Making a Statement: A Report of Receipts and Disbursements for Walter P. Temple, 21 April to 30 June 1923

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Yesterday’s “Reading Between the Lines” post noted that Workman and Temple family letters in the Museum’s collection are a very valuable source of information as we interpret their history. Today’s latest installment of “Making a Statement,” which has focused on financial statements pertaining to Walter P. Temple’s revenues and expenditures, is another example of how these family documents provide us important specific insights into how his economic activity transpired in the years after the stunning discovery of oil on the family’s Montebello-area ranch brought them significant wealth after the summer of 1917.

In this case, the statement for this post is from a two-month period between 21 April and 30 June 1923, which was an especially interesting and important time for the Temple family. Walter’s wife, Laura, died at the end of the prior year and her passing not only had the obvious devastating effect on her husband and four surviving children, but also had a notable impact on the family’s plans, as, during 1923, her widow decided to move from their Alhambra house to the Homestead.

In addition, however, Laura demonstrated, from the time that she was a teenager helping to run the Homestead in the 1880s when Walter’s brother Francis was its owner, but was occasionally absent seeking treatment for the tuberculosis that claimed his life, that she had considerable business acumen. I remember quite well her son, Walter, Jr., telling me that, after his mother died, the family’s financial situation changed without her presence.

As noted in a recent post here, there was considerable activity taking place with Walter, Sr.’s real estate development interests during 1922-1923, including in Alhambra, El Monte, San Gabriel and, especially, his Town of Temple (renamed Temple City in 1928). This is certainly reflected in the financial statement and there was a broader issue at play from about this time forward: namely, receipts were declining, principally because of lessening returns from the Temple oil lease at the Montebello field as production dropped significantly in the highly productive, yet shallow field, while expenditures grew dramatically on more oil drilling, as well as real estate development and the construction of La Casa Nueva, which began in 1922 and stretched all the way until the end of 1927.

This is starkly reflected in this document. There was nearly $36,000 in monies received during that two-month period, but more than a third of that, over $13,200, came from what is only stated as “Account of Principal” and from William S. Turner, a Hollywood real estate developer, but it is not known what this sum involved. The next largest amount, however, was the royalty from Standard Oil Company (California) for the Temple lease wells and this was for a little north of $5,800, including oil and gas and $867 for rental of property there. This was a far cry from the tens of thousands of dollars monthly brought in from those wells just a few years earlier and is reflective of the problem of income.

Otherwise, sources of revenue included $3,000 from Richard Garvey, Jr., whose father was a prominent figure in the San Gabriel Valley, including as an agent for “Lucky” Baldwin and as a founding figure of what became Monterey Park concerning the purchase of property likely in that town and sums of $2,000 and $1,000 for payments on principal from San Gabriel contractor Frank H. Whyte, Alhambra contractor Beaumont Crossland and oil industry engineer, John T. Worthington—with these dealing with Temple’s construction work in those two cities and with oil endeavors in Whittier, which is where Worthington resided. Another amount for not far below $2,000 was to F.M. Guitteau, but for what is not known, though a Frank M. Guitteau was a local painter, so he may have worked on one of Temple’s building project.

There were also quite a few payments received for rentals of retail spaces in structures built and owned by Temple, with the largest amounts, totaling $668 monthly, being for the Temple Theatre and the adjacent Utter and Sons mortuary in Alhambra. Most of the other rentals also appear to have been in that city and in San Gabriel.

Additionally, there were many interest payments on loans, including to quite a few friends and business associates, including to Worthington and Crossland, Paul Peters (who did woodworking at La Casa Nueva), San Gabriel barber Victor Torres, whose shop was in Temple’s Arcade Building in that city and who later founded the well-known El Poche Café; Temple’s attorney George H. Woodruff; Montebello resident Lula Temple, whose husband William appears to have been no relation to Walter; Alhambra auto dealer and garage owner E. Chester Woodard, whose interest and principal payment was more than $560; to Puente banker George Lower and a partner; and Monterey Park resident Henry Lussow, whose payments were $535. Walter’s generosity is not all that surprising, given that many of his associates felt that his wealth would easily allow for him to render them assistance.

There was also some revenue from interest on stocks and bonds, and dividends and royalties on other oil property, including those owned by the Talbert Oil Company and monies received for the oil lease of lands owned by the late Julia Davis Cruz, who was very closely connected to the Temple family from the mid-19th century until her death in 1917 (just prior to the wells being brought into production), very close to the Temple lease and also where Walter and his family lived for more than six decades. Another source of income were payments made to the Temple children (Thomas, Agnes, Walter Jr., and Edgar) through life insurance policies.

