by Paul R. Spitzzeri
A recent post here covered a letter written to Homestead owner Walter P. Temple from his eldest child, Thomas W. II, who penned his missive on New Year’s Day from New York City, where he spent several days with friends enjoying the dawning of 1927 in the Big Apple. Tonight’s entry looks at Thomas’ next letter, sent to his father on 6 January, after his return to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was in the first of three years of study at the prestigious Harvard Law School.
Thomas opened his letter, on Harvard letterhead, by telling his father that “I returned to Cambridge and found the boys still at Ed’s,” this referring to his younger brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, and their visit for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday with their cousin Edward Bancroft, whose mother Ellen Temple Bancroft was Walter Sr.’s cousin. The elder Temple child reported “they had a very enjoyable vacation and they have been eaving about it since they returned,” presumably to their campus at Dummer Academy, now Governor’s Academy, in South Byfield, north of Boston and where the younger Temple boys were high school sophomores (the brothers all migrated to Massachusetts from California in the summer to begin their east coast educations.)
He then noted that “I found a desk full of Christmas cards, letters and packages” and also that “we were so happy to see the Portraits and certainly do like them.” After telling his father that one included “the best likeness of you we’ve seen,” Thomas wrote “the group is also fine—Agnes [the sole surviving daughter–another girl died as an infant] looks like a little queen with all her manly supporters about her.” This image is likely the one shown here.
Thomas continued by saying that his father’s telegrams were received and was happy to know that his arrived in turn. A wire was received from Maude Bassity, whose father Joe Romero was the widely-known “Barbeque King” and who helped care for Laura Gonzalez Temple in her last illness, staying on with the Temples and becoming Walter, Sr.’s paramour. While there were understandably often very mixed feelings from the children about Maude’s presence and role, Thomas added that “the cake arrived just in time” and enthused “what a wonderful cake.” Bassity was often appreciated for the food she made and shipped to the children at their respective schools.
During his three years at Harvard, Thomas lived in the Brattle Inn, a boarding house for students at that venerable institution, situated just west of Harvard Square. The three-story frame house was built in the 1860s and used as a boarding house for scholars until it was razed during a major commercial redevelopment of that area a century later. Thomas mentioned that, two days before, “at 4 p.m. we had tea downstairs. Mrs. Groves [the proprietor], her 2 daughters and a few others here at the Inn [were present] and we lit all the candles, 22 of them” for Thomas’ birthday.
As he gazed upon the brightly-lighted cake, he told his father that “I couldn’t help but think of the party a year ago,” which was held at the Homestead before Thomas headed back to the University of Santa Clara to complete his final semester of his undergraduate work. He said “we all [meaning his brothers must’ve been present] all recalled it and talked about every detail of it, your speech and mine.”
Thomas continued by noting that Agnes, who was able to return to the Homestead for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and others such as Easter and Thanksgiving, while her brothers only came home for summer breaks, had a long stay at home and that “we so enjoyed hearing from her” by letter. There were also plenty of holiday cards, but “your card of course was the most cherished of all.”
There was also mention of the boys receiving membership cards for the Vaquero Club, which was started in the 1890s by Eugenio Rafael Plummer (1852-1943), whose mother was from the prominent Pacheco family of early California and whose father was an English sea captain. The Plummers acquired a large portion of Rancho La Brea, west of Los Angeles, and Eugene, as he was commonly called, became well-known for his passion for equestrian activities.
The Vaquero Club was formed on the Plummer ranch at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains and had a major reorganization in 1905, after which there were regular barbeques, including by “Jose Ramirez,” who was undoubtedly Joe Romero, whose name was given correctly at later functions, and events that played off the “Spanish” traditions of pre-American California, however romantically.
While the Club was active through much of the 1910s, the early Twenties found it increasingly moribund and the name became associated with one of the region’s more colorful and controversial figures, a self-proclaimed mystic and healer who styled himself “Brother Isaiah.” He’ll be the subject of a post here at some point, but Isaiah had quite a following in Los Angeles, which had more than its share of alternative religions, philosophical societies and others, and he leased out the Vaquero Club quarters at the Plummer Ranch during the first part of the 1920s.
After some deaths among his female faithful and allegations of sexual misconduct, Isaiah faced criminal prosection (again, more of that later) and his association with the Vaquero Club quarters was terminated. For a time, the Vaquero chapter of the Native Sons of the Golden West, which had strong anti-Asian and anti-immigrant leanings during the first decades of the century, had its headquarters at the club’s quarters.
About the time that Thomas wrote his letter and mentioned receiving the membership card, the Vaquero Club was reconstituted, though its directors and officers appeared to have for more Anglos than Latinos. Though there was a burst of activity in 1927, it looks as if the club went quiet again by the end of the decade, though it was given mention in a Los Angeles Times article from July 1928 about Plummer.
In it, it was noted that “late in July 1927, such portion of the Vaquero Club as could be rallied from the shock of two wars assembled in its third incarnation . . . in a brick kitchen which has superseded the old barbecue pits a brawny caterer, Joe Romero, antetype of the village blacksmith, prepared a true Spanish repast.” The piece ended by observing that such events were reminders that “despite all efforts at holding, the past of California is slipping through our fingers.” Anything left from Rancho La Brea, it asserted, “must inevitably find asylum in the museum or in the grave.” As for the Plummer property, what’s left of it is comprised of Plummer Park in West Hollywood.
Returning to the missive, Thomas told his father that “on my birthday, we [the three siblings] went into Boston for dinner that evening, then to the theatre.” Walter, Jr. and Edgar stayed with Thomas overnight and then returned to Dummer Academy, worn out from their stay and with Thomas enclosing some photos with the letter of the Temple sons. There were a few other items mentioned, such as the opening of an account with Brooks Brothers, the fine clothier; a “very long letter” written by the wordy J. Perry Worden, the family historian who never finished his book on the Workmans and Temples; Thomas taking some of his birthday cake to the Bancroft cousins, with Ellen Temple Bancroft not doing well healthwise (she, born the year her uncle F.P.F. Temple left for California, died in 1928 at age 87); and a potential visit to the Homestead by Adelia Leet, who seems to have been a romantic interest of Thomas when he was in Santa Clara.
In closing, Thomas wrote “well, here’s hoping that you have a very happy and successful year,” though the spring would find Walter’s last real estate development project, the Edison Building in Alhambra, completed, but financial problems continuing to worsen. Again thanking his father for the cake, Thomas ended with the wistful “I look forward to the great day when we shall all be together again.”
We are fortunate that Thomas was an inveterate and dedicated correspondent and the gift of many of his letters, including this one and last week’s example, four years ago by his niece, Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis, have helped provide a personal perspective and important insights to the Temple family, including during these years of 1926 to 1929, when they were divided by great distances. Look for more letters like this one to be shared in upcoming entries in the “Reading Between the Lines” series.