“One of the Cleanest, One of the Most Refreshing and One of the Happiest Communities to be Found Anywhere”: Commemorating the Temple City Centennial, 1923-2023

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It was a cloudy and cool morning, but with a parade to get citizens into the proper spirit, Temple City threw a celebration to mark the centennial of the community founded by Walter P. Temple and his associates and their Temple Townsite Company in 1923 and which has remained a desirable residential suburb ever since. Once the procession ended by 9:30 at Temple City Park, visitors enjoyed music, a children’s play zone, food and a variety of booths, including one for the Homestead, situated next to our friends from the Historical Society of Temple City.

For a while . . . then came the predicted precipitation, including some periods of heavy showers, but the event kept on, with some afternoon clearing and even brief episodes of sunshine, until about 5 p.m. Positioned not far from a well-done and substantial banner with a timeline of city history, Homestead volunteers Cheryl and Gary Temple (Gary is a great-grand nephew of Walter Temple) talked to dozens of visitors about the Museum, the Workman and Temple family, and pointed out artifacts from our collection pertaining to Temple City, including maps, photos and documents.

Gary Temple, Homestead volunteer and great-grand-nephew of Walter P. Temple, discusses family history with visitors at the Homestead’s booth.

In the City Council chambers, there were a set of four 20-25 minute PowerPoint presentations provided that covered the Temple family’s general history in greater Los Angeles through the early 1920s; a review of Walter P. Temple’s life; a discussion of the Rancho San Francisquito, on which Temple City is largely located, and the short-lived Sunny Slope Acres townsite project that preceded the founding of Temple City; and, finally, a summary of the history of the city during Walter Temple’s involvement from 1923 to 1930.

Despite the wet weather, there was a lot going on at the event and we greatly appreciated and enjoyed working with the City, including its Parks and Recreation department tasked with planning and carrying out the festivities, and look forward to working more closely with it in the future. One possibility now under discussion is for the Homestead to host a “Temple City Day” for its residents next spring, so we are excited to see what comes of this idea.

Displayed at the Museum’s booth and shown and discussed in some detail during one of the presentations is the highlighted object from the Museum’s collection for this post: a circa 1928 pocket-sized promotional pamphlet comprising a half-dozen panels and issued by the chamber of commerce of what had just been renamed from the Town of Temple to Temple City.

As a prior post here discussed, the United States Postal Service decided that “Town of Temple” sounded too akin to places like Templeton, the San Luis Obispo County town, Temple Street in Los Angeles and others and insisted on a name change. Though a late 1927 contest yielded a winner in Santa Rita, protests by the city’s founder and others led to a compromise with the moniker of Temple City.

The Temple family’s memorial to World War I soldier Joseph Kauffman, killed in action at the Battle of Argonne Forest and brother of Walter’s business manager, Milton Kauffman, moved in 1930 to Temple City Park from its original location at the Temple oil lease in Montebello.

Another major change that took place early in 1928 was the decision of the Temple Townsite Company, which included Temple’s business manager Milton Kauffman and attorney George H. Woodruff, along with Alhambra capitalist Sylvester Dupuy, to hire the Davis-Baker Company, a successful real estate firm in Pasadena, to assume the management of developing the recently rechristened town. The firm moved quickly and aggressively on a publicity campaign to promote Temple City, but there were some major challenges.

These included a softening of the regional real estate market, which peaked when the project was established in 1923; Temple’s worsening financial position; rampant speculation on lots, rather than building that would help the place grow property; and the unintended effects of the Mattoon Act, state legislation intended to provide assessments for infrastructure in unincorporated communities like Temple City, but which proved to be a problem as neighbors forced to assume the burden of paying for a defaulting property owner.

A bust and plaque at the park commemorating Walter P. Temple.

It may be that the brochure was created to bolster those efforts to revive the flagging fortunes of Temple City and, in many respects, it was like others of its type, being a chamber of commerce boosting product that offered an enthusiastic sales pitch to readers. Employing the long-held motto of “In the Heart of the San Gabriel Valley,” the chamber added another one “Where Living is full of the Real Joy of California.” The main thrust of this point was embodied in the opening paragraph of the pitch:

The family seeking all that could be desirable as a place of residence naturally would select Temple City. It is one of the newest communities in Southern California and has had phenomenal growth for he reason that it was designed as a residence place of the better type. The plan of its founder has been fully carried out. The result? One of the cleanest, one of the most refreshing and one of the happiest communities to be found anywhere.

As almost any other like-minded publication would insist, this one promoted the community’s “Ideal Location,” noting that it was just a dozen miles from Los Angeles, with connection to the Alhambra line of the Pacific Electric Railway streetcar system (though ridership was declining due to rising use of the automobile), as well as having “the intersection of the wide and well-paved new Arrow Highway,” as well as the newly paved Sunset Boulevard, now Temple City Boulevard.

With regard to transportation, it was noted that the PE, as it was called, ran 26 trains daily to and from Los Angeles for both passenger and express delivery services. It was added, with no small amount of exaggeration (this also common to most publications of this ilk) that “the major highways through Temple City lead to all the principal cities and points of interest in Southern California.” Also touted were the “well paved” streets and ornamental lighting along the main ones, such as Las Tunas Drive (along which the streetcar ran) and Sunset (Temple City)—this latter was part of the Mattoon Act improvements.

