“A Very Proper Memorial of One of the Worthiest of Early Los Angeles Pioneers”: Reading Between the Lines in a Letter from Perry Worden to Walter P. Temple, 10 November 1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Throughout almost all of the Roaring Twenties, Dr. James Perry Worden was in the employ of Walter P. Temple, primarily hired and paid to write a history of the Workman and Temple family that went unrealized, while he was often diverted to a variety of other tasks on behalf of his patron. Fawning and fussy with a penchant for fulminating when he felt wronged or underappreciated, which was often the case, Worden was a voluminous correspondent and his letters idiosyncratically marked with persistent double spacing, capitalization, underlining and other methods to drive home his points.

His letters, therefore, are often entertaining if overwrought, even when he advocated for Temple, as was the case with the pair of missives he sent on 10 November to take up the standard for the preservation of the prominent Los Angeles thoroughfare of Temple Street, as the City Council pondered a request for a change of name in late 1925. The idea emanated from a group of property owners styling themselves as the Northwest Improvement Association and which took, reported the Los Angeles Times of 25 October, to “urging that Temple street be designated as Beverly Boulevard.” Another group, headed by William S. Witmer, treasurer of the bond house, John M.C. Marble Company (which was sought out two years later to help Walter P. Temple in his financial crisis), called for the changing of the name of West First Street downtown to Beverly, as there was a movement to extend that west-side street through the east side of the city.

Los Angeles Times, 23 October 1925.

The two groups met on the 24th with the city’s Planning Commission and the Street Opening and Street Widening committees of the council to promote their idea and neither of the city entities made any decision, but took the suggestions under advisement prior to making recommendations to the council. The Times of the 26th noted that opposition was already manifested by the Vermont-Beverly Association, which argued that

it is an open question whether First street, east of the point where Beverly Boulevard now joins it, should or should not be renamed Beverly Boulevard, but in any case the name should not be given to Temple street. If a change in name for this street is desired . . . Civic Center avenue might be selected.

The [eastbound] traffic on Beverly Boulevard will not for the most part be seeking the Civic Center, to which Temple street leads, but the business center of the city . . . to change the name now would not be keeping faith either with the dedicating property owners, or the assessment district.

There was long a desire for a new City Hall to replace the 1889 building on Broadway that had long been outgrown by the burgeoning city and grandiose plans were offered that would have entailed a massive civic center in and around the area where the Temple Block, a four-building complex built by the brothers Jonathan and F.P.F. Temple between 1857-1871 stood. By 1925, it was long known that the Temple Block was not long for this world, regardless of what the final civic center plan would be. The reference to a consideration of Temple Street being refashioned as Civic Center Avenue was tied in to this planning process.

Los Angeles Record, 26 October 1925.

By early November, other organizations spoke up in opposition to changing the name of Temple Street, with the Native Sons of the Golden West’s Ramona Parlor (#109) being among the first to chime in. One of the most vocal of opponents was Florence Dodson Schoneman, a descendant of the Sepúlveda family which owned the Rancho Palos Verdes and who was president of the California History and Landmarks Club. She not only jumped in early to fight the name change idea, but galvanized support among women’s clubs and other groups and spoke at several venues in the Angel City.

Joining her on the speaking tour were University of Southern California instructor Roland A. Vandegrift, who went on to be the state finance director and who presented a history of Temple Street and Jonathan Temple’s key role in the Ord Survey of 1849, and Worden, of whom the Los Angeles Record of 5 November (it happening to be the 84th anniversary of the arrival of the Rowland and Workman Expedition to the Angel City) reported, “Professor Perry Worden, well known California historian, yesterday tendered his services to local clubwomen in their fight to preserve the name of Temple street.”

Times, 3 November 1925.

Another widely recognized figure in what was then considered historic preservation was Mrs. A.S.C. (Harrye) Forbes, whose work in placing mission bell markers along El Camino Real, the historic route through Spanish and Mexican Alta California was her best known project, along with a couple of books on the missions. Gertrude M. Price, in the Los Angeles Record of 4 November, wrote “a mass of femininity is being raised today in urgent protest against a move on foot to change the name of Temple street. She added that other women’s groups on record against the idea included the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Native Daughters of the Golden West, and the History and Landmarks Division of the district women’s clubs federation.

As for Forbes, she was quoted as saying,

Temple Street was named after John Temple in 1827. There are several members of the Temple family now who are taking an active part in the progress of the city. John Temple made the first survey of Los Angeles. He was a prominent pioneer and a citizen of note. Surely we do not wish to obliterate his monument—the old, well known Temple street by changing its name.

The problem with this assessment is that, while Temple migrated from Hawaii to San Diego in 1827 and then relocated to the Angel City the following year, the street was not established for another three decades or so. He petitioned what was then known as the Common Council at its 9 August 1859 (Temple’s Market House was built during this period and soon became the county courthouse and local government offices, as well as having the first true theater built in town) meeting to create the short dirt lane that went only about a block west of where Spring and Main streets then intersected. Mayor Damien Marchessault appointed a committee to look into the property values as Temple looked to buy them out to get his road started and the next week’s meeting reported on progress with respect to property acquired from merchant Francis Mellus and the heirs of Antonio Valdez.

