by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This Sunday will be the 11th and final part of a long-running series of presentations on the Workman and Temple family history in greater Los Angeles. We began with how family members arrived in this area during the Mexican era and followed the thread of the tale by decade from the 1840s to the 1920s as the region went through tremendous transformations and family members experienced significant ups and down through the years.
There are several key reasons why the Homestead’s interpretive period is from 1830 to 1930. An obvious one is that it is a nice neat 100 years and easy to remember. Yet, there is also the fact that, during that century, members of the Workman and Temple family were involved in so many areas of greater Los Angeles life.
This actually goes back to 1828 when Jonathan Temple, a native of Reading, Massachusetts, settled in Los Angeles after a short stint in San Diego following several years in Hawaii. He was the second American to live in the remote and isolated pueblo on the northwestern frontier of México after Joseph Chapman and the first person to open a store there.
Over nearly three decades, Jonathan was prominent in business, politics, ranching and real estate development and had extensive connections in México before he moved to San Francisco during a period of drought, following major flooding, that ravaged the region. He left behind the 1844 two-story adobe at the Rancho Los Cerritos in what became Long Beach as well as his name on Temple Street, a modest one-block dirt lane that he established in the 1850s.
Jonathan’s half-brother, Pliny, who was 26 years younger came to Los Angeles in summer 1841 to meet his sibling for the first time and stayed to work in the elder Temple’s store. Four years later, he married Antonia Margarita Workman, who came to this area with her parents, Nicolasa Urioste and William Workman, from Taos, New Mexico, several months after Pliny settled here. Pliny, who took the baptismal name of Francisco immediately prior to taking the wedding vows and became known as F.P.F., went on to have a three-decade business partnership with his father-in-law.
This began with cattle and sheep raising on the ranchos La Puente and La Merced in the San Gabriel Valley, but extended to a wide array of business endeavors, especially after the Civil War years when, having survived those floods and drought, greater Los Angeles underwent its first significant and sustained period of growth and this inaugural boom included Temple and Workman engaged in banking, oil, railroads, real estate and other projects, though when the boom went bust, the most significant casualty and the first major business failure on record in Los Angeles was that of the two men’s Temple and Workman bank, which closed early in 1876.
A little more than a dozen years after the Workmans came to the area and settled at La Puente, William’s encouragement led his older brother David to bring his wife Nancy Hook and their three sons, Thomas, Elijah and William H., to the region after years in central Missouri—although David’s attempt to establish a store in Sacramento literally went up in flames when a fire destroyed most of the California state capital.
Arriving in October 1854, this branch of the Workman family settled in at the ranch, while David took responsibility for driving William’s cattle and sheep to the gold fields of central California. In just about nine months, however, tragedy struck when, in late June 1855, David fell to this death down a steep cliff while searching for a lost animal on one of these journeys. In November, he was the first documented person buried at his brother’s El Campo Santo Cemetery, which is still with us at the Homestead.
His widow and sons moved to Los Angeles, where the younger boys, Elijah and William H. became prominent business and political figures, particularly the latter, who was Los Angeles’ mayor in 1887 and 1888, the peak years of the great Boom of the Eighties that dwarfed the earlier one, and its city treasurer from 1901 to 1907, during which he issued the earliest bonds for the critical Los Angeles Aqueduct project.
By the 1920s, another generation of family members were involved in more key elements of local life. William H.’s son, Boyle, was his assistant in the aforementioned administrations and then went on to a prominent political perch as president of the Los Angeles City Council for much of the Roaring Twenties. Mary Julia, trained as a kindergarten teacher, was a leader in the Catholic Church’s Brownson Settlement House, which worked with immigrant women, and civil service in the Angel City.
A notable entertainment connection to the family came through William Workman and Nicolasas Urioste’s granddaughter (the youngest child of their son, Joseph, and his wife Josephine Belt), Josephine M. Workman. Having survived the tragedy of losing her first husband and her only child, a daughter, in the space of a couple of years, Josephine reinvented herself as Princess Mona Darkfeather, an early silent film star with a substantial following in the first half of the 1910s.
Then, there was the amazing story, almost a fairy-tale one you might see in a movie, of Walter P. Temple, his wife Laura González (the couple were clandestine teen lovers in the 1880s and then got married many years later, in 1903) and their four children, Thomas, Agnes, Walter, Jr. and Edgar. The family was living on a remnant of the Rancho La Merced lost by Walter’s father to “Lucky” Baldwin when, in spring 1914, a stunning discovery of oil was made by 9 year-old Thomas.
After a lease was executed with Standard Oil Company (California), the first Temple lease well in the Montebello oil field came into production at the end of June 1917 and a series of successors, including some gushers, brought the family a fortune of up to tens of thousands of dollars monthly. Almost immediately, they acquired the 75-acre Workman Homestead, what was left of nearly 25,000 acres after Baldwin took possession of the rest.
