Working the Land: The Day Book of Laura González for the Workman Homestead, Rancho La Puente, July-August 1887

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The story of Laura González Temple (1871-1922) is one of the more remarkable in the history of the Workman and Temple family and the Homestead, so, on this, her birthday, we return for a more in-depth look at an artifact from the Museum’s collection connected to her which was mentioned briefly in a prior post which was a brief biography.

The object is a day book that consists of copies of entries she made in July and August 1887 and which were then copied into the book, which dates from the year of her death. Perhaps the originals were in poor condition, so Laura thought it worthwhile for posterity to transcribe the contents some thirty-five years later. We’re certainly glad she did because the material does add to our knowledge of her life and of the operations of the 75-acre ranch when it was owned by Francis W. Temple, older brother of Laura’s future husband.

As noted here before, Laura was born to Mexican-born musician Feliz González and Francisca Valenzuela, though she was una hija natural; that is, born out of wedlock, as González was married to Valenzuela’s half-sister, Ramona Alvitre. Because of this, young Laura did not appear in the household of Ramona (Feliz having died not long after Laura’s birth) in the 1880 census and, in fact, could not be found anywhere in the area at all.

An ad for real estate sales at the town of Puente, founded in 1886, Los Angeles Times, 4 August 1887.

By 1885, Laura was in Los Angeles attending the Sisters of Charity school for girls, with a receipt in the Homestead’s holdings showing that her mother paid for her boarding for the fall semester of that year. Not long afterward, however, Laura wound up living at the Homestead and employed by Francis Temple. We also know that, in 1886, Francis was stricken with consumption, or tuberculosis, a common viral condition that affected a number of the Temple family through the 19th century.

Because of his struggle with the disease, Francis found it beneficial to take some extended trips to Arizona for relief and this day book seems to make quite clear that he left Laura in charge of managing the ranch. This is also confirmed by a surviving letter from early January 1888, in which Francis, writing from Yuma, discussed details of running the property with his young foreperson.

Despite her humble origins, there is no doubt that Laura displayed an acumen for administering the varied needs of the Homestead in the absence of her employer, while, at the same time, managing to keep a somewhat clandestine relationship with Francis’ much younger brother, Walter. We have shared a few examples of letters from Walter to Laura in which teenage love is in its full flower during these years. One of these missives dates from 5 July, just under a week from the first entry in the day book.

Much of the content in this record concerns the management of the vineyard and wine-making operation which had its origins at the Homestead to some forty years prior, when Francis’ maternal grandfather, William Workman, began growing wine grapes on his share of the Rancho La Puente along the San José Creek, which ran south of the Workman House and which is now a flood control channel.

Whatever manufacturing may have been done at the property was significantly enhanced in the mid-1860s when Workman had three large brick winery buildings constructed near the house and which survived as late as the early 1970s. Francis, who studied for a couple of years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the early 1870s, returned home and became his grandfather’s winemaker.

Having handled this role for a few years and residing with his grandparents, including his grandmother, Nicolasa Urioste, Francis became a so trusted that, when the family finances were thrown into utter disarray by the disaster that befell the Temple and Workman bank, William Workman changed his power of attorney, held by Francis’ father F.P.F. Temple since 1868, so that his grandson was given this role. This was immediately after the closure of the institution in early 1876 which left Workman bewildered as to his fate after some thirty-five years on the Rancho La Puente.

A brief report of “Puente Points” in the Times, 11 August 1887.

When the full nature of the bank debacle was made known and then Richard Garvey, an agent for Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who held a mortgage on almost all Temple and Workman property, including the most prized of all, the more than 18,000 acres Workman owned at La Puente, as collateral for a loan to the bank, and a court receiver visited Workman on the morning of 17 May 1876 to discuss the situation. Stunned by the turn of events, the 76-year old Workman committed suicide in his house later that day.

While Baldwin delayed foreclosure for three years on the bank loan to guarantee that no one could pay off the principal and increasing interest, Francis continued to manage the Homestead’s wine-making operations. Not long after the 1879 foreclosure, he made a deal with Baldwin to acquire 75 acres, including the Workman House, El Campo Santo Cemetery, the winery buildings and other structures, and the vineyard and orchards. The property was then known as the La Puente, or Workman, Homestead, though it was not officially homesteaded under the 1862 national law.

