by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This latest “Making a Statement” post is a notable one for comparison and contrast to yesterday’s entry dealing with the worsening economic situation of Walter P. Temple in October 1930 as we now turn the clock back to the beginning of the Roaring Twenties and a “Report of Receipts & Expenditures” for the period of 18 September to 17 October 1921.
It is truly a matter of “what a difference a decade makes” with respect to the debits and credits side of Temple’s accounting, even though there was a revenue shortfall compared to incurred expenses for that month. Receipts totaled just shy of $28,000 (it bears noting that the average American’s earnings for non-government, non-farm work in 1923, according to a federal government report, was $1,428 for the year.)
The lion’s share of those earnings, just a tick above $26,000 or 93%, coming from gas (only $1,336 or nearly that year’s wages for many Americans) and oil royalties at the Temple oil lease near Montebello—from which Standard Oil Company (California) began producing five years prior. Otherwise, revenues came from interest ($1,654), rentals on the property Temple owned at San Gabriel ($260) and incidental sources of $53.00.
Spending, however, was 20% above revenue, totaling over $33,000. Of this, 30% alone came from taxes paid to Standard and amounting to a shade under $10,000. The second largest expense was a $5,000 payment to contractor Darrell Condley, who was nearing completion of Temple’s first real estate development project, the Temple Theatre in Alhambra. The venue had its grand opening just before Christmas 1921 and would usher in an era of frenzied investment during another of the fabled booms that burst forth in greater Los Angeles—the first, a half-century before, included Temple’s father, F.P.F., as a key figure.
Another major payout involved not far above $2,600 remitted to Thurston H. Pratt and his father-in-law Eugene Bassett towards the purchase of the Workman Homestead, which Temple acquired at the end of November 1917 from the two men (who, in turn, owned it for a decade.) Another $1,000 was earmarked for the Homestead and payable to the First National Bank of Puente, in the small town next to the ranch—the purpose for the expense, however, is not known. Similarly, there was a payment of $1,530 to the First National Bank of Alhambra comprising “Principal & Interest,” though for what reason is unclear.
Some $3,050 was paid towards what was vaguely denoted as “Expense Personal.” There were further $1,000 disbursements to the Talbert Oil Company, this as a loan to the firm in which Temple was involved and which was drilling for “black gold” in the newly opened field of Huntington Beach; the Pasadena Military Academy, comprising tuition for Temple’s youngest sons, Walter, Jr. and Edgar; and, again, to the Alhambra bank, but the purpose was stated as “American Historic Soc.” Another $558 went towards tuition for the Temples’ only daughter, Agnes, who’d just started her freshman year of high school at St. Mary’s Academy in southwest Los Angeles.
What this involved was funds expended towards biographical sketches provided for what was often called a “mug book,” involving a history of greater Los Angeles, written by John Steven McGroarty, but a section devoted to the self-submitted life stories of those willing to pay a hefty sum—think again, how close $1,000 was to the annual wages of many workers—for that purpose. McGroarty was best known as the author of the popular and paternalistic Mission Play, held at San Gabriel for a decade to date and which was to have a new auditorium, with a significant $15,000 contribution from Temple, whose business manager, Milton Kauffman, was on the board of the organization created for the project.
Later, McGroarty became California’s poet laureate and a member of Congress, but his three-volume work for the American Historical Society, called Los Angeles: From the Mountains to the Sea proved to be a fairly popular production and it does have some valuable information on the history of the region, while the biographies are also quite useful. In fact, we’ll have to put together a post on the Temple family contributions to the volume.
Another historical element in the expenditures involved $250 paid to William R. Fee for the San Gabriel Pageant, a late July event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Mission San Gabriel. While the pageant was held at the current mission site with a performance written by Lillian Burkhart Goldsmith, a Jewish writer of some note locally, another component of the sesquicentennial was Temple’s provision for a granite marker at the oil lease site to indicate where the mission began in 1771. While the site of the memorial, at the southwest corner of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue, was owned by him, the mission locale was across the former thoroughfare to the north on the west bank of the Río Hondo, the older course of the San Gabriel River.
Because of Milton Kauffman’s key role as Temple’s business manager, including oil and real estate projects that grew substantially in scope in subsequent years, it is not surprising to see several expenditures to his benefit, including insurance premium payments, doctor’s bills, and more totaling about $1,100. There were also salaries paid to employees, like Sara H. Murphy, likely an administrative assistant, and Stanley Benson and E.G. Seely, who were drivers and general help for the Temples.
