Lifting Through Gifting: The Latest Donation of Temple Family Artifacts

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis, whose grandparents were Laura González and Walter P. Temple, owners of the Homestead from 1917 to 1932 and builders of La Casa Nueva, has given the Homestead several substantial donations of family-related historic objects over many years, the latest being a donation in 2017 of a cache of photographs and letters which have been profiled in this blog, including in the “Portrait Gallery” and “Reading Between the Lines” series.

Today, Ruth Ann made another gift which has given another lift to the museum’s collection by helping us to better interpret the story of the Temple family over the decades from the 1860s and 1920s. The approximately 150 artifacts include some holiday and other cards and a program for a 1922 concert at the Pasadena Military Academy, in which her father, Edgar, and uncle Walter, Jr. performed, but the vast majority of the material is comprised of photographs and negatives that give a boost to our visual record of the family.

A Curtis Studio reprint, probably from the 1920s, of Rafaela Cota de Temple, wife of Jonathan Temple.

The earliest of these date to about 1869 with ten images of Temple family members and friends (the latter including steamer captain Salisbury Haley and noted Los Angeles County surveyor and landowner Henry Hancock). Most of these early views are of some of the children of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, including their eldest, Thomas; second child, Francis; the fourth surviving child, John; the oldest of the two daughters, Lucinda; and the youngest of the eight who lived into adulthood, Walter and Charles.

Thirty of the photographs are great documents of when Walter, Laura and their four surviving children: Thomas W. II, Agnes, Walter, Jr., and Edgar, lived at the Basye Adobe, an 1869 structure once lived in at the end of the 19th century by Lucinda and her second husband Manuel Zuñiga, when he ran a saloon and store there. This property was on about 60 acres, acquired in October 1912 from the estate of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, the San Francisco capitalist who acquired tens of thousands of acres of Los Angeles-area real estate by foreclosing, in 1879, on a loan made to the Temple and Workman bank.

A Valentine Wolfenstein carte de visite portrait of Thomas and Lucinda Temple, ca. 1872.

Having sold the 50-acre Temple Homestead, just a short distance to the east, to a Wisconsin businessman, Christian Walter (whose family is the subject of a few photos in this donation), the Temples settled in the adobe and Walter farmed some of the lands adjacent to the Río Hondo, which was the eastern border of the tract, while also trying his hand at selling insurance, working as a teamster and other endeavors.

Meanwhile, a substantial portion of the property comprised the northeastern corner of the Montebello Hills and it was steep hike from the adobe to the highest portions of the hillside property, which the family dubbed Temple Heights. Quite a few of the photographs show the Temples and friends on this elevated part of the ranch, which turned out to have far more than great views.

A Wolfenstein CDV of Walter and Charles Temple, ca. 1874.

In spring 1914, Thomas, who was just nine, was playing with some friends in the hills after a rain and stumbled upon indications of oil that, three years later, brought significant wealth to his family when Standard Oil Company, now Chevron, brought in, in late June 1917, Temple well #1 a short distance from a well owned by the daughters of Baldwin. Over the next several years, some two dozen wells were drilled, including several gushers, and the one-eighth royalty generated for the Temples was in the many thousands of dollars per month for some years.

One of the immediate results of that “lucky strike” was the purchase of the 75-acre Workman Homestead, lost to foreclosure by Walter’s brother, John, in 1899. By the early 1920s, substantial improvements and renovations were made to the ranch, including the remodeling of 1860s brick winery buildings constructed by William Workman and there is a great snapshot in this donation that looks to show the demolition of the largest of the trio, which was turned into an auditorium with a stage, pool and ping-pong tables and a film projector.

A hike up Temple Heights at the northeast extremity of the Montebello Hills with Whittier Narrows and the Puente Hills in the background, ca. 1914.

After the Temples took a trip to México in summer 1922, they were fired with enthusiasm to build a new home, La Casa Nueva, next to the Workman House and employed Pablo Urzua, a master stonemason from Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, to build adobe bricks the traditional way, albeit with a newer method of firing the bricks with adobe kilns, of ovens. The project, as has been visually documented in the “No Place Like Home” series of posts here and which we will commemorating in the next half-decade for the house’s centennial, took five years to build and was not finished until late 1927.

Several of the photographs contained in the gift show Urzua and his men working in the fields adjoining the construction site to manufacture the adobe bricks, with a great one of a mason working directly with some of the blocks. There are also a few views of the house probably about midway through the building process and another excellent one of Walter posed at the doorway on the east side of the dwelling where the Living Room is located. As we mark the landmark anniversary of this remarkable structure, photos like the ones donated by Ruth Ann better help us to tell the story.

The four surviving children of Walter Temple and Laura Gonzalez, from left to right, Walter, Jr., Thomas, Edgar, and Agnes, ca. 1914.

In summer 1926, the Temples traveled to New England for a vacation and to enroll Thomas, Walter, Jr. and Edgar in schools in Massachusetts, the family’s ancestral home state dating back to the 1630s. There are a few photos of the trip aboard an ocean liner, as well as some snapshots of Thomas’ room at the Brattle Inn boarding house in Cambridge, where he stayed while enrolled in the rigorous program at Harvard Law School through spring 1929.

