by Paul R. Spitzzeri
These can be extremely dry documents to pore through, but abstracts of title are also very important for tracing the history of real property. The Homestead has a few of these artifacts in its collection, including the one featured for this post and which is a circa 1908 leather bound of 319 pages and compiled by the Title Guarantee and Trust Company for Lot “A” of the International Savings and Exchange Bank Property.
That financial institution opened just prior on an irregularly shaped parcel at the southwest corner of Temple and New High streets and which is about, thought not precisely situated, where Temple and Spring streets meet today across from City Hall. The Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center would be the closest structure to the site now, as Spring Street used to run at a northeasterly angle from First up to a triple intersection with Temple and Main until a rerouting for the creation of City Hall.
New High Street was a thoroughfare of long standing that ran along the base of the hills, north of Temple, that were basically the west edge of the main section of Los Angeles in the early American period. It was then extended south of Temple to Jail Street, later Franklin and which no longer exists, about halfway between Temple and First. Today, the only section of that street, which was taken up the straightening and extension of Spring, left is north of César E. Chávez Avenue and through part of Chinatown to Alpine Street.
About the first forty-five pages of the abstract concerns the early documented history of the property, including its ownership from 1839 to 1866 by Jonathan Temple (1796-1866), the first member of the Temple and Workman family to live in Los Angeles. The native of Reading, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston, migrated to the Sandwich Islands (that is, Hawaii) around 1820 and just after Congregationalist missionaries from Boston settled there.
After several years as a merchant in Honolulu, Temple headed for San Diego in summer 1827, where he was baptized a Roman Catholic (an obvious indication he intended to stay in Mexican Alta California permanently), and then went north to Los Angeles, where he became its second American or European resident, following Joseph Chapman (a shipwreck from a ship under an Argentine flag and commanded by a Frenchman—go figure!)
Soon after settling in the Angel City in 1828, Temple opened the pueblo’s first store and quickly built up a successful business and a measure of wealth that allowed him to buy what later became prime downtown property and which was well-known as the Temple Block. Married in 1830 to Rafaela Cota of Santa Barbara, he expanded his holdings when his wife’s relatives sold him Rancho Los Cerritos, comprising today’s Long Beach and nearby areas, in 1843. His two-story adobe, built the following year and long owned by the Bixby family, is the center of the Rancho Los Cerritos historic site.
Returning to his downtown holdings, Temple’s store was located on what became the northwest corner of Main and Temple and where the Downey Block, constructed by ex-governor John G. Downey, the post office, and eventually today’s Spring Street Courthouse for the Los Angeles County Superior Court were located. His home was at the pie-shaped northern extremity of the Temple Block facing onto that aforementioned triple intersection and it was then replaced by a two-story adobe commercial building that gave the Block its name.
On 10 August 1839, Antonio Valdez petitioned the pueblo’s ayuntamiento, or town council, “for a piece of land adjoining the lot which he sold to Juan Temple (on which) to build a house 25 varas [a vara was about three feet] front, and a depth to the wall of J. Temple, always leaving a passage between the lot and the ravine [to the south and running southeast from the hill to the Temple Block], so that carts can pass.” The council agreed, though the police committee of Antonio Machado and Juan María Alvarado added that, while there was no objection on their part for Valdez’ request, they felt “the 25 varas may not hold out” for the house, built of adobe as all dwellings in the pueblo then were, to meet the requirements.
A few weeks earlier, on 22 July, Valdez sold to Temple “his lot . . . bounded by lot of Temple on one side and it has 40 varas [roughly 120 feet] front to N.W. [Northwest] from Temple’s lot and 80 varas [some 240 feet] from the street towards the hill [Bunker Hill].” This deed was recorded by Downey in 1874 after he built his commercial structure on that property. Another interesting inclusion in the abstract concerns the 1849 hiring of Lt. Edward O.C. Ord to conduct the first professional survey of Los Angeles.
Temple, a member of the ayuntamiento and a main negotiator with Ord paid the $3,000 cost and was reimbursed from sales of land laid out in the survey, with which Temple did enough meddling to exasperate Ord’s assistant, William Rich Hutton. The translation of the contract and a copy of the survey are included, with Valdez’ house to the left of Temple’s store, also shown, the ravine to the left of that and the irregular shaped Temple Block below and to the left.
