Get the Picture? Letters from J. Perry Worden to Walter P. Temple and Milton Kauffman, 13 March 1926

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Several previous posts on this blog have concerned letters written by historian and intended Workman and Temple family biographer James Perry Worden (1866-1945), best known for his considerable work on the first two editions of Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark’s memoir, Sixty Years in Southern California (1916, 1926), to his other major patron of the period, Walter P. Temple and others.

Having made a significant fortune from the fabulously fortunate discovery of oil on his Montebello-area ranch starting in 1917, Temple hired Los Angeles lawyer Johnstone Jones to write his family’s history, but poor health led the attorney to bow out after a short time. After consulting with Luther Ingersoll, whose collection formed the basis for the Los Angeles Public Library’s historic photo collection, Worden was hired in the early Twenties to take up the project.

An 1870s stereoscopic view from the Homestead’s collection of the Mission San Gabriel’s stone church, issued by Henry T. Payne, and likely a reissue of a photo by William M. Godfrey. Perhaps this was among the images found by Worden in the Hayes collection at the Bancroft Library.

Over the decade, however, Temple had the historian at work on tangential projects, including researching schools for the Temple children to attend in Massachusetts, the family’s ancestral home, and in England, from where the hailed prior to the 1630s. Yet, while Worden also took the opportunity to conduct research in the Bay State and elsewhere and appears to have compiled a fairly substantial amount of material, he never appeared to have gotten very far with a draft.

Despite his modest retainer and reimbursable expenses, Worden, fussy and fastidious with a peculiar penchant for punctuating his typed missives with frequent underlining, extended capitalization and extra spacing to make particular points even more obvious than the words themselves clearly showed, was a reliable complainer in pleading poverty, while also a relentless self-promoter in claiming that only he could have unearthed the many rare items secured for a book that only he was qualified and capable of writing.

Tonight’s trio of letters, typed and penned on 13 March 1926, are typical of the historian as he breathlessly informed Temple of his latest choice discoveries while also complaining to his patron’s business manager, Milton Kauffman, of not being paid with amid mounting bills and expenses. Worden was in Berkeley poring through the treasures of the Bancroft Library at the University of California and was so excited by his labors that he wrote (well, typed) Temple twice to enlighten him as to his findings, while his dispatch to Kauffman looks to have been a more hurried handwritten plea for remuneration.

The first missive, typically dramatic for the writer, began with “I could be in despair, were I not an optomist [sic]” as he stated that “at the 11th hour . . . I discovered her[e] a great mass of notes by Benj[amin] Hayes, in which are

Ever so many fascinating early PHOTOGRAPHS OF LOS A., SAN GABRIEL, SANTA MONICA, etc. of the Sixties and Seventies, r a r e pictures.

and thousands of notes and clippings ab[out]t early Los A., San Gabriel, etc.” Worden continued that the collection, which is truly a remarkable trove of materials for those who’ve had the good fortune to delve deeply into it, “was in the hands of a student, (who did not seem very anxious for me to know about it,) and half secreted, and being unindexed, I did not know of it.

A single side of another Payne stereoscopic photo from the Museum’s collection showing the Temple Block from the east side of Main Street looking southwest. The second building in the block has a large sign reading “PHOTOGRAPHIC GALLERY,” so this may be one of the images mentioned by Worden because he referred in one of the letters to the studio of Valentine Wolfenstein.

The historian informed Temple that it was important that he get back to look at the Hayes collection, so that many could be copied by a photographer “and we shall thus have many rare pictures, INDEPENDENT OF THE INGERSOLL COLLECTION” with the added bonus “that there are VERY few such early photos of L.A. ANYwhere.”

While Worden had plans to go to Stanford University to visit the library there as well as to see friends and then spend several days at Sacramento, though whether for research was not stated, before heading south for home, he intended to come back to Berkeley to spend more time with the Hayes collection and then take a few days in the state capital and one night in San Francisco before leaving for Los Angeles a day later intended. He made sure to tell his patron, “to do this, I shall have to use my own money, as I am already out of yours, and drawing on my own funds; but you can make that right, later.”

