La Casa Nueva’s Centennial: La Familia Temple en México, Julio y Agosto 1922

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Today, the Homestead had the second day of its weekend of special tours of La Casa Nueva focusing on the Temple family’s motivations in building the impressive Spanish Colonial Revival residence in terms of making it a memorial to Laura González Temple, who died at the end of 1922 as the project was just getting under; as a monument to family, regional and broader history, including that of the Temples’ origins in México, Spain, England and the United States; and as a showpiece with a remarkable array of architectural crafts from stained and painted glass windows to wood and plaster carving to colorful handmade and hand-painted Mexican file.

We also discussed the difference between the house as a building and a home with respect to how it was used. Laura’s passing obviously dramatically changed the latter, as did the Temple children continuing to live at school, while, during the five-year construction period, the financial fortunes of the family were significantly altered.

The Temple family in October 1919. From left are Walter, Jr., Agnes, Laura, Edgar, Walter, Sr. and Thomas.

The transformation was such that the Temples only lived in the dwelling, as completed, for half of the time it took to build it before the moved in spring 1930 to allow for the occupancy of the Golden State Military Academy, which leased the Homestead for its operations. Two years later, however, California Bank foreclosed on the ranch and took possession.

Yet, fifteen years prior, in late November 1917, when Walter and Laura Temple purchased the 75-acre property, their was, as discussed in yesterday’s post, no plans to build a second house, as the Workman House was remodeled and updated for use when the family came out from their full-time residence at Alhambra.

Reference to the Temples sailing for México, Los Angeles Express, 12 July 1922.

That changed, however, in summer 1922 when the Temples took a several weeks’ vacation in México. The connection to the Temple family and our southern neighbor has many interesting tangents to it. For example, Walter’s uncle, Jonathan (1796-1866) had extensive trading operations along the west coast of the country from about 1830 onward and was said to have owned a great deal of property between Acapulco and Mazatlán. His son-in-law, Gregorio de Ajuria, a native of Spain, was a merchant with a good deal of connections at México City, which allowed for Jonathan Temple to acquire the lease to the national mint in 1856, a concession he and then his daughter Francisca Temple de Ajuria held until the mint was nationalized by Porfirio Díaz in 1893.

In the early 1880s, Walter’s oldest brother, Thomas and his wife Nettie Friend, left the Los Angeles area and spent some time in Sonora, the northern state that borders Arizona, and where Thomas owned a tavern and also had real estate and mining interests at Hermosillo. Even when he returned to Los Angeles later in the decade, Thomas continued with his business dealings in that region.

The Temple family and others aboard a steamer en route to or from México. In front are Edgar and Walter, Jr. Second to left in the back is Thomas with Milton Kauffman to his left and Laura’s niece to the right of Kauffman. Laura is between her sons, while Agnes is over Walter, Jr.’s left shoulder and Walter, Sr. is at the far right.

By the late Eighties, another brother, William, a graduate of Harvard Law School and who served as a sergeant in the United States Army for several years during that decade, moved to México City and spent much of some two decades there before returning to Los Angeles in his last years, and right around the time of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Walter spent several months in México in 1894-1895 including a visit with William. As for Laura, her father Feliz González, a musician, was born in México, so she undoubtedly relished the opportunity to visit the country.

In its “News of the Ships” column in the 12 July edition of the Los Angeles Express, it was reported that the Columbia, a vessel in the fleet of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company was leaving the next day at 6 p.m. for its regular run to New York through the Panama Canal (Walter and his children would make this entire voyage four years later when enrolling Thomas, Walter, Jr., and Edgar in schools in Massachusetts.)

Walter and Laura on deck on the voyage to or from México.

The ship was loaded with the inaugural shipment of oil machinery and equipment bound for South America, specifically Colombia, and Standard Oil Company (California) sent a representative from San Francisco to supervise the process of placing thousands of tons of materiel on the ship. It was also reported that a large cargo of beans.

As for passengers, they included folks from Indiana and Kentucky headed home after California vacations, a Ventura woman and her daughter going to the east coast, the president of a Los Angeles steel products firm and his wife also traveling to New York, and “Walter P. Temple, of the famous Temple family after whom Temple street and the Temple building [Block] were named, on a business trip to Mexico City accompanied by his wife, son and secretary.” The Temples’ other three children, including daughter Agnes, were on the trip, however, and the secretary was actually Temple’s business manager, Milton Kauffman, while Laura’s niece, Dominga Vigare, was also with the group.

Edgar Temple is third from left in this group in a Mexican city during the trip.

Unfortunately, we don’t have very much information (at least, not now) about the trip, though there are some surviving photographs taken on board the Columbia as well as in a few locations such as the west coast port city of Manzanillo in the state of Colima, in the namesake capital of Colima and in the national capital of México City, almost directly due east.

If the Temples were traveling from the latter back to Manzanillo for the return trip home, they may well have passed not far south of the state of Guanajuato and the city there of Irapuato. Two years later, in 1924, Eulalia Delgado, a young widower, left that city and headed north for California to find work to raise her family of three children. After a short stay in Azusa, she found a job as a maid at La Casa Nueva and then brought up her family, including her mother Guadalupe Garcia, who also lost her husband during that time and did the laundry at the Homestead, and her three children.

A great panorama of a large plaza, though the location is unknown (unless someone knows the city and can let us know), during the trip.

