“One of the Pitiful Examples of the Helplessness of the Old Californians”: A Los Angeles Times Article on the Interment of Don Pío Pico and Doña María Ygnacia Alvarado at the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum, 6 March 1921

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum, built within El Campo Santo Cemetery, which Temple undertook, as a priority, to renovate once he bought the Workman Homestead in late 1917. A news report from a few months after the purchase stated that Temple planned to rebuild the St. Nicholas’ Chapel, built by his grandfather, William Workman, about 1860 and which, along with most of the cemetery, was razed by the Homestead’s owner, Lafayette F. Lewis, in the early years of the 20th century.

In 1906, Temple sued Lewis to halt the demolition and desecration of the consecrated burying ground, blessed by Roman Catholic Bishop Thaddeus Amat in May 1857, though, while a judgment was rendered in his favor by the county’s Superior Court, Lewis sold the ranch and evaded fulfilling the terms ordered by the judge. The next owners of the Homestead, Eugene Bassett and his son-in-law, Thurston Pratt, kept the ranch for a decade until selling it to Temple after he and his family experienced the extraordinary good fortune of having oil found on the Montebello-area property.

Flush with cash and motivated to turn the Homestead into a showplace akin to what it was when his family owned it for six decades in the 19th century, Temple hired architects Alfred W. Rea and Charles E. Garstang of Los Angeles, who were primarily known for their designs from the early 1910s to the late 1930s of public buildings, such as city halls and schools, as well as churches, to deisng the mausoleum. Its neoclassical architecture perhaps played on the Temple family name, though many such structures were of that style.

Rose L. Ellerbee

In addition to relocating the remains of his family members from the burial plot, the original cast-iron fence of which survived Lewis’ ravishing of the cemetery, Temple hit upon the idea of relocating those of Don Pío Pico, the last governor of Mexican-era California, and Doña María Ygnacia Alvarado, close friends and near neighbors of the Workman and Temple family, to the mausoleum. Having hired Luther Ingersoll, a historian and collector of historical materials associated with the Los Angeles Public Library, for assistance, Temple secured approval from Pico heirs.

As the structure was completed early in 1921, the remains of the Picos were removed from the cast-iron tomb Don Pío had imported, obviously at great expense, to receive his wife’s body after she died in 1854 (horribly, the tomb was broken into in the early 20th century and remains removed and left outside by grave robbers) at the old Calvary Cemetery, situated at the base of the Elysian Hills where the Catholic all-boys high school, Cathedral (nickname: The Phantoms!) was opened in 1925. The Los Angeles Record provided the briefest of reports on 17 February that the “body of Pio Pico, former governor of California, moved today to Puente from Calvary Cemetery.”

On 1 March, however, the Los Angeles Times took the opportunity to editorialize that:

The removal of the body of Pio Pico from the old Calvary Cemetery on North Broadway once more calls attention to the disgraceful condition of this burying ground—the oldest in Los Angeles or vicinity—the spot where have been laid the bodies of a large number of the men [but not women?] who bore historic names and took part in the events that made the history of California . . . it is now a pitiful sight in its neglect and desolation . . . empty vaults, fallen stones, crumbling tombs are on every side. The place is a feeding ground for goats, a repository for tin cans and rubbish, and a camping ground for tramps.

And this might so easily have been a noble and beautiful memorial spot, where the names that have made the history of our community were preserved or respected. It might have been an oasis of quiet and peace in the midst of a district that needs such a refuge and a mecca for every man and woman who loves the past with its reminders of heroic pioneers and romantic caballeros: who appreciates the background which alone makes history vital to the people of a new generation. . .

We have let most of our landmarks disappear by our neglect and indifference to our own historic possibilities. Is it not time that some active steps were taken to save this graveyard and turn it into an asset for ourselves and our children[?] If all of our native sons, many of them descendants of the men and women who have found their last resting place in this cemetery, possessed the respect and reverence for their own names revealed by Walter Temple, in restoring the home and burial place of La Puente, surely we should be able to save what remains of this ancient yard and make it a beautiful refuge instead of an eyesore.

Five days later, on 6 March, the Times published a lengthy article titled “Honor for Ashes of Pio Pico” by Rose L. Ellerbe. Ellerbe was one of the early women journalists of the area. Born in 1861 in Lorraine, north of Syracuse, in upstate New York, Ellerbe lived with her family in Mississippi and Minnesota, where she attended the state normal school for teacher education. After taking courses at the University of Chicago and teaching in Iowa and Missouri, she spent a year among the Pala Indians before relocating to Los Angeles with her mother and sister, as so many others did, during the great Boom of the 1880s.