On 3 May 1855, the Common [City] Council of Los Angeles, including the mayor and the officer known as the Recorder, issued a deed conveying all of the city’s interest to Temple in both the irregular parcel given 16 years before to Valdez and the lot to the north long held by Temple. Beyond the technical matter of the property description in terms of feet and degrees, what is notable is the accompanying copy of the survey made in April 1855 (and recorded in August 1866 after Temple’s sale of his Los Angeles property and subsequent death in San Francisco earlier that year) by Deputy County Surveyor George Hansen (he and his boss, Henry Hancock, are featured in a very rare photo from the Museum’s collection previously featured here.)
It shows the Valdez house just south of Temple’s store property, with New High running between that and another Temple-owned parcel on the west side of New High, where a corral was located and which later became the site of lynchings, including that of Michel Lachenais in December 1870 and of several Chinese residents during the horrible massacre of October 1871. To the south is the triangular shaped Temple Block, with the Temple residence outlined at the upper end.
The alley to the south is about where the Market House, built by Temple in 1859, but soon becoming the court house, was situated while above that, at the southern end of the Block was where a two-story brick commercial building was erected by him two years prior. Note, too, the names of nearby property owners Henry Dalton (also owner of the Rancho Azusa) and John G. Nichols, as well as the original location of Commercial Street, heading east towards Alameda from Main.
Other relevant transactions included in the abstract are a November 1858 deed from Valdez to daughters Merced and Gertrudes for that tract that included the family house, a deed from the two to lawyer Edward J.C. Kewen and County Judge William G. Dryden a few months later for part of the lot around the dwelling, and another, in August 1859, from the siblings to Temple that included the structure with $5,000 as the purchase price, with a separate document in which the sisters appointed Ygnacio del Valle to be their attorney-in-fact for the transaction.
There is also an April 1859 deed from Carmen Guirado, widow of James (Santiago) Johnson to her son-in-law and merchant Francis Mellus, like Temple a native of Massachusetts, for a lot that was “near the junction of Main and Spring” and adjacent to a property owned by ex-governor Pío Pico and leased by Henry Hamilton, proprietor of the Los Angeles Star, the town’s first newspaper. This later became part of the bank property. Another document was a deed from the City to Mellus from July 1855 for an adjacent parcel to Johnson’s and “fronting on the ravine . . . [and bounded on the] North by the hill.”
A little over a week later, Mellus and his wife Adelaida Johnson transferred the lot received from the City to the trustees of the Los Angeles First Presbyterian Church, these including such luminaries as Benjamin D. Wilson (a previous mayor who came to Los Angeles with the Rowland and Workman expedition of 1841), lawyer and future federal judge Isaac S.K. Ogier, and Obed Macy. There were so few Protestants in comparison to the dominant Roman Catholic population that a church had not yet been established for the former.
In November 1860, the Common Council passed an ordinance for the extension of New High Street so that it was “laid out and opened from the street called Jail [later, Franklin] running Northerly to a street called Temple Street . . . ” and passing by the properties of Pico, Temple and the Valdez sisters.” As was often the case in these early years of imprecision, though, the church trustees protested that the street, which was to be 60 feet wide, would encroach on the Presbyterian parcel, so a commission was to be appointed to determine fair market value for compensation.
Another interesting copy of a survey, completed by county surveyor Ebenezer Hadley in mid-November 1860, showed the church lot, west of the corner parcel retained by Mellus, and facing onto Salvation Street. Given the location of two of Temple’s parcels, it is interesting to note that Salvation Street was what became Temple Street and the Mellus and Presbyterian properties became, four years later, the St. Athanasius Episcopal Church, the first Protestant church structure in the Angel City.
Note, too, the presence of the Court House (which had the two-story city and county jail in the yard behind it—the property had also been Temple’s before he sold it in 1853 for those civic institutions) and Jail Street. Another deed reproduced in the abstract, from early December 1860, refers to the church and Mellus parcels but stated that the former had “a front on Temple Street of one hundred and twenty (120) feet.”
Returning to Temple’s purchase of the Valdez residence in August 1859, shortly before that transaction petitioned the Common Council that
there is now a street running from Main Street W’ly [Westerly] to the street called New High Street . . . that said street is not well located, either for the convenience of the citizens or for building upon it advantageously wither to the land owners upon the said street, or for the appearance of our growing city.
