The Summing Up of All Parts Postview: “Pioneers Not Usurpers” in a Workman Family Protest About a Characterization of Early Boyle Heights, 1949

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This afternoon’s “The Summing Up of All Parts” presentation, the eleventh and final one in a series about the history of the Workman and Temple family in greater Los Angeles, was a combination look at what members did in the years after our interpretive period of 1830 to 1930 ended and a summation of some of the more notable elements of their history in the region.

For the first part, the discussion was about the varied paths of Walter P. Temple and his four children (Thomas, Agnes, Walter, Jr. and Edgar) and their continuingly disintegrating financial situation led him to, in spring 1930, lease the 92-acre Homestead to the Golden State Military Academy. This included the elder Temple’s moving to Ensenada, Baja California, México in an attempt to save money while he hoped to somehow save the ranch, though, in July 1932, the property was lost in a foreclosure by the California Bank.

Agnes, newly married to rancher Luis P. Fatjo, a former college roommate of Thomas, lived with her husband, daughter and son in northern California, mainly in San Francisco and at her husband’s ranch east of Gilroy, until her death from cancer in 1961. Walter, Jr. remained close to the Homestead, settling in Puente where he lived his wife, Puente native Nellie Didier, and their daughter. Having lived longer than his siblings, he was very involved in the Homestead’s restoration and donated and loaned artifacts, as well as frequently visited, until his death in 1998.

A circa 1936 snapshot of Walter P. Temple.

Edgar settled in Los Angeles, married Rose Achin in 1932 and they had one child, Edgar, Jr. He worked as a mechanic, including for Douglas Aircraft and, after he and Rose divorced, he moved to Oklahoma City, where he married Hazel Shaw. The couple moved to Los Angeles, where he continued his work in the aircraft industry, and they had three children. After retirement, Edgar and Hazel moved to Norco in Riverside County, where he died in 1977.

Thomas, after graduating from the rigorous program at Harvard University Law School, decided against taking the California state bar exam and also abandoned an idea of going into banking, instead pursuing a career as a genealogist and historian. In April 1930, he gave a talk to the influential Friday Morning Club, largely comprised of prominently Los Angeles women, on the Workman and Temple family history. The following year, as the Angel City celebrated its 150th birthday, his research was used to define the metropolis’ birthday as 4 September.

The first person to systematically mine the records of the California missions, which proved challenging because of their fragile condition and the archaic Spanish in which most of it was written, Temple offered his services to those wanting to document their family history, including persons seeking to demonstrate that they had native American ancestry. As the field became more professionalized and systematic and others covered the same ground, Temple’s work was sometimes found to have errors, some significant, but, during his lifetime, he was well-regarded for his research findings.

From left to right are Walter P. Temple, Jr., Agnes Temple, Walter P. Temple, Sr., and Lawrence F. Lewis (proprietor of the Golden State Military Academy.) The Temples visited their former house, La Casa Nueva, when this circa 1932 image was taken.

Married just after his father’s death in November 1938, to Gabriela Quiroz, Thomas became the historian of the mission and the city of San Gabriel and was joined by Gabriela in hosting a pioneer reception for descendants of early regional residents held in conjunction with the September fiesta marking the 1771 founding of Mission San Gabriel. The couple were also involved in many events and activities there, while Gabriela also achieved distinction as the first woman police officer in the city’s department.

Though he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Thomas willed himself to stay alive for the September 1971 bicentennial celebration of the Mission’s founding, helping to plan and organize events and hosting the pioneer reception one last time. Four months later, he succumbed to the disease and received the signal honor of being the first layperson to be buried with the clergy in the yard adjacent to the historic stone church.

The talk also went into some detail about members of the Workman family, particularly the siblings Boyle and Mary Julia, whose father William H. was mayor of Los Angeles in 1887 and 1888 and its treasurer from 1901 to 1907 and who were both very active in politics and civic activities during the first three decades of the 20th century.