Another stop the Temples made was in the large city of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, northeast of Colima and Manzanillo. While visiting there, the family made the acquaintance of Don Pablo Urzua, a maestro de obra or master stonemason, so that, as Walter and Laura, clearly inspired by their sojourn in México, decided to build a new house or la casa nueva, Urzua was hired to travel north with a crew of workers to make adobe bricks in the traditional manner. though they built adobe kilns, or ovens, to bake the bricks, rather than have them dried by the sun. Incidentally, the Homestead was the site this month of a summer program for children carried out by staff from the University of Guadalajara, which is a great bit of historical continuity!

While nothing has so far been located about this, it seems that the business conducted by Temple and his manager Kauffman was related to oil as México was in a boom period in that industry, with the nation second in the world in production and first in exports. The problem for the country is that the industry was totally controlled by foreign interests, including such Americans as Edward Doheny of Los Angeles and his Huasteca Petroleum company. This would lead to the nationalization of all oil production and resources in México through what is known as “Pemex” or Petróleos Mexicanos (today the country is the 13th largest oil producing nation in the world.)

From left are Laura, Walter, Jr., Dominga Vigare, an unknown gent (with tree branch aloft) and Agnes—again the location is unknown.

The extent of any involvement that Temple had in Mexican petroleum prospecting is not well known, but he also had oil projects in Texas and in Alaska, where he and his family vacationed in 1919. One likely reason for his investigating opportunities in México is that production on the Montebello-area lease where his son Thomas found oil in 1914 and which began yielding large quantities of the product when Standard Oil began operations there in 1917 is that the Montebello field proved to be highly productive initially, but shallow in depth and quantity. By 1922, it was apparent that the wells on the Temple lease were not going to maintain previous levels of crude oil and efforts were undertaken elsewhere, including Whittier, Huntington Beach, Signal Hill (Long Beach) and Ventura, though nothing matched those early successes.

In fact, as the decision to build La Casa Nueva was made, this matter of declining oil revenues proved to be critical, especially as Walter was moving aggressively into real estate development, starting at Alhambra, where the Temples resided full-time. In 1922, as noted in yesterday’s post, projects were also carried out at San Gabriel, while later in the year Walter, Kauffman, attorney George H. Woodruff, and others purchased land in downtown Los Angeles for an 11-story commercial building, the Great Republic Life. Additional funds were invested in a structure across the street, this becoming the National City Bank Building.

Some of the Temple party at the train station at Colima.

Then, not long after Laura’s death came the decision to purchase 285 acres of land previously earmarked for a subdivision to have been called “Sunny Slope Acres” after an early ranch and which was the name of a water company which still operates from East Pasadena and which provided service to Walter’s new Town of Temple.

Just as La Casa Nueva would be dedicated at the end of 1923 on the first anniversary of her death in memory of Laura, the Town of Temple was launched that spring as a monument to the Temple family. So, while we will keep commemorating the centennial of the construction of La Casa Nueva through 2027, next year is another important 100th anniversary for the Temple family, this being the establishment of what, in 1928, was renamed Temple City.

Agnes and Thomas, with their cousin Dominga Vigare behind them, on a horse-drawn cart at Colima.

Notably, when the Temples returned home after their sojourn in México, the Los Angeles Times of 18 August included a short note under the title of “Oil Man Home.” The paper stated that, “Walter P. Temple, oil man of Alhambra, returned home yesterday from a five weeks’ trip through Mexico for the education of his children.” That is certainly an important aspect, as Walter and Laura naturally would have wanted to impress upon Thomas, Agnes, Walter, Jr. and Edgar the importance of México in terms of ancestry, culture, and other elements.

In fact, more than four decades later, Thomas, who became a historian and a genealogist, who was among the first to mine the old records of the California missions, traveled in México to conduct genealogical research. His trip constituted a third generation of Temples, following that of his father in the 1890s and his great-uncle earlier in the 19th century, with meaningful connections of the country.

The brief article on the Temple family’s return, Los Angeles Times, 18 August 1922. Notice the reference to “Dago wine” during these early days of Prohibition.

Finally, when interior architectural crafts work was done in La Casa Nueva, a common motif found in several places concerned symbols of México. This includes the eagle from the Mexican coat-of-arms standing atop nopales or cactus leaves, and holding the chains of a pair of lanterns flanking a portrait of William Workman and the eagle with the snake in his mouth, as depicted in the coat, carved in plaster over a door into the Master Bedroom. In that room, which was left empty in memory of Laura, a pair of French doors to a balcony on the north side include more symbols of México, both of the short-lived empire after freedom was won from Spain and the resulting republic.

These symbols and representations, along with others from England, Spain and the United States, were part of a carefully constructed expression by the Temples of their identity in the development of La Casa Nueva. Although the house was not the home they intended, they created a magnificent residence that stands a century later as a sort of living laboratory to interpreting their history and that of our region, state and broader ideas.

Walter talking to Bishop John J. Cantwell of the Roman Catholic Church at the blessing ceremony of the plaque dedicating La Casa Nueva to Laura on the first anniversary of her death, 28 December 1923.

Over the next five years, we’ll continue to develop special tours and events that will delve deeper into this amazing dwelling, so please look for those and join us as we explore the history of La Casa Nueva and the Temple family.

2 thoughts

  1. I remain curious about the Valenzuela relation to Laura Gonzales Temple.
    Was Francisca Lorenza Romualda Valenzuela (1848-1916) her biological parent?
    Thank you

  2. Hi Edgar, yes, she was and here is the link sent before as a reply to your question in last week’s post on Thomas’ letter to his mother: For more on the documentation of Francisca Valenzuela as the biological mother of Laura González Temple, please see: https://homesteadmuseum.blog/2021/11/29/una-hija-natural-solving-the-mystery-of-identifying-laura-gonzalez-temples-mother-francisca-valenzuela/. We hope this helps explain the connection. Thanks for reading the blog!

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