Reading Between the Lines in a Letter from Thomas W. Temple II to Walter P. Temple, 27 September 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The donation in 2017 by Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis of hundreds of Temple family letters was a bonanza for the Homestead in helping us better see the family in a more personal vein, especially her uncle Thomas, who was a faithful and devoted correspondent while away for over a decade attending private schools from local military academies to the University of Santa Clara (for its preparatory high school and undergraduate work) and, finally, at the prestigious Harvard Law School.

While most of his missives naturally concern what was happening at his several schools, there are frequent discussions about his siblings, family life, the Homestead, the building of La Casa Nueva, his budding passion for history and genealogy, and much else. Tonight’s featured letter is not particularly lengthy, comprising both sides of a single sheet, but there is some interesting content, helpful for knowing what was taking place as Thomas began his second of the three years of study at Harvard.

The correspondence was simply addressed to his father at “Workman Homestead / Puente, Calif.,” the area being sparsely populated enough, as a rural route district, that there was no problem getting the mail delivered because everyone knew where the Homestead was and who owned it. Meanwhile, Thomas penned his missive on Harvard stationery and the return address was the Brattle Inn, located at 48 Brattle Street in Harvard Square in Cambridge.

The inn, advertised in the 1950s or 1960s as the oldest in the area, was owned since about the mid-1910s by interior decorator John G. Groves, a native of England, and his wife Bridget (Bridie) Corbett, who hailed from Newfoundland, Canada. The couple raised their three daughters in the three-story wood frame structure with Neoclassical architectural elements and a mansard roof with several dormer windows. It may well be that rooms were rented to Harvard students from long before the Groves’ owned the structure, which lies southwest of the law school across Cambridge Common. The site is now part of a very modern cast concrete and glass retail complex.

Thomas W. Temple II in shirt and tie at the center with Frank Romero and his wife, Mae, and daughter Doris at left, Frank’s sister Maud Bassity (Walter Temple’s paramour) to Thomas’ left, with the others unidentified at the Pomona Southern Pacific train station, likely as Thomas headed back to Massachusetts to continue his studies at Harvard Law School, ca. 1927.

Thomas opened his letter by informing his father than “I’m pretty well settled down now” and added later, “I had a very nice trip” traveling across the country by train, “though [it was] tiresome and hot in places. The desert was 119.” He acknowledged a telegram, the preferred method by Walter Temple for communicating with his children, and expressed happiness that his things were being shipped as “I so hated to pack when I was home.” Thomas continued that:

Those last few days past [passed] very quickly. I hope you are feeling like yourself again for I know that it was very hard to say goodbye that last day.

We Temples rarely show our emotions, not that we haven’t got them for when we want to we certainly can feel them.

As to his lodgings, Thomas wrote that “Mrs. Groves had my old room all ready and fixed up for me & I am very comfortably situated here.” He continued that he’d “seen most of my college chums” though “just 50% of last year’s 1st year class are back.” Juxtaposed to those blazing desert temperatures, he reported that “the weather here is starting to change already & it looks like snow today.” Remarkably, for a southern California native, he did well with the harsh winters in the Northeast and even expressed that he would miss the season when returning home in summer 1929.

With respect to this studies, Thomas noted that he attended his first classes and stated “am getting down to work and intend to have another hard year.” He noted that his brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, attending high school at Governor Dummer Academy (now known as Governor’s Academy), the oldest continuously operating private school in America, “staid [sic] here at the Inn for 2 days before returning” to their school, though he added that he would be going to visit them the following weekend.

The Temple brothers, when placed in their respective schools the prior year, had the fortunate circumstance of having relatives in Massachusetts, including Ellen Temple Bancroft (1841-1928), whose father, Abraham, was the brother of Walter’s father, F.P.F., and her son, Edward, and his family, and daughter Edith, an unmarried school teacher. Thomas was sure to let his father know that they were all well and Edward’s children were returned to school, even as “there are many cases of Infantile Paralysus around here.” This last is an old term of polio, for which a vaccine was not developed for another quarter-century.

