by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the aftermath of the early 1876 collapse of the Temple and Workman bank, which comprised the first large-scale business failure in Los Angeles history, it went into assignment so that an inventory could be taken and then steps taken to deal with debtors to realize what could be from the situation for the benefit of the firm’s creditors. Edward F. Spence, cashier of the recently opened Los Angeles Commercial Bank, and Daniel Freeman, a partner of F.P.F. Temple in the Centinela subdivision project, which ended up going under during this time, were appointed as assignees.
The inventory, released early in February, starkly exposed the sorry state of affairs of Temple and Workman, but, despite the fact that San Francisco capitalist Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, by virtue of loans totaling just above $340,000 to the stricken bank, held a blanket mortgage on most of the asserts of Temple and his silent partner and father-in-law, William Workman, there were still hopes that there could be enough cobbled together in calling in loans and by other means that creditors would salvage something.
Among those who was on an advisory committee to Freeman and Spence was George E. Long, who later succeeded the two men as assignee, while Baldwin’s local representative was Richard Garvey. They figure as two of the key characters in this post, which features, from the Museum’s collection, a bill issued to Garvey by the title search firm of Judson, Gillette and Gibson on 1 September 1880 and which has direct connections to the Temple and Workman debacle.
As to the firm, it was launched in October 1877, succeeding another with Judson, Gillette and a different partner. Albert H. Judson (1838-1906) was a native of Portland, New York, situated along Lake Erie, southwest of Buffalo and northeast of Erie, Pennsylvania. He was a teacher and civil engineer and served in the 168th New York Infantry for the Union Army in the Civil War after getting his degree at the Albany Law School and being admitted to the bar. Judson was practicing law in Dunkirk, not far from his hometown, when he moved to California, perhaps for his health, and settled at San Leandro, where he hung his shingle and edited a local newspaper.
After two years, Judson headed south for Los Angeles and, while he opened a law office, he could see that, with the red-hot real estate market during the region’s first boom, which began in 1868, there was a need for an abstract and title company and he established Judson and Fleming, soon succeeded by a partnership with Jeffrey W. Gillette and, then, with Gibson. In 1885, Judson left the business, though he remained its legal counsel for a couple of years. By then, the great Boom of the Eighties was underway, so Judson dove in headfirst in real estate speculation.
As is so often the case (such as with Temple and Workman during the first boom), Judson’s investments were subject to great risk and “like many another operator of those days,” an obituary in the Los Angeles Times observed, “financial reverses overtook him.” While he remained a licensed attorney, his last years were difficult, including an estrangement from his wife and three sons and worsening ataxia, a disorder of the part of the brain controlling muscle function. After his death in December 1906, the Times commented that “twice fortune smiled upon him and he was almost a millionaire,” though “when he saw his wealth slipping away during the boom days of the ’80s,” Judson deeded his surviving property to his wife.
Gillette was born in Elmira, in southcentral New York, and, after graduating from the nearby Alfred University in 1855, migrated to Kansas, around the time of the “Bleeding Kansas” crisis erupted over the question of slavery in that territory. He then went overland in 1857 to northern California but he and five others left the wagon train at Salt Lake City and walked 800 miles to Placerville, where they began mining. An old injury forced Gillette to abandon the work and he later headed south.
About 1865, he was appointed a postmaster at Cucamonga in San Bernardino County and then moved to Los Angeles where he became a deputy county clerk, holding that position for several years. Gillette then joined forces with Judson and remained with Gibson after that latter left the company, which eventually evolved into the massive Title Insurance and Trust Company (TICOR). In his later work years, Gillette was an inspector and then a clerk for the Los Angeles city water department, which took over a private company after its 30-year lease expired in 1898. He lived into his 90s, dying in March 1928.
Frank A. Gibson was the younger, junior member of the firm, but became the most prominent. Born in 1851 at Pittsburg, Iowa, in the southeastern corner of the Hawkeye State, Gibson came with his family to California as a teenager when his Methodist minister father first obtained a pastorate in the San Joaquin Valley and then near Santa Clara. In 1871, Hugh Gibson was named a federal Indian agent at the Round Valley Reservation in Mendocino County, where his wife Mary was a teacher and Frank, clerk for his father. The family then went to Los Angeles, perhaps because of Hugh Gibson’s health, though he died shortly afterward.
