Reading Between the Lines in a Letter from Thomas W. Temple II to Walter P. Temple, 9 October 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

We are fortunate at the Homestead to have in our collection of historic artifacts, a cache of objects connected to the Workman and Temple family that, along with material providing context about greater Los Angeles from 1830 to 1930, allows us to better understand both the local and specific and the regional and general elements of our area’s history.

The “Reading Between the Lines” series of posts highlighting letters from the collection includes ones representative of the latter, as well as a great many of the former, with majority of these surviving thanks to the care and consideration of Thomas W. Temple II, who followed his uncle John as a family historian and amassed quite a substantial array of documents, photos and other items before his death in 1972.

Thomas W. Temple II posed by an entrance gate to La Casa Nueva and likely as he was heading back to Massachusetts to continue his studies at Harvard Law School, ca. 1928.

After he passed away, his widow, Gabriela Quiroz Temple, who survived him by more than thirty years, divided his archive among her nieces and nephews, with one of these, Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis (daughter of Thomas’ younger brother, Edgar) treasuring a trove of letters that her uncle kept and many of which were written by him.

Thomas, after all, was a dutiful and consistent correspondent to his parents and, after his mother, Laura González Temple, died at the end of 1922, to his father. This included during his many years, from 1917 to 1929, mostly away from home as he attended such schools as Page Military Academy in Los Angeles, the Pasadena Military Academy, the preparatory high school and undergraduate work at the University of Santa Clara, and graduate work at the law school of Harvard University.

He was especially diligent when writing from Santa Clara and Cambridge, likely because of the long distance and the attendant homesickness Thomas undoubtedly felt. While Santa Clara, where Thomas was educated from 1918 to 1926 excepting a semester at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in fall 1922, is north of 365 miles from the Homestead, it was close enough that he could return home for the winter break as well as summer while occasionally receiving visits from family members and friends.

The distance to Cambridge, however, is nearly 3,000 miles, and, while Walter P. Temple and daughter Agnes traveled with the three sons, Thomas, Edgar and Walter, Jr., to Massachusetts as part of a lengthy summer vacation in 1926, the trio of young men were enrolled at Harvard and, in the case of the latter two, at the remarkably named Dummer Academy in South Byfield, northeast of Boston.

The Dummer Academy football team, ca. 1927, with Edgar Temple, left tackle, kneeling second from the right, and halfback Walter P. Temple, Jr, standing at the back left.

The brothers relied on each other considerably during their three years in Massachusetts, ancestral home state (since the 1630s) of the Temple family, and were about 35 miles apart. Fortunately, they had relatives, with whom they had no contact until not long before 1926, in the area, including Walter, Sr.’s cousin, Ellen Temple Bancroft and her children Edith and Edward, as well as the latter’s family. Many weekends and holidays were spent with these Temple kin, helping to ease the sting of being so far from home for three years.

For Thomas, those letters, sent just about every week, were unquestionably another way to keep connected with his father, while he frequently corresponded with Agnes, who attended Dominican College, what was then an all-girls school but which today is a coed institution. Thanks to Ruth Ann’s donation in 2017, we have many of these and the featured one for this post is a 9 October 1927 missive, written on Harvard stationery, to Walter, Sr.

It was a Sunday and Thomas began by acknowledging have heard from his father the prior day, this almost certainly being the customary telegram (which, while, usually brief and obviously less personal, were naturally welcomed). He was also relived to hear that his father’s older sister, Lucinda Temple Zuñiga, who resided in a small wood-frame house at the west end of the Homestead, was “much improved” with ailments—though she died three months later in January 1928. As for Thomas, he battled a cold, attributed to the “change of climate” as he’d recently returned to Cambridge from his summer vacation back home.

This was followed by his report that “the boys played a game here in Cambridge Friday but I didn’t get a chance to see them.” Unlike Thomas, who was, of course, quite a scholar being at the prestigious and rigorous Harvard Law School, Walter, Jr. and Edgar were, as many teens were and are, very much into athletics, especially baseball and football.

Boston Globe, 8 October 1927.

It was, naturally, the gridiron season and little Dummer Academy (which has been operating since 1763, but has called itself The Governor’s Academy [it was funded by the estate of colonial administrator William Dummer] since 2002 because, after almost 250 years, the institution decided the name Dummer had a negative connotation to it!) came to Cambridge to take on the Browne and Nichols School (founded in the 1880s by Harvard grads and which merged some 90 years later with the all-girls Buckingham School).

While Edgar Temple, the larger of the two brothers, played left tackle and Walter, Jr. was one of the pair of halfbacks, Dummer was shutout with Browne and Nichols getting its only points on a 35-yard punt return by the latter’s captain Nathan Tenney. The victors nearly added to its total by getting to the Dummer 4-yard line as time ran out to end the contest, with the final score being 6-0.

