by Paul R. Spitzzeri
A large cache of Workman and Temple family papers, donated to the Homestead a dozen years ago, really helped us get a much better idea of their history, especially during the 1920s, when Walter P. Temple utilized the significant revenue from one-eighth royalties from the remarkable discovery of oil on the family’s ranch near Montebello to embark on his own petroleum prospecting and real estate development projects throughout greater Los Angeles.
In 1923, his biggest of the latter was the creation of the Town of Temple, renamed Temple City five years later, and this involved the creation of the Temple Townsite Company to specifically manage that endeavor. For the remainder of Temple’s real estate holdings (his wife, Laura, died at the end of the previous year), including the 92-acre Workman Homestead (to which he and his family permanently moved during that year), the Temple Estate Company was established.
The “Making a Statement” series of posts shares financial information from both firms in looking at how Temple fared over time and it is not suprising that, given that the region was undergoing another one of its fabulous booms during the early part of Twenties, he sought to capitalize on the oppotunities that existed. It is also not unexpected that, as happens with so many speculators, he experienced the problem of doing too much too soon and being “land rich, cash poor.”
This is definitely revealed in these statements over time, including tonight’s highlighted object from the museum’s collection: the one as of the end of July 1925. By that point, Temple had been developing properties for the previous four years alone and with partners in Los Angeles, Alhambra, El Monte and San Gabriel. These were all commercial projects with renters and lessors for retail and professional space in structures from as small as a single-story, single-use building such as the Utter and Sons Mortuary in Alhambra up to the 11-story Great Republic Life Building in Los Angeles with ground-floor stores and offices in the remaining floors.
With all of the capital invested in these edifices, however, it takes time to recoup those funds and then make profit afterward, while the rush to develop with multiple projects also creates a potential development if the good times do not continue for long periods—after all, booms do inevitably wind up going bust.
Moreover, while Temple embarked on many of these prior to the establishment of the Town of Temple, which was a larger and more complex arrangement than any single building projects, he committed to a pair of structures in Alhambra that were larger and more expensive than the others he had in that city. This included the Temple Estate Building (1926), which, though only a single story, was more elaborate architecturally, thanks to his use of Roy Seldon Price, recently hired to complete the family’s mansion, La Casa Nueva, at the Homestead. The structure even used the same wrought-iron balcony cage employed at the home.
Then there was the Edison Building (1927), which was three-stories on a corner lot, so there was a larger retail and office footprint than he had been a part of since the completion of the Great Republic and National City Bank structures a few years prior. The other, and very important, complicating factor was two-fold: first, that oil revenue at the Temple lease near Montebello declined over time as yields dropped and, second, it was deemed necessary be spring 1926 to issue bonds to raise funds for future development at Temple City and for the estate company.
So, this statement is a notable one in terms of timing, because it would be about a half-year or so before that new arrangement, which would include bond interest payments over a long term, was developed and implemented. The first page lists the overall assets of the firm, which included Temple’s business manager, Milton Kauffman, and attorney George H. Woodruff, as primary partners, as being over $2.3 million.
Nearly three-quarters of that was in real property, as specified in a schedule, with the oil lease to Standard Oil Company of California (now Chevron) on just over 57 acres valued at $865,000. This included $15,000 for buildings, included the Basye Adobe, built in 1869 as a home and store for Rafael Basye, nephew of Juan Matias Sánchez, formerly William Workman’s Rancho La Puente foreman and then half-owner of Rancho La Merced and whose surviving adobe house is about a mile to the south. In the 1890s, the structure was owned by Manuel Zuñiga, who operated the store and a billiard parlor and whose wife was Lucinda Temple, Walter’s sister.
After Temple purchased the property, which he designated as “Temple Heights” because it included the northeast corner of the Montebello Hills, the adobe was used as the family residence for about five years from 1912 to 1917 and then as Standard’s field office. A note indicated that there added value to the property and the oil rights vested in it “by reason of [the] recent discovery in [of] Temple Well No. 15 of a third new and distinct oil bearing and producing sand at an approximate depth of 3800 ft.” The problem with this appears to be that this is indicative, but not definitive, of further oil deposits, so the revaluation looks to have been speculative.
The second largest property in value was the “Workman Homestead Rancho,” indicated as being 93 acres and “planted to walnuts.” There was no differentiation between land and improvements, as was the case for other estate company holdings, so the total value was listed as $236,000. Next was the Temple Theatre and Utter and Sons Mortuary stuctures, both torn down in the late 1990s, on two lots on Main Street at the northeast corner with 4th Street and the land value stated as $95,500 and the improvements as $75,000. On the opposite, or northwest corner, of that intersection, was the “Alhambra Post Office Property” on three lots along Main and on Fourth, with two one-story retail buildings on the former and the two-story post office and Temple Hotel on the latter—all these still stand. The land was determined to be worth $112,500 and the structures at $50,000.