Thomas’ room at the Brattle Inn, Cambridge, where he stayed for the three years he attended Harvard, ca. 1928. Note the portraits of his father, Thomas and his brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar and the family on the wall.  The large oval portrait may be of his great-uncle Abraham, brother of F.P.F. Temple and whose daughter Ellen was still living in the Twenties with she and her family frequently hosting Thomas and his brothers while they were in Massachusetts.

Thomas informed his father that there was an Anglican priest staying at the Inn by the name of “Louchier” (posibly a variation of Lockyer) and who lived at Ontario in San Bernardino County and it was added that the prelate “has been in Calif. since the early 90s. Knows the Homestead & the family.” He went on that he told the priest “to drop in to see you” when the man of the cloth and his wife returned from the East by car.

As he wound down his correspondence, during which ending section he expressed the hopes that his brothers “will do better this year” than the last, asked about his father’s sister, Lucinda Temple de Zuñiga, who was ill and died several months laer in January 1928, Thomas let Walter know that he would contact the Temple Estate Company at its new Alhambra office “for the Board [at Brattle] and Allowance for next month.” The firm, which managed all of Walter’s properties outside of the Town of Temple, renamed Temple City the following year and which was operated by the Temple Townsite Company, moved, in the spring, to its quarters at the Edison Building, situated at the northwest corner of Main and Third streets.

The four-story structure, which still stands, though heavily remodeled, was the last of Walter’s many real estate projects developed between 1921 and 1927 during another of the many booms that burst forth in greater Los Angeles since the first a half-century ago and in which Walter’s father, F.P.F., was a major figure before the inevitable bust that included the spectacular collapse of the Temple and Workman bank.

In 1926, in fact, concerns over financing the Town of Temple and the remaining Temple Estate Company work, led Walter, his business manager, Milton Kauffman, and his attorney, George H. Woodruff to issue bonds for needed capital, though this also meant paying interest for the long term. This was exactly fifty years since the failure of the family’s bank and, within a few years as the Great Depression ensued, Walter would be unable to elude financial ruin. His last property to slip through his fingers was his beloved Workman Homestead, lost to bank foreclosure in 1932.

In fall 1927, Thomas was apparently largely unaware of just how troubled the situation was, though he would seoon learn quickly, but he signed off by warning his father that “when the Leets [a well-to-do Bay Area family he knew from his Santa Clara days, including a daughter Adelia that apparently was keen on the handsome young Temple] invited me to the Opera, I had to tell them you were ill, to get out of going north.” Consquently, as they were apparently visiting the Homestead soon, Water was told “don’t spill the beans” as Thomas sent his love and implored “let me here [hear] from you,” signing off with the nickname of Tomito [Little Tom].

As to his future direction, Thomas continued to do well with the rigorous curriculum at the law school at Harvard, but increasingly found that he was les than enthusiastic about a career in the law. Having become increasingly exposed to and interested in the history and genealogy of his family and other other Californio families and the greater Los Angeles region broadly, he abandoned his plans for legal work.

Thomas at about the time the letter was written.

Instead, after moving in with an aunt, who lived in a historic adobe house near the Mission San Gabriel, he found his calling, becoming the historian of that institution and the city and undertook genealogical work, including being the first to systematically transcribe and translate so many of the records of the California missions. Some of his work has come into question, as methods were not as standardized and professionalized as they later became, but his forty-odd years of work at San Gabriel meant that, upon his death in January 1972 (just after his involvement in the bicentennial commemoration of the mission’s founding the previous September), he was given the signal honor of being the only layperson to be buried with the clergy next to the old stone church.

There are many more of these letters that were donated by his nice, so we’ll feature them from time-to-time under the “Reading Beween the Lines” series. Be sure to check in for those among other Workman and Temple family-related posts.

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