So long, though, as expenditures were kept under revenues or only occasionally exceeding them, there would be no problem, but the issue was that many of the financial statements showed excess disbursements and this one was far over income with just shy of $55,000 paid out, nearly $20,000 more than funds taken in. The largest amounts were to those contractors, Whyte, who built the San Gabriel Arcade building, and Crossland, who constructed the Utter and Sons mortuary, with over $7,000 going to the former and over $5,000 paid out to the latter. There were also large expenses of more than $2,500 for lumber, glass and other material for the Arcade edifice. Architects Albert R. Walker and Percy Eisen, who designed many of Temple’s commercial buildings and worked on the first plans for La Casa Nueva, were paid $330 for their services.

On loans, Harry Chisholm, whose family owned a Pasadena nursery and who rented an apartment from Temple, had $6,000 in loans made to him, presumably for the purpose of operating his billiard parlor. Mary Zorraquinos, whose son, Juan, Jr., was, with his wife Juanita Vigare, niece of Laura Temple, the principal dancer and choreographer of the Mission Play at San Gabriel, also received a loan of $1100. Juanita Vigare’s sister Conchita and her husband John Alvarado, also borrowed nearly $600. Walter’s niece, Marguerite Guthrie, whose mother was Margarita Temple Rowland, was loaned $2000. Fred Wilkerson, whose connection to Temple is not known, borrowed $900. The total for loans was well in excess of $10,000, this being more than a quarter of what was brought in as income.

County taxes and those for Laura’s estate totaled over $2,500; legal fees incurred by Woodruff amounted to $1,000; an account for Laura at Feagans and Company, a well-known Los Angeles jewelry store, totaled $1,500; doctor’s bills totaled $1,300; payment for an oil lease property was $1,000; monies expended to realtor Thomas Berry for a commercial building in Monterey Park involved $1,200; real estate commissions of $1,000 were paid for sold properties; Walter had hundreds of dollars in clothing expenses; and more than $3,000 was paid for the Homestead, including payments for the purchase made in late 1917, the construction of a house for Walter’s sister Margarita, plaster work, and a small amount for the “new house.” Here was more than $13,000.

Other personal expenses for Walter, his children, his business manager Milton Kauffman (including expenses for the grave marker of Kauffman’s brother, Joseph, who was killed in action in France during the First World War), his sister-in-law Nettie Temple (widow of Walter’s oldest sibling, Thomas) and Walter’s nephew Charles, whose University of Southern California dental school tuition and supplies and housing was covered by his uncle were notable. So, too, were insurance premium payments; salaries for several employees; automobile expenses, including the purchase of a Cadillac; and payments to Walter’s brother-in-law, Manuel Zuñiga, husband of Lucinda Temple, involved thousands more dollars.

There were many more expenditures of generally small amounts, but spanning four pages they definitely add up, especially considering that deficit of income, and many of the payments are labeled “Expense Personal” and involved household purchases as well as those at stores for family needs and wants. In quite a few cases, there is a parenthetical note of “EAP Check,” this referring to Elmer A. Potter, who handled much of the day-to-day business operations of the Temple estate. The cash balance left to Temple was under $20,000, almost certainly an insufficient reserve considering how much money his estate was handling.

A native of Sharon, Pennsylvania, on the Ohio border northwest of Pittsburgh and close to Youngstown in the Buckeye State, Potter worked for his blacksmith father in the Keystone State as well as in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles. After operating a blacksmith shop of his own in San Gabriel, Potter, who was quite involved in the Mission City’s small, but growing business community and was treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce, turned to real estate after he relocated to Alhambra.

He may well have represented Temple in some early transactions in that city before coming to work for what was soon formalized as the Temple Estate Company. He remained as a real estate agent on the side, but the collapse of his boss’s finances by the time the Great Depression burst forth in 1929, led Potter to eventually take work with the California Conservation Corps and the United States Forestry Service, as Depression-era New Deal programs provided funding for hiring out-of-work Americans.

Potter spent several years working and living in Big Dalton Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Glendora, though he also found employment during World War II with Douglas Aircraft Corporation in Long Beach, along with many thousands of others, including Walter P. Temple, Jr. Stricken with brain cancer just after the war’s end, Potter died in 1947.

These financial statements, as noted above, are really very helpful for better understanding the economic situation of Walter P. Temple and his family during the 1920s, as their astounding ascendancy to wealth was followed by ambitious plans for furthering that through oil and real estate. These inherently risky speculative ventures, however, can lead to a rapid draining of funds, especially, as we see with the Temples, when expenditures too greatly outpace revenue.

The issuance of bonds in 1926 for the Temple Estate and Temple Townsite companies, though, was not able to stem the tide of mounting debt, leading to the aforementioned financial problems that beset Temple and his associates like Kauffman, Woodruff and Temple Townsite investor Sylvester Dupuy, as well as employees like Potter.

There were, however, a great many stories like these in greater Los Angeles and America broadly during that era, so Temple’s tribulations were part of a larger narrative about booms and busts, not unlike what happened to his father, F.P.F. Temple, and grandfather, William Workman, about half a century before during the 1870s. In large measure, this is what makes the Workman and Temple family so interesting and instructive and documents from the Museum’s collection like this statement thereby prove to be invaluable.

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