Making a Statement: Walter P. Temple’s Land Account, 1 April 1915

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Thanks to numerous donations by Workman and Temple family members over the years, we’ve been able to develop a better understanding of the family’s history and the featured artifact from the Museum’s collection for this post is another outstanding example. Previous contributions to the “Making a Statement” series on the blog have highlighted financial statements of Walter P. Temple after the astounding fortune derived after summer 1917 from oil found by his young son, Thomas W. II, on their Montebello-area ranch was realized.

This one, however, is from prior to that time and is a “land account” dated 1 April 1915. This was just about a year after the nine-year-old’s fortuitous discovery on a 60-acre parcel comprising the northeast corner of the Montebello Hills and flat land on the west side of the Río Hondo (the old course of the San Gabriel River.) While a lease was executed in 1915 with Standard Oil Company (California) which resulted in the drilling of the first well, brought into production in June 1917, the Temples were still two years away from becoming the beneficiaries of Thomas’ “lucky strike.”

Hiram A. Unruh (1845-1916), business manager and executor of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, from his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, 1 December 1916.

They were, though, residing on the property, which was acquired in October 1912 from the estate of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, the multi-millionaire who loaned the Temple and Workman bank nearly $350,000 in late 1875 and then, after the institution failed, foreclosed on the loan in 1879. Among the tens of thousands of acres of which Baldwin took possession was almost all of the Rancho La Merced, jointly owned by F.P.F. Temple and Juan Matias Sánchez, the latter agreeing on Baldwin’s insistence as a condition of the loan to put his half as collateral for the loan, including the land where the oil was located.

After Baldwin’s death in 1909, his business manager, Hiram A. Unruh (1845-1916), performed a phenomenal job in disposing of the estate in such a way that millions were added to it to the benefit of the principal heirs, Baldwin’s daughters Clara and Anita (who were further enriched by the finding of oil both at the Montebello Hills and the Baldwin Hills, this latter also part of the 1875 bank loan.) They were so grateful for Unruh’s services that it was reported he was paid well above $100,000 as a bonus in addition to whatever he earned for his work.

Times, 24 August 1913.

The 1912 sale of the 60 acres by executor Unruh to Temple was something of a mystery in that the latter reportedly did not have the cash to buy the tract outright and some financing arrangement was made, while it was also said that Temple had assistance in engineering the deal by his friend Milton Kauffman. As prior posts here have noted, Kauffman, who ran a store with his father in El Monte, as well as a real estate and investment firm based in Los Angeles, became Temple’s business manager.

It also turns out, however, that Kauffman had business dealings with Unruh and, particularly, with the latter’s son David (1873-1942), who was a classmate of future president Herbert Hoover at Stanford University and who studied civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kauffman and David Unruh had a real estate business together not long before this statement was created with a major project of theirs being hundreds of acres, formerly part of Rancho La Puente and a mile south of Covina, about where Interstate 10 is now, for a development called Valencia Heights, focused, as the name indicates, on citrus growing parcels.

Times, 1 January 1914.

Moreover, Kauffman was the owner and developer of much of what became Baldwin Park, also situated on the Rancho La Puente, as well as a large tract known as Highway Square in the southwest part of Monrovia, south of Fallingleaf Avenue, better known to us as Huntington Drive and through which Interstate 210 passes. All of these properties were acquired through the Baldwin estate as administered by Hiram Unruh, with David, of course, being involved, as well.

So, it is hardly surprising to find, on the first page of this land account, references to 70 acres purchased from the senior Unruh and which was at the northeastern corner of Rancho La Merced, adjacent to the 50-acre Temple Homestead, where Walter grew up and which he sold when he bought the property where the oil was found. The 70 acres mentioned in the document fronted what was called Siphon Road, but which was the eastern extension of San Gabriel Boulevard and which formerly crossed the San Gabriel River and connected with Workman Mill Road on that watercourse’s east side near today’s Rose Hills Memorial Park.

Monrovia News, 24 February 1915.

As the statement shows, Hiram Unruh was paid almost $18,000 for the property, while interest, taxes and escrow fees pushed the total investment cost to not far under $20,000. The tract was then sold to three men, Lafayette A. Walker, who acquired 15 acres for $4,500; Bernhard Nomann, who purchased 20 acres for $9,500; and Battista Ciocca, who bought 35 acres for $14,000. The three men came from disparate backgrounds with Walker (1859-1938) hailing from Nashville, though he spent much of his youth in Oregon with his farming family. At the end of the 19th century he was at Bryn Mawr near Redlands and then spent some time in Inyo County.

In 1908, Walker and his family came to the Whittier area and settled on land off the “Mill Puente Road,” which is today’s Workman Mill Road near Rose Hills Cemetery and Rio Hondo College, where he raised walnuts. Evidently, his acquisition of the 15 acres was to expand his enterprise with that crop. Later, he moved to uptown Whittier and focused on grain and stock raising ad then had a fruit farm at Oceanside. He died about a week and a half after Walter Temple in Whittier in November 1938.

News, 18 May 1915.

Nomann (1889-1970) was born to German immigrants in Gifford, Illinois, near Champaign, but spent much of his early life at Lake, Iowa, northwest of Des Moines, where he married Lena Harms in 1911. Nomann came to this area just around the time he bought his 20 acres from Kauffman and Temple and he set his land to walnuts, as well, and a brother, Hie, settled in Whittier, where the parents soon migrated. Nomann continued to raise walnuts on his Siphon Road property until the 1940s and it is likely that the coddly moth infestation that devastated the industry destroyed his groves. In the 1950 census, Nomann was listed as a punch press operator for a tool and die and metal stamping business, but remained in his house on the ranch.

