Chip Off the Old Block: An Agreement from Rafaela Cota de Temple to F.P.F. Temple for the Temple Block, Los Angeles, 8 April 1867

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Thanks to the preservation efforts of John H. Temple and the recent donation to the Homestead by the Josette Temple Estate, tonight’s featured object from the Museum’s holdings hearkens to that time-honored mantra of real estate: location, location, location. This 8 April 1867 deed from Rafaela Cota de Temple to her brother-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, concerns a property that was at the center of a core section of downtown Los Angeles and, administratively and politically, remains so today.

In 1828, Jonathan Temple (1796-1866), a thirty-two year old native of Reading, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston, arrived in the little pueblo of Los Angeles and became its second American or European settler (the first, about a decade before, was American Joseph Chapman, who was a deserter from a ship commanded by privateer Hippolyte Bouchard, a French-born sailor in Argentina.) Temple, after leaving his hometown, went to what were commonly known in America as the Sandwich Islands, or Hawaii, where he operated a store in Honolulu for several years.

In 1827, Temple sailed for Mexican Alta California and landed at San Diego, where he converted to Catholicism (he was originally a Congregationalist) and became known as Don Juan Temple. Why he decided to leave the southern pueblo and head north is not known, but it may be that he realized that the Angel City lacked a store and he was prepared to fill the void.

Los Angeles News, 27 March 1866.

Temple opened his business at what became the northwest corner of Main Street, where it was joined by Spring Street, and Temple Street, which did not then exist. The site later became the Downey Block, built by ex-governor John G. Downey, and, after the brick building was razed in the early years of the 20th century, the second Federal Building in the city, comprised of the federal district court and offices, was constructed there. After close to four decades, this structure was demolished and the current Federal District Court building was finished in 1940, though now the Los Angeles County Superior Court leases space there, while some federal offices remain in the structure.

Within a few years of his arrival and with the store successful, Temple acquired the land which came to a point where Main and Spring met and then extended in width to the south. In 1848, just after the American seizure of California, he built a two-story adobe structure, one of the earliest in town, at the northern end of what soon became known as the Temple Block. Six years later, Temple successfully petitioned the Common (City) Council to let him construct a one-block long street west of the Spring/Main intersection which was the modest beginnings of Temple Street.

Five years before, he purchased Rancho Los Cerritos, a 27,000-acre tract, east of the Los Angeles River in what became Long Beach and surrounding areas that was subdivided in 1834 from the massive 300,000-acre Nieto rancho that spanned much of the coastal plain south and east of Los Angeles.

News, 5 June 1866.

Manuel Nieto’s daughter Manuela and her husband Guillermo Cota owned the rancho until her death and it was sold at the end of 1843 to Temple, whose wife, Rafaela (1811-1887), a native of Santa Barbara, was a second cousin of Guillermo Cota. While the Temples, who had a daughter, Francisca (1831-1902), lived full-time in the pueblo, the ranch was a country residence and a cattle ranch that added to Jonathan’s growing and significant wealth.

Beyond this, Temple’s long history of trade up and down California, including with merchants in Monterey, such as Thomas O. Larkin, extended into México, as well, and his daughter’s marriage to the Spanish-born merchant Gregorio de Ajuria (1819-1861) led to one of the more remarkable elements of Temple’s story. In 1856, during one of the many frequent changes in presidential administrations in México, de Ajuria managed to secure the lease to the national mint for his father-in-law, a concession that remained with Temple for a decade and then, after his death, with his daughter until the mint was nationalized by dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1893.

The year after the mint lease was arranged, Temple built an early two-story brick commercial building at the south end of the block and it, along with a few others built at the time, marked a change for the small city, both in building materials and in the shift of activity further south from the Plaza, the historic core of the pre-American pueblo.

The Temple Block, ca. 1872.

Yet, the late 1850s involved some challenges for the city and region, as well. There was a national depression the year the new structure was finished and, with the Gold Rush ended, the wealth enjoyed by the rancheros of greater Los Angeles dissipated. When Temple acquired a large space south of his block and decided to build a new commercial building inspired by Fanueil Hall in Boston and arranged for the City to lease it and collect rents from merchants occupying the stores, he also built the first true theater in Los Angeles on the second floor.

It became quickly apparent, however, that the local struggling economy would not sustain the Market House, as it was known upon completion in 1859, so the lease was amended two years later so that the county could use the second-floor for a courthouse, formerly occupying a single-story adobe Temple owned across Spring Street and behind which was the two-story city and county jail. The structure was long recognized for its large white clock tower, with the timepiece apparently as likely to be out of commission as keeping any semblance of accurate time.

The economic downturn that began in the late Fifties continued into the next decade, with the dual devastation of deluge and drought wreaking havoc in the region. The former entailed what was called “Noah’s Flood,” in which series of storms began on Christmas Eve 1861 and continued through most of January 1862 and dumped an estimated 50 inches statewide. The disaster left much of the region underwater, with nothing to stop floodwaters from racing down the mountains and hills and overrunning rivers, streams and washes.

With cattle forming the backbone of the economy, even with the lessened demand of the post-Gold Rush period, the losses were enormous and this was exacerbated by the resulting drought of 1863-1864 (we know the El Niño and La Niña weather patterns, but this was not the case 160 years ago!) which caused further suffering for livestock and prolonged financial distress for their owners. On top of this, there were the plagues of locusts and smallpox which took the Biblical auguries into Revelations.

