provocation, especially as a parting shot, the professor then claimed that his Effie told him “You say that Walter Temple writes a beautiful hand, and a very interesting, highly intelligent letter; WHY IS IT THAT HE NEVER WRITES TO YOU?”

Coming to a [merciful] conclusion, Worden veered back to professions of goodwill by writing, “to show you my sincerely friendly feeling”, he wanted to take Thomas to “a modest luncheon,” appropriate to his “GETTING POORER AND POORER, day after day,” with his suggestion being the Hoffman Café in downtown Los Angeles, just a block from the Great Republic Life and National City Bank buildings, in which Walter Temple was a major investor, and which was formerly the third café of well-known restauranteur Al Levy, who came to Los Angeles in 1886 and opened the first fine-dining restaurant in the city the following decade. This outing, likely to be after Christmas, would be, Worden made sure to state, “just for fun and good old times.”

Frequently given to various handwritten postscripts, Worden outdid himself with three, two on the letter, with one saying “with best wishes to your Father, let [underlined] him see this letter!” and the other “We are working day and night, short [underlined] of sleep, always tired, half dismayed,” while on the reverse of the envelope us “Have you ‘The Romance of the Ranchos’. If NOT, please let me know & I’ll send it to you and your Father.” This booklet, one of three “miserable” publications (the others were articles in the Automobile Club of Southern California’s monthly magazine, Touring Topics, now Westways, and in the annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California) for which the good doctor felt he had to be “a tearing-down critic,” was issued by the Title Insurance and Trust Company and written by its chief title searcher, E. Palmer Conner, and, while there are errors in it (as there are in most histories), Worden was less than charitable about Conner’s summaries of the ranchos of the greater Los Angeles region.


As for his professions of poverty and his protestations of poor treatment by his patrons, Worden, like many Americans, must have felt that the seismic shock of the collapse of the stock market in New York not quite two months before was a temporary economic setback. Shorter term, the real problem was that, by late 1929, Walter Temple’s financial prospects were more than dire. In the summer he sold off his Alhambra commercial properties, for example, and, just a few months after the letter was written, in April 1930, he dispensed with his interests at Temple City and then vacated the Homestead, hoping to save the ranch by leasing it to a military academy moving from Redondo Beach. To conserve dwindling funds, Temple moved to Ensenada, Baja California, México and, presumably, stopped paying Worden’s monthly retainer.

Despite this, however, the historian remained in some contact with the family, sending occasional letters and composing a very complete and lengthy obituary on the death of Walter Temple in 1938. Worden lived another seven years beyond that and, upon his passing, his wife sold some of his papers to the Huntington Library. He does, despite his often-comical letters, deserve credit for his labors on Newmark’s memoir, which has gone through several printing and is still read as a valuable chronicle of Los Angeles from the 1850s to the 1910s. It is too bad his Temple and Workman book remained unfinished as it would have been exceedingly interesting to see how he would have interpreted their remarkable story and that of the region.

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