The Evolution of Christmas: Christmas Cards to and from the Temple Family, 1920s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The previous three posts in this series looked generally at changes in the history of the Christmas card from its introduction in England in the early 1840s through the end of the Homestead’s interpretive era at 1930, with examples from the museum’s collection showing changing formats and imagery. Today’s post takes a more personal look with cards given to and from the Temple family during the 1920s when the owned the Homestead.

The samples shown here include cards from family and friends and, while the cards do vary quite a bit in size, artwork and messaging, it is interesting to see who they are from and how the senders were connected to the Temples. Quite a few of the examples are from members of long-time Californio families whose relationships to the Temples went as far back, likely, a century or so when Jonathan Temple settled in the sparsely populated pueblo of Los Angeles, situated on the remote northwestern frontier of México.


One card, for instance, with its sea-going Spanish galleon flanked by candles wrapped in holly, is from Rudecinda Florencia Sepulveda de Dodson (1858-1930), who was born on the Sepulveda family’s Rancho Palos Verdes. Married to James H. Dodson, a butcher, nursery owner and rancher as well as two-time mayor of San Pedro, she kept a portion of the ranch just to the west of the city limits of San Pedro (which was incorporated into the City of Los Angeles in 1909), but had a notable life as a clubwoman in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

She was an active member of the very prominent Friday Morning Club, was prominent with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in anti-alcohol and woman suffrage campaigns, was a major figure with the California History and Landmarks Club, and was member of a parlor named for her within the Native Daughters of the Golden West. Her philanthropy in San Pedro was such (with her church, Salvation Army, YMCA, park sites, and much else) that she was known as the “Fairy Godmother of San Pedro.” The Dodson home, though moved, still stands in that community.


There is also a card, with its trip of young Renassaisance-era singers and musicians with “A Song for Merry Christmas” from Lorenzo Pelanconi (1866-1955) and his wife Martina Yorba, who was a member of that prominent Orange County family. Pelanconi was a classmate of Walter P. Temple at St. Vincent’s College, the predecessor of Loyola Marymount University and which was a boarding school for elementary through college students from its opening in Los Angeles in 1865.

Pelanconi’s maternal great-grandfather was Francisco Avila, who built the Avila Adobe, which still stands as a historic-cultural landmark on Olvera Street. His father, Antonio, was an early winemaker and merchant on that famed little thoroughfare, which was called Wine Street before it was renamed for the prominent judge and civic figure Agustín Olvera upon his death in 1876 and the Pelanconi home, which was a wine cellar on its main level and living area on the upper story is now the famous La Golondrina Cafe. Lorenzo, who managed inherited property, lived in a large home on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, which is now the site of a strip mall.


A trio of cards come from locals of longstanding relating to the Rowland family in the La Puente Valley, including scene of horse-drawn vehicles in silhouette moving past Tudor and Gothic style houses from Bernardo Rowland (1864-1935), whose father Thomas was one of the children of John Rowland, co-owner of Rancho La Puente with William Workman, and whose mother Zenobia was a daughter of Bernardo Yorba, the partiarch of the family from the Yorba Linda area of northeast Orange County. Another, with a woodcut-like scene of skaters near a castle and homes beneath it, is from Albertina Vejar, the daughter of Bernardo Rowland’s sister Aurelia and her husband Ricardo Vejar, grandson of the grantee of the Rancho San José in the Pomona area. Albertina, who was a Christmas baby born in 1910, lived to be 99 years old, passing away in spring 2010. The third card, with red berries on a snow-laden tree and “A Happy Christmas Greeting” is from William P. Alvarado, grandson of California governor Juan Bautista Alvarado who granted Rancho La Puente to John Rowland in early 1842, and his wife Anna Grazide, whose French Basque father, Francisco, married Isabel Rowland, granddaughter of John Rowland, through his namesake son. The Alvarados inherited land on the southeast corner of Rancho La Puente where Rowland Heights borders Diamond Bar and the Alvarado Hot Springs resort was on their property.

Cards from those with closer personal ties to the Temples include the president and faculty of the University of Santa Clara, where Thomas W. Temple II, eldest child of Walter and his wife Laura Gonzalez, attended the preparatory high school and then did his undergraduate work from 1918 to 1926, Walter Temple’s business manager, Milton Kauffman, and his wife Maude (Kauffman was from a Jewish family, but his wife was apparently Protestant; J. Perry Worden, hired to write a Workman and Temple family history and whose letters have been the subject of posts here; and Nettie Friend de Temple, the widow of Walter’s oldest sibling, Thomas and who Walter assisted financially until her death in 1928, upon which she was buried in the mausoleum he built in El Campo Santo Cemetery at the Homestead.


Worden, who loved to write little poems for special occasions, penned one for the Temples for Christmas 1923 (the first without Laura, who died just after Christmas the prior year) that perhaps made an allusion to honoring Prohibition in the breach:

Hickory, dickory dock,

The mouse ran up the clock!

And so would you, I’ll vow & bet

Skip up, in double, quick on high,

If you were very, very dry

And some one cried, “Up there it’s not!

Always keen to curry favor and demonstrate his willingness to help with projects on the side, while simultaneously proclaiming how very busy he was, Worden added a brief note, telling Walter, “you must keep me posted if I can help you with the Temple Townsite [the Town of Temple was launched the prior spring] or other projects. Very hard for me to do all I wish to do.”

As to cards sent by the Temples, there are a trio of those, dating to 1926 and 1927. One of these has the message of “with kindest thougts and best wishes for Christmas and the New Year” from “Mr. Walter P. Temple and Family” and has a colorful vignette of a part of a courtyard of a Spanish Colonial Revival home as viewed through an arched window—a reference, perhaps, to the Temples’ own La Casa Nueva.


The other two were sent to William Y. Rowland, brother of Isabel Rowland Grazide, and his family from the Temple sons, Thomas W. II, Walter P., Jr., and Edgar, when they were in the family’s ancestral home state of Massachusetts as the pursued their college (Thomas at Harvard Law School) and high school educations (the younger boys at the Governor Dummer Academy, northeast of Boston). The 1926 card, from their first Christmas in New England, has the greeting “Good Cheer Within” amid a Colonial America scene of four men inside a resaurant or tavern while being greeted by horseriders outside the establishment and the message of “Thomas Workman Temple, Walter Paul Temple Jr., Edgar Allan Temple send Christmas greetings with sincere wishes for days of happiness throughout the coming New Year.”

The card from the following year is entirely different, being a single sheet of card stock and larger than the previous holiday card, and having a scene of a quintet of polo players in action on the field. The message is simpler than in 1926 with, after the brothers’ names, the wording of ” . . . send Christmas greetings and best wishes for the New Year.” As the three young men remained in Massachusetts until they graduated from their schools in summer 1929, one wonders if there was a Christmas card for 1928 or if the one from their father and family was what was used for that year.


So ends this year’s “The Evolution of Christmas” series and we hope you’ve enjoyed this look at how Christmas card changed over the decades from the 1870s through the 1920s.

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