Reading Between the Lines: A Letter from Thomas W. Temple II to Walter P. Temple, 2 January 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been noted in several posts here, the Temple family children Thomas, Agnes, Walter, Jr. and Edgar were away at boarding schools from not long after royalties began flowing following the remarkable discovery of oil in summer 1917 until they all completed their high school, college and law school educations a dozen years later (though the last two went to study at the University of Santa Clara for the 1929-1930 school year.)

When the four of them were in local schools in Los Angeles and Pasadena, weekend trips home along with summer vacations and holidays, obviously meant more time with each others and with their parents (until Laura González Temple’s death at the end of 1922). Thomas was the first to venture away from the region, as he headed north in fall 1918 to attend the preparatory high school at Santa Clara, and his visits home were confined to summers and major holidays.

In 1923, as La Casa Nueva was in the early stages of construction and after Walter P. Temple sold the family’s Alhambra house and moved to the Homestead full-time, his younger brothers started at the Belmont School between Santa Clara and San Francisco. Agnes, who went to St. Mary’s Academy in southwest Los Angeles, was the only of the children to be in greater Los Angeles for two school years and, of course, was home more frequently.

After she graduated in summer 1925 from high school, Agnes enrolled at Dominican College at San Rafael just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. For one school year, all four children were in the Bay Area. This obviously meant the quartet were not at home as often, but their father’s big plans included future study in New England and even England, as he seriously investigated private schools in the ancestral homeland (meaning pre-1630s, when the first Temple, Abraham, settled in Massachusetts) of the family.

What wound up happening is that Agnes decided to stay at Dominican, rather than transfer to such schools as Wellesley, but the family took an extended summer vacation in 1926 to enroll Walter, Jr. and Edgar at Dummer Academy (the oldest continuously operating private school in America and which, some twenty years ago, changed its name to “Governor’s Academy” under the premse that “Dummer” was, after over 250 years, no longer workable!) and Thomas at Harvard Law School.

Being across the continent and with train travel taking so much time from one coast to the other, the Temple sons could only return home for the summer break, where as Agnes went back to the Homestead a few other times during the year, including Christmas and New Year’s days, Thanksgiving and spring break. This, undoubtedly, was challenging for the boys, though they were fortunate to have relatives (their father’s first cousin Ellen Bancroft and her children Edward, and his family, and Edith) close by in Massachusetts and there were holidays and many weekend visits.

The second winter break that the Temple boys were on the east coast, in 1927, they spent Christmas, as they had the prior year, with the Bancrofts, but for the New Year’s holiday, the trio tried something new. Today’s featured object from the museum’s collection, a 2 January 1928 letter from Thomas to their father, discussed the trip and their celebration to welcome the year.

Written on stationery with the Harvard logo on it and simply addressed to Mr. Temple at the “Workman Homestead / Puente Calif.,” the missive began by informing him that “we arrived safely back to Brattle Inn after a cold and tiresome trip from Montreal where we just had a wonderful time.” Noting that the $300 his father sent allowed him and his brothers to make “the trip in great style,” Thomas added that they took rooms at the Windsor, a grand hotel which opened a half-century earlier and was long the finest in the city.

Immediately, Thomas referred both to the excellent food “and good beer” and “Frontenac ale also,” the latter indicating why the young men were eager to head up to Canada, much as many people in Los Angeles were fond of heading south to Tijuana in those days. With Prohibition in effect in the United States for eight years, Canada had been through its period where the provinces enacted laws, mostly in the last half of the 1910s banning the production, sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages, though most quickly repealed these measures. Quebec, for example, where Montreal is the capital, passed and rescinded its law in the same year, 1919.

Of course, the Temple boys engaged in other activities and Thomas informed his father that “the days we arrived was nice and cold & we went for a sleigh ride through the snow up the mountain [Mt. Royal].” He added that the “next day we went sliding and had just a glorious time of it” and that his brothers purchased ski clothing “very reasonably and we declared them [with customs] on the way back.”

