by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Today was another one of those double duty days with the Homestead having a booth at a street event in Boyle Heights, the Los Angeles neighborhood established in spring 1875 by William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste, along with banker Isaias W. Hellman (former banking partner of William Workman and F.P.F. Temple) and John Lazzarovich, as well as a talk to the Native Sons of the Golden West on the Workman and Temple family’s long ties to San Gabriel, where the presentation was given.
This post focuses on the San Gabriel angle, specifically featuring a circa 1924 pamphlet put out by the Mission City’s chamber of commerce to promote the community, which was part of a heavily growing western San Gabriel Valley. In the Roaring Twenties, Walter P. Temple was one of main developers of San Gabriel, so the brochure is an excellent companion to his involvement there, as well as an interesting example of selling the town with virtually every community around having a similar piece of literature.
The Workman and Temple family connection to San Gabriel goes back to the end of the Mexican era. Just after the Workmans arrived from New Mexico, John Rowland, the business partner and close friend of William Workman for about fifteen years, petitioned in early 1842 for a land grant to Rancho La Puente, east of the Mission. Despite vehement protests by the priests at San Gabriel that they were using the rancho, established for mission use as early as a half-century prior, for raising livestock, the grant was approved by Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, and Workman, though not officially an owner until La Puente was expanded and regranted by Pío Pico three years later, built the adobe house that still stands at the Homestead.
On 19 February 1844, William and Nicolasa Workman were married in a double wedding with Benjamin D. Wilson and Ramona Yorba—even though the Workmans were together in a common-law relationship dating back to the late 1820s in Taos, New Mexico. Over the decades, there were many baptisms, weddings, funerals and other sacraments in which the family took part at the Mission.
In late spring 1846, just before the American invasion and seizure of Mexican California, Governor Pío Pico, who assumed that office after a February 1845 battle with Governor Manuel Micheltorena at Cahuenga Pass with Workman the captain of Pico’s foreign (Anglo) volunteers, granted the Mission property, given that San Gabriel was secularized more than a decade before, to Workman and Hugo Reid.
When Congress, in March 1851, created a land claims act for California land grants made under Spain and México and established a three-person commission to hear evidence, Reid and Workman submitted their claim. Reid died at that time and there were others who assumed his half-share, but, while the claim was approved by the commission and local federal district court judges, the United States Supreme Court, in 1864, overturned these rulings, determining that Pico had no authority to make the grant.
Also in 1851, Workman, having recently acquired, by foreclosure of a loan (this happened to him a quarter century later involving “Lucky” Baldwin and a loan to the failed Temple and Workman bank in Los Angeles) to Casilda Soto de Lobo, the Rancho La Merced, he turned over the 2,363-acre property, just west of La Puente, to his ranch foreman Juan Matias Sánchez and to his son-in-law F.P.F. Temple, husband of Antonia Margarita Workman.
The couple built an adobe house on the northeastern corner of La Merced (Sánchez occupied Lobo’s adobe on a bluff overlooking the old San Gabriel River, which we know as the Río Hondo) and the Temples resided on the ranch for about 65 years. The area was long known as Misión Vieja, or Old Mission, because the original site of Mission San Gabriel was in this Whittier Narrows location, next to the river. The problem was flooding and so within just a few years, about 1774-1775, the mission was moved to its current spot, though the Old Mission community arose there decades later.
After the collapse of the Temple and Workman bank and loss of almost all of the family’s fortune and land, a 50-acre homestead was sold by Baldwin to the Temples and ended up in the hands of Walter P. Temple by around 1905. Several years later, in October 1912, however, he sold the Homestead to a Wisconsin couple and purchased about 60 acres not far to the west—this new holding was lost by his father to Baldwin in the loan foreclosure and was sold to Temple by Baldwin’s estate executor and nephew. Temple couldn’t purchase it outright, so financing was arranged.
About a year-and-a-half later, in April 1914, Temple’s oldest child, Thomas, was playing with friends on the northeastern edge of the Montebello Hills, on what his father grandiosely called “Temple Heights,” and found oil. A lease with Standard Oil Company (California) was arranged the next year and the first well brought into production in June 1917. Four years later, for the sesquicentennial (150th birthday) of the Mission, Temple had a plaque placed on a corner of his property, by then leased entirely to Standard, to mark the site of the original Mission San Gabriel. While this locale, at the southwestern corner of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue, is a state historic landmark, the mission was actually across San Gabriel Boulevard and next to the Río Hondo—the monument was only placed where it was because Temple happened to own that piece of ground!
The Temples were closely tied to the Mission and, when they moved from their oil lease property late in 1917, they selected a large Craftsman house in east Alhambra just a short distance from the Mission. For that July 1921 sesquicentennial event, the Temples took part in a pageant celebrating San Gabriel and they were already supporters of John Steven McGroarty’s Mission Play, a heavily romanticized and pro-missionary work that opened in 1912 in a playhouse near the Mission.
The Temples also had direct personal ties to principals in the play. Walter’s wife, Laura González, a native like he of the Misión Vieja community, had a sister, Luz Vigare, who resided in a late 1700s adobe house just south of the Mission, and her daughter, Juanita, was the choreographer and main dancer, with her husband Juan Zorraquinos. Another daughter Lupe was a dancer for many years, as well, while other family had minor roles in the piece. A recent donation by Lupe’s daughter, Gloria Ballard, of a treasure trove of photos and other items from the Mission Play, was recently featured on this blog.
