“On Rather Hard Terms” Preview: Setting the Stage for Sharing the Story of the Workman and Temple Families in the 1870s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A key element to our interpretation of the Workman and Temple families is the dramatic story of the steep peaks and deep valleys of their fortunes during the 1830 to 1930 time frame that we cover. Tomorrow afternoon at 2, we’ll be venturing on the fifth segment of our multi-part series of presentations on their history, dealing with the remarkable decade of the 1870s. The series began with a look at how members of the families migrated to Mexican California seeking, as all immigrants do, opportunity for achievement and advancement not likely available in the hometowns.

Among them was Jonathan Temple, who left his native Massachusetts for Hawaii in the early 1820s and then, several years later, came to Mexican Alta California, where he became the second American or European to live in Los Angeles. He was also the first person to operate a store in the pueblo and quickly established himself as a prominent person in the community, while marrying Rafaela Cota of Santa Barbara.

F.P.F. Temple and Antonia Margarita Workman, ca. 1870 (copied in the 1920s).

The next part covered the tumultuous decade of the 1840s, when Jonathan’s much younger half-brother, Pliny, sailed during the first half of 1841 from Massachustts to California and remained, working for his brother in the store. Later that year, William and Nicolasa Workman family left political turmoil in New Mexico and migrated to California to start over on the Rancho La Puente. In September 1845, their daughter Margarita married Pliny, who was baptized with the name Francisco immediately prior to the nuptials and who subsequently was known by his new initials of F.P.F.

After getting established on the property by planting some crops and stocking the ranch with cattle and horses, Workman waded into the frequently unstable internal political environment by helping Pío Pico unseat the governor and take that position, short after which came the long-expected American invasion of Mexico took place in 1846, including the seizure of California. In that conflict, Workman played something of a mediator’s role between the Americans and the Californios.

Los Angeles News, 13 July 1871.

The third presentation dealt with the drama of the 1850s. That decade began in the full ferment of the Gold Rush and, while the relentless digging for the precious metal and all of the competition and conflict that went with it took place further north, Los Angeles played a central part in supplying fresh meat to the hordes of gold seekers and others who came to California. As ranchers and merchants, the Workmans and Temples realized significant financial success during the first half of the decade. In 1854, moreover, William’s brother, David, and his wife and three sons migrated from Missouri to Los Angeles and settled at La Puente, though David died soon after transporting cattle to the gold fields and his widow, Nancy, and sons moved into Los Angeles.

By the mid-Fifties, however, the rush receded and a national depression added to the economic challenges facing Angelenos, while the seemingly unrestrained violence that came during the Gold Rush continued throughout the decade. Moreover, ethnic and racial tensions were greatly increased as Americans and Europeans consolidated increasing economic and political control and Californios and other Latinos saw their power in these areas continue to decline.

William Workman, ca. early 1870s.

Finally, the most recent talk took us into the 1860s, which began with what seemed like the reckoning foreseen in Revelations. An incredibly wet early winter in December 1861 and January 1862 led to almost forty consecutive days of rain (hence, the term “Noah’s Flood”) and, without any control whatsoever, terrible flooding ensued throughout California. The damage was devastating to farmers and ranchers, like the Workmans and Temples, but was worsened still further by the drought that followed during the years of 1863 and 1864.

The cattle industry was decimated, though the families were able to escape the worst of the destruction as they pastured large numbers of animals with their friend William Wolfskill, who found water and pasturage, in of all places, the foothills at the north edge of the San Bernardino Mountains. With the end of the Civil War, moreover, came a notable surge in migration to the area from the ruined South and elsewhere in the country.

Los Angeles Express, 18 March 1875.

By the end of the Sixties, then, greater Los Angeles was undergoing its first significant and sustained period of growth, small compared to the great booms of subsequent decades, but yet a major change was underway for the region. This is where we see a vital turning point for the families of William and Nicolasa Workman and Margarita and F.P.F. Temple. Long successful as ranchers and farmers, with substantial landholdings and impressive adobe houses surrounded by well-tended gardens, vineyards and fields, they began to make inroads in the small, but growing business community, though this was really undertaken by F.P.F. Temple with his father-in-law as something of a “silent partner.”

Early business ventures involving the two, or Temple alone, were acquisitions of more regional property, Temple’s development, with a partner, of what became Compton, his involvement in a woolen mill, and their fortuitous and very promising alliance with the brilliant young merchant Isaias W. Hellman, a prominent member of the growing Jewish community of the Angel City in Los Angeles’ second bank, Hellman, Temple and Company, opened in 1868.