The letter ended with the observation that Temple would enjoy seeing the photos in the Hayes collection, “some of them much rarer than any [the] Newmark [book] has,” including a good side view of the Temple Block “when [Valentine] Wolf[en]stein, the photographer, was there” and an 1874 image of the Mission San Gabriel “that shows a bare old place it was in those simple days.” As so often, Worden couldn’t resist pointing out an advantage for Temple and a disadvantage for himself by stating “[I] fear mrs. [sic] Worden will not be so pleased to hear i [sic] am not coming [home sooner]—so many things to be done around home that are easier for me than for her. this [sic] should be good news to you.”

The second letter, marked as a copy, was typed the same evening and found the historian elated to tell Temple that, not only did he find up to nearly 50 “fine, early and rare views of Los Angeles streets, houses, etc. of the early Seventies, and before,


The clearest, most beautiful stereoscopic picture, (two prints one card, you know,) of ” La P U E N T E, the

R e s i d e n c e o f Wm. W O R K M A N, 1 8 7 5.”

Identifying the image as “splendid in its prospects for us,” Worden suggested that his patron had not seen “any such good, old-fashioned view,” adding that “the place you reside in was very much the same as now, save that a picket fence went along in front, and an inner picket fence nearer the grapevine, in front, went from outer fence up to the house.” Though the grapevine was at the rear of the Workman House, it appears that Worden referred to the accompanying image, only acquired about a year ago for the Homestead’s collection. In any case, he accounted it, “a pretty picture.”

This recent acquisition for the museum’s holdings of the Workman House, one half of another stereoscopic photo by Payne, seems to correspond with Worden’s description of one he found at the Bancroft, especially his discussion of the picket fencing and the grape arbor, though he erred in saying the latter was at the front of the house, when it was (and remains today) actually in the rear

The historian also reported that he’d arranged with the Bancroft’s director to have copies of photos made, adding “he has never allowed it to be done, before, owing to [the] shape they are in” and would have a photographer go to the library to do the work. Assuring Temple that “we will be sure not to be overcharged,” Worden added that the librarian was dealing with an ill spouse, but “I have spent some money on him, in entertainment, as he has been most valuable to us” and, additionally, “assured him that, if he will take the trouble to have these things copied later for us, I will make it O.K. with him personally.”

The point, the missive continued, was that “he is low-salaried; limited funds only to run this valuable special collection so famous, [the] world over for its rare originals.” So, as the letter came to a close, Worden wrote, “hence, I hope that you will be as pleased as I in the prospect of getting such rare old-time views, mostly taken by [Henry T.] Payne.” Many of them, being stereoscopic, were small and, therefore, challenging to get good prints by them, but it was added, “it is VERY difficult nowadays to get ANY picture that has not been used, and perhaps many times, in a book, abt. early los angeles [sic] days, so we must make [the] most of this.” Again bringing attention to himself as was his wont, Worden lamented that “i [sic] ought to stay here longer for this hayes [sic] stuff, but cant [sic] afford to; money [is] running out, and [I am] needed at home. [I’m] doing my best.”

Much of the anxiety, always, seemingly, an operative emotion for Worden is reflected in his handwritten missive to Kauffman, with the historian lamenting that it was an “unlucky day: just rec’d another letter from Mrs. Worden, saying she had not as yet rec’d Mr. Temple’s check.” Temple’s business manager was asked to send one at his earliest opportunity, as Worden’s wife “is home doing her part, the bills are coming in & must be paid”.

Typically, Worden informed Kauffman “I am here, working from 8 AM to 10 PM in [the] library , & delayed 10 days because I am constantly finding more Temple & Workman materials” and hated to leave his wife at home “when she does her bet to get along in my absence.” It should be noted that Temple, Kauffman and attorney George H. Woodruff were just in the process of restructuring the finances for the Temple Townsite Company, which handled the development of the Town of Temple (renamed Temple City in 1928) and the Temple Estate Company, managing entity for all other Temple development, by taking out bonds.

This circumstance reflected economic uncertainties that only worsened as the decade continued and, while Worden continued to be on the payroll with a monthly retainer, his work never got much further than the gathering of research materials and some chapter drafts before Temple’s finances became very strained and the book project finally abandoned as the Twenties came to an end and the Great Depression was underway.

As to those photos, it is not known if the copies were ever made and delivered, though some similar views are shared here. Speaking of sharing, there are many more missives from Worden to Temple that we will feature on this blog from time to time, so be sure to look out for those.

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