Reading Between the Lines While Getting Schooled: A Letter from Walter P. Temple to Thomas W. Temple II, 25 June 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As often noted in this blog previously, the Temple children, once the royalties started to flow from the revenues of wells brought in on the family’s oil lease to Standard Oil Company of California near Montebello, were sent for about a dozen years to private schools. The idea, of course, was to provide Thomas W. II, Agnes, Walter, Jr., and Edgar excellent educational opportunities, though it also meant that they were away from hope for most of the childhoods.

After La Casa Nueva, of which you can learn more in this Sunday’s “Behind the Scenes” presentation on its history, was completed in 1927, it was another nearly two years before the four children graduated from their respective schools and ventured home. Even then, the reunion was short, as Agnes was engaged to Luis P. Fatjo, a former University of Santa Clara classmate of Thomas and half-owner of a large ranch near Gilroy, with the two marrying in November 1929, and Walter, Jr. and Edgar heading off to Santa Clara for their only year of college for the 1929-1930 school year.

As for Thomas, while his education was completed, his future was very much uncertain and that leads us to this evening’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection, a letter to him from his father, Walter, Sr., and dated 25 June 1929. The envelope was addressed to the Plaza Hotel in San Francisco and in care of Fatjo, because, as Walter, Sr. opened his missive, “your several telegrams have been received but [I] had not answered as I didn’t know just where to reach you.”

Thomas had just finished a transcontinental rail journey from the East Coast, which is why his father sent it to Fatjo, “so you can get it on arrival.” The reason Thomas headed home, of course, is that he’d just finished the demanding work of earning his law degree from Harvard Law School, which he attended from fall 1926. Thomas followed in the footsteps of his uncle, William W. Temple, who graduated from that institution in 1874. His father added that he enclosed a letter from the school, perhaps certifying Thomas’ completion of the program. The proud patriarch added:

We are all happy to know of your successful perparation at Harvard and on your receiving that coveted prize, your L.L.B. degree from such a prominent and rigid [did he mean “rigourous”?] school. We all join in our congratulations upon your worthy efforts and masterly scholarship.

Incidentally, it has sometimes been stated here that Thomas earned his juris doctorate, or J.D., degree, but, from 1820, Harvard issued the L.L.B., or legum baccalaureus, meaning of Bachelor of Laws. This undergraduate designation remained, even as the University of Chicago Law School decided to use the J.D. designation in the first years of the 20th century and calls to do so at Harvard were disregarded. It was not until 1969 when that change was finally made and those who were given their L.L.B. could apply to have the degree changed to a J.D. Whether Thomas did so before he died three years later is not known.

Thomas, who spent some time in New York City and with Temple family members at a camp in that state before traveling back to California, did not attend his sister’s graduation from Dominican College in San Rafael, just north of San Francisco, but his father wrote that “While in S.F. for Agnes’ commencement, we stopped at Santa Clara to make inquiries concerning the boys admission to the University.”

It turned out, however, the Santa Clara’s president, the Rev. Cornelius J. McCoy, who took that office in 1926 after Thomas graduated, was not in town, though Walter, Sr., noted that he “took it up with another of the Faculty.” Once the diplomas and yearbook arrived in California from Dummer Academy (founded in 1763 and named for a colonial governor of Massachusetts, the school is the oldest continuously operating private school in the United States, though it only somewhat recently changed its name to Governor’s Academy because the word “Dummer” was deemed a recruiting liability!), he added that he sent these to McCoy “so that he could judge for himself the work that boys havce accomplished at Dummer.”

Unfortunately, Walter, Jr., a fine athlete, a good musician, and a very talented artist, was not quite the scholar his older brother was, and so his father continued that “Walter did not satisfactorily complete the required credits for admission to the University.” One idea was “to have him under [a] private tutor for a short time, until he properly qualifies.”