Elijah H. Workman, ca. 1860s.

William’s surviving nephews (the eldest, Thomas, was killed in 1863 in a steamship explosion at the rudimentary harbor at San Pedro), Elijah and William H., took on the family trade, dating likely back to their father’s and uncle’s youth in England, and became saddlers, opening the second such shop in the Angel City. As they prospered financially, they also entered the political arena, serving by the late Sixties on the Los Angeles Common (City) Council and the Board of Education. William H. married Maria [pronounced Mar-eye-ah] Boyle, whose father owned a large property east of the Los Angeles River, and this augured well for his future.

This takes us to the Seventies, as the boom expanded with the population of Los Angeles going from around 6,000 to as many as 15,000 persons in the first half of the decade and business opportunities growing apace. William Workman, then in his early seventies and having extensive renovated his house, befitting his significant wealth and his status as a banker, and improved his property in many other ways (including wineries and a mill), mostly focused on his ranch.

Los Angeles Star, 2 July 1870.

F.P.F. Temple, on the other hand, was a veritable whirlwind of activity. He had a staggering array of ventures in a short span, including a railroad project from silver mines in Inyo County with a branch line to the new seaside town of Santa Monica; the first streetcar system in Los Angeles; the planting of imported eucalyptus trees; a shipping and warehouse company at the harbor at San pedro/Wilmington; saw mills in San Antonio Canyon above modern Claremont and in the San Jacinto Mountains near today’s Hemet; insurance companies; real estate projects near what is now Inglewood and Alhambra; and more.

He also was far more interested in the day-to-day running of the Hellman, Temple and Company bank than suited Hellman, who really should have been left to work his magic unfettered. In early 1871, the latter bought out his partners and formed a new bank, Farmers and Merchants, with ex-governor John G. Downey, partner in the city’s first institution, Haward and Company. Undaunted, Temple convinced his father-in-law to press on with their own private bank, Temple and Workman, which opened later that year.

William H. Workman, ca. 1880s.

The bank opened in the last of a quartet of structures comprising the Temple Block, the center of the city’s growing business district and acquired in 1867 by F.P.F. from his late brother’s estate. With investors’ capital and their own ample cash as the base, Temple was able to pursue his speculative projects with great enthusiasm as is often the case during booms, when opportunity seems to be everywhere.

As for the brother Elijah and William H. Workman, they, too, prospered during the boom as their saddlery expanded. Elijah owned a handsome estate south of town and was known for his horticultural interests and in beautifying the two city parks, the Plaza and Central Park (now Pershing Square), while serving on the city council and board of education. William H. was a delegate to the 1872 Democratic Party national convention at Baltimore, in addition to his politicking locally, and brief considered running for the state assembly, though his aims at higher office would be more fully realized in later decades.

Los Angeles Herald, 4 June 1874.

William H. also became proprietor of Paredon Blanco, the east side estate inherited by his wife after her father, Andrew Boyle, died in 1871. When local capitalists developed East Los Angeles (now Lincoln Heights) immediately to the north, as demand for new real estate continued to grow, he seized the opportunity and, along with Hellman and John Lazzarovich (who married into the López family which established Paredon Blanco in the 1830s), subdivided the community of Boyle Heights in 1875.

By then, the boom was peaking and, while California seemed largely immune to a national depression that burst forth two years before, the bubble burst abruptly that August. Vastly overpriced stocks issued in San Francisco for silver mines at Virginia City, Nevada, northeast of Reno, led a major investor, Elias J. Baldwin, to sell out and he earned the nickname “Lucky” for his fortunate timing in doing so. This led to a massive exodus of investors which brought down the state’s largest bank, the Bank of California.

The Temple Block. ca. 1875.

When the news reached Los Angeles, a panic erupted and crowds of nervous depositors descended on the two commercial banks in town: Farmers and Merchants and Temple and Workman. That story has been told here before and will be covered again tomorrow, so suffice to say that the result, for the families of William Workman and F.P.F. Temple, was swift and stunning, leading to near-ruin. Tangentially, William H. Workman’s Boyle Heights project was affected by the resulting economic downtown that gripped the region for nearly a decade.

His time to shine, however, was yet to come and that will lead us into the next chapter of the tale, when we look at the story of the families during the 1880s. Meantime, hopefully this preview may whet some appetites to hear more of the tale that took place during the Seventies, so please join us in person or virtually tomorrow at 2 p.m. to get more of the amazing details.

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