Sharing History Virtually on Double Duty with Metro LA and the Los Angeles County Library

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

I’ve said this before, but the great Ernie Banks of my hometown Chicago Cubs was fond of saying “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two today!” Well, after some badly needed rainfall, today had a lot of sunshine and was a beautiful day, so it was great for me to able to “play two today” by giving a doubleheader of virtual talks on the Workman and Temple families and greater Los Angeles.

The first presentation on the families was this morning to folks in the On the Move Riders Program offered by Metro LA. I gave the talk to a smaller group within the program a little over a month ago and I was happy to be asked to do a reprise for a larger regional audience. The talk covered family history during our interpretive period of 1830 to 1930 ranging from the arrival of Jonathan Temple as the second extranjero (or Anglo foreigner) to live in Los Angeles through the story of his grand-nephew Walter P. Temple.

Los Angeles Plaza Church Sonoratown 2005.97.1.1
The Plaza Church and North Main Street heading from the Pico House, from where this photo was taken, towards what was known as Sonoratown, early 1870s. All photos shown here are from the Homestead’s collection.

Over that century, I shared the family’s involvement in ranching and farming at the ranchos La Puente (eastern San Gabriel Valley) and Los Cerritos (Long Beach area); their financial windfall with the beef trade during the Gold Rush; the transition to agriculture (wheat and grapes, principally); the move into business which, sadly, included the 1876 failure of the Temple and Workman bank; the later generation of Los Angeles-based Workman family members, such as mayor and city treasurer, as well as Boyle Heights founder, William H. Workman; and the remarkable rise and fall of Walter Temple with the stunning discovery of oil on his Montebello-area ranch through his oil and real estate businesses and his financial collapse as the Great Depression ensued.

Other aspects of the family story included involvement in the Mexican-American War, including William Workman’s role as a negotiator between the Californios and the invading American forces and his bringing out, with a German and a Californio (almost like a mini United Nations!), the flag of truce after the seizure of Los Angeles in early 1847; and Walter P. Temple’s extensive endeavors in renovating the Homestead after he purchased in late in 1917, just five months after his first oil royalties rolled in, and including the construction of La Casa Nueva.

Because the presentation was geared to regular users of the Metro system of trains and buses, I added on a set of images showing some of the streetcar-related images in the museum’s holdings, starting with the modest Spring and Sixth Street Railway, the area’s first system when it opened in 1874 and of which F.P.F. Temple was treasurer, with its single car and single horse model.

SV Courthouse 2014.1052.1.6
Jonathan Temple’s Market House, long known as the County Courthouse with a portion of the Temple Block to its left from the hills to the west, ca.

A couple of images were shown of the Los Angeles Cable Railway, which included William H. Workman as one of its principals and which built its line to Boyle Heights in summer 1889, just as the famed Boom of the Eighties had wound down. Cable systems were, however, soon replaced by electric ones, including the Los Angeles Railway, which was acquired by Henry E. Huntington in the late 1890s and from which he expanded outward with a regional system eventually known as the Pacific Electric.

When Walter P. Temple founded his Town of Temple in 1923, a key selling point to purchasers of property was the extension of the PE’s Alhambra line through San Gabriel to the new town, which was renamed Temple City in 1928. The problem, though, was that, though access to the streetcar for rides into Los Angeles just about a dozen miles away, was heavily promoted, our region’s burgeoning love affair with the autommobile was dramatically reducing ridership on streetcars and the imminent demise of that system was only delayed by the onset of the Depression and then the conservation measures of the World War II years.

It was fun, though, sharing a panoply of photos from our collection of streetcars plying Los Angeles streets, of cars and conductors, and other great images and, of course, it was pointed out that Metro is now using many of the rights-of-way that were utilized by its predecessors. A notable recent example is the Expo Line, which follows much of the line built by the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, established in 1874 with F.P.F. Temple as its founding president and then treasurer and which did build its line to the new resort town of Santa Monica.

View Of Los Angeles 2005.52.1.3
A view northeast from just to the east of Main and showing the Courhouse towards the upper right and Los Angeles High School on Poundcake Hill south of Temple Street and west of Fort Street (Broadway), ca. late 1870s.

The transportation theme carried over nicely into the late afternoon talk (my fourth since October) given to the Los Angeles County Library for its virtual programming offerings. Under the heading of “Take a Trip Through . . .”, we’ve moved backwards in time with a program on the 1920s (also given under the auspices of the Homestead in early October), followed by one on the late Victorian era, meaning the 1880s and 1890s. Today, we reviewed regional history in the early Victorian period, basically from the 1830s through the 1870s.

By necessity, the imagery used for the first few decaes of that period were drawings, maps and the like, as the discussion went through some of the history of late Mexican era greater Los Angeles, including the hide-and-tallow trade centered on the ranchos surrounding the pueblo and the convergence of the end of the Mexican-American War with the discovery of gold in the north.