When the popularity of the Mission Play led to a drive to build a larger, grander venue for its performances, an association was established to oversee the effort and Walter’s business partner, Milton Kauffman, served as a director. The two largest individual donations of $15,000 each were made by Temple and transportation and real estate tycoon and renowned books, manuscripts and art collector Henry E. Huntington for the Mission Playhouse, which opened in 1927.
Temple’s involvement in San Gabriel was greatly amplified in the early 1920s when he purchased land directly across from the Mission and built three separate structures, including a single-story Arcade Building, the two-story Temple Building, and a one-story post office and city library. At the east end of the tract was a lot he donated to San Gabriel for a new city hall, designed by architects Walker and Eisen, who worked on many of Temple’s business buildings as well as the early stages of La Casa Nueva, the family house at the Homestead.
The work was completed by the mid-Twenties and not long before this pamphlet was issued, with the brochure containing a photo, titled “Mission Drive and City Hall” showing most of Temple’s commercial buildings as well as City Hall. One panel provided basic information on the town, which was incorporated in 1913 and which had an estimated population of 5,000, and it mentioned that “the new City Hall, just completed, provides adequate quarters for all City departments, including the Chamber of Commerce” and that it cost some $70,000. The dedication was on 12 February 1924, so the pamphlet may have been produced as the Chamber was ready to move into its new quarters in the administrative building.
Another pair of panels quote from an unidentified newspaper journalist who was quoted as opining that the Mission City “has a site that is unsurpassed for beauty, natural advantages and healthfulness,” though which local municipality didn’t make this claim. He added that it was on the lines of the Southern Pacific railroad and Pacific Electric streetcar system a was within a half hour drive of downtown Los Angeles, “the metropolis of the Southwest.” San Gabriel, moreover, “is at the gateway of one of the most beautiful and fertile valleys of Southern California” and “possesses a climate that is unequalled anywhere in the world.”
Low taxes, good roads, and efficient municipal government, “residences and ‘show places’ that are the admiration of every visitor,” a “standard of citizenship that never has been excelled by any other city or town,” fertile soil on par with any in California,” and more were also touted. In a section labeled “Just to Inform You About San Gabriel” it was stated that Collis P. Huntington, Henry’s uncle and tutor in the ways of capitalism, was quoted as having said that “Southern California is the Cream of the World, and the San Gabriel Valley is the Cream of Southern California.” To this, it was averred that San Gabriel was in the midst of the cream of the valley.
The trifecta of natural advantages cited included soil that was “a deep, rich loam of marvelous productivity;” a climate that was “second to no locality within the State” including cooling breezes through Coyote Pass, located to the southwest in the hills near Monterey Park, and which allowed for better orange and lemon groves than many locales; and “water resources [which] are abundant for all time” and of a quality which “alone should be the determining factor for one’s choice of San Gabriel as a place for one’s home.”
There was also a two-panel section titled “Home of the Mission Play” and which began by lauding “the wonderfully colorful pageant-drama portraying the history of the California Missions” and which was asserted to have “been witnessed by more people than any other dramatic production of all time.” Moreover, there was to “the new half-million dollar theater” that was architecturally “a replica on a large scale of one of the old Missions” and which was to be “the city’s most imposing structure.”
There were other featured elements on these two panels, including “Opportunities,” which played up the city’s closeness to Los Angeles and its job centers, meaning that San Gabriel was “a desirable residential city” as excellent transportation, with reiteration of the Southern Pacific and Pacific Electric systems’ services, meant that “many of our citizens go to business or to work at their trade in Los Angeles daily.” Others were working “in agriculture, horticulture and poultry raising with large success.”
Under the heading of “To Serve You” mentioned that there were three banks and “practically all lines of retail merchandising, having stores and markets [that are] a credit to any city.” Two school opened in the previous year, new paved streets, a revamped water supply system and the new city hall were also noted among “municipal improvements to add to the comfort” of San Gabriel’s denizens.
Finally, “Your Are Invited” welcomed the homemaker, “whether the home you build be large or small” and added that “our environs are good . . . good schools, churches, clubs and features to meet all requirements.” With “Alhambra, that bustling city,” where Temple was actively building in its downtown, to the west and San Marino, on the north, being “the wonder of the west for its magnificent homes and hotels,” it was concluded that “there is a reason.”
In addition to the photo of Mission Drive mentioned above, other images were of an aerial view of part of the valley, the woman’s clubhouse, the country club, houses of diverse types, business buildings, and schools. A map placed San Gabriel at the center of that “hub” noted above, with distances shown to many regional cities from Santa Monica to Redlands and from Pasadena to Balboa. One panel was an invitation to readers to write a letter to chamber’s secretary who “will bring you information on any feature not covered by this folder.”
Temple’s investment in San Gabriel continued to the end of the Roaring Twenties, when his worsening financial situation led him to sell his properties in the Mission City and everywhere else in which he had built and developed. Next year marks the centennial of most of the projects in which he was engaged in the town and we’ll look to go into some more of that story in future posts, so be sure to look out for those.