Southern California Vanguards, pg. 2

Part I, continued

Within a few years, Workman had become embroiled in California politics. He was the captain of a group of white volunteers serving Pío Pico in his successful effort to unseat unpopular governor Manuel Micheltorena. Perhaps as a result of his assistance, Workman received several grants of land from Pico, including the islands Alcatraz and San Clemente, the missions San Gabriel and San Rafael, and the above-mentioned regranting of Rancho La Puente. In the American takeover and subsequent land claims process, however, only the latter remained in Workman’s hands. 

Workman’s role in the American invasion was significant. He arranged an amnesty with Commodore Robert F. Stockton near San Juan Capistrano in early January 1847 for Mexican citizens fighting the Americans. After the war-ending battle of Los Angeles a few days later, Workman and two others brought the flag of truce. He also was instrumental in securing the release of local American residents, including John Rowland, who were taken captive by the Californios.

Nine days before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo took effect in 1848, James Marshall made his discovery of gold that brought riches and irremediable change to California. (Gold was first discovered in large quantity, however, near Los Angeles in 1842, from which F. P. F. Temple sold gold dust to the east.) Southern cattle ranchers, such as John Temple,
F. P. F. Temple, and William Workman made tremendous fortunes selling beef cattle to miners and other residents of the north. Workman’s brother, David, who continued to operate his saddlery in Missouri, also engaged in trade in the west and Mexico, and sought to make his own fortune in California by opening a store in Sacramento in 1852. Although a fire destroyed the business (and most of the city), a subsequent visit to his brother at La Puente led David to return to Missouri and ready his family for resettlement in southern California. Unfortunately, the reunion of the Workman brothers was short-lived, because David was killed in Stanislaus County during the summer of 1855 driving sheep to the mining regions for William. David’s widow, Nancy (1807-1888), and their sons, Thomas (1832-1863), Elijah (1835-1906), and William Henry (1839-1918), moved into Los Angeles, becoming active and influential citizens. Thomas was the clerk for Phineas Banning at Wilmington and ran for county clerk in 1861. He was killed, however, in a steamship explosion at Wilmington in April 1863. Elijah also worked for Phineas Banning before opening his own saddlery in 1857. After being a press operator for the Southern Californian and Los Angeles Star newspapers, William Henry joined Elijah in the saddlery business by 1860.

Rancho La Merced, built in 1851Rancho La Merced, built in 1851, painted by Mattie Laura Jodon in 1894. From the Huntington Library.

By this time, the Gold Rush began to pan out and the influence of competition from midwestern cattle ranchers as well as the vicissitudes of the weather took its toll on the cattle industry in southern California. A calamitous flood followed by a devastating drought from 1862 to '64 ended the preeminence of cattle as the backbone of the region’s economy. Many ranchers focused primarily or completely on cattle, and suffered severe reverses that forced the sale or mortgage foreclosure of their properties. Others, such as William Workman and F. P. F. Temple, had supplemented their cattle income by farming and were able to weather the flood and drought. At the same time, both were able to finally obtain United States titles for their properties—Workman in 1867 and Temple in 1872, after filing their claims in 1852. By the early 1870s, both men had also improved their ranches. Temple added a second story to his adobe and constructed a two-story French Second Empire style brick home adjacent to it. He also had a mill and Italian gardens, and made other improvements. Workman renovated his home twice, once in the 1850s and again in the late 1860s. He also established a cemetery, built a chapel, constructed a mill and wineries, added other buildings, and increased his agricultural holdings, while still maintaining cattle.

 Workman House, circa 1870
Workman House, ca. 1870. From the Homestead Museum Collection.

The post-drought years coincided with the conclusion of the Civil War and, beginning in the late 1860s, immigrants from the devastated South joined other new arrivals to the region. Los Angeles entered its first boom period, spawning real estate subdivisions, small industries, water and oil development, railroads, and others. Members of the Workman and Temple families played crucial roles in the boom. Among them were Elijah and William H. Workman, whose saddlery and harness business benefited from the growth of the region’s population and trade. F. P. F. Temple was at the forefront of the development movement, stemming in 1867 with the purchase of his late brother’s valuable Los Angeles property. In the following eight years, Temple was owner or part-owner in a wide array of companies, including an oil concern in Newhall; a water company for mines in Inyo County; a saw mill near Idyllwild; townsites at today’s Compton, Inglewood, Culver City, San Marino, and Alhambra; railroads from Santa Monica to Inyo County; and many more. He was also a major participant in the drive to bring the Southern Pacific Railroad line to Los Angeles from San Francisco and built several new substantial brick buildings to the Temple Block and surrounding area, demolishing the adobe structures of his brother’s day.

Workman & Temple Bank advertisementTemple and Workman Bank advertisement from the first Los Angeles City and County Directory, 1872.

It was in banking, though, that Temple and William Workman most deeply participated in the boom, as financiers of regional development projects. In 1868 the two men formed a partnership with merchant Isaias Hellman and opened the second bank in Los Angeles called, “Hellman, Temple, and Company.” Hellman, as cashier, represented the newly emerging business class of the city, while Temple and Workman exemplified the long-standing moneyed ranching class of the region. The bank, however, was dissolved by Hellman in 1871, due to differences in loaning policy. Undaunted, Temple convinced Workman, who was a silent partner, to continue as the banking house of Temple and Workman, which opened in a three-story addition to the Temple Block in November 1871.

The rush to development during the boom caught up with the Temple and Workman bank. In late August 1875, a panic erupted in San Francisco following the collapse of the Comstock Lode silver mines speculation in Nevada and the subsequent closure of the Bank of California. When the news traveled the telegraph wires to Los Angeles, patrons of the Temple and Workman bank rushed to withdraw their money, forcing the bank to suspend business. Temple and Workman were unable to find immediate assistance and remained closed for three months. Negotiations with E. J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who was looking for southern California real estate, culminated in early December with a loan of $210,000, secured by a mortgage on the combined property of Temple, Workman, and friend Juan Matias Sanchez. While the reopening of the bank on December 6, 1875, was heralded as a return to prosperity for Los Angeles, the steady stream of depositors closing their accounts continued. Despite the infusion of an additional $130,000 from Baldwin, the bank closed permanently on January 13, 1876. An inventory revealed mismanagement by the head cashier, a long list of debtors who could not pay, and a clear sense that these conditions coupled with the bank’s propensity to participate in boom-era speculations brought it to ruin.

After three years in assignment, during which only a fraction of the bank’s creditors received compensation, a court ruling in 1879 led to the sheriff’s sale of the mortgaged property to an agent of Baldwin. The ruin was too much for William Workman, who at age 76, took his life on May 17, 1876, after the court sent a receiver to take possession of his home. Temple, who was elected Los Angeles County Treasurer a few days after the initial bank suspension, served out his term until 1878. He suffered a series of strokes, however, which left him partially paralyzed. A virtual recluse, the once-popular and widely respected Temple died of apoplexy at Rancho La Merced in April 1880.

« Previous                    Next »