Making a Statement: Statements of Bank Account Transactions for Walter P. Temple, 1-13 June 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

On Walter P. Temple’s 153rd birthday, this seems like an opportune time to share an artifact concerning his financial affairs in the first half of June 1927 from the recent donation to the Homestead of many artifacts from the estate of his grand-daughter Josette Temple. It was a particularly notable time because while the huge development boom that enveloped greater Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties was still continuing, there had been a peak four years earlier (in 1923, when his Town of Temple was launched.)

Temple’s fortune, fortuitously derived from the discovery of oil on the family’s Montebello-area ranch more than a decade before, was adversely affected by the mid-Twenties from a steep decline in production at the family’s lease. While he formed the Walter P. Temple Oil Company to try and replicate his remarkable luck, none of the many projects carried out, from Alaska to Texas to México to several local locales including Huntington Beach, Signal Hill, and Ventura panned out.

Reference to the Town of Temple and its phone service, Monrovia News, 28 May 1927.

Meanwhile, his initial revenue gusher (as opposed to “stream”) was largely directed toward real estate by the end of the Teens and what became the Temple Estate Company was established for development in Los Angeles, Alhambra, San Gabriel and El Monte, including post offices, movie theaters, stores and office buildings. It turned out that his last construction endeavor was completed in April 1927 when the Edison Building, which still stands on the northwest corner of Main and 3rd streets in Alhambra, opened.

As for the Town of Temple, it was a major investment on 285 acres that relied heavily on the allure of country living in the San Gabriel Valley while having ease of access to Los Angeles. One of the major unforeseen problems, though, was that the Mattoon Act, intended to raise funds for unincorporated communities like Temple, as it was often known, through assessments for infrastructure, such as sidewalks, street lights and other amenities, was that it required adjoining property owners to pay the tax of a delinquent neighbor. Not surprisingly, investors avoided these areas and it caused a major problem at Temple.

Then there was the unanticipated long-term building of the Spanish Colonial Revival mansion La Casa Nueva at the Homestead. It was a century ago this summer that this very personalized and stunningly decorated house was begun with stone masons imported from Guadalajara in México building the adobe walls that constitute most of the structure. The death of Walter’s wife, Laura González, at the end of 1922, a change in architects to the creative, yet expensive, Roy Seldon Price, and other factors prolonged the project for several years. It was later in 1927 that the house was finally finished, but, by then, a mortgage had been taken to complete it.

Mention of the Walter P. Temple Oil Company’s drilling efforts in Ventura, though the firm soon assigned the lease to his partners, business manager Milton Kauffman and William Harmon Taylor and their M.K. & T. Oil Company, while Temple retained an ownership stake in the lease. Ventura Free Press, 17 June 1927.

Speaking of the mortgage, there was another vital element to the financial picture, which was the issuing of bonds, in spring 1926, to raise funds for the completion of buildings in Alhambra as well as the development. While badly-needed capital was raised, it came at the cost of incurred interest and, if an issuer got behind on payments or failed to make them, the result, of course, could be ruin.

In fact, just a few weeks before the featured object here was prepared and sent to Walter Temple, his attorney and business partner sent a lengthy letter laying out a plan to save the Tempe Estate Company from financial embarrassment. Dated 26 May 1927, the missive spelled out the idea of another bond issue or a loan, as well as transferring the firm’s property to a proposed Temple Holding Company. It turned out that this did not transpire as suggested, though further bonds were taken out, but the document showed how dire the situation was becoming.

The transfer of the lease of the Temple Theater in Alhambra, Los Angeles Times, 27 June 1927.

Because the 1926 bond issue was through California Bank, a checking account was set up there and from which transactions were listed on the featured artifact here, which covered the period from 1-13 June. It is notable that the starting balance in the account was $1,562.66, but that a sale of stock (the company of which was not stated) added more than $31,000 to the account, which turned out to be sorely required.

That’s because almost a third, comprising more than $10,000 went towards the principal and interest of a note held by the Securities Loan and Discount Company for the Sierra Furniture Manufacturing Company, while there were also similar payments to the John M.C. Marble Company, which was to be part of Woodruff’s plan; the California Trust Company, which issued the 1926 bonds; George M. Thompson; the Monrovia branch of the Security Trust and Savings Bank; the First National Bank of Alhambra; and National City Bank for a note and interest issued by Woodruff, who was a director of that institution, the Los Angeles building of which Temple invested.

Among the other expenses listed were train tickets of nearly $570 for Temple’s three sons and their return home from school in Massachusetts on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad; over $2,200 for a tax on unspecified mining rights, though likely related to oil; $2,000 paid out to Temple’s business manager Milton Kauffman; almost $620 issued to several workers for work on the Workman House and La Casa Nueva; a $500 payment to Temple for personal use; insurance premiums for his youngest child, Edgar, and for Woodruff; a car payment for a Cadillac; almost $400 on an account of Temple’s daughter Agnes at the San Francisco department store of I. Magnin and Company (she was attending the all-woman Dominican College in San Rafael across from San Francisco in Marin County; and three months’ salary for Eulalia Delgado, who did housework at La Casa Nueva.

In all, just shy of $30,000 of the nearly $33,000 that was in the account after the sale of the stock was spent in these first two weeks of June, leaving under $2,900 as the balance. Yet, there were more bills due in the week following, as noted in an addendum, including insurance premiums for Temple, Kaufman, Temple’s beau Maud Bassity, and her son Anthony, as well as a payment to Arie Hoegee and Sons for awnings for the Edison Building. This was almost another $1,000 and brought the account balance down to not far south of $1,900, or just a few hundred more than it contained at the beginning of the month.