Having briefly attended the University of the Pacific, Gibson intended to go to the University of Michigan to study law, but his father’s death preempted that plan, so he became a surveyor, mainly in northern California until he joined Judson and Gillette in fall 1877. For fifteen years he remained with the firm and its successors, the last known as the Los Angeles Abstract Company, but, during the terrible Depression of 1893, he was recruited, given his strong reputation with the abstract and title business, to become cashier of the First National Bank of Los Angeles.
Gibson became widely known and highly respected for his work with the bank and was also a three-term member of the Board of Education and served as Los Angeles County Recorder. Married to Mary Simons and father of a son, Gibson was at the pinnacle of his career when, in October 1901, he contracted typhoid fever (which nearly killed him about a decade before) and then pneumonia. It seemed he might recover, but his condition took a sudden turn for the worse and he died on the 13th and the Times lionized him for his keen intellect and analysis of business affairs, as well as his unselfishness and integrity.
A previous post here went into some of the history of Richard Garvey (1838-1920), including his work for Baldwin, which then led him to acquire a large portfolio of real estate on former Workman and Temple lands in the San Gabriel Valley and whose ranch house still stands in Monterey Park. The bill for title firm covered a quartet of transactions, the first three of which were conducted on 7 August 1880 and involved the “abst[ract of] title of 2300 acr[e]s acq[uire]d from Long Assignee,” as well as for similar documents for “200 acr[e]s from Labory” and “525 acr[s] Ro La Puente.” On the 23rd, an abstract was created for land in “Sec 25 1s 12w.”
With respect to this latter, Judson, Gillette and Gibson, in their regular reporting of real estate transactions in the Los Angeles Express, recorded that banker Isaias W. Hellman conveyed 1,580 acres to Garvey in sections 25, 26, 27, 32, and 34-35 in Township 1 South, 12 West of the San Bernardino Meridian and this appears to be some of the former public lands outside of ranchos and Mission San Gabriel holdings that were formerly owned by Temple and likely not included in the Baldwin mortgage. It also seems that this property included the land that became Garvey’s headquarters in today’s Monterey Park.
Antoine Labory (1825-1896), a native of France who came to Los Angeles amid the first French settlers of the region and was a sheepherder and winemaker who had some contact with the Workman and Temple family, including selling 16 wine pipes, or barrels, to William Workman in 1857, mortgaged some of his property to Garvey and there was a foreclosure and mortgage sale, which then led to Garvey seeking the abstract for the 200 acre tract.
The other two transactions come directly from the Temple and Workman bank collapse, although the brevity of the descriptions don’t obviously provide any indications of specifics as to locations and origins of how Garvey got the interests in the properties. The 525 acres of Rancho La Puente would have to been acquired from Baldwin by his foreclosure on the bank loan, which was finalized in 1879, and the sale by the federal “Master in Chancery” took place that September.
There were five properties sold to Camilo Martin, a San Francisco capitalist acting as a sort of front for Baldwin, including a Spring Street property in downtown Los Angeles for $45,000 and four San Gabriel Valley ranchos included in the bank loan: La Merced ($75,000); Potrero de Felipe Lugo ($38,000); Potrero Grande ($90,000) and Workman’s portion of La Puente ($300,000). Another tract of public land went for $10,000, putting the total at $558,000, which comprised Baldwin’s loan amount of $340,225 plus the interest that he allowed to accumulate over three years, ostensibly to make it impossible for anyone to redeem the mortgage.
It can be assumed that the 525 acres of La Puente that went to Garvey was sold to him by Baldwin, perhaps for services rendered, as the former arranged for leases collected rent from those persons occupying land on the four above-named ranches. Baldwin’s notorious personality and business methods led to a rupture with Garvey, however, within weeks of the issuance of this bill and the two traded public notices in late October 1880 about Garvey’s role as Baldwin’s agent for these properties., with the former telling the public that he was acting in his capacity of a federal court-appointed receiver, to which position he was appointed two years prior, in early August 1878.