Next, Thomas told Mr. Temple “we went to Mass early Wednesday morning at Notre Dame, the beautiful old Cathedral,” the basilica being just a year shy of its centennial, and he continued that he, Walter, Jr. and Edgar “lit many candles.” The reason this was mentioned was that Wednesda, 28 December was the fifth anniversary of the death of Mrs. Temple and Thomas was always sure in his letters to his father from that time of year to make reference to her passing.

Returning to their vacation, Thomas iformed Walter, Sr. that “we went to several French Restaurants where we got good food and ordered good French wine,” continuing that “I’ve never had a better time on a vacation like this and the boys also enjoyed themselves.” For New Year’s Eve, the trio ordered room service for dinner and were joined by a pair of Thomas’ fellow Harvard Law School students, one being Everett Swing, whose father, Ralph, was a long-time state senator from San Bernardino and who earned his law degree with Thomas in spring 1929. It was added that “we ordered a fine meal. Had some cocktails, wine and champagne, it was very good.”

Despite the snow play and the enjoyment of food and drink, Thomas told his father that “the weather was miserable the three last days” because of heavy rain, though “below a grand ball was in full swing” and the consolation for the terrible conditions outside was that “I’ve seen beautiful girls in my life, but these French candians [sic] are the crême de la crême, & they dress beautifully.” He went on to note that “it was funny to watch them all file in with bundle[s] & hand bags of liquor, for the hotels charge twice the prices for wines & are not licensed to sell spirits.”

Because of the rain and the melting snow, an excursion to the Laurentian Mountains to the northeast was cancelled, but “all in all it was a glorious trip.” Thomas added that he and his brothers were sent more than 100 holiday cards and he was happy to hear that his former Santa Clara classmate Luis Fatjo “came down to the Puente,” noting that they were together at school for four years and Fatjo had no family excepting a sister in Paris. Calling him “a real nice fellow,” Thomas hoped that Fatjo “made himself at home at the ‘Casa Nueva.'”

The missive ended with Thomas reporting that he remained at his room in the Brattle Inn, where he lived during his three years attending Harvard, because it was “back to the books,” while his brothers “went out for a show.” He added that his 23rd birthday was in two days and he looked forward to hearing from his father then. Thomas then stated,

I’m proud that I’m a Temple, that I’m a Californian and a “chip of the old Block.”

The reference at the end to La Casa Nueva is notable because the distinctive Spanish Colonial Revival mansion was only quite recently completed, though some furniture and much of the landscaping awaited installation and planting. Even though Walter Temple was experiencing a raidly deteriorating financial situation, he continued to fund his children’s expensive private school educations, including a return for his sons to Montreal for the New Year’s holiday in 1929.

In the middle of that year, Thomas, Agnes, Walter, Jr., and Edgar returned home, having graduated from their respective schools. As noted above, the younger sons spent the summer at home and then were sent to Santa Clara for a year of college. On Thanksgving Day, Agnes married Luis Fatjo and the couple embarked on a six-month honeymoon in Europe, including his father’s native Spain, before settling in San Francisco, where the wealthy Fatjo owned a large house. In spring 1930, Mr. Temple executed a lease of the Homestead with a Redondo Beach military school and moved to Ensenada, Baja California, México to save money on expenses and hope for a miracle that would save the Homestead from being lost.

As for Thomas, his hard-earned and expensive Harvard law degree was not utilized, though he thought for a time about taking the California bar exam and then pondered whether to pursue a career in banking. “Bitten by the genealogy bug,” as he liked to express it, however, Thomas, who moved in with his mother’s sister just a short distance from Mission San Gabriel, pursued his passion for early California history and genealogy.

Thanks to letters like this and to descendants like Edgar’s daughter, Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis, for their donations of family artifacts, we get a very personal angle on the Temple family story and we look forward to sharing more examples in the “Reading Between the Lines” series of posts on this blog.

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