Even with the depressed state of the economy regionally after 1875, Francis seems to have done well with his wine-making venture and when he contracted tuberculosis, he was fortunate to have the teenaged Laura there to help run the operation during his extended absences from the Homestead.

The first entry in the day book (the initial two-dozen pages were torn out) was dated 11 July and noted that there was no wine sold, but Laura’s brothers, Ambrosio (the eldest of the González children and about 30 years of age and Genero (the middle name of Francisco) and who was about 23, were changing out pipes, or barrels, of wine in the cellars. The following day, $2.50 in cash of wine was sold while the González brothers hauled pipes to the Southern Pacific Railroad depot at Puente. While the station had been there for a dozen years, the town was newly established by George W. Stimson and Abram E. Pomeroy.

While the 13th included just a quarter of wine sold, while Laura’s siblings were irrigating the fields, the 14th included her note that “the saloon men took 10 gals. R[ed] wine” and the $27.25 meant that “Momma received [money] to pay the workmen,” with Ambrosio continuing the irrigate and Genero filling barrels of wine before he went to Old Mission, or Misiòn Vieja, the Whittier Narrows community where the González family long resided near the Temples. In 1887, Francis’ mother, Antonia Margarita Workman, owned 50 acres of the family homestead on Rancho La Merced, and her youngest children, Margarita (age 21), Walter (18) and Charles (15) resided with her.

The 15th included a trip by Genero to San Antonio, or the rancho of that name southeast of Los Angeles where such cities as Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy and South Gate are now. There was also purchases of sugar and an oven for baking bread. Ambrosio stayed at the Homestead to water the vineyard and, while there was no wine sold, “Don Pedro” Montoya took two gallons of white wine “in the county,” or on account. The next day, some wine was sold while Genero came back from his trip and watering of the vines continued.

“Oleaginous Observations” about Puente as “Oil City,” Los Angeles Herald, 19 August 1887.

Monday the 18th brought a visit from a butcher and 18 pounds of mutton were purchased. While Ambrosio did not work, Laura wrote “Genero feeling the wine,” which seemed to indicate too much celebrating on the weekend, but she obvious meant “filling the wine” in casks. While no wine was sold, she observed that “Maggie and Mrs. Arnaz,” these being her future sisters-in-law, Margarita and Lucinda, who would soon divorce her husband Manuel Arnaz, scion of a prominent Ventura family, “came today [and] took one gal[lon] W[hite] W[ine.]”

Not all of the work concerned the vineyard, as on the 19th, Laura wrote that “Genero [was] watering [the] gum trees,” or eucalyptus that Francis may have been trying to grow commercially. Moreover, not all sales from the winery were for red and white wine, as, on the 20th, a half-gallon of brandy was sold. Additionally, Laura’s brothers were now dedicated to hoeing over the course of the next couple of weeks.

On the 22nd, it was recorded that “S. Rambaud took all the pipe[s] of red wine to-day.” The early 1888 letters from Francis to Laura also mentioned “Rambaud,” who looks to have been Los Angeles saloon owner Seraphim Rambaud. There were also later Puente residents of that name, though whether they were related to who appears to have been one of Francis’ regular customers is not known. Another major purchase, of 30 gallons of white wine, was made on the 24th to H. Smith and it appears the going rate was a quarter a gallon, given that he paid $7.50.

Small amounts of cash sales for wine and brandy were recorded through the end of July, including another large amount “on the count,” while more mutton was purchased and the windmill (which was directly east of the Workman House) needed “ficking” or fixing, as did a spring wagon, for which a blacksmith came out and charged $2.25, while also getting an in-kind payment of five gallons of red wine. Francis’ sisters returned on the 27th to take home a gallon of white wine and a bottle of brandy.

In early August, Genero took out and emptied some pipes, while there were a couple of days of decent wine sales. On the 3rd, an “E. Lestrade” picked up five gallons of red wine on account, while the Temple sisters came out for another gallon of white wine and their brother John, who succeeded Francis as the owner of the Homestead, helped himself to three gallons of red wine and a half gallon of brandy (no payment, Laura added.) While Ambrosio continued hoeing, Genero was “filling vats of water after hoeing,” this apparently was cleaning of the winery vats.