A circa 1936 gathering, probably in [La] Puente, and including, seated first and second from left Agnes and Edgar Temple, fourth and sixth, Gabriela Qurioz Temple, Thomas W. Temple, and Walter P. Temple, Sr., and standing third and fourth from left, Walter P. Temple, Jr. and Nellie Didier Temple. Behind Thomas is Walter, Sr.’s long-time companion, Modesta (Maud) Bassity.

After 1930, Boyle, whose last flirtation with politics was a failed run for mayor three years prior, turned to a long-standing interest in history, something he shared with his late father. Several years of work yielded his 1936 book, The City That Grew, which was well-received and in the tradition of predecessors like Horace Bell, Harris Newmark and Jackson Graves.

In fact, most press references to Boyle in the Thirties and early Forties were about his recollections of the history of his hometown, whether formal presentations to community groups or informal chats with people on the streets of the city. His birthdays were always cause for comment in the press and, when he died on Christmas Day 1942, he was lionized for his deep knowledge of Los Angeles and its history.

Mary Julia continued with a remarkably busy spate of civic, political, religious and social activities after 1930, including Democratic Party politics, world affairs such as her long-time service as secretary of the Southern California chapter of the Leagues of Nations Association, labor issues, women’s clubs and organizations, and much more.

Boyle Workman sharing his book, The City That Grew, with his nephews, sons of his youngest sibling, Thomas, including seated left, Henry, standing, David, standing next to Boyle, and, seated on his uncle’s lap, Richard. The photo, from the Workman Family Collection, is from 1936.

President for almost two decades of the Brownson House, a Roman Catholic facility providing Americanization education and training for poor families, most comprised of recent immigrants, Mary Julia was feted by Los Angeles newspapers for her early efforts when the 50th anniversary of the organization was celebrated in 1951.

A 1961 article about the 90-year old civic leader referred to her as “Miss Mary” and as something of a surrogate mother to the children of the Angel City. Given her advanced age, it is no surprise that her activity slowed considerably, but, when she died in 1964, she was fondly remembered for her many contributions to the city where she was born and raised.

An interesting side-note in the Workman family history came in summer 1949 when the Los Angeles Daily News made reference to Boyle Heights, the eastside neighborhood founded nearly seventy-five years earlier by William H., along with banker Isaias W. Hellman and merchant John Lazzarovich.

Mary Julia Workman, seated at center, and othes associated with the 50th anniversary of the Brownson House, The Tidings, 2 March 1951.

The paper, incidentally, was owned by Manchester Boddy, a journalist of long-standing whose La Cañada-Flintridge estate is now the well-known Descanso Gardens and who was a Democratic primary candidate for United States Senator in 1950 against Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas.

Feeling she was far too liberal, Boddy took to calling Douglas, who was supported by Mary Julia, the “Pink Lady,” as in not quite being Communist, but too close for his taste. Though she won the primary, her Republican opponent, Representative Richard M. Nixon, seized on the label and effectively used it to win the contest—for her part, Douglas coined a moniker for Nixon that proved to be prophetic more than two decades later as she referred to him as “Tricky Dick.”

The 25 July 1949 article was actually about mob boss Mickey Cohen, who was born in New York City, but spent much of his youth in Boyle Heights, where his mother resettled after Cohen’s father died. Authors John Clarke and Joseph Saldana sought to establish the setting for the gangster’s upbringing by writing

Before the turn of the century that flat lands leveling away from the eastern bluffs of the Los Angeles River were the homesites of only the most influential and affluent Yanqui citizens.

Successors to and usurpers of the titles, property and privileges of the Spanish masters of an earlier culture, they fashioned spacious estates for themselves atop the far bluffs, decorously removed from the dusty, dirty, still shabby little town . . .

Boyle Heights ([named] after one its most industrious and influential proprietary families) was conceived and laid out as the exclusive residential preserve of the community’s elite—then and in the future.

The authors followed by asserting that “the boom was a hollow and illusory thing” by 1903, though there was much more to the nearly three decades from the founding to that point, including the rough start to Boyle Heights after the bust of 1875-1876, then the great boom of the Eighties during William H. Workman’s mayoral term, some tough years in the 1890s along with some significant growth, a new boom in the first years of the 20th century and then its tailing off.