Los Angeles underwent a decade of turbulence and turmoil, as the state as a whole did, as ethnic groups from many areas of the world descended upon Gold Rush California and violence, much of racial in nature, broke out. While statements that the Angel City had a murder a day at one point in the early Fifties are greatly exaggerated, even the few dozen a year documented by researchers from Ohio State University are extraordinary for a town of just several thousands of people.

SV 12 Los Angeles From The South 2008.314.1.1
The house and farm of Elijah H. Workman on Main Street near Eleventh Street with a good deal of open land between his “suburban” property and town, ca. 1870.

After the region endured a terrible first half of the 1860s, marked by flooding, drought, a plague of locusts, the outbreak of smallpox, and other horrors (sounds like Revelations in some ways!), a dramatic shift occurred after the end of the Civil War. Migration to Los Angeles brought a boom to the area, its first, from the late 1860s through the middle of the Seventies and photography was finally in the area to a degree that it could document much of this transformation.

Some of the photos showed the older areas of town, including the historic center of pre-American Los Angeles at the Plaza, as well as what was broadly known as “Sonoratown,” named for Sonoreños, recent immigrants from northern Mexico including miners heading to the gold fields. Photographers then cast their equipment and focused their lenses south from the Plaza toward where Americans and Europeans were building new areas of the city, with a commercial core centered on the Temple Block, where Main, Spring and Temple streets then terminated

A few images showed early development on the hills just west of the downtown area, along New High, Buena Vista and Fort (later Broadway) streets and then southward, including where Los Angeles High School was built, on Poundcake Hill, south of Temple and west of Fort, as well as in the “flatlands” at the base of these hills. One striking image showed the home and property of Elijah H. Workman, brother of William H., “way out” on Main near Tenth with plenty of open space between his “rural” domain and the city.

SV 132 Santa Monica Watering Place 2007.98.1.1
A circa 1870 photo of the north end of a beach and labeled “Watering Place, Santa Monica.”

The presentation then reviewed other aspects of Los Angeles during the era, including religion, education, recreation and transportation with images of churches, schools like St. Vincent’s College (now Loyola Marymount University), the strange and wonderful Round House/Garden of Paradise, Washington Gardens, and the short-lived covered bridge that spanned the Los Angeles River connecting downtown to the east side in Boyle Heights.

From there, we climbed in our horse-drawn conveyances and headed out to the outying areas of the region, including the rudimentary port at San Pedro/Wilmington, to where the first local railroad, the Los Angeles and San Pedro, headed; discussed the remnants of ranching and the growth of agriculture, such as field crops, wine grapes and, especially, oranges; and mentioned the origins of the oil industry in modern Santa Clarita, where F.P.F. Temple actively prospected.

After sharing some rare images of places of leisure, such as the beach at Santa Monica and San Pasqual Canyon above Pasadena in the San Gabriel Mountains, it was pointed out that “the Valley” wasn’t today’s San Fernando, but the San Gabriel, which had far more water and, therefore, development in those days than its drier cousin, better suited for ranching and dry farming (such as wheat) but which was much less populated.

SV No 164 San Pascual Canon San Gabriel Mountains Cal 2010.438.1
A view from about 1878 of San Pascual Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains north of the new town of Pasadena.

The next section was headed “Odds and Ends” and included photos of pre-American sites like the Mission San Gabriel, the Vejar ranch house at San José, now Pomona, and the ruins of the adobe at Cahuenga where the treaty ending the Mexican-American War was signed in January 1847. A rare view of an apiary at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains reflected a bee-raising craze that took place during the 1870s and afterward and there was the strange photo, “A Specimen of Longevity,” of the centenarian Eulalia Pérez de Guillen, the former “keeper of the keys” at Mission San Gabriel and who was rumored to be over 140 years old when she died, though she was more likely around 100 or perhaps a bit older—still an exceptional life span for the time.

It was noted that photos of people of color from the 1870s era can be hard to come by, especially for early African-American residents and the indigeous people of our area, though some portraits were shown of prominent Californios, including Pío Pico, Ygnacio del Valle and his won Reginaldo, and María Guadalupe Zamorano, whose father Agustín was the first printer in California and whose husband, British-born Henry Dalton, owned the Rancho de Azusa adjacent on the north to William Workman and La Puente.

No 193 A Specimen Of Longevity At San Gabriel Mission Cal 2009.3
Eulalia Pérez de Guillen shown at a home near Mission San Gabriel about 1878, just before she died at over 100 years of age, though there were claims that she was more than 140!

The last portion of the presentation summarized some of the Workman and Temple family history, covered more extensively, obviously, with this morning’s talk, but it was appropos to begin and end this “beautiful day” with a doubleheader of history, which, hopefully, ended with everyone circling the bases and chalking up a “W”!

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