by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Today was the reopening of the Temple City Historical Museum and it was a pleasure to be there with our friends from the Temple City Historical Society as they had a ribbon-cutting and opened the remodeled exhibit space, housed in the Women’s Club building near the city hall and Temple City Park. Next year is the centennial of Temple City and, as we get closer to the landmark in the city’s history, this seems as good a time as any to introduce a little-known precursor, the short-lived townsite of Sunny Slope Acres.
When Walter P. Temple announced in May 1923 that he was founding the Town of Temple, a community named in honor of his family and which, five years later, was renamed Temple City, the 285-acre tract was on the former Rancho San Francisquito, the western two-thirds of which were owned by Temple’s father, F.P.F. Temple, grandfather William Workman and Lewis Wolfskill, son of early Los Angeles notable, William Wolfskill.
In October 1875, with the Temple and Workman bank in dire straits and badly needing cash to stave off its closure and inevitable bankruptcy, Temple and Workman convinced Wolfskill to sell the tract, totaling near 6,000 acres, to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin for $60,000. Many years later, a portion of that property was purchased by the Burkhard Investment Company, a family-owned real estate company founded by Joseph Heronimus Burkhard (1848-1928), one of those “rags to riches” success stories that have characterized, too simply, the epitome of the American Dream.
Burkhard was from Boden, Germany, northwest of Frankfurt, which he often claimed was his birthplace, and almost nothing is known of his life there (Germany was not unified until 1870). In the first days of 1871, he was on the steamship Siberia when it sailed from England to Boston, but, within a short time, he ended up in East Portland, then a separate city across the Multnomah River from Portland, Oregon. Within a couple of years he married Flora Neff and the couple had two sons and two daughters.
Burkhard was listed in the 1880 federal census as a butcher and it is said that he parlayed that common working-class occupation into a financial windfall when he organized the sale of meat to Alaska and Asia and then got into real estate and banking, including the firm of Burkhard and O’Day with the former and the East Portland Savings Bank with the latter. He built his self-named commercial building on the bustling Burnside Avenue, just east of the bridge bearing that name that connected Portland with East Portland—the latter was annexed to the former in 1891.
The year prior to that union, however, Burkhard and his family relocated to Los Angeles. The authors of a photo book on the West Adams neighborhood, a prominent place for the elite in the Angel City at the end of the 19th century, stated that, after returning from a trip to Europe (likely including a visit home after two decades away), Burkhard was in New York pondering whether to return to Oregon or head to Los Angeles and based his decision on the flip of a coin. Having hit the same side five straight times, the migration to the Angel City was, apparently, thusly decided!
Almost immediately, Burkhard began buying large amounts of property in downtown, as well as areas to the southwest and west, where expansion was beginning to take place and would only accelerate as the 19th century came to an end and the 20th ensued. He built a large house in what was called “Banker’s Row” on Hoover Street at 28th Street, just north of the University of Southern California.
As he expanded his real estate enterprise, built another substantial residence at Wilshire Boulevard at Vermont Avenue before, in 1912 just after his wife’s death (he married again that year), buying a rural tract in northeast Pasadena, where he resided the rest of his life. 1912 was also the year he, three of his children and another man incorporated the Burkhard Investment Company.
He had development projects near Santa Monica and Ocean Park, on the Rancho Rincon de los Bueyes (whose recent owner, José de Arnaz, was the father-in-law of Lucinda Temple, Walter’s sister, before her alcoholic husband, Manuel Arnaz, vanished, leaving her to divorce him on the grounds of desertion), the West Adams and Jefferson Street tract and others. He owned the southwest corner of 7th and Olive streets, a prime property for the rapidly growing downtown business district and, in the early 1920s, leased out his Figueroa Street parcel for the construction of the exclusive Jonathan Club.
Additionally, he became the president of the Commercial National Bank, which, in the 1920s, was acquired by the Bank of Italy (later, the Bank of America,) of which he became a director. He was also the chief executive for many years of the Occidental Life Insurance Company, while also was a director of the German-American Trust and Savings Bank (this made sense given his homeland.)
Burkhard, who was assisted in the family real estate business by his sons Herman and John, purchased the former Rancho San Francisquito land as far back as about 1908, if one source cited below was correct. On 28 December 1921, just a few days after Walter Temple celebrated his first real estate project, the Temple Theatre in Alhambra, Burkhard and Lee H. Stodder, a local realtor, met with the directors of the city’s chamber of commerce.
The Alhambra edition of the Pasadena Post of the 30th reported that the two men “presented plans for the big subdivision of 670 acres east of San Gabriel, which is soon to be placed on the market” and which was “to be known as Sunnyslope Acres.” The name came from the Sunny Slope Ranch or Farm of Leonard J. Rose (also a German, being from Bavaria) and the Sunny Slope Water Company, organized in 1895, was the supplier of that precious fluid for the new tract along with much of the nearby area.
The account recorded that a tract office was to be built “at the end of the Pacific Electric [streetcar] line” on Main Street/Las Tunas Boulevard, “on [at] San Gabriel boulevard, and the Burkhard company will construct an 80-foot [wide] boulevard from that point to the acreage, a distance of two miles.” It was added that the Pacific Electric Railway was contemplating extending the line to Baldwin Avenue, which apparently was the east end of the Sunny Slope Acres property.
