“This is Such a Glorious Place for Vacation”: Reading Between the Lines While At Our Leisure in a Letter from Thomas W. Temple II to Walter P. Temple, Sr., 23 July 1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It was 367 days later and today’s featured artifact from the Museum’s holdings for this post is quite a contrast to the one highlighted two days ago. The latter, from 21 July 1924, was a deeply personal message by Thomas W. Temple II to his late mother Laura González Temple as he poured out his feelings about missing her and his concerns about his family, including his sister Agnes and the designs on her of one of his former friends.

The letter here, from 23 July 1925 and donated by Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis, from Thomas to his father Walter P., Sr. is one from a happy young man enjoying a vacation to Santa Catalina Island and reporting on all of the “fun in the sun” for which it is justly renowned. Though he didn’t mention it and may not have been aware, despite his yen for history, the Temple family’s involvement with Catalina went back at least to the 1860s when his grandfather, F.P.F. Temple, and great-grandfather, William Workman, owned an interest in mines on the southeast corner of the island.

This 1920s photo from the Museum’s collection shows the Hotel St. Catherine at Descanso Canyon, west of Avalon. Note the pier, which like the hotel, no longer exists.

In 1892, Catalina passed into the hands of William, Joseph and Hancock Banning, sons of the late Phineas Banning, the colorful “Port Admiral” who founded the town of Wilmington and developed much of what became the Port of Los Angeles, when they purchased the island from George Shatto.

The Bannings’ transportation company had already been sending tourists and visitors to the island for a short time before their acquisition and, over more than a quarter century, they invested heavily in Catalina‘s infrastructure as tourism grew enormously as greater Los Angeles transformed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A 1920s view, also from the Homestead’s holdings, of most of the hotel, including the 1925 wing added by Wrigley to the 1918 structure built by the Banning family on the site of their former residence.

A devastating fire in 1915 destroyed most of Avalon, including the Banning family’s house at Descanso Canyon a short distance west of the town and, on the site, the family built the Hotel St. Catherine. Opened in 1918, the hostelry offered comfort, convenience and a sense of privacy away from the rest of Avalon to its guests, though its dining facilities could serve up to 1,200 persons at a time. The hotel operated for nearly a half century before it was razed in 1966 and visitors to the area now would likely be very surprised that such a facility was there at one time.

Shortly after the St. Catherine was finished, however, the Bannings sold Catalina to Chicago chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley, Jr., who moved quickly to make his mark through extensive development of the bay, his spring training facilities for his Chicago Cubs baseball team, a remarkable bird farm, the Wrigley Memorial at the end of the canyon behind town, and much else. His biggest project and the one that garners the most attention today was the Casino, completed in 1929 His descendants still own the Catalina Island Company, though donated most of the island in the mid-1970s to the non-profit Catalina Island Conservancy.

A circa late 1920s image from the Museum’s collection of most of Avalon from the hills to the east with the Zane Grey House on the opposite hill to the left of the white Chimes Tower.

Among those who took an avid interest in Catalina as the transition was being made from the Banning family to Wrigley was Zane Grey, one of America’s best-selling authors and famed for his Western novels like Riders of the Purple Sage, The Heritage of the Desert, The Rainbow Trail and others.

Many of his works were early on adapted for motion pictures and it was no accident then that Grey, his wife Lina Roth, and their three children moved to Los Angeles in 1918, spending the first two years on Catalina Island before purchasing a house in Altadena that is now on the National Register of Historic Places for its association for Grey, whose family owned it until 1970.

South Pasadena Record, 13 July 1917.

A previous post here shared a photo of the newly completed Pueblo-style house, perched high on the hills at the west end of Avalon that Grey constructed, and his presence on Catalina was punctuated by his passion for deep-sea fishing there and in many other places. Notably, the house became a hotel with much of the original structure maintained in somewhat spartan simplicity until it was closed in the mid-2000s.

The aforementioned post from three years ago stated that renovation was work was underway and the hostelry did open later that year, including with a new tower of suites and other dramatic changes—be ready to shell out some serious money if a stay is contemplated, though the views and privacy are virtually unrivaled.

Los Angeles Express, 25 June 1918.

As for Thomas’ letter, it came as he was enjoying his summer break home from the University of Santa Clara, which he attended from 1918 to 1922 when he completed its preparatory high school program and then, after a semester at the California Institute of Technology for fall 1922 after which his mother died, he returned to the familiar and comfortable environs of Santa Clara to work on his bachelor’s degree. The 1925-1926 year was his senior one as he completed his studies with a concentration of law.

HIs missive began with the statement that “we are here, & having a dandy time” and informed his father that the boat ride over was smooth and “we all were rather on our ‘sea legs’ all the while.” The accommodations and service at the St. Catherine were satisfactory, he went on, “so really you have nothing to worry about.”

The Temple brothers, Walter, Jr., Thomas W. II, and Edgar, in front of the former Annandale Country Club clubhouse, then being used by the Pasadena Army and Navy Academy, later the Pasadena Military Academy, ca. spring 1918.