Ellerbee Votes for Women Club Los_Angeles_Herald_Fri__Jul_1__1910_
Los Angeles Herald, 1 July 1910.

An aspiring writer of fiction, Ellerbe, who never married, also became an early member of the Southern California Woman’s Press Club, appearing in newspaper articles about the group as early as 1904. She also had a passion for history, as evidenced by her giving a talk three years later about the history of Santa Monica for work she prepared for Ingersoll, who published two volumes using her research, including one on San Bernardino County in 1904 and then the Santa Monica area four years later.

On 1 July 1910, she gave a speech at a Votes for Women Club meeting, at which “fifty enthusiastic members . . . approved a new Declaration of Independence,” though not from men, who “must be used to get the franchise for women” and the document also “recites a long train of tyranny, usurpation and oppression of that part of man.” The organization’s president, the prominent and pioneering attorney Clara Shortridge Foltz delivered the main oration and read the declaration, which “aroused great enthusiasm.” Another speaker at the event was Mary Foy, whose family settled in Los Angeles in 1854 and who was the first woman city librarian.

Women did achieve voting rights in California the following year and Ellerbee’s report on the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct was a featured article in the TimesMid-Winter Number for 1911. In the early part of the year she began to report regularly on the activities of the city’s women’s clubs, including one notice on a presentation to the prominent Friday Morning Club on German poets such as Goethe and Schiller by Dr. [James] Perry Worden, who later was hired by Walter Temple to write a history, which went unfinished, of the Workman and Temple families. A July editorial by Ellerbe in the Times addressed “What Our Club Women Want,” notably a centralized club house for the many organizations in the Angel City and she called upon a concerted join effort by clubs and the beneficence of a downtown property owner to provide space for women club members.

Ellerbee editorial Club Women The_Los_Angeles_Times_Thu__Jul_20__1911_
Los Angeles Times, 20 July 1911.

In 1916, Ellerbe was elected president of the Southern California Woman’s Press Association and, two years later, she published Tales of California Yesterdays with eighteen vignettes drawn of the Spanish-speaking Californios, some of which were published in the Times, Sunset, The Argonaut, Out West and other periodicals. She was also a contributor to the magazine Los Angeles Saturday Night and had stories published in Ladies’ Home Journal, Collier’s, McClure’s and other national publications. A decade later, her historical novel about early Anglo fur trappers in Mexican California, Ropes of Sand, a copy of which is in the museum’s collection, appeared.

In late 1928, she completed a “History of the Southern California Woman’s Press Club” just before she suffered a stroke, from which died in early December at age 67. She was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale and, while though largely forgotten, she earned an important place in Los Angeles women’s history for her work as a journalist, writer and researcher of history.

Ellerbee elected pres of SCWPC Evening_Express_Wed__Jun_14__1916_
Los Angeles Express, 14 June 1916.

Ellerbe’s article on the Pico reinterment included photos of the ex-governor, an inset of Temple, and a photo of the newly completed mausoleum as viewed from the original cast-iron gates from the sole surviving western section of the brick wall enclosing El Campo Santo. She began by noting that “a few days ago a handful of descendants of Pio Pico, twice governor of California [he was briefly in an interim position in the early 1830s before serving in 1845-46 prior to the American invasion], gathered with Walter P. Temple and friends about a rusted and broken tomb under the shelter of a pepper tree in the old Calvary Cemetery.”

She continued that

in solemn silence the broken mortar of crypts which were nameless was taken away and the crumbling coffins, containing all that is mortal of Pio Pico and his wife, Dona Maria Ygnacio [sic] Alvarado, removed for transference to their final resting place, the Walter P. Temple memorial mausoleum, just completed in the graveyard on El Puente [sic] rancho. Here they were placed in a crypt, which will be suitably inscribed, thus preserving the name of Pio Pico for future generations. A tribute which long ago should have been tendered by the State of California and the City of Los Angeles has thus been paid by Mr. Temple to a man who was intimately associated with the early history of the State, and particularly of Southern California.

Ellerbe followed this with a review of the ex-governor’s life and her factual accounting is generally accurate, but she decided to opine on the tragedy of his later years when “he had lost everything at the hands of money lenders and was reduced to utter poverty.” While it is true that he was basically swindled, she wrote that “the story of Don Pio’s later life was one of the pitiful examples of the helplessness of the old Californians, with their simplicity and trustfulness of character, and their unstinted hospitality and carelessness in monetary affairs.”

Pico remains moved to Puente Los_Angeles_Record_Thu__Feb_17__1921_
The brief note about the Picos’ removal to El Campo Santo is at the bottom of this excerpt from the Los Angeles Record, 17 February 1921.

