by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In his fun and freewheeling, though frequently factually flawed, 1881 memoir, Reminiscences of a Ranger, Horace Bell claimed that he was presented with the books of the failed Temple and Workman bank by the second assignee, George E. Long, because the latter told the former, “you are prone to expose wrong-doing and rascality” and then added “you can do with them as you will.”
Bell claimed he gave the documents to historian Hubert Howe Bancroft as “the truth of the Temple-Workman affair could find the widest publicity” in Bancroft’s massive History of California series, but professed to be astonished when not a word or reference to these invaluable financial papers was mentioned. Not only that, but the books apparently vanished and have been lost for nearly 150 years.
Long’s predecessors as assignees of the stricken financial institution were Edward F. Spence, a long-time and widely respected banker, and Daniel Freeman, who seems to have been chosen by creditors to the bank because of his association with F.P.F. Temple in a number of endeavors, ranging from the Union social club to the formation of the Los Angeles Board of Brokers to the establishment of the Centinela tract project.
Today’s featured object from the Museum’s collection, one of the few surviving (so far as we know, anyway) artifacts from the institution, is a cancelled check from Temple and Workman, made out by Freeman for $110 to a recipient whose name appears to read “Antonio Latelle Orcha,” though no one of that name could be located in a search. While it would be interesting to know who the gent is who received the money, we’ll focus instead on Freeman, who was one of the more prominent personages in Los Angeles in the last quarter (1875-1900) of the 19th century.
Freeman was born the second of ten children of Daniel and Isabella Bailey in Nissouri, near London, Ontario, Canada, roughly between Toronto and Detroit, in 1837. In a genealogy which he paid for and which was completed in 1901, his ancestry was traced back five generations to an Edward Freeman, born in London in 1670 and who emigrated to New Jersey, settling in Woodbridge Township across from Staten Island. Freeman’s grandfather, Daniel, was ordinated a Methodist minister and was sent by the Baltimore conference to western Ontario in 1801, where Freeman’s father, Daniel Wesley, was born.
Of his father, Freeman wrote in the genealogy that he was “a successful and scientific farmer” at his place called “The Cedars,” while also serving as superintendent of schools and a justice of the peace. His mother, Isabella Bailey, was the child of a Methodist minister from London in Ontario and had French Huguenot ancestors who fled to Ireland as well as ancestry from Scotland. Freeman added to his publication that his elder brother John was a long-time Liberal Party member in the Ontario provincial parliament.
Later, he resided in the township of Bayham, to the southeast along the shore of Lake Erie, and, after a brief period as a teacher, he studied law with Samuel Black Freeman, though nothing was said about any relation, (some sources state that Freeman attended Osgoode Hall, a law school in Toronto, but he did not mention this in his short biography) and was admitted to bar in 1864. While he practiced as a “barrister,” as attorneys are known in the British system, he also had business interests at Port Burwell, including a shipbuilding firm and his work as an insurance agent there.
In 1866, Freeman married Catherine Christie, the daughter of a Royal Navy captain and who was born in nearby Vienna. with whom he had three children, Archibald (born in London), Charles and Grace (the latter two born at Port Burwell). In his 1901 genealogical statement, Freeman stated that “the poor health of his wife compelled him to seek a warmer climate for her,” in 1873 the couple and their children came straight to California, quickly coming from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where they executed a lease for land southwest of the city—there are sources that indicate the family went to South Carolina, Georgia and the San Diego County mining town of Julian, but he did not say anything about these places.
Then again, Freeman kept his autobiography extremely brief, only adding that “he went to California, bought a large rancho near Los Angeles, where he became a successful farmer and horticulturist,” as well as president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and a director of the Southern California Railway Company, a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe system, “ever since the latter road entered California.” Naturally, his story over the course of 45 years was more complicated, involved and interesting than that, so we’ll offer something of a summary of that period. It should be added that other accounts suggest that Charles Nordhoff’s well-known 1873 book California: For Health, Pleasure and Residence is what inspired the relocation the next day after the Freemans saw the tome.
The 26 April 1873 edition of the Los Angeles Star recorded in the “Deeds Filed” section that, in the name of Catherine Freeman, an agreement was made to lease with the intent to purchase, for $150,000, a very substantial sum for the period in this region, “the ranchos Sausal Redondo and Centinella [sic], inclusive of 200 acres of other land,” this latter called the “Stuart Tract.” This was with the provision that the conveyance happen by 1 September 1875, with interest accruing on the $150,000 until that date.