Over the next decade, Walter P. Temple launched oil and real estate development projects throughout greater Los Angeles and beyond, though, with the former, he was never able to replicate the success at Montebello, while, as to the latter, the boom-era mentality led to an aggressiveness that was not surprising but also a case of “too much, too soon.” This included the founding of the Town of Temple, renamed Temple City and which is celebrating its centennial this year.
Beyond all of that, the expense of having a fine residence at Alhambra and then heavy expenditures at the Homestead, capped by the five-year building of the mansion called La Casa Nueva, also took a heavy toll. Despite taking out bonds for Temple City and other real estate projects and a mortgage on La Casa Nueva, rapidly accumulating debt continued and, by the time the Great Depression hit in late 1929, there was no forestalling the financially inevitable. In April 1930, the Temples vacated the Homestead, their last real estate possession, and then lost that two years later as the Depression hit rock bottom.
Sunday, we’ll provide a more in-depth recap along these lines, as well as to follow some of the family’s activities after 1930. This includes, though not exclusively the lives of Boyle and Mary Julia Workman, as well as their second cousin, Thomas W. Temple II, as illustrations of how some members maintained a public presence beyond our interpretive period, even as there was a gradual diminishing of this over time.
Boyle Workman was in his early sixties when the 1930s began and he’d left politics after a failed primary campaign for Los Angeles mayor in 1927. Yet, with his long residency in the Angel City and his keen interest, not to mention his name recognition and excellent reputation, he devoted several years to writing his The City That Grew, a chronicle of Los Angeles history that was published early in 1936.
Following the tradition of such predecessors as Horace Bell (Reminiscences of a Ranger, 1881, and the posthumous On the Old West Coast, 1930), Harris Newmark (Sixty Years in Southern California, 1916 and subsequent editions and reprintings), and Jackson Graves (My Seventy Years in California, 1927), Workman wrote of the many people and events that he felt were the most important to illustrate the development of the city over his lifetime.
Not unlike his father, who died in 1918, Workman was frequently called upon to share his knowledge of local history in many presentations or was quoted in news article for his recollection of days gone by. He was so well-known that, virtually every year, articles came out in celebration of his birthdays and, when he died in 1942, he was remembered as one of the most notable Angel City citizens of his time.
Mary Julia, who was three years younger, outlived her brother by more than two decades, but she also kept a remarkable pace in her myriad activities after 1930. She remained a key figure in Roman Catholic circles, including the Catholic Association of International Peace and the Archdiocese Council of Catholic Women, while she was frequently remembered for nearly two decades of overseeing the Brownson House, especially when it celebrated its 50th anniversary i 1951.
She was particularly politically active with the Democratic Party, including a women’s forum and Woman’s Democratic League, support for many candidates for office including radio addresses and involvement with causes like water supply, charter reform and labor issues. She was also a prominent local figure with the Los Angeles chapter of the League of Women Voters. With a strong interest in international relations, Mary Julia was involved in a conference on Inter-American relations, as well as, for many years the regional chapter of the League of Nations Association and, during the early years of World War II before the American entry into that conflict, a Allies Aid Group.
There was more, but, suffice it to say, that she had seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for all manner of social and political causes until not all that long before her death in 1964. When she passed away, Mary Julia was lionized for roughly six decades of involvement in an impressive array of activities in the Angel City—about half of that during our interpretive time frame and the other half beyond it.
Thomas W. Temple II was from a generation below Boyle and Mary Julia Workman, though their paths crossed occasionally after 1930. Having graduated the prior summer from the rigorous and prestigious course of study at the Harvard University law school, Thomas decided that he would forego a legal career (as well as banking, which he considered), and pursued his passion for history and genealogy. In fact, in April 1930, as his family left the Homestead, he was making some of his earliest presentations on those topics.
Through much of the Thirties, he had special permission from Roman Catholic leaders to research the fragile and challenging to transcribe and translate mission records, while he also wrote articles and participated in the publication of books on local and state history. In 1931, as Los Angeles prepared to celebrate its 150th birthday, he was credited for confirming the city’s birthdate of 4 September 1781.
Becoming the historian of the Mission San Gabriel and the city of that name, Thomas made a modest living by also taking commissions to work on the genealogies of families and, while there have been many questions about his work, he deserves recognition for being among the first in that field. He and his wife, Gabriela Quiroz, who was the first woman police officer in the Mission City, were also widely-known for their many activities at the mission, including an annual Pioneer Reception, their involvement in the September fiestas celebrating its founding, and others.
While he was stricken with cancer, Thomas literally willed himself to stay alive for the mission’s bicentennial in 1971 and then succumbed to the disease just four months later. For his service of four decades, he was given the then-unique honor of being buried in the Campo Santo with clergy members adjacent to the historic stone church. Fifty years later, he is still remembered for his devotion to San Gabriel, as well as to the Workman and Temple family history.
If this brief preview has whetted your appetite for more, please join us at the Homestead this Sunday at 2 p.m. for The Summing Up of All Parts: The Workman and Temple Family and Greater Los Angeles History, 1830-1930. We hope to see you there.