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Southern California Vanguards

Paul R. Spitzzeri 

Part I: From Pastoral Pueblo to Emerging City, 1830-1876

From the arrival of Jonathan Temple in the Mexican pueblo of Los Angeles in 1828 and that of his half-brother, F. P. F., and of the Workman family 13 years later, the lives of the Temple and Workman families were linked with the fortunes of a pastoral southern California. Whether in cattle ranching, agriculture, or early business endeavors, the families were at the vanguard of regional activities, even as economic fluctuations from the Gold Rush, floods, and drought led to dramatic rises and losses among Southern Californians. Ultimately, Los Angeles' first market growth spurt and the deep investment of William Workman and F. P. F. Temple led to a terrible setback for them and their families.

Few families have had as extensive an involvement in the public life of Southern California as the Workman and Temple families. These activities were particularly noteworthy during the century between 1830 and 1930, as the families were at the vanguard of such varied pursuits as ranching, agriculture, real estate and construction, politics, oil and water development, banking, and social activism. The story of the families serves, therefore, as an appropriate case study for the story of Southern California.

Top: Jonathan Temple, ca. 1850. Bottom: Rancho Los Cerritos adobe, constructed in 1844 by Jonathan Temple. Top: Jonathan “Juan” Temple, ca. 1850. From the Los Angeles Public Library. 
Bottom: Rancho Los Cerritos adobe, constructed in 1844 by Jonathan Temple. From the Los Angeles Public Library. 
The first member of the families to settle in Southern California was Jonathan Temple (1796-1866). A native of Reading, Massachusetts, Temple lived in Hawaii and San Diego before opening the first American-style store in Los Angeles in 1828, which he operated for almost thirty years. In 1843, he purchased the Rancho Los Cerritos, a 27,000-acre property in today's Long Beach area, where his 1844 adobe survives as part of the Rancho Los Cerritos historic site. During the 1840s, Temple was active in ship-bound trade throughout the coasts of California and Mexico and is said to have owned extensive lands between Acapulco and Mazatlán. In 1856, he became the lessor of the Mexican national mint, a concession held by him and his daughter until 1893 and reputedly worth $1 million.

Temple was also one of Los Angeles's first developers, constructing such landmarks as the original Temple Block and the Market House, which later served as city and county administrative headquarters, contained the county courthouse, and featured the first true theater in Southern California. He also served as the first alcalde, or mayor of Los Angeles after capture of the pueblo by the United States during the Mexican War and served on the first American-period common (city) council. During his tenure on the council in 1849, he arranged and paid for the Ord Survey, the first detailed survey of Los Angeles. When a new street was opened in Los Angeles in the mid-1850s, near the Temple Block, the city named it Temple Street in his honor. He lived his last years in San Francisco where he died on May 30, 1866, two months after selling Rancho Los Cerritos.

The next member of the family to come to Los Angeles was Jonathan's half-brother, Pliny Fisk Temple (1822-1880), who arrived by ship from Massachusetts in the summer of 1841. Pliny was 26 years his brother’s junior and, because Jonathan had left the East Coast before Pliny's birth, the two had never met. Pliny's visit became a permanent move and he took a position as a clerk in his brother's store, where he worked until 1849. During this period, Pliny met Antonia Margarita Workman (1830-1892), 15-year-old daughter of William Workman (1799-1876) and Nicolasa Urioste (1802-1892). Their marriage in September 1845 (during which Temple was also baptized as Francisco, giving him the distinctive name of F. P. F.) linked the two families together and, symbolically in the changing demographics of early Los Angeles, was the first nuptial in Southern California history where both parties had Anglo last names.

William Workman (right) and David Alexander, ca. 1851
William Workman (right) and friend David W. Alexander, ca. 1851. From the Los Angeles Public Library.
William Workman was the fifth of eight children born to Thomas Workman (1763-1843) and Lucy Cook (1764-1830) and grew up in the village of Clifton in northern England. His older brother, David (1797-1855), left England for the United States about 1817, settled eventually in Franklin, Missouri, and opened a saddlery, the apprenticed trade of the brothers. In 1822, David returned to England and convinced William to join him in America. William remained with David until the spring of 1825, when he joined a caravan to New Mexico. In July, he checked in at the customs house in Santa Fe and later settled in San Francisco del Rancho, a community south of Taos.

It was in the Taos area that Workman began his involvement in fur trapping, distilling, and operating a store, with partner John Rowland. Workman was baptized a Catholic in 1828, became a naturalized Mexican citizen, and married Nicolasa Urioste, a Taos native. The two had a daughter, Antonia Margarita, and a son, Joseph Manuel (1832-1901).

Workman seems to have made a good living in Taos, but politics soon made life difficult. In 1840 the Republic of Texas named Workman and Rowland agents, perhaps without their prior knowledge, to represent Texas’s interests in annexing New Mexico. Although they did not apparently accept this role, Workman and Rowland's identification with the Texans was tantamount to treason. As tensions increased and the Texans began to march for Santa Fe, Rowland and Workman formed a party of some 40 Americans and Europeans that left New Mexico in September 1841. Taking in about 25 New Mexicans shortly after leaving, the party traveled the Old Spanish Trail, arriving in Los Angeles on November 5, 1841. The Rowland and Workman expedition left its legacy as the first emigrant party to enter Southern California from an eastern-based land route. It, with a similar party that arrived in Northern California from Missouri at the same time, signaled a new age of white influx into Mexican California and heralded serious changes for the region.