The second statement was for a checking account at the First National Bank of Alhambra, which only had $264 at the end of May, though there were deposits of about $4,100 made in June. These included rents from the Edison Building and other Temple-owned commercial structures in Alhambra, including the Temple Theater, the Utter and Sons Mortuary, and the Temple Estate Building—all in the same block as the Edison—an the Temple Hotel and post office on 4th Street and an adjoining structure on Main and 4th.

Other rental income came from San Gabriel, where Temple built and owned the Arcade Building, the Temple Block and the post-office in a block across from the historic mission and next to the city hall, the site of which he donated. There was a small amount of rent collected for property in Puente, principally the Rowland Hotel, which was built for the new town in the mid-1880s, as well as principal and interest due from the Temple Community Church because of his role in getting that house of worship built. Otherwise, there were $33 in miscellaneous revenue.

Unlike the California Bank account, this one was not drained of all of its proceeds, with about half expended on checks paid out between the 2nd and 11th of the the month. The latest was a transfer of $750 to the First National Bank of Puente, presumably for the use of purchases in that town, being convenient to the Homestead, while another $500 went to Woodruff for “special services” incurred in May—perhaps much of this involved the devising of his Temple Estate Company rescue plan?

Otherwise, the rest of the expenditures were fairly small, with $100 advanced to eldest child, Thomas, who was completing his first of a three-year program at Harvard Law School and some $80 for Walter’s open account at L.J. Christopher Company, the well-known candy store in Los Angeles. There were utility bills; a subscription to The Literary Digest; dues to the San Gabriel Country Club and the Alhambra Elks Lodge; a Western Union account for Temple’s regular telegrams to his children while they were away at school; automobile servicing; Temple’s account at the People’s Meat Market in Puente; and legal costs in a Temple Estate suit paid to Woodruff’s firm.

There are two other payments of note. With the recent completion and opening of the Edison Building, there were checks written to a “J. Thompson” for a revised rental plan for the structure, to McKay Drug Store for cigars for prospective tenants, and to Alhambra Florists for opening baskets for that store, as well as for Young’s Market Company and for Southern California Edison, the anchor tenants of the first floor of the structure.

Additionally, Temple acted as a trustee for oil royalties paid out by General Petroleum Company on production at the Cruz Lease, which was near Temple’s Montebello oil property. That land was sold in the 1870s by his father, F.P.F., to Venancia Peña, a Luiseño Indian from the Mission San Luis Rey, who was married to Joseph Davis, a half-American, half-Latino nephew of Juan Matias Sánchez, half-owner with F.P.F. Temple of the Rancho La Merced.

Venancia’s children included Julia Davis Cruz, who lived with the Temple family and was more like an adopted daughter than the “nurse” as she was described in her obituary, and her brother Peter. While Julia, who had title to the property, died in 1917 just before the oil was found there, Peter was a beneficiary and, in 1927, lived in the Workman House while working for Temple.

The other royalty recipients were Manuel Zuñiga, whose first wife was Carmel Davis, sister of Julia and Peter, as well as their two daughters, Lucy Poyorena and Leonora Hartnell. After Carmel died in the 1880s, Zuñiga married Walter’s sister, Lucinda, and, in 1927, the couple resided at the Homestead in a house built for them by Temple at the west end of the ranch off Turnbull Canyon Road and Don Julian Road. Next to them was another Temple sibling, Margarita Rowland.

As noted at the outset of this post, mid-1927 was a particularly notable time for Temple and his financial situation. Unfortunately, the economic conditions continued to deteriorate. Temple and his associates tried to revive the flagging fortunes of the renamed Temple City in 1928 by hiring a new management company, but any improvements were fleeting. An oil project at Ventura that was something of a last gasp on the petroleum prospecting front also failed to pan out.

By summer 1929, most of the Alhambra buildings were sold for $450,000 to address mounting debt, though a mortgage taken out to finance the completion of La Casa Nueva was due on 29 October, the week the stock market crashed in New York City and brought about the Great Depression. When spring 1930 came, Temple moved to Ensenada in Baja California to economize and, he hoped, help to save the Homestead, his last and most prized real estate possession. Two years later, though, California Bank foreclosed on the property and marked the end of Temple’s fifteen years of ownership.

We’ll continue to share more artifacts from the Josette Temple Estate donation, including financial documents, letters, photographs and much more, so be sure to look out for these in future posts.

2 thoughts

  1. Walter’s financial struggles in the final stage of his business career was revealed in this posted bank statement. We all know that once a business was run with high financial leverages, the business owner would become vulnerable to the leverage risks, and Walter was no exception. Just like what was described in an old Chinese saying, Walter was “managing to cover six pots with five lids” — dealing cash flows all the time with insufficient funds. As mentioned in this post, Walter shifted his core business from oil to real estate in early years, and his such move convinced me that he not only had a good vision but also was an entrepreneur. I believe besides the mortgage loans and the bond issuances, he must have thought to sell his stocks as many oil businesses were doing then; and I also believe that he must have thought to get his company to go public. Of course, the Great Depression destroyed his entrepreneurship and his dreams, but I’d like to know if Water had plans or had already done something approaching these directions.

  2. HI Larry, surviving information on Walter Temple’s finances is certainly not as comprehensive as we’d like it to be, but his story was definitely not atypical for the Roaring Twenties and other major boom periods. Oil and real estate and fundamentally speculative, but when times are good there is the impulse to try to cash in quick, though when outlays are not matched by sufficient income from rents and royalties, getting underwater can happen in short order. Nothing has surfaced about selling stock publicly for his three companies; instead, taking out bonds was the preferred option for raising ready capital. There was obviously vision and entrepreneurship, but, as with his father about a half-century before, Walter got caught up in boomtime optimism and could not survive the inevitable bust.

Leave a Reply