With respect to the 2300 acres, there are two possibilities for what this references. The first is that the Rancho La Merced, deeded in 1851 to Temple and Juan Matias Sánchez (former mayordomo, or foreman, for Workman at La Puente and comprising 2,363 acres, was acquired as part of Garvey’s duties as receiver. The other, perhaps more likely, is that Garvey obtained this acreage from Long among the public lands Temple owned. Again, the information is sparse and, so far, nothing has been located in newspaper sources for what this entailed.
We’ll conclude this post by talking about George E. Long, who was born in Athens, home of the University of Georgia, in 1819. With the discovery of gold in California, Long joined the ’49ers who came in droves and arrived on 1 August, but did not remain long and he returned to Houston, Texas, where he’d been farming. In 1852, Long and his wife, Louisiana, migrated to the Golden State, visiting Los Angeles briefly, before settling on a farm near Visalia in the San Joaquin Valley. Later, the couple farmed near Cambria in San Luis Obispo County and, while an obituary stated they settled in Los Angeles in 1861, it was actually 1871, as that first boom was underway.
After only a short time in the Angel City, Long was elected to the Common (City) Council, serving with William H. Workman, with whom he was friends afterward. In early 1874, he joined Charles F. Harper’s tin, copper and iron store, though the partnership only lasted about a year and Long then formed a real estate firm with Franklin E. Adams, in which he concentrated on work in Los Angeles and Adams had a branch office in Los Nietos, where Downey, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs and other cities are now. Long as also a founder of a Real Estate Associates group, but, after he dissolved his partnership with Adams, he became involved in the Temple and Workman assignment, while continuing in real estate, including serving as chair of the first creditors’ meeting on 4 February 1876.
When F.P.F. Temple declared personal bankruptcy that summer 1876, Long was soon chosen as assignee for that process, while also succeeding Freeman and Spence for the bank assignment. The task for him was enormous, including pursuing foreclosures on loans made by Temple and Workman that went unpaid, trying to sell notes and overdrafts accumulated by the institution, managing properties held for the estate and not subject to the Baldwin loan (such as the Los Angeles post office on Spring Street between Temple and 1st streets) and representing the failed bank when it was a defendant in suits by creditors.
The Los Angeles Star of 5 February 1878 published a “Report of the Assignee of Temple & Workman,” which Long stated this was done “at the request of several creditors.” To date, the total cash received as a mere $28,227.13, of which $17,208.99 was paid out, leaving $11,018.14 in the vault of the bank—Long having his office in the old Temple and Workman quarters in the Temple Block facing the intersection of Main, Spring and Temple streets. It was noted that judgments were obtained at court proceedings of just shy of $156,000, but the problem was going to be collecting those funds during an economic downturn. Long informed creditors that they could see a list of those subject to judgment, as well as see vouchers for funds distributed, while monthly statements of funds collected and issued could be found at a registrar’s office.
About three weeks later, Long and his clerk, Charles M. Phelps, went to the former bank quarters on a Monday morning and Phelps alerted his boss to the fact that the vault, used by Temple and Workman and then by Long to store the books, records and money during his assignment, had been opened—remarkably, the combination had not been changed after the bank failure—and the Reliance safe, which had a bar and padlock, was breached.
Taken was $10,500, of which 90% was in gold and the rest in silver and Phelps discovered “the floor was covered with papers and scattered silver coin,” while the opened safe contained the box, but when he picked it up, “he found it as light as an empty box could well be.” The padlock was broken and left on the floor, Long possessing the only key to it, as was the stump of a candle. The Los Angeles Express of 25 February commented that “the robbery had been accomplished with a thoroughness and security which betrayed the most consummate skill and caution.”
Notably, a tin box of Long’s personal valuables and money was left untouched. Given the thick walls and heavy vault doors and the fact that the heist was on a weekend, the crime was committed undetected, but the paper observed “whoever did the deed or directed it was thoroughly familiar with the premises—had a key or skeleton which unlocked the outer door, and knew the combination of the vault lock.”
It was added, however, that “the task was doubtless too great for one man to undertake and he must have had one, and probably several accomplices.” Given the weight of the stolen coin, paper not being in common use yet, it was presumed a conveyance was waiting to carry away the burglars, whose “finesse” was marked given that the Temple Block (City Hall stands there now) was “the most public spot on the most public street in town.”
