Portrait Gallery: The Children of Maria Boyle and William H. Workman, ca. 1884

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

After the calamitous collapse of the Temple and Workman bank in early 1876, the branch of the family centered on the owners William Workman, founder with his wife Nicolasa Urioste of the Homestead, and F.P.F. Temple, husband of their daughter Margarita, receded from a prominent public place. Around the time, however, another family branch was ascendant in Los Angeles, including the nephews of Workman, Elijah (1835-1906) and, especially, William Henry (1839-1918.)

The brothers came to this region from central Missouri in late 1854 with their parents David Workman (1798-1855) and Nancy Hook (1807-1887), as well as their older brother Thomas (1832-1863). The family resided with William and Nicolasa Workman at the Rancho La Puente, but for less than a year as David was killed in a freak accident while driving livestock for this brother to the gold mining regions of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Thomas was a clerk to Phineas Banning, the “Port Admiral” at Wilmington where, along with San Pedro, the great Port of Los Angeles was in its nascent stages, but the horrific explosion of the steamship Ada Hancock took Thomas’s life.

Elijah, meanwhile, established a saddlery, the trade his father pursued after coming to the United States from northern England in the late 1810s and was, after a couple of years, joined by William, whose early jobs included work with the printing of newspapers, including the Southern Californian. Known for a time as Workman and Brother, the firm was long styled Workman Brothers and its location in Lanfranco Block on the east side of Main Street was easily identified by a sign in the shape of a horse on the two-story brick structure’s roof.

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Maria Boyle Workman (1847-1933).

Both became involved early on in public service, including support of the short-lived first public library, launched in 1859 with Jonathan Temple as president; support at the city and county levels of the dominant Democratic Party, service on the school board, and through multiple terms on the Common [City] Council. Over time, however, Elijah moved away from public office and spent more time with his extensive and often experimental landscaping interests, including at his home on Main Street between 10th and 11th streets in what was then “in the sticks” south of downtown.

He was also an avid supporter of beautifying the two earliest public parks, planting trees and other material at the Plaza (including Moreton Bay fig trees that still loom tall over the historic center of the city today) and at Central Park (also known as Sixth Street Park and then Pershing Square.) As the city expanded south, Elijah sold his extensive property and moved to Boyle Heights, established by William in the 1870s, and, thrice-widowed and survived by two daughters of five children, he died in 1906.

William Henry rose to greater political and social heights in a rapidly growing Los Angeles during the last couple of decades of the 19th century and the first couple of its successor. He was a young man on the rise in 1867, when he married Maria (pronounced Mar-aye-ah) Boyle, a native of New Orleans who settled in Los Angeles not long after William did. She and her father, Andrew A. Boyle, a shoemaker, having left the Crescent City after her mother’s death (caused, it was reported, by the false news Andrew died when a ship sunk at sea) and gone first to san Francisco, came to town in the late Fifties, where he acquired land in Paredon Blanco (White Bluff) across the Los Angeles River, built a brick home and expanded the vineyards planted there by the López family, first settlers of that area, selling his product under the Paredon Blanco name. Boyle was also a Common Council member until his death at age 53 in 1871

With Maria inheriting her father’s property and with Los Angeles undergoing its first growth boom, William Henry teamed up with prominent Jewish merchant and banker, Isaias W. Hellman, and merchant John Lazzarovich, who was married into the López family, to subdivide Boyle Heights. The project was launched just as an economic panic struck, during which the Temple and Workman bank failure occurred, so the resulting recession kept the community from growing rapidly for almost a decade.

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William Henry Workman (1839-1918).

William Henry’s political star hit its zenith just as Boyle Heights was poised to rise in stature just after a direct transcontinental railroad link established by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe at the end of 1885. The following year, he was elected mayor of the Angel City, and his two-year term occurred during the famed Boom of the Eighties. Among the high-profile projects that took place during his tenure was the establishment of a city charter and the completion and opening of a new city hall on Broadway between 2nd and 3rd streets.

He went on to serve for much of the subsequent decade on the city’s parks commission and had a major role to play in the development of Boyle Heights’ Hollenbeck Park, donating two-thirds of the land, while the remainder was provided by the widow of William’s close friend and near neighbor, capitalist John E. Hollenbeck (who also owned some 5,000 acres of the Rowland family’s portion of Rancho La Puente in modern West Covina/Covina).

With the dawn of the new century, William Henry returned to politics by serving three terms, from 1901 to 1907, as city treasurer and was, in a dramatic reversal from his early involvement in local politics, a rare Democrat, albeit very moderate, in a city dominated by the Republicans. One of his most public responsibilities was going to New York to sign the bonds issued to fund the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The last decade of his life was spent managing his real estate interests and attending to his Boyle Heights property. In February 1918, not long after he and Maria celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, William Henry died at 79 years of age. Maria lived another fifteen years, passing away in 1933 at the age of 86.