Under the banner of “Surroundings,” it was proclaimed that “it is here that the ‘little farms‘ have truly come into their own,” as “on all sides of Temple City,” there were “thrifty little ‘ranches’ of between one and five acres. These were said to have yielded “amazing crops of small frits, vegetables and berries that find ready sale in the nearby markets,” including the orange, which was a veritable symbol of greater Los Angeles for decades, and the English walnut (which Temple grew at his more substantial 92-acre Workman Homestead, where the Museum is today.) Poultry was also highlighted and advertising and photos promoted the enclosures and coops were chickens could be raised.

Concerning “Public Service,” it was noted that the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department, which still provides police protection today, operation its substation #5 at the corner of Las Tunas Drive and Cloverly Avenue, while there was a “thoroughly equipped branch of the county free library,” as well, with its descendant being at the northeast corner of the city park.

It was also recorded that “all the essential public utilities are amply provided,” including electricity, gas, and telephone services, with rates deemed reasonable and expansion assured as the population (probably around 3,500 at the time; it is now ten times that number) grew. It was asserted that “the water service is the best in Southern California” in quality, quantity and price provided by the still-existing Sunny Slope Water Company, while it was averred that “every home has the same service that is provided in the larger cities.”

The section denoted as “Social” boasted of Temple City’s having the clubs, lodges and activities “that make life complete and worth while,” while the community was considered idea because it was “removed from the noise and turmoil of the city.” Yet, it also possessed “all the advantages of both city and country and the disadvantages of neither.” Basking in the shadow of the “towering Sierra Madres,” which we know as the San Gabriel Mountains and not far from the coast with its beaches “and whose cool breezes hold the temperature at a refreshing level the year round,” Temple City, it was proclaimed “is California at its very best.”

This paean to “ideal” conditions that bred life befitting “the Real Joy of California” had, however, a darker side that permeated almost all of greater Los Angeles, with conspicuous exceptions like Boyle Heights and south and south-central sections of the Angel City. This was clearly expressed in a section simply headed with the word “Restrictions” and which needs to be completely reproduced to take in the pernicious and pervasive sentiment so open embraced at the time:

The restrictions made on race and building have made Temple City, with its 3,500 population, the highly desirable place to reside that it is today. Only white people reside here—white people of a desirable class, who take pride in their homes and the upbuilding of the community. While the building restrictions do not require the erection of costly mansions, they are strict enough to prevent the construction of unsightly homes. There is not a shack in Temple City. Every home owner takes pride in the appearance of his property.

Restrictive covenants” were commonly worded to say that no one could own, rent or lease a property unless the persons were of the “Caucasian race” and the statement not only was plain about this, but added the caveat about “white people of a desirable class,” though what this was precisely was not elucidated, other than that it was proudly noted that there were no “shacks” in the community.

For visitors of the Temple family’s Spanish Colonial Revival residence, La Casa Nueva, at the Homestead, we display this pamphlet in a prominent place in the house’s living room and invite guests to then look behind it to stained glass windows at the opposite end of the space where the eldest children, Thomas and Agnes, are depicted in Spanish/Mexican costumes worn to such events as the annual Mission San Gabriel Fiesta.

While the Temples celebrated their mixed ethnicity in manifold ways in this exuberantly designed and built mansion, there is no small amount of irony and an opportunity for deep reflection about the contrast and conflict embodied in their celebration of their Latino heritage (the Temples spoke Spanish at home and maintained many traditions passed down to them), while, at the same time, Temple City was developed with the race restrictions so boldly and blatantly described in the pamphlet.

We hope this is one of the many elements of the enduring value and necessity to study and understand, as best we can, the lessons of history. The Temple family’s identity was complex and evolving, as is so often the case, as well as situational. In other words, in their new house, finished just months before this publication was issued, they could indulge, though with deep personal ties, in what has been called the “Spanish Fantasy Past.” Outside that realm, however, and with the assistance of the “Temple” name, their identity could shift, whether it was a subtle one to “Spanish,” which was evocative of the European, or as part of the dominant ethnicity.

The commemoration of Temple City’s centennial is one that can have multiple meanings, including the well-planned development with what Walter P. Temple and his associates (including Kauffman, who, as a Jew, was almost certainly subjected to prejudice) established. Temple City remains a desirable suburban bedroom community, with excellent schools, community services and other important elements. While there have been ethnic conflicts as diversity has increased in recent decades, including with the Asian migrations of the 1980s and afterwards, it was clear at today’s event, that a strong sense of community remains in Temple City today—but it has evolved, as it should, from what at least one notable part of the pamphlet contains.

The Homestead will continue to evolve its interpretation, including with the discussion of Temple City’s early history, along with that of the Workman and Temple family and its identity. This is reflected in our programs as well as our own centennial commemoration of La Casa Nueva, which is a remarkable laboratory for exploring so many aspects of family and regional history. Moreover, this blog will reflect this ongoing search for meaning through the stories of the Workmans and Temples and greater Los Angeles from 1830 to 1930.

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