Sharing History with Metro LA’s “On the Move” Riders Program

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This morning, it was a privilege to share the history of the Workman and Temple families with participants in Metro LA’s “On the Move” riders program. The presentation covered a century of history from the Mexican era in 1830 to the end of the Roaring Twenties and Los Angeles’ rapid rise as a major metropolis of the American West.

The presentation reviewed the 1828 arrival of Jonathan Temple as the second extranjero (foreigner) to live in Los Angeles, a remote pueblo in what could be viewed as the “Siberia of México”, followed thirteen years later by the appearance of Jonathan’s half-brother Pliny, who was so much younger (twenty-six years) that the two had never met until the younger Temple got to the Angel City in summer 1841.

Pliny was baptized as Francisco just before he took his wedding vows with Antonia Margarita Workman and the talk then introduced her and her parents, William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste. This marital union not only begat eleven children, eight of whom (including three future owners of the Homestead) lived into adulthood, but a business parternship between F.P.F. Temple and William Workman that included Gold Rush-era cattle enterprises in the mining regions of Tuolumne County, land acquisition in greater Los Angeles and, as the city embarked on its first period of growth in the late 1860s and early 1870s, substantial and diverse business investments.

The listing of officers of the newly launched Spring and Sixth Street Railway, including treasurer F.P.F. Temple, secretary Isaac W. Lord (later founder of La Verne), and manager and president Robert M. Widney, Los Angeles Star, 7 February 1874.

The exuberance and enthusiasm of these endeavors including opening in 1868 Los Angeles’ second bank, with Isaias W. Hellman, a partnership that, by all rights, should have kept the Workman and Temple families in great affluence for decades, given Hellman’s astounding acumen in business and finance. Temple’s insistence on having a prominent role (albeit overly trusting and/or naive) in lending policy drove Hellman to terminate the arrangement and form his Farmers and Merchants Bank that launched him to his superlative financial career. Undaunted, Temple induced Workman to open their own institution that bore every impression of a substantial and successful bank until its many and deep managerial flaws were revealed during a statewide economic panic in 1875.

Borrowing money from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who hungrily eyed the large landholdings of Temple and Workman, perhaps the two wealthiest individuals in the county, the pair reopened their bank, but customer confidence was irremediably shaken and depositors quickly closed their accounts and withdrew the borrowed funds, leading to the institution’s closure early in 1876 and resulting in the region’s first major business failure. A casualty of the calamity was Workman, who committed suicide in despair, five months after the bank closed.

As one branch of the family receded from public prominence, however, another rose rapidly during that time. William Workman’s enterprising nephews, Elijah and William Henry, were saddlers (a trade of their father, David, who was killed in 1855 driving stock to the gold fields for his brother William) who also became prominent political figures, including service on the school board and common (city) council. During most of the famous Boom of the Eighties, William Henry served, in 1887-1888, as Los Angeles’ mayor and he followed, the next two decades, with long tenures on the parks commission and as city treasurer.

News about materiel for the Spring and Sixth Street track, Los Angeles Herald, 28 March 1874.

Workman’s eldest child, [Andrew] Boyle, was assistant to his father during William Henry’s stints as mayor and treasurer and, aside from banking and real estate enterprises, Boyle became a prominent politician with eight years service on the city council, most of it as its president, from 1919 to 1927. Boyle’s sister, Mary Julia, was one of the few Angel City women with a notable public presence, working in settlement houses for immigrants and other charitable works, while being the first woman to serve on the city’s public service commission. In 1925, Pope Pius XI presented her with a signal honor for her work with Catholic charitable causes, though her activism and service continued for decades more until her death in 1964.

Among the most unlikely scenarios imaginable for the revival of a family’s financial fortunes came with the remarkable resurgence of the Temple family in the 1910s. Walter P. Temple, the tenth child of F.P.F. Temple and Antonia Margarita Workman, was just six years old when his family’s bank collapsed. His mother retained the family homestead by buying it, just after her son Francis did the same with the Workman Homestead, from Baldwin after he foreclosed on his loan in 1879.

When Mrs. Temple died (followed in short order, during a flu epidemic, by her mother and eldest son, Thomas) in early 1892, Walter and hs younger brother Charles inherited the 50-acre property with its 1850s adobe house and 1870s French Second Empire brick dwelling. After acquiring Charles’ interest in the early 1900s, Walter, recently married to Laura Gonzalez (who grew up near the Temples, worked for Francis at the Workman Homestead, and carried on a secret romance with Walter when they were in their teens) with whom he had four surviving children, struggled to make ends meet.

This 1870s image, taken likely from the Bella Union Hotel on the east side of Main and looking southwest towards the Temple Block, shows a parked car of the Spring and Sixth Street Railway on Main Street at left, while in the distance at right is a blurred view, likely, of another car making its way south on Spring.

In fall 1912, he struck an unusual bargain with Baldwin’s estate executor, Hiram A. Unruh, in which Temple acquired sixty acres formerly owned by his father and lost to Baldwin, but, not having the money to buy the parcel, was able to pay for it over time. Less than two years later, Thomas, the eldest child and who was just nine years old, stumbled upon indications of oil on a corner of the Montebello Hills that they family grandiosely called Temple Heights. It was the height of luck when Standard Oil, working the hills which extended in something of an “oil belt” from Los Angeles to northern Orange County, brought in a successful well in June 1917.

Propelled into petroleum-produced prosperity, Walter became an independent oil prospector with projects throughout the region and in Alaska, Mexico and Texas, though most of his work didn’t pan out amid frenzied competition and dominance from big companies. He also delved deeply into the development of real estate, including a pair of Los Angeles commercial structures just blocks from where his uncle and father’s Temple Block would soon be bulldozed for the building of City Hall.