While these folks were paid weekly, monthly salaries were also provided for Manuel Zuñiga, husband of Walter’s sister Lucinda and who was identified as a gardener for the Temples in the 1920s census and received $100 a month, and Elmer A. Potter, an office manager, who was paid $125 monthly. Others who received monies were James Edward Bassity, who was given $200 and whose wife, Modesta (Maud) Romero, took care of Walter’s wife Laura when she became ill with cancer and then divorced Bassity and became Walter’s companion; Peter Davis, whose late sister Julia Davis Cruz was raised with Walter and his siblings and who was paid $344.33, possibly for work at the Homestead; Joe Vigare, who was a relative by marriage of Laura, and received $75; Manuel Higuera, paid $50, likely for work he did at the Homestead; and Nettie Temple, widow of Walter’s eldest sibling, Thomas, who regularly was given $25 monthly advances to help with living expenses.
Aside from automobile maintenance expenses; plumbing bills that were presumably for the Temples’ primary residence in Alhambra; donations to some identified organizations such as the San Gabriel Settlement House for Mexican immigrants and their Americanization and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and others left unspecified; dues to the San Gabriel Country Club; a subscription to the trade publication California Oil World; and utility bills, there were a couple other interesting expenses.
For example, the aforementioned Julia Davis Cruz long owned an 8-acre property left to her by her mother, Venancia Peña, a Luiseño Indian, who acquired the tract from Walter’s father, F.P.F., in the 1870s. Just after Julia’s 1917 death, oil was discovered there by the General Petroleum Company, but the quantities were modest as shown by the monthly royalty of not quite $240 for the month, divided amongst Cruz’ half-dozen relatives, including Zuñiga, widow of her sister and Temple.
Lastly, there was a $50 payment to W.L. Cross for “aerial photos,” this referring to the hiring of the photographer by Temple to take a remarkable image, shown here, of the Homestead. While the copy that the Museum has shows the name of “Spence Air Photos,” Cross actually took the view for his own company, which was an early example of the type and was established about 1920.
It may be that Temple heard of the photographer because of his work in shooting aerials of oil fields, but, whatever was the case, the Homestead image shows the Workman House; the Water Tower; 1860s wineries built by William Workman and remodeled into an auditorium, dining hall, and garage; the newly constructed reservoir/pool and tennis court; the renovated El Campo Santo Cemetery, including the recently finished Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum; and a substantial orchard of a few hundred walnut trees, with a few more planted just northeast of the Workman House.
At the top are two houses Temple built for his sisters, Lucinda Zuñiga and Margarita Rowland, while at the left is San José Creek, the southern boundary of the 92-acre ranch and a faint line toward the right shows the northern boundary, through which an easement, still existing, was the main entrance from Valley Boulevard. A second entrance came in from the west at Turnbull Canyon Road (note Don Julian Road extending further west just slightly offset from what was later known as Evergreen Lane, because of the deodar trees that lined it and which extended to and circled around the heart-shaped planter just outside the cemetery.
In July 1923, Cross was employed to take aerial photos and perform stunts in his airplane and took off from Clover Field, where Santa Monica Airport is today, and headed to Santa Fe Springs. While flying over an oil field where a promotional event for a few hundred persons was taking place, it appeared he had some engine trouble and was flying just 100 feet above the ground when the craft suddenly nosedived and crashed into a car.
Reports varied, with some suggesting the plane hit a wire and then went into a dive, while most recounted that a woman passenger, seated in a cockpit behind Cross, panicked and pulled on a lever sending the plane into the ground. Whatever the cause, the crash was such that both bodies were mangled beyond recognition. Local news coverage included photos of the craft and of Cross with both the woman and his wife and young son, but there was something of a love triangle (perhaps a quadrangle) afoot, as well.
The Los Angeles Times of the 24th reported that the woman was identified as Maud Thompson, who’d recently moved to Los Angeles from Oregon, met Cross at a dance and may have had a fling with him. One of Cross’ employees, Dorothy Kenar, however, told the paper that she was engaged only the prior week to her boss and that she knew of the connection of Cross and Thompson, but believed the flight was to be the last meeting between the two.
To add to the controversy, Cross’ former wife, Eloise, informed the Times that, while they were divorced a few years prior (this included an accusation that he’d kidnapped their son while on a parental visit), they’d reconciled and, until very recently, he was living with her and their child. Cross, however, moved to a downtown Los Angeles apartment and, while Eloise knew of Thompson, who apparently also went by the name of Maud Marton, she did not know of any relationship or that his move reflected his liaison with Thompson.
This matter of Cross (whose negatives likely were sold to Spence and who employed Art Goebel, later a famous aviator, to pilot his craft while he snapped photos), by the way, is yet another example of how strange stories of the “the truth is stranger than fiction” variety invariably pop up as tangential to the main line of discussion about an artifact from the Museum’s collection. They usually also add unexpected diversions to these posts, though we can’t promise that future “Making a Statement” entries will provide us more of these!