Tonight’s highlighted object from the museum’s holdings is a cabinet card photograph, dating to about 1884, just before the transcontinental line was completed and the boom erupted, of the five eldest of the seven children of Maria and William Henry. The unattributed (meaning there is no identification as to the photographer) image shows eldest child [Andrew] Boyle (1868-1942) standing behind the faux tree stump, with Mary Julia (1871-1964) seated on the left side of the rustic bench. At the far right is Elizabeth (1872-1945), while at the opposite end is William Henry, Jr. (1874-1951). The youngest, perched on a block resting on the bench next to Mary Julia, is Charlotte (1879-1968.) There were two subsequent children, Gertrude (1885-1972) and Thomas (1890-1972).

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The Workman family home, with the Andrew Boyle house from 1858 in the back and an 1878 addition in the front, on Boyle Avenue north of 4th Street in Boyle Heights.

The quintet definitely give every appearance of being in a prosperous family. Boyle was on the cusp of manhood with his frock coat buttoned at the top, and with a watch chain partially in view from a well-concealed vest, and his smart bow tie on a crisp white dress shirt. By contrast, “Billy” sports a common costume for boys of his age, including knee-length pants and a double breasted jacket with a bow tie under a scalloped-edge collar.

As to the two oldest girls, they wear identical dresses with the double rows of buttons on the front, the layered skirts and the high-buttoned boots. What differentiates the siblings are their lace collars. Little Charlotte, whose face is unfortunately marred by damage on the photo surface, is a contrast in white, though her little patent leather boots are dark like those of her big sisters.

Charlotte and Elizabeth, in causes like settlement and mission houses for immigrant ethnic minorities, including the Brownson House, a Catholic institution which Mary Julia helped establish and operate, and orphans, such as the Maryknoll Home for Japanese children. Elizabeth never married and died in 1945. Charlotte was married in 1910 to electrical engineer Charles Masson and the couple, who were childless, lived near her parents and brother, William, Jr. for many years. Charlotte was also heavily involved in the 150th anniversary fiesta for Los Angeles in 1931 and was a founder in 1939 and a general chairperson of First Century Families of Los Angeles, comprised of descendants of those who lived in the Angel City before 1881.

WH Workman family 1880 census
The enumeration of the Workman family in the 1880 federal census, including William H. as “orchardist” and the five children from the photo. Others in the household are Maria Boyle’s maternal aunts, and nine servants including a “nurse girl” for the children, a Chinese cook, “hostler” Juan Mendoza and his wife Manuela, a French wine maker , and five Latino orchard workers. When running for mayor in 1886, Workman had his ranch foreman Walter Drown (who lived in 1880 at the Workman Homestead as foreman for Francis W. Temple) explain to the press that he hired Chinese workers in his orchard because they did work, such as digging irrigation ditches, that “white men” would not do.

William H. Workman, Jr., whose marriage to Elizabeth Gowan Haskins was covered in a multi-part post in this blog and whose lettter from Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1928 presidential campaign was also highlighted here, worked for Southern California Edison as an electrical engineer (Charles Masson was also an SCE engineer), the Union Oil Company of California, and organized and ran the Morris Plan Bank for over three decades.

The eldest of the children had the most public roles, however. Boyle, became, at just eighteen years of age, an assistant to his father, when William Henry was mayor, and served as assistant city treasurer during his father’s three terms. Boyle was also active in banking and insurance and was a draftsman in the city engineer’s office when he was a young man. For four years in the 1910s, he served on the Public Service Commission.

Boyle then was elected to the City Council in 1919, being selected as president, a position he held for eight years. During that time, such major projects as the building of the Coliseum, the Central Public Library, City Hall and planning for Union Station took place. In 1929, he ran for mayor but lost in the primary. Boyle was also widely known for his 1935 book, The City That Grew, a semi-autobiographical history of Los Angeles.

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Mary Julia attended the Los Angeles Normal School (located where the Central Public Library now stands) for teacher education and was a long-time primary school teacher. In 1901, she was a founder of the Brownson House and was a leading figure in its operation, providing programs for immigrants and ethnic minorities, for some two decades. Her work with that organization and other Catholic charitable endeavors led to her being honored by the Pope in 1925. She was also president of the Public Service Commission from 1925 to 1928 and was active in many other causes over her long life, which ended when she was 93.

This photo is a one of several in the Homestead’s collection connected to the “Los Angeles branch” of the Workman family, with all five of the children involved in public and community service in a variety of ways, though Boyle and Mary Julia were the best known in their time. It was taken at a time when their father was becoming a major political figure in the Angel City just as it was on the brink of its largest growth boom to date and the family’s prominence would continue for decades to come.

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