Southern California Vanguards, pg. 4

Part II, continued

A return to wealth and prominence came to the Temple family in 1917. Walter P. Temple was a struggling walnut farmer on the family homestead at La Merced, where he lived with his wife Laura Gonzalez (1871-1922) and their four surviving children. In October 1912, however, he purchased land on the rancho from the estate of Lucky Baldwin (from which Temple also executed a mortgage) that had once belonged to his father. It appears that a friend of Temple’s, Milton Kauffman, worked for Standard Oil Company and recent discoveries in Fullerton had led to speculation that oil might be found in the Montebello Hills area. In April 1914, Thomas Temple, eldest child of Walter and Laura Temple, made a discovery of oil in a pool of water found after a rain. By 1916, a lease agreement had been made with Standard Oil and, after a test well proved successful on Baldwin land, drilling commenced on the Temple lease. The first well was brought into production in June 1917, followed by some twenty-five other wells. Several gushers led to tremendous profits for the family. In November 1917, the family bought a home in Alhambra and purchased the Workman Homestead, which had been lost by Walter’s brother, John, eighteen years before.

Top: Walter and Laura Temple, circa 1919. Bottom: La Casa Nueva, the home of the Walter Temple family, 1927.Top: Walter and Laura Temple, ca. 1919. From the Homestead Museum Collection.
Bottom: La Casa Nueva, home of the Walter Temple family, nearing completion in 1927. From the Homestead Museum Collection.

The Temples embarked on an ambitious development program for the ranch, including the restoration of the badly damaged cemetery; renovation of the Workman wineries into an auditorium, cafeteria, and garage; the construction of a reservoir/swimming pool and tennis court; the remodeling of the Workman House; and the construction of homes for Walter’s sisters, Lucinda Zuniga (1860-1928) and Margarita Rowland (1866-1953). The centerpiece of the Temples’ plans, however, was the construction of La Casa Nueva, a Spanish colonial revival residence rich in architectural crafts and numerous references to regional and family history. Original designs by the Temples and contractor Sylvester Cook were drawn up by prominent Los Angeles architects, Walker and Eisen, and revised by architect Roy Seldon Price. Construction commenced in the summer of 1922, but was halted by the sudden death of Laura Temple just after Christmas. After dedicating the home to her, the family resumed construction, and it was completed in 1927.

Unfortunately, the family’s occupation of the home was short-lived. Mirroring many of the activities of his father fifty years before, Walter Temple used his oil income to embark on real estate and construction projects during another of Los Angeles’s fabled booms. These included office buildings; movie theaters; post offices and stores in Los Angeles, Alhambra, El Monte, and San Gabriel; and the purchase of land holdings in Puente and Monterey Park. He also continued oil developments in Whittier, Huntington Beach, Ventura, Texas, and Mexico.

Promotional brochure for Temple City, circa 1928Promotional brochure for Temple City, ca. 1928. From the Temple City Historical Society.

Temple’s most prominent project, however, was the founding of the Town of Temple in the spring of 1923 (renamed Temple City in 1928). A 285-acre parcel, formerly owned by his father and William Workman that was sold to Lucky Baldwin in October 1875 during the suspension of the Temple and Workman bank, was developed into a community initially envisioned for 5,000 people. Advertisements targeted a middle class clientele and touted the benefits of easy transportation access, via the Pacific Electric Railway, to Los Angeles with the rural atmosphere of the San Gabriel Valley. Construction of a downtown business block, town park, rail depot, and homes soon led to steady sales of town lots.

The combination of the great expense of developing the town, the cost of the other Temple projects, and the lavishness of La Casa Nueva, soon led Temple into financial difficulties. In the spring of 1926, Temple began mortgaging his various holdings to the California Bank and Farmers and Merchants Bank. Attempts to restructure his holdings and sell off certain parcels to save the Workman Homestead were unsuccessful. The mortgage on the Homestead was due on October, 29 1929, just after the crash of the stock market in New York City. Although unrelated to those events, the timing led to Temple’s loss of everything. By 1931, the family left the Homestead, which was later occupied by a boys’ military academy and a convalescent facility.

The Workman and Temple family history is preserved in the lives of their descendants and in the names of streets, parks, and schools throughout southern California. Today that history is shared with the thousands of visitors who come to the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum each year. As vanguards in the development of southern California, the Workman and Temple families’ place in the history of the region is assured.