In San Gabriel, there were fifteen lots on the south side of Mission Drive between Santa Anita Avenue and Ramona Street, across and slightly west of the Mission San Gabriel, and on which there was the donated property for City Hall (designed by Walker and Eisen, who worked on other Temple commercial properties and La Casa Nueva) as well as three commercial structures (the Arcade of several stores, the two-story Temple Block, and the post office). The value was determined to be $54,000 for land and $46,000 for improvements, making for a nice round $100,000 total.
At El Monte, Temple built the city’s post office and the Rialto Theatre on the south side of Main Street, and the land was valued at $20,000 with the structure at double that amount. Back in Alhambra, there was the lease of the Nye property where the Temple Estate Building was in construction, so the 99-year lease was for two 50-foot wide lots to the east of the Temple Theatre, and determined to be worth $20,000. The “new six Storeroom Building” had costs to date of just under $16,600 and it was completed in spring 1926 (it was razed in 1997 and the Homestead acquired a skid of 500 bricks, now kept in the Workman House basement.)
Adjacent to the Temple Estate Building were two lots leased, also for 99 years, from the Hollywood Securities Company and which included the northwest corner of Main and Third streets. Valued at $30,000, this property became the Edison Building, finished in April 1927 and notable as the last new project undertaken by Temple and his estate company. There were two other properties, including a half-interest on just over 150 acres in Owensmouth, later renamed Canoga Park, and it is assumed that this property, with a $30,200 value for that interest, was for possible oil prospecting. Then, at $8,500 was the Puente Hotel on five lots in that town near the Homestead with the structure built forty years before when Puente was created and known originally as the Rowland Hotel (the structure was torn down in the mid-1950s).
Other assets included nearly a quarter million dollars in stocks, with more than half of that, $125,000 worth, being shares in the Temple Townsite Company. Another major block, being abot 30%, was for the Central Finance Building Company, which built the Great Republic Life Building. Not quite $18,000 comprised stocks for the Argonaut and Talbert oil companies, both operating in Huntington Beach, while another $11,000 or so was invested with Yosemite National Park Company, formed in the late Teens to build tourist facilities in the world-famous national park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
There were also small amounts of stocks with Southern California Edison; the Samson Tire and Rubber Company, the remarkable Assyrian Palace-inspired plant of which was completed in 1929 in what became the City of Commerce and which still stands as a large mall; the El Monte Plunge Association, set up, evidently, to build a community swimming pool; the Big Four Truck Company, which dealt with commercial vehicles in Puente; and the Temple National Bank, which operated in Temple City and the building of which still stands on the northeast corner of Las Tunas Avenue and Temple City Boulevard.
About $8,000 in bonds were also listed, with some 60% of that comprised of those for the Mission Play Association, which was building an impressive new theater for the highly paternalistic passion play mounted for about two decades in San Gabriel and of which Kauffman was an officer, and roughly a third of which was for the San Gabriel Country Club, of which Temple was a long-time member. A $100 gold note from the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce made up the remainder.
Finally, there were current assets, including almost $35,000 in accounts receivables, just over $41,000 in government bonds and over $270,000 in mortgages receivables—it would have been nice to have seen a listing of these, especially the latter. Royalties at the Temple oil lease from Standard were just north of $19,000 for July. This is a significant passive income for the time, but, again, production was slowly declining and Temple’s speculation in oil and real estate meant that he had a lot on the line that could not be covered by that income stream alone. More concerning, perhaps, was that cash on hand was about $5,750, so that the ability to meet contingencies were clearly limited.
As for liabilities, these were listed as not that far north of $200,000, with $105,000 in mortgages payable and another $100,000 in notes payable, with a modest amount of trade acceptances for about $1,650. These payables were also not itemized, but, in any case, the situation for the firm’s finances looked, on paper, quite solid with a net worth of just above $2 million. Clearly, however, as the Temple Estate Company continued with its namesake building and the forthcoming Edison Building in Alhambra, the necessity for taking out bonds became an imperative, as those were also done for the Temple Townsite Company.
Meanwhile, Walter P. Temple kept looking for that next big oil strike, but that proved elusive, as the yields at Montebello continued to decline and lowered his income. The latter part of the decade saw the situation worsen for his finances, including the sell-off of much of his property, and, by the time the Great Depression burst forth in late 1929, the situation was dire. An earlier post focusing on a Temple Estate Company financial statement from July 1930 is interesting to compare to this one and, at that time, Temple had decamped to Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico to try and save on living expenses as he harbored hopes of holding on to the Homestead. This was not to be, though, as the wave of bank failures in 1932 that deepened the Depression came about as the ranch, his last landholding, was lost to foreclosure that July.