The Express pointed out the obvious in terms of why Long did not change the combination after Freeman and Spence were succeeded (and, for that matter, why they didn’t do so either) and there were at least ten persons, from Temple and his former staff to the previous assignees and Long and Phelps, who knew it. The account ended with,
Provided the robbers are not apprehended and the stolen money recovered, the loss will fall wholly upon Mr. Long, and will prove almost his financial ruin. Nobody who know him can fail to sympathize with him in this terrible calamity.
In its edition of 16 March, after Long hired a San Francisco detective to work with Los Angeles Police Chief Emil Harris, the Express reported that, not surprisingly, Phelps was arrested that day and was being questioned by Harris, the detective and Long and “upon being shown the network of circumstantial evidence which had been wound around him by the detectives, Phelps confessed all.” He then took the trio west along Temple Street, about a mile from the bank building, and showed them where he’d hidden $8,140 in gold, though there was still some $2,400 missing, which Phelps was presumed to have spent, but it was subsequently revealed that all $10,838 was accounted for.
Phelps, born in Warrenton, Georgia, east of Atlanta and west of Augusta, in 1847, was raised on a farm and became a dry goods merchant. In 1873, he came to Los Angeles, bought some land and built a house, but returned to Georgia, with the idea of staying in Atlanta for a couple of years. In late September 1875, four weeks after the suspension of Temple and Workman, he and his wife Katie settled in the Angel City, with the Express remarking that “a short experience of Los Angeles unfits a man to live elsewhere.”
Phelps then went to work as a clerk at Harper’s shop, it being possible that he and Long had connections from the Peach State, and, when Long became assignee, Phelps went to work for him. Having confessed, he pled guilty and Judge Albert R. Stephens, noting that the defendant pledged notes and property to Long to pay for the hiring of the detective and other expenses and taking into account Phelps’ clean record and references of his character, sentenced him to two years at San Quentin, though he had discretion for 1-10 years.
There were those, however, including James J. Ayers, editor of the Express, and colorful and pugnacious attorney (and later, newspaper owner and memoirist) Horace Bell, who attacked Stephens for being far too lenient. Stephen M. White, a young, rising lawyer in the Angel City who went on to be a United States Senator and a key figure in the development of the Port of Los Angeles, defended Stephens and denigrated Bell for his criticisms and loose use of facts (which permeates his books, as well.)
When Phelps was released was from prison in 1880, he returned to Georgia and joined his father, Augustus, in a tin and iron business. In the mid-1890s, he and his wife and two children moved to Houston and then San Antonio, where he ran a taxi business. In March 1915, he got into an argument with a group of men over payment for the use of one of his vehicles and was struck and fell to the sidewalk, dying the next day at a hospital.
As for Long, he continued his work as the Temple and Workman assignee for another four years, though he clarified, a year after the Phelps debacle, that, the $2,400 initially declared missing was, indeed, spent and the thief gave him a note for $5,000 to cover that amount and the $2,500 expended on the detective and which was secured by property Phelps owned in the Bunker Hill section, near where the remaining money was found. Long said, though, that he believed the land would only sell for $4,000, leaving him out a grand. The Los Angeles Herald of 31 August 1879 added,
Mr. Long has industriously worked for three or four years in the care of the estate of Temple & Workman and has had his labor for his pains, he having, as we learn, through his losses from various sources in connection with the estate, only come out about even, counting his time for nothing.
Just a week prior to the issuance of the bill featured here, Long held a sale of notes and overdrafts from he bank, but very little was realized compared to the face value of the instruments. A sale in late August 1882 looks to have been one of the last major tasks he completed as the Temple and Workman assignee and included the sale of lots in the Mount Pleasant Tract in Boyle Heights, where City Council member Robert M. Wirsching, a buyer, built his surviving house, and a fractional interest in Temple’s oil claim at the San Fernando oil field in modern Santa Clarita.
Long went on to be assistant city treasurer, an insurance agent, treasurer of a streetcar line to East Los Angeles (Lincoln Heights) and sold land for an orphans’ home in downtown. When he died in February 1888, the Herald wrote that he was “a man of great strength of character” and “his integrity was staunch and invincible.”
This bill is a simple document, but has a lot to it in terms of the context of what it contains related to the incredibly complex and drawn-out aftermath of the Temple and Workman bank failure.