Also noted was that the new town would have lots of a half-acre and an acre; that electricity, gas and water were to be provided; and that “the property will be restricted.” This latter, in effect virtually everywhere in greater Los Angeles excepting a few areas, meant that only “persons of the Caucasian race” could buy in the subdivision. Plans were made for a major campaign to advertise and promote Sunny Slope Acres and that “Alhambra will receive much publicity during the campaign, as all prospective buyers will be taken through the city” and it was to be highlighted in the advertising. Moreover, it was continued,
With the extension of the boulevard through to Baldwin avenue, a big territory will be opened to this city which will be of immense value to business here. Thousands of people will pass through Alhambra on their way to the tract. An effort will be made to have the name of Las Tunas drive changed to Main street, as a continuation of this street in Alhambra. This, if accomplished, will be of additional benefit to this city. The extension of the road to Baldwin avenue will mean easy access from Los Angeles and the west, through Alhambra, to the foothill cities on the east.
The Los Angeles Times of 8 January 1922 reported that Stodder’s newly-incorporated real estate firm, the exclusive agents for all Burkhard Investment Company holdings of some 10,000 acres, was to handle all of that property. The first tract to go under its management was “about 625 acres at East Alhambra, between Alhambra and San Gabriel,” but this was somewhat in error because the more detailed Post account specified clearly that the Sunny Slope Acres tract was two miles east of San Gabriel Boulevard on what remained Las Tunas Drive (the Main Street change being foresworn) and it is just about exactly that distance to Temple City Park.
It is likely, however, that some of Sunny Slope Acres was in the San Gabriel portion east of the boulevard of that name up to what became Rosemead Boulevard, now basically the west boundary of Temple City The Times also observed that lots were to be from a quarter-acre up and noted that “arrangements have been completed, it is stated, for the extension of the Pacific Electric line through the property.”
Advertisements for Sunny Slope Acres began appearing in local newspapers by the end of that month. One in the Times of the 29th announced the official opening of the tract and featured a vignette of a good-sized two-story residence amid wide-open spaces with the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains and the sun rising in the east, as well. It was stated that the tract was two miles from Alhambra and, as was the case elsewhere in the region as the “small farm” movement was commonplace, prospective buyers could look forward to ownership of a parcel where they could “Enjoy Fresh Vegetables, Fruit, Eggs and Milk.”
Moreover, the piece proclaimed that an owner could “get the sweets when they’re sweetest—instead of second-hand and second rate” among “ideal surroundings and living conditions, close to nature and close to work in the finest city in the world,” this latter, of course, being Los Angeles. Taxes were lower in county jurisdictions and residents could “save living costs by an hour or two of healthful exercise each day in your own garden and among your own trees or with your own fine poultry.”
What better place could there be to “rear your children in a wholesome atmosphere” because
The more children we raise close to nature, in healthful, wholesome surroundings, the better off this nation will be and the stronger will be our family lines when records and history are made. That is what made this country what it is—living in, conquering and loving the big outdoors. Your children can have all the advantages of both country and city.
With the aforementioned community amenities of electricity, gas and water as well as cement curbs and “gravel and oil” streets, as well as a minimum of a $2,500 residence, readers were informed that prices for half-acre to acre lots ranged from $900 to $2,500 on easy terms. The company intended to build ten houses immediately and would construct one for a buyer for that minimum price, adding that it would cost $500 more if an owner did it on their own. An accompanying article basically reiterated what was in the ad, though it was stated that negotiations for the PE extension were underway and the distance to Alhambra was judged to be 1 1/2 miles.
Another ad a few days later used the tagline, “A Homesite with an Income,” adding “you have often dreamed of owning a suburban homesite where you can raise chickens, all kinds of fruits, vegetables, etc.; in fact, really make a GOOD living!” Sunny Slope Acres, it was proclaimed, “offers an opportunity for real independence.” Emphasizing proximity to the Angel City, it was noted that the trolley to downtown Los Angeles took 40 minutes, or an auto trip could make it in 25.
In its edition of 11 February, the Los Angeles Express ran a short article on the project, with the historical observation that “lands held intact since the days they comprised part of the vineyards of the mission fathers of San Gabriel have just been subdivided for suburban home sites . . . under the name of Sunny Slope Acres.” Also described as 1 1/2 miles east of Alhambra, the parcel was further identified as “said to be the last of the close-in acreage available for suburban homes with sufficient land to warrant gardens, fruits, poultry and other products in sufficient quantity to give an independent income.”
Moreover, it was averred that such tracts had been selling for years at between $5,000 and $10,000 an acre. Notably, the piece continued that “the Burkhard Investment Company has held Sunny Slope Acres intact for 15 years” and added that “in earlier days it comprised the famous Sunny Slope vineyards, noted for their abundance of high-quality grapes.” Finally, it was asserted that “demand for such sites is said to be keener than for a number of years back,” and it was true that greater Los Angeles was, in the early 1920s, undergoing another one of its fabulous booms, this one peaking in 1923.
Yet, while it was claimed that the announcement of the opening of the tract “brought immediate response and numerous sales” with prospective buyers contacting the company by mail from Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, nothing more of substance was found for more than a year. It was on 10 May 1923 that Walter P. Temple announced that close to 300 acres, or not far under half the Sunny Slope Acres property, was acquired for $500,000 from the Burkhard Investment Company—this appearing to comprise the eastern section of the tract—for the development of the Town of Temple.
With that, we’ll bring this precursor post to a close and return in 2023 with follow-ups that will continue the story into the centennial year, so be sure to look for those as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Temple City!