Remembering Josette Temple and Her Lifting Through Gifting

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Today we had the pleasure of hosting a memorial for Josette Temple, whose great-great grandparents William and Nicolasa Workman founded the Homestead in the early 1840s and whose grandfather Walter P. Temple, Sr. owned it from 1917 to 1932. Josette passed away a little more than a year ago and, as was so often the case during this terrible pandemic, there was a delay in celebrating her life until this afternoon.

She was interred at El Campo Santo Cemetery not long after she passed away in October 2020, but we had, of course, to limit the number of those who could attend. In the meantime, her headstone took quite a while to be made, given the supply chain issues that are endemic to the pandemic, and it was finally put in place last week, matching the one she had made for her parents, Walter P. Temple, Jr. and Nellie Didier.

The gathering of family and friends within the historic cast-iron fenced plot at El Campo Santo Cemetery as we remembered the late Josette Temple this afternoon.

Josette also holds the distinction of being the last person who will ever be interred at El Campo Santo and rests just a few feet from her parents, who died in 1998, and her grandfather, whose remains were moved to the cemetery from the Mission San Gabriel in 2002, thanks to the untiring efforts Josette undertook to get the reinterment accomplished.

About fifty-five family, friends, Homestead volunteers and current and former staff paid tribute to Josette, with many warm personal stories shared about her dedication and loyalty to members of her family and friends. From a former co-worker who, with Josette, was one of the few women computer scientists at Rockwell, the aerospace company, to her hairdresser to a roommate from St. Mary’s College and with many of her cousins and other family members, as well, it was great to hear so many memories about her.

Josette’s headstone, the manufacture of which as delayed due to pandemic supply chain issues, was just placed last week. The stone to the right has a likeness of beloved dog, Jasper.

Among these were her dedication to her family and its history, including her many years of association with the museum by being a descendant of the Workman and Temple families, sharing artifacts of which she was a steward, giving presentations at docent training classes, and volunteering at special events.

She was very passionate about the Homestead and its history and her legacy will best be known for the bequest of thousands of historic artifacts left in her trust to the museum. While we began to receive these materials at the beginning of this year, we’ve just now finalized the last of the donations from her estate.

A simple display of just a small sampling of the historic artifacts left to the Homestead by Josette’s estate.

This is easily the single largest acquisition we’ve ever processed (and my colleague Michelle Muro has dedicated a very significant amount of her time in this work) and this work will go on for some time to come. Of course, the ramifications for our interpretation of the families will not be known for quite a while!

A large amount of photographs and negative, approximately 2,500, expands our holdings of those materials by roughly a quarter, while there are many papers, letters and other documents that will have a great impact on what we do with the family’s history going forward. Some family furniture will also take their place in La Casa Nueva and other objects round out what will be an enormous and important addition to the artifact collection.

In this detail are family photo albums and other materials.

Part of the memorial was a small and simple exhibit in the Gallery displaying just a very minuscule sample of objects, selected by Michelle from her labors in processing the donation. Those attending had the opportunity to see these artifacts and we are hopeful that, whether through physical displays or features on the blog, we will be able to share as many of what was left by Josette to the museum as we can, as we do with other family materials donated by other descendants.

Among the photographs shown today were albums, family portraits, snapshots and others dating as far back as an 1869 wedding photo of Joseph Workman (son of William and Nicolasa), the first known image of the Workman House, taken in the early 1870s, and a colorized portrait of Walter, Sr. and his younger brother Charles. Cabinet photographs, used as exhibits in a 1907 court case brought by Walter against then-owner Lafayette Lewis over the desecration of El Campo Santo, are dramatic.

In this closeup are a Temple and Workman bank document, a passport and Mexican immigration docunent for Walter P. Temple, a travel document for William Workman as he passed through Veracruz, Mexico in 1851 on his way home to England, and some great family photos.

Also fascinating are snapshots of the Temple family home in Alhambra before they moved to the Homestead and great photos of Josette’s aunt Agnes Temple at a high school piano recital (she was extraordinarily talented on that instrument and very accomplished on the harp and violin, among others), a portrait of Agnes, her brother Thomas, their mother Laura Gonzalez and the latter’s niece, Dominga Vigare, and a group of local residents and family at a church society costume part at the Tepee next to La Casa Nueva are also standout images.

The documents exhibited date to as early as 1851 and a permit issued in Veracruz, Mexico, as William Workman passed through the Caribbean port city on his way from Los Angeles to his hometown of Clifton, England, for his only return visit there. A framed certificate of insurance processed through the Temple and Workman bank is also a standout early item, as is an 1880s logbook kept by Laura Gonzalez, when she was valued employee of the Homestead’s owner Francis W. Temple (while having a clandestine love affair with his brother and her future husband Walter.)

A log book kept by Laura González when she was employed as a teenager by Homestead owner Francis W. Temple, brother of her future husband, Walter; a pair of photos documentating desecration of El Campo Santo in the early 1900s; and photos from the wedding of Joseph Workman and Josephine Belt, are highlighted here.

Among the later materials is a cash book kept by Walter Temple during the early 1920s and which will be a valuable source of information regardning his financial activities just a few years after the family came into wealth due to the fortunate discovery of oil that took place at their Montebello-area ranch, a diary kept by Thomas Temple as he and his brothers headed to Masachusetts in 1926 to continue their schooling, Walter P. Temple’s passport for travel to Mexico in 1922 and his immigrant documents when he moved to Baja California in 1930 in a last-ditch effort to save the Homestead, which he leased to a military school, though he lost the ranch two years later as the Great Depression worsened.

Again, this is just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” but it was a modest way to show those attending the memorial something of the richness of what is contained in the donation. Josette’s legacy will be further fleshed out as we work gradually, but steadily, on cataloging the artifacts and share them as much as possible with the public as another apt demonstration of “lifting through gifting.”

Among the featured objects in this detail is an early 1920s cash book for Walter Temple, an 1870s colorized photo of him and younger brother Charles, and an early 1870s photo of the Workman House, the earliest known image of the structure.

Keep an eye out on this blog and on the museum’s social media platforms for other posts that will make use of the objects she left the museum and deepen our understanding and interpreation of the Workman and Temple families and their place in greater Los Angeles history over many decades.

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