The arrangement was made with Sir Robert Burnett, who purchased the Rancho Aguaje de la Centinela from attorney and political power figure Joseph Lancaster Brent in 1860 and then the Rancho Sausal Redondo eight years later, the two comprising 25,000 acres and sometimes referred together under the latter name. Burnett and his wife returned to Scotland so he could assume control of inherited properties as became the 11th Baronet of Leys, so the lease arrangement was made with the Freemans.
As Clay Stalls, formerly the Curator of California and Hispanic Collections at the Huntington Library, has found, the Freemans contracted a mortgage in late January 1873 from a life insurance company (perhaps the one with which Daniel was associated as an agent?) for $3,000. Stalls surmised that the money was borrowed because of financial problems they had at Port Burwell and observed that the lease and intent to buy, a smart angle for an attorney to take, with Burnett for Centinela and Sausal Redondo was put in Catherine’s name as a way to shield Daniel’s assets against creditors.
Moreover, Stalls found that Catherine’s will, executed in spring 1874 with an amendment in the summer, left any of her property to the three young Freeman children, with their father as administrator while they remained minors (which would be for some years), while she also stated that lease for the ranchos was to pass directly to her husband and gave Daniel the power to dispose of the properties as he chose, with some applicability to existing trusts. By fall, Freeman inaugurated efforts to develop what became the Centinela colony by contacting a San Francisco firm, the California Immigrant Union, which was developing the Lompoc project north of Santa Barbara.
In late November, the Centinela Land Company was formed and Freeman partnered with Los Angeles County Bank President Jonathan S. Slauson, who became the firm’s treasurer and was a major investor in local real estate including in what later became Azusa; Ozro W. Childs, a nursery owner and investor in land and development projects; lumber company co-owner John M. Griffith, also a director of the county bank; and, as president of the concern, F.P.F. Temple, whose father-in-law and silent partner in their namesake bank, William Workman, was de facto involved in the myriad of business enterprises Temple undertook during the frenzy of the region’s first boom, which lasted from 1868 to 1875.
The establishment of the Centinela enterprise took place about two weeks after Catherine Freeman’s death from the ravages of the tuberculosis that led the couple to migrate to Los Angeles. The project, which included grand plans for a wharf where Ballona Creek empties into the Pacific at Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey and the Los Angeles and Pacific Railroad to run to that locale, pressed on with abundant (if not over-hyped) praise lavished upon it by J. Ross Browne, a writer and promoter of note, as well as the Angel City newspapers.
A heavily promoted auction at the Centinela site and in Los Angeles took place in February 1875 with additional promotion into the spring, but ominous signs soon appeared, including the collapse of the California Immigrant Union. While there were reports of some building and purported progress with other developments at Centinela, the startling collapse of the state economy, which seemed largely immune from the national depression that burst forth in 1873, leading to the eventual failure of the Temple and Workman bank, only made the questionable circumstances of the project even more debatable.
As late as fall 1877, there were efforts by purchasers of Centinela land to band together to seek some form of relief and, ironically, a meeting was scheduled at the Temple Block, which F.P.F. Temple largely built and owned and where the late bank was housed. The fact that Freeman joined Spence as assignee for the institution on behalf of creditors is quite interesting, but there is no known evidence that he did anything untoward.
Stalls understandably questioned whether the Centinela scheme was a shady venture, though he is careful to evaluate that term by the standards (lacking as they were) of the time when it came to real estate (and other) speculation that was largely left unregulated by local, state and national governments that usually operated within a laissez-faire philosophy. He also posited that there was no clear ownership of the ranches when the project was undertaken and that the “rush job” for the colony included Freeman not informing Burnett of the development plans until March 1875 and the fact that stock subscriptions were to be used to pay for the ranches—at best, it can be argued that the enterprise was an enormous gamble under murky pretenses.
Whatever the shortcomings of the Centinela enterprise, Freeman (who never remarried) continued on with his lease arrangement with Burnett, which means his ranging of sheep and planting of wheat, for which he was amply recognized along with the other major growers in the region, the San Fernando Valley partnership of Lankershim and Van Nuys, provided him enough income to make the lease payments to the Scottish baronet.
