Striking a Chord: “Girl Musician” Agnes Temple’s Graduation Piano Recital at St. Mary’s Academy, Los Angeles, 23 February 1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In our time, Agnes Temple, by all accounts an exceptionally talented musician on several instruments, including violin, but especially on the piano, might have become a professional, but, nearly a century ago her future seemed to have been preordained for marriage right after completing her education.

It is not necessarily that this a social issue, as there were many women who played professionally, competitive as the music field always has been though tougher for women then. Rather, it appears that her upbringing was such that she was expected to finish her schooling and then head for the altar soon thereafter.

Agnes E. Temple (1907-1961) in her senior portrait at St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls’ Catholic school in Los Angeles, 1925.

Whatever the situation, what we know about her is that she had a great deal of musical ability and a true passion and commitment to the piano, as well as other instruments, and those who knew her well indicated that she very well could have made her way into music as a career if that was a path open to her.

Agnes came from a very musical family with Thomas being a fine violinist and pianist, while Walter, Jr. and Edgar were proficient saxophonists. Their father was an excellent guitar player, while their late mother, Laura González, was also a talented pianist and taught the instrument before she married.

Presumably, Mrs. Temple instructed Agnes early on, though a surviving receipt in the Homestead’s holdings, dated just a few days after the first Temple well came in, that Agnes and Thomas were receiving piano lessons from at least early May 1917 from Edna C. Duvall of Los Angeles.

Duvall’s father, the Reverend Joseph D. Croan, left his ministry in Indiana and brought the family to California, where he took up farming near where the Temples long lived in the Misión Vieja, or Old Mission, community in the Whittier Narrows where Mission San Gabriel was founded and operated before it moved by 1775 to its current site.

Los Angeles Record, 10 August 1921.

Croan was later secretary of the the Board of Trustees of the La Puente School District, founDed by Walter Temple’s father, F.P.F., and others in the early 1860s and was on the board when Walter donated a flag pole and made other gifts which led to the renaming of the school and district after the Temples.

Edna, who became a music teacher in her native Indiana, taught at Page Military Academy (which Thomas Temple briefly attended when she was teaching him and Agnes) and was secretary of the county association of music teachers when she died at age 50 in 1937, but achieved some local notoriety in 1921 for her manslaughter conviction after she ran down a man while speeding in her car and for which she was granted 10 years probation.

The Tidings [Los Angeles], 12 March 1920.

The featured artifacts from the museum’s collection are an invitation and a program for a recital she gave on 23 February 1925 for the graduating class of St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls’ Catholic school then located at the intersection of Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard in what was recently a rural area of southwest Los Angeles, which Agnes attended for several years from the late teens. The school is now a short distance away across the street from Inglewood Park Cemetery in the city of that name.

Her family’s wealth, generated from the extraordinary great fortune of having oil found in 1914 by her older brother, Thomas, on the family’s “Temple Heights” section of a 60-acre ranch, not only allowed for the four surviving Temple children (the others being younger brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, as well as an older sister, Alvina, who died not long after birth) to attend fine private schools, but to endow some of them with donations.

The Tidings, 24 December 1920.

In the case of St. Mary’s, Agnes, through her parents, donated a flag pole in March 1920 that flew both the American flag and a school pennant. On the first day of that month, despite the possibility of rain, Bishop John J. Cantwell of the Diocese of Monterey and Los Angeles blessed the donation, following a singing by the student body of “Flag of Our Native Land and a dedication of a statue of St. Rita, donated by an alumnus in memory of her late brother.

In his remarks, Bishop Cantwell meditated on all of the selfish behavior in life and, in reference to the late world war, added, “the flag stands for peace and justice. Peace is the end of all war. For that we must pray to God. The flag must be to us a symbol of peace and sacrifice . . . [and] be a symbol of humility, unselfishness, justice, peace, and sacrifice.”

Los Angeles Times, 15 June 1924.

Just prior to Christmas 1920, another Temple family gift was provided to St. Mary’s, when a pipe organ was installed in the school’s chapel and Bishop Cantwell officiated at the dedication ceremony and Agnes stood as sponsor. A recital was given by Dr. Ray Hastings with works from Bach, Handel, Alphonse Mailly and Schubert, as well as a pair of Hastings’ compositions and it was noted by the Catholic newspaper, The Tidings, that “the exquisite tone of the instrument was displayed to unusual advantage by the excellent technique of the artist, and his carefully selected program.”

Bishop Cantwell, who in spring 1921 blessed the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum in El Campo Santo Cemetery at the Homestead and did the same when La Casa Nueva was dedicated to Laura González Temple in late December 1923 on the first anniversary of her death, then addressed the gathering and the paper wrote that “he spoke of the Church and its association of the fine arts; of its preservation of many of the masterpieces, the advancement of sculpture, architecture and painting, and finally of the beautiful association of music with the Church.” The event concluded in the dining hall with “a dainty lunch” eaten by guests seated at tea tables.