On the 4th, as Genero “sprinkled [the] vats after watering [the] gum trees,” there was a visit from William R. Rowland, son of the late Rancho La Puente co-owner John Rowland and his first wife, Encarnación Martinez. Rowland, who served two stints as Los Angeles County sheriff, including when he and his men captured the notorious bandido Tiburcio Vásquez in 1874, owned a large section of La Puente and on which he and partner William Lacy discovered a significant pocket of oil which led to the formation of their Puente Oil Company, a successful regional producer for near twenty years.

A brief mention of Francis Temple’s winery operation at the Homestead in a description of Puente, Los Angeles Express, 31 December 1887.

One of the longer entries came on 8 August, when Laura wrote that Genero filled wine barrels and Ambrosio continued hoeing for a half-day, while $4 in red wine and brandy was told. In addition, “Mama took [a] half gal of Brandy,” and the butcher sold 25 pounds of mutton. Another local Frenchman, Auguste Amar, whose name is commemorated on the avenue that runs through La Puente, West Covina and Walnut, took a couple of gallons of red wine and a bottle of brandy on account and Lestrade paid for the five gallons he picked up on the 3rd.

The following day, Amar returned and took three more barrels of red wine on account, with Laura recording “one [was] 48, [the] other 55, and the other 54,” these almost certainly meaning gallons contained the barrels. To give an idea of quantity, a typical 60-gallon barrel contains 300 bottles. Amar also retrieved two gallons of white wine.

The González brothers continued hoeing the vineyard and the eucalyptus grove on the 11th, on which days Laura paid a dollar each in cash for staples like lard, sugar and potatoes. After a couple of days without any sales of wine or brandy, while Genero filled vats with water, the last entry came on 13 August. There was no wine sold, but $2.25 worth of brandy. Laura’s brothers kept hoeing, though Genero also was “ficking the hoop in the pipes.” Finally, she noted that Ambrosio was paid $6.85 for six-and-a-half days of work.

With that, the account ended, perhaps because of Francis’ return, though we can’t be sure why. Within a year, he died of his affliction and Laura soon left the Homestead, which was left to Francis’ brothers, William, who was out of state and sold his half for $3,000 to John. The latter, previously running a walnut grove on the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, just a short distance from the Temple homestead at Misión Vieja, relocated to the Homestead with his wife Anita Davoust and their two young sons, F.P.F. II, known as Pliny, and Francis W. II.

Laura spent some years in Los Angeles, including in Boyle Heights as well as downtown and taught music. It may be that her teenage romance with Walter ended, but then they reconnected, because the two finally married in 1903, when he was 34 and she was 32. They resided at the Temple Homestead, where their five children, three sons and two daughters (though one of the latter died at just two weeks), were born.

In 1912, Walter sold that property and purchased sixty acres to the west, land lost by his father to Baldwin, from the Baldwin estate and the stunning discovery of oil on the tract about a year-and-a-half later by eldest child Thomas W. II led to a remarkable ascendency to wealth after the first well drilled by Standard Oil Company (California) came in to production in June 1917.

Five months later, the Temples bought the Workman Homestead and it was a far cry from 30 years before when a young Laura helped manage the ranch. For five years, she and her family invested heavily in renovations and improvements, came out for weekend stays, hosted large parties and gatherings, and, a century ago this summer, upon returning from a long vacation in México, began the construction of La Casa Nueva.

Her son, Walter, Jr., referred to the Spanish Colonial Revival mansion as his mother’s dream house, but her diagnosis of late-stage colon cancer led quickly to her death at the end of 1922. A grief-stricken family halted work on the house, but then decided to carry on, dedicating to her on the first anniversary of her passing, though La Casa Nueva was not finished for five long years. Even then, the Temples occupied it for half as long as it took to build it and lost the house and ranch during the depths of the Great Depression in 1932.

Still, with La Casa Nueva a remarkable laboratory of sorts for discussing the history of the Temples and their ancestry and with artifacts like this log book, we at the Museum are able to share their story in a variety of ways. Obviously, there is much more to come in this blog, so be sure to come back and learn more.

2 thoughts

  1. I wish I had been able to know my grandma. She must have been a smart and kindhearted woman.

  2. Hi Ruth Ann, your uncle Walter said in an oral history that if your grandmother had lived longer the financial problems that came later may not have happened. That said a great deal about her abilities.

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