In Alhambra, where the Temples moved after their “ship came in,” he purchased a block and a half of prime downtown property and built or completed several structures over the course of a half-dozen years. At San Gabriel, a place of particularly vital historical importance for the family, he acquired lots directly across the mission, donating some for a city hall designed by his architects, Walker and Eisen, and building three adjacent commercial edifices. In El Monte, he built a post office and movie theater, as well. Finally, there was his Town of Temple project, launched in spring 1923, during the peak of the real estate market during that period, and which was renamed Temple City five years later. It represented a large outlay for the capitalist with real estate always a real risk.

The first cars of the Los Angeles Cable Railway crossing a bridge over the Los Angeles River, early August 1889.

As if this wasn’t enough (and it like was more than that in so compressed a period of time), he acquired the Workman Homestead the same week he bought his Alhambra home, added 17 acres to the existing 75, remodeled and modernized the Workman House, resuscitated the nearly-ruined El Campo Santo Cemetery (including the building of a mausoleum completed a century ago this year), planted acres of walnuts, and, most notably, built over a five-year span the impressive La Casa Nueva, a Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, mostly comprised of adobe bricks built by artisans brought up from Guadalajara, Jalisco, México.

The 1920s was largely a boom period and, as per usual, there were many exuberant and enthusisastic speculators looking to make fortunes while opportunities presented, but too many overextended themselves at great risk. Walter Temple was one of these. His headlong rush from project to project was such that, by spring 1926, he had to issue bonds to deal with the mounting complexities of his development projects. While these raised needed capital to continue with this work, they also presented obligations with scheduled interest payments that were short and long term challenges, especially if his oil income continued its steady decline at Montebello and were not offset by a new strike of crude in places like Ventura, one of this last promising places of petroleum prospecting.

In spring 1927, Temple completed his last real estate project, the Edison Building, at Alhambra and late that year, La Casa Nueva, at long last, was finished. The following year, he and his fellow investors at the newly renamed Temple City hired a new real estate firm to promote and develop the town, but matters worsened. In summer 1929, much of his Alhambra property was sold and, just a few months later, the Great Depression burst forth with the crash of the stock market in New York. Out of viable options as the new decade began, Temple decided to move to Ensenada in Baja California, where Americans live by the thousands now, to keep down expenses, but to no avail.

The cars arriving in Boyle Heights, with cartoons on the banner showing the progress of rapid transit from the horse-drawn systems of 1879 and the new cable line of a decade later.

In 1932, as a wave of bank failures marked the depths of the debilitating depression, the Homestead, Temple’s most prized possession, was lost to a bank foreclosure, sealing Temple’s financial fate. Fortunately, the Homestead survived, proving ideal for institutional uses, including a boys’ military academy and El Encanto Sanitarium (now Habilitation and Health Care), before it was purchased by the City of Industry in phases from the early Sixties through mid Seventies. After four years of intensive restoration and a major financial investment from the City, the Homestead opened in 1981. Our 40th anniversary is this May.

Today’s talk ended with a brief excursion into the family’s involvement in early rapid transit. The first streetcar line in Los Angeles, completed in 1874, was the Spring and Sixth Street Railway, whose founder and president was Robert M. Widney (the recent subject of the removal of his name and statue from the University of Southern California, of which he was a key founding figure, because of his purported vigilante participation, though it should be noted he also tried to prevent the lynching of and is credited with the savings the lives of some Chinese residents during the horrific massacre of 24 October 1871,) and whose first treasurer was F.P.F. Temple.

The Spring and Sixth Street line was modest, orginally comprised of single cars pulled by a lone horse from the Plaza to the Temple Block, then south on Spring to Sixth and over to Main and back up to the Plaza. Still, it was a beginning and cable systems soon followed (one early example, highlighted here before, went from Spring west up Second Street and to the new Crown Hill development, west of today’s Interstate 110).

A portion of an article covering the opening of the Los Angeles Cable Railway, Los Angeles Herald, 4 August 1889.

Another early cable line was the Los Angeles Cable Railway, launched by William H. Workman and others, and which crossed the river to Workman’s Boyle Heights tract, which he, Hellman, and John Lazzarovich (married into the López family, the first residents of what was first known as Paredon Blanco [White Bluff]) founded in 1875, just before the boom went bust. The railway was inaugurated during the next and much larger boom and completed in August 1889 as that was waning. Still, it was a project that engendered a great deal of pride as a sign for the grand opening showed in comparing the horse-drawn cars of 1879 with the sleek, efficient system of a decade later.

Cable, however, was soon supplanted by electricity, which remained the standard fromthe 1890s onward. Henry E. Huntington became the dominant figure in streetcars in the first part of the 20th century through the development of what became the Pacific Electric system, the country’s largest (perhaps for the world, as well) in terms of track mileage. While the advent of the automobile quickly eroded the use of streetcars and mass transit generally (including buses), one of the major selling points for the Town of Temple was that there was an extension of the Pacific Electric line from Alhambra to the new tract, whether there was really much of a benefit incurred by that development.

Nearly a century later, though, we find that, slowly, but surely, Metro is building mass transit lines throughout our region and often on rights-of-way that existed in days of yore. For example, the recently completed Expo line follows the route laid out by the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, founded by F.P.F. Temple, who was its first president and then treasurer), when it completed its only road from the Angel City to the newly created town of Santa Monica. The Riverside Metro train line uses the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake, later Union Pacific, track that runs just south of the Homestead and there is a station at the east side of City of Industry. Who knows what the future will bring for mass transit, but looking back at our history shows that it can be viable.

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