John Rowland petitioned for, and received, though in his name only, a rancho east of Los Angeles, on former Mission San Gabriel land, called La Puente. Limited initially to four square leagues, about 18,000 acres, the rancho was regranted in 1845 by Governor Pío Pico to both Rowland and Workman and expanded to eleven square leagues (48,790 acres). After living in a temporary dwelling and planting a crop of corn and beans, Workman erected an adobe by the winter of 1842 and began raising cattle, the lifeblood of the California economy.

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 advertisement
Temple 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.

Part II: The Boom of the Eighties to the Roaring Twenties, 1876-1930

While this period was one of struggle for the William Workman/F. P. F. Temple branch of the family, the descendants of Workman's brother David, were in the ascendant in terms of economic, social, and political involvement in Los Angeles. Among these were a mayor and city treasurer; City Council president; and a prominent social worker and activist. Meanwhile, Walter P. Temple, son of F. P. F. and Margarita Temple and grandson of William and Nicolasa Workman, brought a resurgence of his family in regional affairs through oil, real estate and construction, and philanthropy in the 1920s. Ironically, he mirrored much of the activity and, unfortunately, the results of his forebears and misfortune befell the Temples by the Great Depression.

The years after the bank failure were difficult ones for the families of William Workman and F. P. F. Temple. Baldwin sold the family homes and small amounts of acreage to the families in 1880 and 1881, but financial problems continued. Even lands that were held by other family members and, therefore, excluded from the bank mortgage were difficult to keep.

William Workman's son, Joseph, was given over 800 acres on La Puente by his father in 1870. In 1881, he leased the La Puente property and moved to Boyle Heights with his wife Josephine Belt (1851-1937) and their six children, living next to Joseph's cousin, William Henry. In the early 1890s, however, Joseph mortgaged his lands, which were lost in foreclosure in 1895. An interesting sidelight to the Joseph Workman family is that daughter Josephine (1882-1977) was a popular silent film actress, using the stage name Princess Mona Darkfeather, in some 70 short and full-length films between 1909 and 1917.

After William Workman's death, the Homestead, then reduced to 75 acres, was owned by his grandson, Francis W. Temple (1848-1888), who raised walnuts and practiced viticulture. After Francis's death, his brother, John H. Temple (1856-1926), owned the Homestead but it was foreclosed upon by the turn of the century.

At La Merced, Antonia Margarita Temple nearly lost the family homestead through another loan with Baldwin. The 50-acre parcel was saved, though, and passed on to her youngest sons, Walter (1869-1938) and Charles (1872-1918), after her death in 1892.

In contrast to the above difficulties, the last quarter of the nineteenth century was a period of ascendancy for the Los Angeles branch of the Workman family. Elijah Workman continued in the saddlery business until the 1880s, owned a prosperous farm, and served several terms on the City Council between 1866 and 1876 and on the Board of Education. He also was instrumental in the founding of Pershing Square and planted trees at the old Plaza that still survive. He lived a quiet retirement in Boyle Heights and died in 1906.

William Henry Workman, circa 1900William Henry Workman, ca. 1900. From the Los Angeles Public Library.
William Henry Workman became one of Los Angeles’s most prominent citizens. He served several terms on the City Council between 1872 and 1880, was a proxy delegate at the 1872 Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, was mayor in 1887 and 1888, and served as city treasurer from 1901 to 1907. His mayoral term occurred during the years known as the "Boom of the Eighties" during which several parks, including today's MacArthur Park, were established and a new city hall was built. During his term as treasurer, he assisted in the transfer of municipal water control from private to public ownership and initiated the financial dealings for the early stages of the monumental Los Angeles Aqueduct project. He also served on the city parks commission in the 1890s. Workman, who married Maria E. Boyle (1847-1933), inherited valuable and productive vineyards and orchards from her father, Andrew Boyle, and started a subdivision there in 1876 that was named Boyle Heights. He maintained a successful real estate office for many years, was president of the American Savings Bank, and continued to work until his death in February 1918.

Boyle Workman, circa 1919 


Boyle Workman, ca. 1919. From the Los Angeles Public Library.

William H. Workman’s prominence in business and public life was followed by several of his children, including sons Boyle (1868-1942) and William H. Jr. (1874-1951) and daughter, Mary Julia (1871-1964). Boyle Workman served as his father’s assistant during the mayoral and treasurer’s terms and was a member of the Public Service Commission from 1913 until 1917. Two years later, he was elected to the City Council and became its president, a post he held until 1927. In 1929, he made a run for the mayoral seat, losing in a close election. Boyle was also involved actively in business, including ownership of the Monarch Brick Company, the fire insurance firm of Garland and Workman, and the vice-presidency of the American Savings Bank. Boyle's legacy was ensured by the 1935 publication of The City That Grew, a popular semi-autobiographical narrative of Los Angeles. William H. Jr. was the assistant superintendent of the Edison Electric Company in Los Angeles after the turn of the century, and later worked as an electrical engineer. He also was part-owner of the McGilvray-Workman Company, a real estate firm, and was with the Los Angeles Morris Plan Company during the 1920s, serving as its president.

Mary Julia Workman, circa 1920sMary Julia Workman, ca. 1920s. From the Los Angeles Public Library.
Mary Julia Workman, the only woman in the families to have a conspicuous public presence, began her career as a teacher in Los Angeles public schools. She was best known, however, as the founder of the Brownson House Settlement, an organization that assisted underprivileged families in Los Angeles. Her activities with the Roman Catholic Church were honored by Pope Pius X in 1925. In addition, she also entered the political sphere as president of the Public Service Commission from 1925 until 1928 and continued her activism in labor issues, politics, and other areas until her death at age 93.

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 25 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, 18 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 50 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.