While Thomas could not attend his brother’s football game, he did report to their father that he’d received a letter asking for some necessaries at Filene’s, a well-known Boston department store that operated for 125 years until its closure in 2006. An ad from the store used here as an illustration and dated to 4 October trumpeted the Arrow broadcloth dress shirt named the Trump, though an image showed a man at a table with playing cards as in “trump cards. Perhaps Thomas purchased a couple of these at just $1.95 each, including “the famous ARROW collar already attached to the shirt!”

For the upcoming Columbus Day holiday, observed on the 12th (the day Christopher Columbus was said to have “discovered” America) and which is, as of two years ago, a federal holiday paired with Indigenous Peoples Day—this year’s observance was, in fact, today—Thomas told his father that he would go to Wellesley Hills, about a dozen miles southeast of Cambridge, to visit Edward Bancroft and his family.

A portion of Thomas’ room at the Brattle Inn, Cambridge, ca. 1928, with family photos on the wall over his desk.

After stating that he had not recently heard from “Inesita,” a nickname for Agnes, but expected to the following day, Thomas told his father that he’d received a letter from Milton Kauffman, Walter, Sr.’s business manager and that Thomas replied sending the bill for his room at the Brattle Inn, located just a short distance west from the Harvard campus and where he resided during his three years in the area, as well as that from Filene’s.

Kauffman wrote Thomas about a trip he and Walter, Sr. took to Ventura, where one of their very last oil development projects was underway at the Ventura Avenue field, along the road leading from the mission town north to the Ojai Valley. Walter P. Temple acquired a lease to property on the west side of the thoroughfare and spent some considerable sums on his own and then after the M.K. & T. Company, which Kauffman co-owned with William Harmon Taylor, took over the operation, but no significant success was to be had, with those efforts.

Boston Globe, 4 October 1927.

Thomas referred to his cousin, Charles P. Temple, Jr. whose late father was Walter, Sr.’s younger brother, and his collapsed marriage, writing “poor fellow, I’m sure he feels quite put out,” while commenting on another cousin, Loretta “Tootsie” Duarte and wondering if her “romantic experience comes out much more successful.” Loretta soon gave birth to a son, Joseph Lindebaum, who, however, died as an infant and was buried in the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum in El Campo Santo Cemetery at the Homestead.

Turning to matters at the 92-acre ranch that the Temples owned since late 1917, Thomas wrote “I hope Maude,” this being Modesta Romero Bassity, who cared for Laura Temple in her final illness and then stayed on to run the family household and became Walter, Sr.’s partner, “got my [photo] frames & put them away.” He then added that “no doubt the Tepee is almost finished,” this being the unusual adobe structure, modeled after one Walter, Sr. visited at the mineral springs resort near Hemet operated by the Soboba Indians, built next to La Casa Nueva, both of which were nearing completion.

A circa 1928 snapshot, probably by Thomas, of the Tepee with its original thatched-roof porch cover with notched totem poles, a reference to a Temple family trip to Alaska in 1919. Also of note are the adobe porch wall and planter, the former still surviving, but the latter later removed and replicas placed there during the Homestead’s late 1970s restoration.

Referring to a visit by a friend, her husband and another person, Thomas added that “the pictures turned out well & I out them in the old house with the rest.” The “old house” was the Workman House, which was remodeled by the Temples not long after they acquired the Homestead and which was outfitted with electricity and indoor plumbing. The west side of the structure was also remodeled so that rooms were occupied by Laura and Agnes, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, and Thomas—Walter, Sr. stayed in a newly established bedroom on the second floor of the 1880s brick Water Tower to the south.

A seemingly clear indication that La Casa Nueva was finished by the time that Thomas wrote this letter is indicated by his statement that:

I hate to see the Old House locked up. I love it so & some day I hope I shall fall heir to it for nothing would please me more. I’m not intimating that the New House is not the more beautiful, but I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for the Old Place.

It is certainly noteworthy that, as much as he may have enjoyed the design and construction of La Casa Nueva, including his rather remarkable bedroom with personalized stained glass windows depicting the Catholic religion as well as a scholar receiving instruction from a Jesuit priest (Santa Clara University was operated by the order), Thomas was captivated by the historical associations of the Workman House.

The Workman House from the north, 1926. The five youngsters were the children of Angeline Rowland, daughter of Walter P. Temple’s sister Margarita Temple Rowland, and William Knueven. Knueven was the Homestead’s foreman for a few years and, in 1930, built the dormitories that replaced south-facing sun decks at La Casa Nueva when the house was leased to the Golden State (later, Raenford) Military Academy when the Temples vacated the Homestead.

In fact, though he earned his law degree at Harvard in spring 1929, Thomas forsook the profession to embark on a long career as a genealogist and historian and his fascination with the adobe house built and lived in by his grandparents is interesting to note given his future career path. Sadly, within about 2 1/2 years of the writing of this letter, the Homestead was vacated by the Temples, as financial ruin loomed and the ranch lost in summer 1932—dashing the dreams of the young man who hoped to inherit and live in the Workman House.

We’ll continue to offer more family letters and interpretation of them in the “Reading Between the Lines” series, so keep an eye out for them, including these fascinating missives by Thomas!

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