As Stalls noted, Freeman was part- owner of the Rancho La Cienega o Paso de la Tijera, which he acquired in 1875 from former sheriff Tomás Sánchez with partners Arthur J. Hutchinson, Temple and the latter’s managing bank cashier Henry S. Ledyard. This property wound up in the hands of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who began investing in greater Los Angeles real estate with the purchase of the Rancho Santa Anita in the San Gabriel Valley and then, seeing the financial difficulties facing Temple and Workman, acquired the adjacent Rancho San Francisquito, as well as picking up La Cienega.
After Baldwin’s death, his daughters were the beneficiaries of large oil deposits in what became known as the Baldwin Hills, while they also reaped a windfall in the Montebello Hills on the Rancho La Merced, acquired by foreclosure of mortgages made for a loan to the Temple and Workman Bank—though Temple’s son, Walter, managed to share in the proceeds on 60 acres he acquired from the Baldwin estate.
Returning to Centinela, the demise of that scheme was followed by lease extensions by Freeman with Burnett, including one in 1879 for $4,000 yearly and another in April 1882 an agreement was made between the two for the latter to convey the Centinela, Sausal Redondo and Stuart properties by the first of 1886 for $140,000 with “4 per cent per annum” apparently denoting the lease amount until that date. In May 1882, Freeman advertised for the sale of 22,000 acres of Sausal Redondo lands and, while there was some slow improvement in the local economy at the time, the timing was not quite right for major transactions there, even with another effort the following year.
In March 1885, another transaction was recorded by which Burnett was to convey nearly 13,000 acres of Sausal Redondo to Freeman for just north of $55,000, while two men were simultaneously to acquire tracts from Freeman directly and, in the name of his late wife, for even amounts just south of $44,000. In May, Burnett sold additional land on the ranch to Freeman for $22,000 and this was followed, in October, by another agreement by which Burnett and his wife Matilda conveyed the two ranches and Stuart tract to Freeman for the previously agreed-upon price of $140,000. The same year, as noted by Stalls, Freeman settled a legal dispute related to that 1873 mortgage taken out in Canada by finally paying it off.
Here again, timing seemed propitious for Freeman as it seemed to be in 1873-1874 because the completion of the Santa Fe’s direct transcontinental railroad line to the region in December 1885, along with other factors, ushered in the great Boom of the Eighties. As the population surged with tens of thousands of new arrivals to greater Los Angeles and real estate prices skyrocketed amid rampant speculation and the feverish activity of the boom, Freeman found new partners for projects on the ranches.
Among them were the recently arrived Charles Silent, who was an Arizona Territory Supreme Court justice and mining capitalist and one of his partners there, Nathan Vail, and a group of locals including Abram E. Pomeroy (a founder of the Puente tract in 1885, as well as Pismo Beach in central California); Silent’s law partner and former member of Congress, Sherman O. Houghton; William N. Monroe, the creator of the new town of Monrovia; Leonard J. Rose, a neighbor of Monroe with his Sunny Slope Ranch and the namesake of Rosemead; and Marion M. Bovard, the first president of the University of Southern California, founded in 1880.
The Centinela-Inglewood Company was launched and the town of Inglewood arose out of the long dormant and cold ashes of the Centinela subdivision. As befits boom-time boosting, newspaper articles and advertisements promoted the project with all the purple prose pertaining to such endeavors, with rumors that former western explorer and presidential candidate John C. Frémont, who was well-remembered for his relations with locals in the American seizure of Mexican California four decades prior, would settle in the new town. Moreover, Freeman offered a large amount of cash and land, as did the company for the “Freeman College of Applied Sciences” branch of USC at Inglewood, though this ambitious effort failed to materialize.
Meanwhile, most of the same syndicate of investors formed the Redondo Beach Company and the seaside burg of that name was developed in tandem with Inglewood, but with a different bent towards tourism befitting its prime coastal location and centered around the large and beautiful Hotel Redondo, which opened in 1890. By that time, however, the inevitable bust came by 1889, and it affected both projects as was the case with so many other “boom towns” throughout greater Los Angeles. One of the strange ties to the 1870s boom and bust was that Temple and Workman managing cashier, Henry S. Ledyard, who fled the area in disgrace after that institution’s ignominious implosion, became involved at Redondo Beach, but he committed suicide there in November 1890.
Freeman, however, bounced back yet again. Though he assumed the ownership of most of the Inglewood land and worked with his sons and son-in-law, fellow Canada native Charles H. Howland, on continuing its management and development, his standing in the Los Angeles business community actually accelerated during the often-turbulent times of the so-called Gay Nineties.