Several years before, Temple received approval to have this short, one-block lane west from Main and connecting to New High as it went north, but with the 1859 petition he sought to move it to take in where the Valdez house was—hence his forthcoming purchase of the dwelling from the sisters, though Temple suggested, before buying the building that the land on the south side where the road current was situated “be conveyed to the said Valdezes in lieu of so much of their land as should be taken for the purpose of a new street.”
If the council was to agree with Temple’s proposal, he continued, he “will pay all other damages which may be sustained in consequence of opening and laying out said new street so that the said new street shall be in as good [a] condition as the present old street. A week later, the council’s land committee recommended adoption of the idea and the council did approve it.
On 19 August, Temple conveyed any interest in the newly redesigned thoroughfare to the City and it was specifically stated that “said street [is] to be called and known as ‘Temple Street’ and always to be kept open and unobstructed and used as a public street of said City, and for no other purpose,” while it was also recorded that it was to be 53 feet wide. In return, the City Mayor Damien Marchessault, of whom the only known photograph happens to be in the Homestead’s collection, signed a deed to Temple for the property he would take where the old street was located. Also in August 1859, Francis and Adelaida Mellus sold their lot, deeded to Mellus from Adelaida’s mother, to Temple for $2,000 and he, in turn, sold the same property to the Valdez sisters for the $5,000 he paid them for the residence—basically, making a clean swap.
After all this was transacted and a better aligned Temple Street was established and, later, extended up the hill to the west and eventually out towards what became Silver Lake (notably, Temple Street was supposed to go to the Pacific, but it wound up being reconstituted as Beverly Boulevard to tie into the development of the exclusive residential suburb of Beverly Hills (Beverly Boulevard was later connected southeastward to 1st Street, while, for some strange reason, it was revived in East Los Angeles as 3rd Street split into Pomona Boulevard heading east and Beverly traveling southeast into Whittier where it becomes Turnbull Canyon Road!)
For seven years, there were no recorded transactions involving the future bank property. In the meantime, a stalled economy, following the end of the Gold Rush, a national depression in 1857 and the terrible floods and droughts of the first half of the Sixties, wreaked havoc locally. Temple decided, after nearly thirty years in the Angel City, to sell all his property in Los Angeles and the Los Cerritos ranch at dirt-cheap prices given the nadir of land values at the time, and move to San Francisco.
For just $1,000, Temple sold the parcel that became the bank building to James Allen, who then built “on said premises valuable brick buildings of the value of $5500.” In 1871, however, there was some alleged cloud on the title to the property and Allen petitioned the city for a quit claim deed from it and this was done in October 1871, the month of the Chinese Massacre. Allen and his wife Annie mortgaged the lot to a savings and loan (remember those, anyone, from before 1987?)
When times got tough after a boom in the late 1860s and early 1870s ended, including the failure of the Temple and Workman bank, Allen sold portions of the property in two transactions, one for $15,000, but a complicated trail of litigation followed, including following the death of Annie Allen. From the late Seventies onward, the trail of the title gets mind-numbingly complex, including interested parties with 1/36 and 3/36 interests (combined those two had 1/9 of the property!) and copies of early 1900s leases to shopkeepers in the Allen building.
At last, at the end of 1905, the newly formed International Savings and Exchange Bank acquired the property where the Allen building was situated, including from Victor Ponet, the well-known cabinet maker, undertaker, Belgian consul and real estate developer. The concern was established in early 1903 as the Union Savings Bank in Riverside, but there was a change in name and location very soon thereafter.
Towards the end of the abstract is a schedule of contracts from 1906 and 1907 for the construction of the bank building, showing costs totaling of about $205,000 and a Notice of Completion of Building, which recorded that the ten-story, with basement and sub-basement, fire-proof structure, with entrances if New High, Spring and Temple streets was completed on 6 June 1907 with the contract filed eight months prior, so the finishing of the structure was fairly rapid.
Remarkably, when the City Hall project, finished in spring 1928, completely reconfigured that area, the bank building remained at the northern extremity of the grounds and at an old angle given the realignments for another quarter century before it was razed in 1954. So, convoluted as these abstracts can be, hopefully this particular abstract of the abstract did not distract from understanding the gist of the property’s history!