Los Angeles Express, 3 November 1925.

In October, a draft ordinance to establish the thoroughfare was ordered and it, presumably, shortly afterward that the city officially declared the existence of Temple Street. The following year New High Street, paralleling Spring Street on the west, was created from Jail (later Franklin, just north of 1st) Street to Temple and, eventually, it went farther north. When Los Angeles entered its first boom period in the late Sixties, after Jonathan’s death in 1866, Temple was extended to the west and, gradually, houses were built in the hills in that area. F.P.F. Temple, having acquired his brother’s Temple Block, the first structure constructed there in 1857, added three buildings between 1868 and 1871.

The Temple Block became the center of a new downtown and remained a prominent place for professionals and others to maintain their offices through the rest of the century, although newer and larger commercial structures increasingly overshadowed it, especially during the much larger boom of 1887-1888 (when William H. Workman was mayor). By the 1910s, with momentum building for a new city hall and civic center and the Temple Block generally considered the best spot for the complex, its days were numbered.

Los Angeles Record, 4 November 1925.

Moreover, as mentioned briefly above, Temple did not conduct the first survey of Los Angeles, this was done by Lt. Edward O.C. Ord and his assistant William Hutton in 1849, though Temple, as a city official was involved and as a private citizen, as well, given that he fronted the $3,000 for the work, which he was paid through sales of lots established by the work. Finally, identifying him as a pioneer was an Anglo-centric view, to be sure.

With women organizing rapidly to protest the name change idea, Worden came up with another form of opposition, which he expressed to Walter Temple in his letter of 10 November and, in his inimitable (and self-boosting) fashion, he wrote in a typical interminable sentence,

You will be delighted, I am sure, to learn that, as a result possible ONLY because of my past association with the Newmarks, and my present relation to you, I was in a position to ask, (as a particular personal favor,) of Marco Newmark,—his brother being en route from Europe that a strong NOTE OF PROTEST AGAINST THE PROPOSED CHANGE IN NAME OF TEMPLE STREET be put into the New, Revised, and Augmented Edition of [Harris] Newmark’s “Sixty Years in Southern California, 1853-1913,” for which the book-trade is impatiently waiting, hundreds of advance orders already on file; and I asked for, and received, authority to frame a paragraph, which I have had sent post-haste to the New York publishers, with directions for the printer . . .

Worden was hired by Marco and Maurice, sons of the prominent merchant and real estate figure, to edit a manuscript dictated by Harris Newmark, but essentially wrote the narrative when the work appeared in 1916. There is no question that his significant role in the book, which was more acknowledged in the 1926 second edition, got Temple’s attention when he hired Worden to write his family’s history.

Record, 5 November 1925.

There would later be something of a falling-out between Worden and the Newmarks, including some troubling accusations the former made about Jews and their role in the downfall of the Temple and Workman bank in the 1870s, something which another prominent local business figure, Jackson A. Graves, addressed in his 1927 work, Seventy Years in California. Yet, Worden was inordinately proud of his ability to get a reference to the Temple Street controversy as an appendix to the new version of the Newmark book.

Adding to Temple that there were exact specifications as to placement of the statement so that it would “ESPECIALLY ATTRACT THE READER,” Worden supposed that Temple “will feel glad for this, seeing at once that especially IF THE NAME OF TEMPLE STREET SHALL BE CHANGED . . .this strong sentiment in the very successful and popular Newmark book . . . will HELP PRESERVE THE HISTORY OF TEMPLE STREET, that was.” Moreover, with Worden having a chapter in the Workman and Temple book devoted to the thoroughfare, this “will show folks, [a] hundred yrs from now, the crime of such [a] change.”

Venice Vanguard, 11 November 1925.

The hyperbolic historian added, though, that, “IF the City Council do not take immediate action, then” with the new Newmark edition published and read far and wide, “this PROTEST, I have just had inserted, at [the] last minute closing of [the] book, SHOULD HELP PREVENT THE CHANGE OF NAME.” With the letter typed, Worden added in handwriting, “I have spoken to some large & representative audiences & am likely to be called before others,” so that, coupled with expected rain, was likely to keep the historian from seeing his patron soon.

With respect to the statement, with a copy addressed to Temple’s attorney and business partner, George H. Woodruff and mailed separately on the same day, it bore the title “Concerning Historical Names And the Desirability of their Retention” and intoned, again in another meandering sentence,

Both the Author and the Editors have several times noted the reprehensible tendency to obliterate Historic Names, especially for those of less sensible meaning and, therefore, of far less appeal, the latest attempt in this direction, to change the old and honored name of TEMPLE STREET,—so suggestive of interesting events and associations in the Past, and a very proper memorial of one of the worthiest of early Los Angeles pioneers, the intrepid and public-spirited John Temple,—being thus far the most flagrant of all instances, and one that is certainly to be hoped will be thwarted by a unmistakable demonstration of righteous and opposing public sentiment.