She did quote Henry D. Barrows, a well-known educator and businessman who wrote an encomium to Pico for the Historical Society of Southern California and which lauded the ex-governor for “the kindness of his heart” and his “uniform courtesy,” as well as “his entire lack of malice or ill will towards any human being,” though biographer Carlos Salomon did note that Pico frequently filed lawsuits against those with whom he crossed swords in financial matters and which somewhat counters Ellerbe’s assertions about his “simplicity.”

Ellerbe reviewed the history of Calvary Cemetery, suggesting she had a hand in that editorial, and then turned to the munificence of Temple and his offer to reinter the Picos “in the beautiful marble [cast concrete with marble faced crypts, actually] memorial which he has erected to his family.” As to the structure, she wrote that “classic in the simplicity of its lines, this stands within the enclosure which marks the old graveyard” and quoted the statement of Jonathan Trumbull (Juan José) Warner, a friend of the Workman and Temple families and owner of the Warner Springs-area ranch featured here previously. In the 1876 centennial history of Los Angeles, Warner wrote of Workman and John Rowland, the “companions of a hundred dangers and toils, [who] sleep together in the church yard of the little chapel.”

Pio Pico removal from Calvary Cemetery editorial The_Los_Angeles_Times_Tue__Mar_1__1921_
Times, 1 March 1921.

Ellerbe wrote briefly of Lewis’ destruction of El Campo Santo and then noted that “now Walter P. Temple has bought back the historic ranch house and is engaged in restoring it as nearly as possible to its original magnificence. He has also restored the burial plot, where many pioneers were buried. Within the mausoleum he has placed the bodies of his family, listing the names and dates, sometimes inaccurately, of his parents and grandparents. She reviewed some of the history (again with errors here and there) of the Workmans and Temples before concluding her essay with a very interesting and laudatory statement about Walter Temple’s work:

In restoring the Workman House and the other buildings of El Puente [sic], and in providing this memorial to his pioneer forebears, Mr. Temple is not only honoring his own family; he is performing a valuable service to the community. In the intense living of the later generations of California residents, we have overlooked the meaning and importance to the present-day development and welfare, of the brave and fine men like the Temples, the Workmans, John Rowland and many another, who prepared the way for the American conquest of California. These pioneers, by their friendly relations with the Californians and their active participation in all the affairs of the country, laid the foundation of understanding and respect, which led the better class of Californians to accept the government of the United States with good will and co-operation when they found that their allegiance was no longer due to Mexico.

Here again, Ellerbe’s excursions into a version of history that celebrated the American conquest (seizure) and asserted that the early Anglo settlers, even if Mexican citizens like Rowland and Workman from back in the 1820s in New Mexico, “prepared the way” for the invasion, while claiming that it was “the better class” of Spanish-speaking Californios who immediately accepted the new order as if their “allegiance” vanished without their awareness, are striking.

Honor for Ashes of Pio Pico The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Mar_6__1921_ (2)
Times, 6 March 1921. Note the reference to the mausoleum as a “chapel” and that the photos was from the Ingersoll collection at the Los Angeles Public Library. It may have been Ingersoll who connected Ellerbe and the Times to the Pico removal and subsequent dedication, in late April, of the structure. Times, 6 March 1921.

Pico left to go to Mexico, ostensibly to seek any support from the central government for the defense of the department (as it was officially known) of Alta California, while his brother Andrés led a spirited defense against the invaders that included a stunning victory against a poorly organized American force at the Battle of San Pasqual near San Diego.

It is true that, later, the Picos established economic and social relationships with many Americans and, for a time, Don Pío became an energetic builder in downtown Los Angeles, not just with his well-known and extent Pico House hotel, but with the Pico Building further south on Main Street, in which the bank of Hellman, Temple and Company (Workman being the “Company”) was housed from 1868 to 1871.

Honor for Ashes of Pio Pico The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Mar_6__1921_ (3)
Times, 6 March 1921.

The swindling of Pico and the loss of his beloved El Ranchito, the Rancho Paso de Bartolo, in the Whittier Narrows led him, when leaving his home for Los Angeles, to stay with the Temples. In fact, a Victorian era chair and footstool just taken to the Homestead from the home of the late Josette Temple has been called the “Pico chair” as it is said he used it when visiting the family at their home in Misión Vieja, or Old Mission.

The reinterment of the remains of the Picos a century ago was a notable event and we’ll follow this post with another at the end of April to cover another event reported upon by Ellerbe: the blessing of the mausoleum by Bishop John J. Cantwell. So, be sure to check back then!

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