Boyle Workman with former Los Angeles City Council secretary L. Dorothy Smythe at the dedication to a plaque commemorating the centennial of the Rowland and Workman Expedition, Hollywood Citizen-News, 5 November 1941.

By 1910, Clarke and Saldana continued, the neighborhood’s “proud inheritance of well-to-do homogeneity” dissipated and “a fresh influx of newcomers” came who were “a wholly heterogeneous cross-section of all the peoples the remote remainder of America had to spill forth.” These included laborers and lower middle class folks from East Coast cities and “large segments of ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities, both foreign-born and first-generation Americans” who “gravitated, great numbers of them, to Boyle Heights.”

The writers went on that “into this polyglot . . . was Mrs. Fanny Cohen, widowed mother of six youngsters,” the youngest of whom was the future mobster.” The article then went into some of the early history of Mickey Cohen, including his family’s straitened financial situation and his work as a paperboy, competitive boxer and so on as precursors to his notorious future career as a gangster boss, who succeeded “Bugsy” Siegel as kingpin after the latter was killed in 1947.

In the editorial page of the 29 August edition of the paper, under the heading of “Pioneers not usurpers,” was an indignant response to the characterization of early Boyle Heights by three of the children of founder William H. Workman—these were Mary Julia, William H., Jr. and Thomas. Apparently abashed by the Workman siblings’ letter, Boddy commented that the rapid growth of Los Angeles involved “the submerging (temporarily, we hope) of the history, the traditions, and many other sustaining values that constitute the ‘soul’ of a community.”

Los Angeles Daily News, 25 July 1949.

The publisher and editor added that he hoped to repair damage done in the Cohen piece, noting “no opportunity to protect and keep alive the true record of the building of our city should be overlooked,” so “we are grateful for the opportunity to publish the following letter from one of the city’s most distinguished families.” That missive from the Workmans began with their “astonishment and regret” about the “fictitious interpretation of the early history of Boyle Heights” and their desire to provide “the true story” of how their grandfather, Andrew Boyle, settled at what was then known as Paredon Blanco (White Bluff.)

The siblings wrote that Boyle’s “relations with his Spanish speaking neighbors were characterized by mutual respect and helpfulness” and that “this friendly spirit became a family tradition, and it survives today among his descendants and those of his neighbors.” They pointed out that, in 1859 (most sources suggest the prior year), Boyle purchased 22 acres from José Rubio for $4,000, half the land being atop the bluff and the other half, comprising vineyards planted in 1835, on the “flats” adjacent to the river. The following year (written as 1859, but almost certainly 1860), Boyle bought an additional 20 acres.

Later, the trio continued, Boyle acquired more property east of these 42 acres “when the city offered the land for sale at public auction,” these being so-called “donation lots” of 35 acres each surveyed by Henry Hancock and including everything to the eastern limits of the original “pueblo grant” of 1781. They observed that city records documented these transactions, including those of others, like John E. Hollenbeck, who, with his wife, Elizabeth Hatsfeldt, moved to Boyle Heights when it was still a nascent subdivision.

Daily News, 29 August 1949.

After discussing some of the history of their grandfather as well as that of their father in his development of the community, Mary Julia, William H., Jr. and Thomas concluded,

It is to be regretted that such words as “usurpers” should be used in connection with the pioneers of that early day who acquired their land in a perfectly honorable manner and who worked unselfishly for the common good in the little pueblo of Los Angeles.

We are sure that Boyle Workman, our older brother, who was named for his grandfather, would join with us in this brief history if he were living today.

They subscribed themselves “with confidence in your desire to know the truth and to make it known when there is an appropriate occasion” and their missive certainly struck a chord with Boddy, given his response! We are going to offer a couple more “postviews” in the next couple of days based on newspaper articles concerning Mary Julia Workman and Thomas W. Temple II, so be sure to check back for those!

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