It appears they arrived the day before and took an afternoon dip in the ocean “& then took the flying fish trip at night.” He added that his younger brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, as well as Anthony Bassity, the son of Maud Bassity, Walter, Sr.’s girlfriend, “are certainly having a time of their lives.”

Thomas then told his father:

This morning Walter went up to call on Homer [Romer] Grey, Zane Grey’s son, with whom they attended Pasadena [Army and Navy/Military Academy] & his boat is in the bay, a beautiful 3 masted yacht. He also has a smaller boat. If the boys make proper connections we’ll go fishing with the Greys. [The] son was every nice & introduced me to the harbor boys, & they have shown us good service.

Romer Zane Grey was fifteen years old and was born roughly between Walter, Jr. and Edgar. The Pasadena Army and Navy Academy, the “junior” school to a military academy in San Diego, opened in fall 1917 on 16 acres on West Colorado Boulevard near the border of Pasadena and the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles occupied for about a decade by the Annandale Country Club, which moved north of Colorado and has been there since 1918.

Just below the ad for the Pasadena and San Diego academies is one for The Glendora Foothills School, where Zane Grey sent his son Romer and daughter Betty after the former went to the Pasadena institution, Express, 10 September 1918.

The Temples’ remarkable propulsion into sudden wealth from oil wells on their Montebello-area ranch took place with the bringing in of the first well in late June 1917 just before the Academy took possession of the Annandale site. Thomas was sent for a short time to the Page Military Academy in Los Angeles before he and his brothers were placed at Pasadena.

By the 1920 federal census, young Romer Grey was sent to a private school in Glendora with the Homestead collection having the 1919-1920 catalog containing a testimonial from Zane Grey, so it seems that Walter, Jr. and Romer attended the same grade at Pasadena either in the 1917-1918 or the 1918-1919 school years. Naturally, military schools became very popular during the patriotic ferment of the First World War years.

Thomas continued later in the letter that “Zane Grey has an adobe house built on Mexican-Aztec lines on top of the gill above the St. Catherine [meaning the former was to the east of the latter] & we’ll go up to see it soon.” He added that the famous author established a world record when he caught a 750-pound tuna off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada the prior summer, a feat that was heavily reported in the media. Thomas then concluded by telling his father that he hoped a fishing trip with the Greys was successful as “the boys are determined to play the old fish out if they get the smallest bite.”

On the morning of the 23rd, the vacationers “took the skyline trip” and planned to make the excursion out to the Isthmus on a bus and then returned on the gas-powered steamer, the Betty-O, named for a granddaughter of Wrigley, though he added, “the boys [are] not wanting to trust the Cabrillo,” this being an older steamship from the Banning days. Thomas also marveled at the cleat water and found it “so invigorating we swim at least once a day,” while here he first mentioned his sister, Agnes, just once, noting that she “is getting a good coat of tan.”

Thomas also added that Agnes, who’d just graduated from the high school at St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls Catholic campus in southwest Los Angeles and had a graduation outing and party at the Homestead, “has decided it seems to go to San Rafael,” meaning Dominican College, which was also for women only.

He opined that “I think this it would be the best plan” although Walter, Sr. was eyeing an exclusive eastern college like Wellesley, because “going east from an incipient college [perhaps a local school was being considered for a couple of years of study?] would be too much of a jump . . .” Agnes completed her four years of college at Dominican, graduating in 1929 at the same time her brothers finished their respective work in Massachusetts.

While the four children and Tony Bassity were enjoying themselves on what Wrigley called “In All The World No Trip Like This,” Thomas three separate times referred to his father and a need for rest and relaxation. First, he wrote “this is a glorious place for vacation & really Dadup we miss you!” and the asked, “Why didn’t you also come,” declaring that “it would have been such a pleasure to have you, & you know that you do need a vacation.”

The second time was as he talked about the return by steamer from the Isthmus and said, “I’m sure that you would have taken the trip for you are such a fine sailor” adding, “there are all kinds of things to do & enjoy here.” Lastly, as he closed his missive, Thomas told his father, “I’m sure that you are enjoying your work Dad, but even a machine needs a rest you know so you should take a vacation soon.”

It turned out the next summer was to be a major trip as the Temples, Maud Bassity and family driver Don Godman went to New England to see relatives and enroll Thomas at Harvard Law School and Walter, Jr. and Edgar at Governor Dummer (that would be the name from 1763 to about 20 years ago!) Academy for completing high school.

So, while Walter, Sr. opted out of the journey “twenty-six miles across the sea,” likely feeling his children and Tony would be better off enjoying themselves without adults around, summer 1926 was, like the summer 1922 trip to México and one to Alaska three years before that, a major excursion.

Speaking of the Mexican trip, we’ll discuss that next weekend in conjunction with our special tours commemorating the centennial of the commencement of construction at La Casa Nueva, so, join us for a tour on Saturday and Sunday from Noon to 4 p.m. and then read about that vacation here on the blog.

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