Times, 23 February 1925.

To conclude the 1923-1924 school year, Agnes, a junior, gave a recital at the school with violin and piano and a brief note in the Los Angeles Times of 15 June recorded that she played the “Student Concerto No. 2” composed in 1893 by Frederick Seitz and other works on violin, followed by her keyboard performances of pieces by Gennari Karganow, Jan Paderewski, Edward MacDowell, as well as Chopin and Liszt. Unfortunately, nothing was stated about the playing of the 17-year old. A few days later, Agnes, accompanied by a pianist, played a wedding march and Charles Wakefield Cadman’s “At Dawning” on the violin at a San Bernardino wedding.

In its 23 February 1925 edition, the Times published another brevity, titled “Girl Musician On St. Mary’s Program,” though why it thought it important to refer to her as a “girl” is telling for the time. The piece stated that “Miss Agness [sic] Evelyn Temple, daughter of Walter P. Temple of San Gabriel [actually, he was living at the Homestead], is to give a graduation recital today.” It added that, “she appeared in a similar recital a year ago when she furnished the entire piano and violin program.” Notably, the recital and the presentation of diplomas to graduates was given so early because Bishop Cantwell was to soon depart for a trip to the Vatican and Palestine.

The Tidings, 27 February 1925.

Four days later, the Tidings provided a longer review of the concert and ceremony, reporting that,

On February 23 the students of St. Mary’s Academy were honored by a visit from the Right Reverend Bishop prior to his departure for Rome and the Holy Land. The occasion was celebrated by the presentation of Miss Agnes Temple in a piano recital which proved this young performer to be a pianist of unusual talent.

It added that Agnes was joined by the other seniors in a musical presentation that, with her performance, “marked the affair as most unusual and attractive.” A student gave an address that was a “Bon Voyage to Our Bishop, while “at the close of the program, the Right Reverend Bishop [also awarding theirs to the seniors] presented Agnes Temple with a diploma of education in music” and he went on to “in his usual gracious and appreciative manner” offered “a few words of congratulation” to her and the class, saying he’d remember them during his trip in the Holy Land.

The printed program lists the works, including Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor; a transcription by Liszt of one of Schubert’s famous lieder and another of the Hungarian’s works; one of Schubert’s Impromptus; a well-known Hungarian Dance by Brahms; three pieces by MacDowell with a quotation from one of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poems, “The Eagle,” printed in the program; some Minstrels by Debussy; and Chopin’s Scherzo in B-flat Minor.

In mid-May, Agnes hosted the senior class of the school for a graduation celebration at the Homestead and the festivities included swimming in the reservoir that doubled as a pool, activities in the auditorium that was formerly the largest of three winery buildings erected by her great-grandfather William Workman, lunch in the dining hall in the winery structure next door; and others.

A class photo was taken in front of the archway leading to La Casa Nueva from the southeast corner of the Mission Walkway. She also had a gift to the Los Angeles Catholic Girls’ School in the form of a gold medal presented to the senior who was the best Latin student. As a side note, one of her classmates was Elena Hurlbut, a great-granddaughter of William Wolfskill, an early Anglo resident of Los Angeles and close friend of William Workman and who is featured in a photo of her family’s house that has been highlighted in this blog. Elena and Agnes lost their mothers within just weeks of each other in late 1922, though it is not known if they were close during their years at the school.

After leaving St. Mary’s, Agnes went to northern California, where Walter, Jr. and Edgar were attending Belmont Academy in the city of that name south of San Francisco and where Thomas was in his senior year at the University of Santa Clara, to attend Dominican College, a Catholic women’s school in San Rafael across the bay from San Francisco. She pursued her passion for music to the extent that, when she graduated in June 1929 and was the only graduate to not receive a liberal arts degree as she majored, of course, in music with a minor in Spanish.

Within five months, Agnes, who became engaged during her last semester at Dominican, married Luis P. Fatjo, roommate of Thomas Temple at Santa Clara and one of two heirs to the massive Rancho San Luis Gonzaga, which was just a few acres larger than Rancho La Puente, and which is southeast of San Jose. A Thanksgiving Day (the same holiday on which her parents married a little more than a quarter century before) ceremony was held at St. Joseph’s Church, where her father donated a 9-foot diameter rose-shaped stained glass window over the front entrance, in Puente.

Her brother, Walter, Jr., related many years later that Agnes had the talent to be a professional concert pianist, but that was, purportedly, not a direction to be considered. A mother of two (her daughter, Inez, just turned 90) and a young widow when Luis died in 1946, Agnes kept a grand piano and other instruments at home until her own death from cancer fifteen years later. Her daughter’s son is among descendants with strong musical interests and skills as he is a guitar player and builder of custom guitars.

Leave a Reply