A founding member of the second edition of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce when it launched in 1888, he led an initiative to get a permanent regional exhibit in Chicago, where the Columbian Exposition/World’s Fair was to be held in 1893, and, using his position with the Southern California Railway and its parent company, the Santa Fe, provided immeasurable pull to promote the region at that pivotal event. It was no accident that he was elected to be president of the increasingly powerful and influential Chamber in 1893 and 1894, while he was also a founder and early president of the elite California Club, launched in 1887.
In 1891, he built the three-story Freeman Building at the northwest corner of Spring and Sixth streets, which was outside the commercial district, but soon would be very valuable—he sold the property a little more than a decade later and it was razed after only two decades for a bank building that still stands. He also established a large brick manufacturing business and owned a steamship that imported coal from British Columbia.
By 1895, one unusual measure of Freeman’s standing in Los Angeles was when artist Toshio Aoki created caricatures of Angel City luminaries in Japanese costume for the 17 February issue of the Herald and offered his take on them. With respect to Freeman, Aoki wrote (whether the broken English was real or not),
He is big man [Freeman towered over most people then at 6’2″]—big heart—big brain. So I make him big leader and give him the sword and the cap and the gown of one great Japanese man . . . You call him Duke of the Inglewood? . . . He had much lands and great property, you say? That is good; so much I see in his face . . .
The paper added that Freeman was “a prince of raconteurs, and a nabob of entertainers,” in fact, he frequently threw banquets for events and prominent people, served on committees to welcome important guests to Los Angeles, and was an honorary pallbearer for a number of Angel City elite men.
There were no shortage of legal tussles with Freeman on either side of the “versus” including frequent filings against purchasers of Inglewood land who were unable to fulfill their end of the deal when the boom went bust, while he and the company were often sued. One notable case went on for five years after a Pennsylvania man claimed he was fleeced by Freeman and associates under the presumption that the proposed USC college would increase the gent’s property values and enhance his investment (echoes of Centinela, perhaps?). The case went to the state Supreme Court and coverage in the Times of 31 May 1899 called it “A Relic of the Boom” with Freeman emerging victorious.
In 1892, as a rapidly growing Los Angeles desperately needed an outfall sewer to the Pacific and determined that the easiest and cheapest route was through Freeman’s Inglewood domain, there were conflicts over compensation for the right-of-way, followed by claims for damages to livestock and crops by shoddily constructed sections and more. The issues went on for at last fifteen years and a prior post here noted city treasurer and former mayor William H. Workman’s involvement in issuing bonds for outfall sewer improvements during his tenure from 1901 to 1907. The Hyperion water reclamation plant operates as this system today.
By then, in the early years of the 20th century, a new boom was underway and Inglewood got a second wind with significant growth in subsequent decades. In his final years, Freeman was referred to as the “Laird [Lord] of Inglewood” and spent more time at his large house, built in 1891 after years of residing in an adobe house built by the Avila family and now known as the Centinela Adobe, and which was razed in 1972.
His son Charles, who served in the 35th Infantry of the United States invading force in the Philippines from 1899-1901, died several years later while still in his thirties. The other son, Archibald, left the country, living in Paris for years, and was left nothing in his father’s will because, it stated, he’d received plenty of funds previously—he committed suicide in 1931 while living in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
When Freeman died in September 1918, the Times ran an obituary that went through much of his history, though it left out many of the legal issues and other details noted above. A few weeks later, it devoted some significant space to the capitalist’s will, with the estate valued at between $800,000 to $1 million. The largest share went to a granddaughter in San Francisco, with large bequests to other family members and USC (of which Freeman was a long-time trustee, hence the proposed college), while daughter Grace Howland received a share worth around $100,000.
Grace, divorced in later years from Charles and without any children, ended up giving the Freeman estate at Inglewood to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, a Roman Catholic order, for the Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital, long an institution in Inglewood, but which closed in 2007 with the buildings razed a little over a decade later.
The history of Daniel Freeman, as can easily be seen even from this summary, was a great deal more complicated his expected selective autobiographical statement, as well as many online sources. Clay Stalls’s review of the Centinela project is especially noteworthy for its impressive review of the Freemans and the endeavor but also as a case study for boom-time behavior. This Temple and Workman bank check is a small, innocuous artifact, but its signature by Freeman was a way to get into more of the remarkable story of this complicated local figure.