Ciocca (1875-1954) was born in a little town in northwestern Italy north of Milan and very close to the border with Switzerland. He married Angelina Canozzi, who was from an adjoining community and the couple migrated to America in 1902 and soon wound up in Los Angeles. They farmed in the Mid-City area along Pico Boulevard as well as off Adams Boulevard in the Palms district, prior to acquiring his 35 acres adjoining Nomann on the west. Unlike Walker and Nomann, however, Ciocca operated a dairy, of which there were several in what was long known as the Misión Vieja or Old Mission community.

An interesting little tidbit concerning Ciocca is that, in 1914, when he registered to vote soon after becoming an American citizen at the start of the year, he declared his affiliation with the Socialist Party, which gained quite a bit of support in greater Los Angeles during those years (Job Harriman, candidate for Los Angeles mayor in 1911, could well have won office had it not been for the domestic terrorist bombing of the Los Angeles Times bombing the prior year.) By 1916, however, he’d switched over to the Republican Party, which became the dominant political party in the region and nation in succeeding years.

It is not known if Walker held onto his 15 acres for all that long, but Ciocca and Nomann remained on their ranches into the 1950s. It seems almost certain, however, that they were forced to sell their land to the federal government so that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could undertake the construction of the Whittier Narrows Dam. Ciocca, in fact, relocated his dairy to the Avocado Heights area, just a little west of the Homestead, and was working and living on Lomitas Avenue between 3rd and 4th avenues, when he died.

The sale of the 70 acres to the three men yielded a profit to Kauffman and Temple of over $8,200 with the former getting a little under 40% and the latter just north of 60%, reflecting, it is assumed, the proportion to which they contributed to the purchase from Unruh. A general listing of credits of Temple, totaling almost $13,500 is also shown on the first page, including about $4,000 for the walnut crops of 1911 and 1912 at the family homestead before that was sold and the relocation to the future oil property took place.

A vague “credit from land” totaling just a bit above $5,000 is also reflected, along with a credit note for about half that from Kauffman, dated 12 December 1914, but nothing was stated about what these specifically involved. Also of note was nearly $1,400 in rent from Japanese tenant farmers, who were unable because of the racist Alien Land Law from owning property in California. When Temple acquired the Workman Homestead in late 1917, a Japanese farmer known only as “K. Yatsuda” had a lease on it that lasted through the end of the following year. Other monies received were from Southern California Edison, perhaps for an easement rental, and from Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company.

The remaining nine pages of the statement concern expenses paid out by Temple from May 1911 to the end of March 1915, though another two pages were subsequently appended that were from March 1915 to March 1916. Dates, the names of payees and amounts are provided, but no indication of what the payouts were for. Some of the larger amounts, none was higher than $460 paid to David Unruh, were to Jacob M. Steinart, a native of Downey and who grew up in Westminster, in what became Orange County, where his father was a merchant. Steinart followed in that profession and ran a store in El Monte during the Teens and Twenties before moving to Indio in Riverside County.

Pacific Mutual also received some of the larger payments, while one of the bigger amounts went to walnut rancher Lewis H. Davidson, who was in El Monte and later Rowland Heights. A good many amounts, generally small ones, were paid to Alberto Vignolo’s Los Angeles grocery. Others receiving multiple payments were former county assistant district attorney and Temple’s personal lawyer Johnstone Jones (who was later hired to write the Workman and Temple family history but whose health left him unable to continue the project); Roy Farmer, whose walnut grove was next to the 70-acre tract; Nacho Ramirez, likely a laborer on Temple’s land; and Whittier contractor and builder Sylvester J. Cook, who later worked on the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum and La Casa Nueva at the Homestead.

Utility bills; payments to the Durfee Ditch and Water Company, which likely supplied water to the Temple ranch; the Golden State Fruit Company, which may have been a cooperative accepting Temple’s produce and which had monthly dues or fees; businesses in El Monte and Whittier, such as bakeries, meat markets and laundries; the San Gabriel Vineyard Company; and Ganahl Lumber were among other payees. Family and friends were also frequently sent money, including Temple’s mother-in-law Francisca Valenzuela, brother-in-law Francisco González and sister-in-law Luz Vigare, and members of the Zuñiga, Manzanares, Davis, Didier, Verdugo, and Tafoya families. Several payments were made to Walter’s brother William, who returned to the area after years in México and spent his remaining years until his 1917 death in hospitals with Walter’s financial support.

The seventh page noted that the credit amount of just shy of $13,500 was partially offset by “amount expended by Milton Kauffman to April 1, 1915,” but this included just over $12,000 from all of the listings partially covered by the references above, with a balance of $1,365 due to Temple. What this seems to mean is that Kauffman acted as Temple’s agent in paying bills, because the last two pages of payments (new ones include cash to buy firecrackers for the 4th of July 1915 and others are for a piano teacher, as well as over $400 in interest paid to Joseph Mullender, married to Clara Baldwin Stocker’s daughter, Rosebud), largely more of the same types of expenditures, extending another year was for just over $1,900 and, taking the $1,365 into account, the final balance shown was not quite $550 owed to Kauffman for his work in handling expenses.

The important part of the statement largely is with the 70-acre property transaction and the further revelation about Milton Kauffman’s connections with the Unruhs and how that factored into Temple acquiring the oil property that brought him significant wealth (Unruh, incidentally, died in 1916 shortly before the first well was brought in on the Baldwin portion of the Montebello Hills). It is another piece of evidence to show how crucial Kauffman really was for Temple’s future immense stroke of luck, even as the two wound up in dire financial straits later through oil and real estate development in the Roaring Twenties. While Temple died without much to his name, Kauffman experienced a late-in-life revival when he became one of greater Los Angeles’ biggest tract home developers after World War II, showing that history certainly can demonstrate significant changes in fortune.

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