That way, he and Edgar, who attended school together all along, could remain together as their father added “I would dislike to have the boys divided and attend separate schools as they have been inseparable Chums all along during their school activities.” Thomas was encouraged to make the trip down to Santa Clara so that “you can explain matters to Father McCoy much better than I can by letter.”

With Thomas then to take the train home from San Jose, his father wrote, “we are expecting you and Don Luis with a big Fiesta” joking, as the Temples were all fluent Spanish speakers, that this last word had “the accent on the first syllable with a broad i as in the word ‘Fido’.” Walter, Sr. then told his son that, after about five years,

we have dispensed with our good friend and helper, Doña Eulalia [Delgado] and her neophytes [children] and her charming Prince Chico [perhaps a pet?] and replaced her with an up-to-date Filipino, Toco, who, as the lordly master of the Kitchen, does the cooking, dish washing, bottle dispenser [it was still Prohibition, though not at the Homestead!], barber, butler and other requisites of the household. Moreover, he is a wonderful penman and [I] shall ask him to write our place cards [at the Fiesta dinner?]

Eulalia Delgado and her mother Guadalupe Garcia immigrated in 1924 from the Mexican state of Guanajuato with Delgado’s three children (a daughter and two sons) when both their spouses died within a short time of each other. Señora Delgado was hired at the Homestead shortly afterward, while her mother and children lived for a brief time in Azusa before joining her. The family resided in an adobe house built by Walter, Sr. along San José Creek, southeast of the Workman House and La Casa Nueva.

The name “Toco” appears to have been a nickname for the man, otherwise not identified, who was hired for the multiple responsbilities listed in the letter, though Walter, Sr. felt it necessary to add, “of course, this is written in a joking way but I think you will like him and I imagine a little humor is the best tonic in life.”

After asking his son to thank Fatjo “for his unbounded attention and fabors extended us while in San Francisco” and reminding him to bring home a Santa Clara school catalog, Walter, Sr. ended his letter. What is notable by omission, however, is any reference to the Temple family’s financial situation, though perhaps he was waiting for his son’s arrival at home to discuss that.

The reality is that the picture was dire. Just a couple of weeks after the letter was written, it was reported in the Los Angeles Times that Walter, Sr. sold some of his prominent commercial property in Alhambra, in which he had invested heavily in that burgeoning city’s downtown over the prior decade. Soon, he would divest of his interests in Temple City, which he established with partners in 1923.

Walter, Sr. obviously enjoyed having his children home for the summer, Walter, Jr. (evidently either getting that tutoring or some dispensation from Rev. McCoy) and Edgar went to Santa Clara for their sole year of college. A few months later, he had the joy of giving his daughter away to Fatjo at the Thanksgiving wedding at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Puente, followed by a reception at the Homestead. The couple then embarked on a honeymoon in Europe, including a lengthy stay with his relatives in Spain, before settling in San Francisco and enjoying wealth derived from the lease of his ranch and other income.

That left Thomas, who pondered whether to take the bar exam as he mulled an offer from his father’s attorney, George H. Woodruff, to learn the lawyer’s trade in his Los Angeles office or to go into banking, as he had an offer to do that in northern California. The issue, however, was that, as he often put it, Thomas was “bitten by the genealogy bug” as well as was passionate about early California history.

After his father leased the Homestead to a boys’ military school in spring 1930 and decamped to Ensenada, Baja California, México, Thomas decided to move in with his late mother’s sister, Luz Gonzalez Vigare, who lived in a historic adobe house just south of Mission San Gabriel. That relocation provided him with his future professional path as he became the historian of both the mission and the city, as well as conducted genealogical research for clients and did other historical work for over forty years until his death in 1972.

This letter was penned just as he and his family were facing a set of challenging circumstances and it is one of many donated several years ago by his brother Edgar’s daughter, Ruth Ann Michaelis. These artifacts have definitely helped us better document and understand the Temple family’s history during these years and more will be featured in future posts here, so look for those.

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