There are other items of note, including that program, among the performers being Walter, Jr. and Edgar providing a rendition of the current fox trot dance hit, “Angel Child;” a 1920s reprint of a decades-earlier photograph of Rafaela Cota de Temple, wife of Jonathan Temple, the second American or European to live in Los Angeles, its first store owner and proprietor of the Rancho Los Cerritos in the Long Beach area; some photographs of Walter Temple’s business manager, Milton Kauffman, at the Pedro Petroleum Company drilling site; and sixteen negatives of the 1938 marriage of Thomas W. Temple II and Gabriela Quiroz. The thirty or so holiday greeting cards and other items also appear to mainly be from the Twenties.

Demolition for the renovation of the largest of the 1860s brick winery buildings constructed by William Workman and renovated into an auditorium by Walter Temple, ca. 1920.

Finally, there are nine miscellaneous photos including of members of the Walter family noted above, a few unidentified ones, and a couple of interesting images related to the Homestead. The first, from February 1950, shows Thomas Temple posed with three elderly persons on the front porch of the Workman House.

Fortunately, a quick online search found that there was a tour, sponsored by the Whittier Chamber of Commerce, of area historical sites and the Whittier News of the 8th reported:

Between eighty and one hundred persons braved early clouds and fog yesterday to go on the Jornada a Lugares Historicos (Journey to the Historical Places) . . . Adding to the interest was the fact that the group included representatives of the Sanchez, Workman, Temple, and Rowland families whose history was woven into the places visited . . . After a pause at the [Misión] Vieja site marker, where the first San Gabriel Mission was built, the party visited the site of Workman Mill and proceeded to the Workman adobe and the Workman Cemetery where Gov. Pio Pico is buried. Also buried here are forebears of a number of people in the party. At the Workman adobe the history of the place was told by Thomas Temple whose grandmother, Margarita Workman Temple, was the only child of William Workman for whom the adobe was built in 1846.

The reference to the “Vieja site marker” is to the corner of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue at the base of “Temple Heights” and where Walter Temple placed a large stone tablet to mark the original site of Mission San Gabriel, though the actual location was across San Gabriel Boulevard to the north. Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple was not the only child of William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste, she having a brother, José Manuel, and the old central part of the Workman House was built in 1842.

The Temple family while in México, summer 1922. From left to right are Walter, Jr., Edgar, Laura, an unidentified priest, Agnes, and Laura’s niece Dominga Vigare.

A columnist for the News went on the excursion and noted that the group didn’t get to go inside the three adobe houses (the others being the Poyorena/Swaine dwelling at Los Nietos near Whittier and Santa Fe Springs and the Soto-Sánchez Adobe [known then as the Scott because of its long ownership by oilman William B. Scott, also of Tres Hermanos Ranch near Diamond Bar and Chino Hills, and his children]), but he stated that “Tommie Temple told us of the remodeling of the Workman adobe, when his father acquired it a decade or two [actually, over three decades!] ago.”

The unnamed journalist, whose column was titled “Heard in the Barber Shop” and whose last name was probably Barber, continued that “It is now being used as a sanitarium, so we contented ourselves by admiring the buildings, and the grounds, and visited the cemetery grounds, where the body of Don Pio Pico lies in a mausoleum crypt.”

An adobe making site for the construction of La Casa Nueva looking west from the building site with the Puente Hills in the distance, ca. 1924.

As to the Workman Mill, the columnist expressed surprise (or was trying to be cute) the name didn’t come from “Messrs. Workman and Mills,” and said that, when the party disembarked at the Pelanconi Ranch at 1940 Workman Mill Road, now a CalTrans yard, foundations could be viewed. Later research, however, suggests that the mill was actually a little to the south at the base of the Puente Hills where Workman Mill Road meets Crossroads Parkway South and near where the administrative headquarters of the county social services department is located now.

Finally, there is an August 1961 snapshot of a portion of the impressive marble tombstone of John Rowland that is at the southeast corner of the cast-iron fenced plot behind the mausoleum at El Campo Santo Cemetery and which went unmentioned in the Whittier News article from over a decade before (that paper, naturally, was fixated on the Pico connection given that his El Ranchito, a state park which the group visited on the tour, is in the Quaker City.)

Thomas Temple, left, with members of a group at the Workman House on a Whittier Chamber of Commerce-sponsored tour of area historic sites, 7 February 1950.

It’s been quite a year for Workman and Temple family donations, including the large gift from the estate of the late Josette Temple, Ruth Ann’s cousin; the remarkable material related to Josephine Workman (who was the popular early silent film star, Princes Mona Darkfeather) and given by the Baltazar G. Madrid Estate; the wonderful art work by William Workman’s sister, Mary, who will be the subject of a Rescuing Remnants talk next month, and photo albums and other artifacts from Elijah H. Workman and his descendants; and, now, Ruth Ann’s latest contribution to our growing collection of family material.

This windfall goes a long way to allowing the Homestead to more effectively tell the story of the Workman and Temple families and their many ways that they were involved in the history of greater Los Angeles from 1830 to 1930. We’ll continue to share many of these artifacts through the blog, our programs, exhibits and in other ways.

Leave a Reply