The 11 November edition of the Venice Vanguard reported on a tea given by Schoneman at the prestigious University Club and it was noted that a committee was established to make the case to the City Council for keeping the Temple Street name. The article erred in saying that Jonathan came to Los Angeles with Abel Stearns (another early Massachusetts-born settler and merchant in the Mexican-era) and that he planted the first trees and paved the first streets in town. It did record that, along with Vandegrift’s remarks on the Temple family history, Worden spoke (giving his title as president and director of the California Archives for Collection and Preservation of California Historical Data) and it was added that “Worden has just returned from Redding [Reading], Mass., where he has been doing research work on Temple’s past history.”

In ensuing days, other organizations joined the protest, including the Los Angeles Teachers’ Club, a new women’s group called the President’s Association and the Los Angeles Realty Board (which pushed for the First Street connection and then Beverly’s eastern extension to Montebello, while the plan was to have the thoroughfare terminate at the Coast at Pacific Palisades). The Vermont-Beverly Association was another opponent and it issued a statement that seven other organizations were allied with it, including the chambers of commerce in Beverly Hills and Hollywood and improvement associations in Pacific Palisades, the Larchmont Avenue area, and Westwood.

A couple of major newspapers published editorials, as well, though the references to Temple were nowhere as celebratory as what Worden and others promoted. The Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News of 18 November, for example, argued that changing the name of the street would be akin to finding a new moniker for the Liberty Bell, but its encomium for Temple was mainly that he was “a leader of the vigilantes in days when that kind of law meant order instead of chaos.” While it averred that the thoroughfare “is crowded with memories fraught with real meaning in the history of the pueblo,” it then veered elsewhere to suggest, “though it never meant anything to anyone,” Temple Street “is short and adequate and unduplicated.”

Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, 18 November 1925.

Two days later, the Los Angeles Express editorialized more about the broader need to preserve historic names, including in such places as San Francisco and Santa Barbara (this latter deemed especially praiseworthy in this regard), though it did observe that Temple Street was “the remaining public reminder of the useful, creative career of one of the most respected of pioneers.” Adding that remembering such persons with street names established “a nomenclature which is indigenous,” that word is particularly striking when it comes to the use of the word pioneers, “to the soil and climate and woven into the very fibre of the state’s traditions and history,” the paper concluded, “there is historic as well as sentimental value to the old street names. They should be retained.”

Then there was Valerie Watrous, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, who offered a striking commentary, beginning with

Women’s clubs are organizing; indignant protests are being hurled at the City Council; old-timers are selling rusty pens and scratching off sizzling letters to the editors to stop the outrage. Never shall the name of Temple street be changed!

Moreover, Watrous referenced the Newmark book, but to point to a recollection of the merchant that Temple “became one of the wealthiest, and one of the stingiest men in California” and added that Temple sold local property (Rancho Los Cerritos, in particular) “for a fiddler’s jig,” meaning for a pittance (50 cents an acre for the ranch) “in the firm belief that Los Angeles never would become a city.”

Express, 20 November 1925.

The columnist listed other examples of thoroughfares given a new name, including Charity Street becoming Grand Avenue and Grasshopper Street turning into Figueroa, while Fort morphed into Broadway as an imitation of New York City. Noting “and so we change,” Watrous ended with the humorous notion that, “of course, it may distract the Beverly Hills dweller to go to sleep on Easy street and wake up on Hustle drive, but it will quicken his sympathies for the shade of Jonathan Temple.”

Harry Carr, part-owner of the Times and writer of his very popular column “The Lancer,” mused that, when it came to changing the name of Temple Street, “there are a good many reasons why it might be done with benefit, but I should hate to see the old street pass.” He added that “it is astonishing that so few people know what the name means” and that Temple did not mean a Chinese house of worship “but an old California family.” He recalled that “a City Councilman with a vacant skull” once proposed renaming Figueroa Street to Fifth Avenue (apparently another mimicking of The Big Apple) and felt that “even from a real estate standpoint, the old California names should be retained.” Carr concluded, “if we are too tight to keep memories green in other ways, we can at least hold to the street names like Temple, Castelar, Figueroa, Alvarado, Pico and the like.”

Times, 22 November 1925.

The very powerful Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce finally opined on 19 December by declaring it was against the name change, as well, but did so by applying their opposition to “the renaming of streets of lesser importance. In any case, the aforementioned council committees finally reported their findings to the larger body on 27 January 1926, recommending that Temple and First streets keep their monikers. On 8 February, the City Council followed that suggestion on a 9-5 vote, leading the Hollywood Citizen of the following day to comment that, after a “spirited hearing,” the “shades of the pioneers may rest in peace again.”

As for Beverly Boulevard, it never extended the full length from the Pacific to Montebello as intended, as it meets First at downtown and then veers from Third Street in East Los Angeles to end today in Whittier where it becomes Turnbull Canyon Road. Temple does meet Beverly near the intersections with Silver Lake Boulevard and Virgil Avenue just south of U.S. 101 and one wonders if there might be another effort to change the name, given that such proposals continue to be made and many approved from time-to-time.

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