Reading Between the Lines on New Year’s Day from New York City: A Letter from Thomas W. Temple II to Walter P. Temple, 1 January 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Having begun his studies at the prestigious Harvard Law School during fall 1926, Thomas Workman Temple II, the eldest child of Walter P. Temple and Laura Gonzalez, earned a well-deserved winter break and took the opportunity to head south from Boston to New York to enjoy the ringing in of the new year. On the first day of 1927 he wrote a letter to his father that is the highlighted object from the museum’s holdings for today’s first post of 2021.

After letting his father, called “Dadup” by the children, know he’d recently sent a “night letter,” or an overnight telegram, Thomsas wrote “I have had a very enjoyable time here in New York with Dick McInerny and several of the other Santa Clara fellows.” McInerny, whose father was a dry goods merchant in San Bernardino for many years until his death in 1920, attended the University of Santa Clara in the same class with Thomas, but then headed east to New York to finish his bachelor’s degree at Columbia University. McInerny’s sister, Maureen, went to Dominican College and was in the same class as Thomas’ sister, Agnes.

Reference to the “Temple Track” groundbreaking and to Richard McInerny’s visit to the campus before his return to studies at Columbia University in New York, “Santa Clara,” the student newspaper of the University of Santa Clara, 28 August 1926, from the university’s digital collections.

While in the Big Apple, Thomas took the opportunity to pay a visit to Father William Lonergan, telling his father that Lonergan was the “former Dean of the Faculties at Santa Clara and now an editor of the Jesuit weekly “America.” Lonergan, a native of San Francisco was educated at St. Ignatius College, what became the University of San Francisco, and at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. After becoming a Jesuit, he taught at Gonzaga and Santa Clara and then went to New York to become an associate editor for America, which is still in publication. Lonergan went on to be president of the University of San Francisco from 1932-1934.

Thomas added that, before he left Boston, he’d received a letter from Father Cornelius J. McCoy, who’d recently become the president at Santa Clara, serving in that role for six years. McCoy wrote “saying that he had been out to the rancho [the Homestead, that is] with Castruccio to see you—I hope the Temple Track goe thru as it should.” The reference was to a commitment made by Walter P. Temple to endow a new track on the campus, which was struck by a terrible tragedy just a few months prior when a fire raced through the historic mission church, destroying it and several other structures. The other visitor along with McCoy was Caesar Castruccio, a Los Angeles real estate and insurance broker, whose father settled in the Angel City in the mid-1870s and whose mother was the daughter of Louis Sentous, one of the early French residents of the town when he arrived in 1854 after some time prospecting in the gold fields of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

News of the postponement of the groundbreaking of the “Temple Track,” which was never completed as Walter Temple’s financial commitment was pulled, “Santa Clara,” 1 September 1926.

There were plans for a groundbreaking ceremony for the track, named after Walter Temple, to be held at the end of August, as it was reported in the student newspaper that “for the past two years the students of the University have had visions of a track and a track team” and the dream was to have come true as “Tommy Temple A.B. ’26, will break ground for the new track on Mission Field.” The quarter-mile layout “is to be so constructed that eventually it will have a two hundred and twenty yard straightaway” and it was to surround the reconfigured football and baseball fields and plans were to have a stadium built around the complex.

The next issue of the publication, however, reported that the ceremony was cancelled as Thomas and the master of ceremonies were unable to attend. It was noted that a new date would be set after the conclusion of the football season, but the visit to the Homestead of McCoy and Castruccio was soon followed, despite Thomas’ concerns, by the decision of Walter to pull back from the commitment to fund the track. In spring 1926, in fact, Walter and his business partners took out bonds to pay for continuing work at the Town of Temple (renamed Temple City two years later) and other real estate projects funded by Temple, so concerns about debt and future revenues appear to have led to the pulling of the plug on the track.


Thomas’ letter continued with the observation that the heavy snowfall that came as he left Boston did not follow him to New York, that he assumed his brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, had a good visit for the New Year’s holiday with their cousins, the Bancrofts, who lived near the Temples’ ancestral hometown of Reading, north of Boston, and that the younger Temples were to return to school on 5 January while Thomas was to resume classes at Harvard two days prior. The day between those dates was Thomas’ 22nd birthday, so he wrote “I am looking forward to a little dinner or something with the boys.”

While in New York, Thomas lodged at the John Jay Hall, “a new Dormitory for Columbia Boys” and he noted that “Dick arranged for a room here and it’s fine.” The last of many buildings on the campus designed by the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, the dorm, which houses over 450, was home a couple years after Thomas stayed there to Federico García Lorca, the great Spanish poet killed by fascists in 1938.


On 28 December, Thomas continued, “I went with Dick to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue & said some prayers [and] lit some candles for Meema, God Bless her soul! 4 years have passed.” The reference here to his late mother, who died on that date in 1922, after which Thomas, who attended the California Institute of Technology the previous semester, his first as a college student, tried to deal with his grief by returning to Santa Clara, where he’d attended the preparatory high school, and completing his undergraduate work there.

Thomas went on to tell his father “we also visited the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, going up on Morning Side heights just a short block from Columbia.” The construction of the Episcopal Church cathedral was begun in the early 1890s but work has continued and the massive building, one of the world’s largest churches, is about a third incomplete. One of the many workers toiling on the stained glass windows in the imposing Gothic and Romanesque revival edifice was a young man, John Wallis, who a half-century later was hired to replicate stained and painted glass windows for La Casa Nueva. Wallis loved to tell the story of how, when he saw the painted glass in the house, he realized he was going to have summon his recollections of working with that type of glass when he labored at St. John the Divine in the Twenties.


Thomas also informed his father that he and Dick spent a day visiting with McInerny’s uncle, who “is President of ‘Cartiers’, the jeweler in New York, a branch of Cartiers in London & Paris” and he added that “they were in Mexico 4 years ago, the same time we were there.” This was in summer 1922, when the Temples spent about a month in that country and were so inspired by their trip, which included meeting Pablo Urzua, a master stone mason, in Guadalajara, that they immediately embarked on the building of La Casa Nueva, with adobe bricks made on the site by Urzua and his crew.

The missive ended with the message of “I hope you are all well & happy” and “I shall write you further from Cambridge.” In fact, two more of Thomas’ letters will be shared in coming days, including a New Year’s communication from the following year and the follow-up letter mentioned at the end of this letter, so please check back for those.

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