Small wonder that Temple gave up on Los Angeles and its environs and decamped to San Francisco. Just before he departed, he sold Rancho Los Cerritos to Flint, Bixby and Company for just $20,000 (or about 75 cents per acre) and Jotham Bixby successfully turned the rancho into a successful sheep-grazing property in succeeding years.

Not long after Temple relocated, he advertised for the sale of various city properties, including the adobe and brick buildings in the Temple Block through his long-time clerk and agent Ygnacio Garcia, but the terms must have been too rich for the depressed conditions of the Angel City as the ads ran for most of 1866 and the holdings remained unsold.

At the end of May, Temple died in San Francisco at the age of 70 and there was only a very terse announcement in the Los Angeles News that his death was made known by telegram, but there was no biographical or laudatory statements for a prominent resident of nearly thirty years. Even slightly more detailed descriptions in other California newspapers stated he was still a resident of Los Angeles and only said that he was a pioneer of 1827 with nothing said about his extensive mercantile and ranching career.

In any case, Temple’s estate was handled by lawyer Augustus F. Hinchman, who was married to one of Rafaela Cota de Temple’s relations and it was on 8 April 1867 that a deal was struck with Temple’s half-brother, F.P.F., for his purchase of the Temple Block. F.P.F., who was 26 years younger than Jonathan (the latter was the eldest and the former the youngest of the large family of Jonathan Temple, Sr., who was twice married), came to Los Angeles from Massachusetts in summer 1841, ostensibly for a lengthy visit, but remained in the Angel City and was a clerk in his brother’s store for the remainder of the Forties.

Married to Antonia Margarita Workman, daughter of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste, F.P.F. left his brother’s employ to take up ranching and in the trade of livestock in the recently discovered gold fields of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. By 1867, however, he was starting to become more involved in Los Angeles business affairs and his acquisition of the Temple Block was auspicious in that it gave him prime downtown property (location, location, location) at the right time.

This was because, after years of economic malaise, the Angel City was poised for its first sustained and significant period of growth with a small boom (compared to the much larger later ones) that lasted through the mid-1870s. Having recently completed his first major real estate subdivision project at Gibsonville or Centerville, soon to be known as Compton, and ready to launch a bank with his father-in-law and the brilliant young Jewish merchant Isaias W. Hellman, Temple had a valuable tract on which he could add to his brother’s 1857 structure and provide important retail and office space for the growing business community of Los Angeles.

The document recorded that F.P.F. paid his sister-in-law $10,000 (consider that the Temple Block may have comprised a few acres at most and compare this to the sale of Los Cerritos) for the property subject to “the final settlement and distribution by the Probate Court of the city & county of San Francisco of the estate of her said deceased husband John Temple.” Once the estate was settled, Rafaela was to issue “a good and sufficient deed of conveyance with warranty all acts of herself” for the property.

The tract was simply described as being bounded on the southeast by Main Street, on the southwest by Market Street, which ran between the Market House and the 1857 building, on the northwest by Spring Street and on the northeast “by the square or open space at the junction of Main & Spring streets.”

The deal was structured financially, so that F.P.F. was to pay, on a promissory note, Rafaela $1,000 with 10% annual interest calculated from 7 February 1867 (the reasons for this date are not stipulated) due on 7 August and then follow that with nine promissory notes “of the same date, tenor and of fact, except as to the times of payment thereof.” These were due each year on or before the 8th of April, with the last payment due in 1876 with “reference being had to the original notes for further certainty.”

Once F.P.F. received the certified copy of the deed of conveyance upon the settlement of his brother’s estate, he was to “execute . . . a deed of mortgage good and sufficient” for the property until all of the principal and interest was paid. The agreement was signed by F.PF. and Hinchman, acting as attorney-in-fact for Rafaela with certificates attached for both F.P.F. and Hinchman personally appearing for notarization. Also included was the notice of recording by the county clerk in the county’s book of miscellaneous records at the request of F.P.F.’s attorney Alfred B. Chapman.

It is not known when F.P.F. paid off the mortgage taken out for the purchase of the Temple Block, but it was almost certainly long before April 1876, by which time he’d gone through the rise and fall that has been frequently discussed in this blog. This included his many business projects and activities during that boom and the accumulation of significant wealth, but then was followed by the sudden and stunning collapse of his Temple and Workman bank (which succeeded the institution operated with Hellman from late 1868 to early 1871) in January 1876.

The Temple Block was augmented by F.P.F. with three structures, built in 1868, 1870 and 1871, with the first two back-to-back, with one fronting on Main and the other on Spring, and the latter built at the north end after the 1848 adobe building was razed and which housed the bank. The property was included as collateral in the loan by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin for the purposes of trying to save the doomed bank, but the block wound up being purchased by merchant Harris Newmark.

It survived a half-century further even as the city radically changed around it and the centers of business activity moved further south. When the City of Los Angeles developed a civic center plan, it was decided to build the impressive 28-story City Hall on the Temple Block site and the buildings there were torn down as late as 1927 for the construction of the new edifice.

Walter P. Temple managed to salvage remnants, including a bank vault door and frame, some bricks and other materials for use at his house, La Casa Nueva, which was completed in late 1927, just months before the City Hall was completed and dedicated in April 1928. This agreement is another important artifact in understanding the history of the Workman and Temple families and the Museum is indebted to descendants who kept in preserved until its recent donation.

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