Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In its July 5 edition, the Los Angeles Times ran a feature (read more here) about the Tejon Ranch and a plan by its namesake company to open much of the massive 270,000-acre property for participants in a membership program that will run about $2,500 for five months of access.
The modern Tejon Ranch is, as noted in the article, a conglomeration of four Mexican-era ranchos including Castec, La Liebre, Los Alamos, and El Tejon, as well as other properties stitched together by Edward F. Beale and his partner Robert S. Baker. Tejon was, at nearly 100,000 acres, by far the largest of the component pieces.
The Rancho El Tejon was granted by Alta California governor Manuel Micheltorena to José Antonio Aguirre and Ygnacio del Valle, the latter of whom was especially prominent in the Los Angeles area in politics and as a landowner, with his Rancho Camulos just over the county line in Ventura County, being the best known.
Aguirre and del Valle used their huge rancho to pasture cattle and it proved to be an excellent place to have these highly desired sources of fresh beef when the Gold Rush burst forth in 1849. Just after the rush receded, in 1857, Aguirre sold his half of El Tejon, which was then in Los Angeles County, to Los Angeles merchant and rancher, Jonathan Temple.
Temple, born in 1796 in Reading, Massachusetts, migrated to the Hawaiian Islands not long after the 1819 arrivals of the first Congregationalist missionaries from Temple’s home state. He remained in what was still broadly known as the Sandwich Islands until 1827, working as a merchant in Honolulu.
Temple then moved briefly to San Diego, where he was baptized a Roman Catholic and, the following year, 1828, settled in Los Angeles, where he had the distinction of being the second American or European to live in the town (the first, in the early 1820s, was Joseph Chapman, an American pirate under French-born Hippolyte Bouchard, who embarked on his adventures from Argentina–whoa, talk about multi-culturalism!)
Among Temple’s notable endeavors was his opening of the first store in Los Angeles. The adobe structure was located at what is now roughly the northwest corner of Main and Temple streets. Over the years he would add to his holdings in town, establishing the early stages of what became known as the Temple Block.
In 1848, he built a two-story adobe structure at the north end and then, nine years later, added a two-story brick building at the southern extremity of his property. In 1859, he completed the Market House, roughly fashioned after Boston’s Faneuil Hall, and designed to be a commercial market building. The battered post-Gold Rush economy, however, doomed the original intent for the structure and it was soon leased to the city and county for government offices and the county courthouse. For a brief time, the upper floor served as the first true theater, the Temple Theater, in Los Angeles.
Temple’s activities were not limited to Los Angeles. In 1856, he secured the lease to the national mint of Mexico due to connections forged by his son-in-law, who later fled in exile to Paris, but the lease remained with Temple’s daughter until it was nationalized in the early 1890s.
The use of El Tejon to rest cattle as they were driven to northern markets was almost certainly the reason for Temple’s investment and his half-brother, F. P. F. Temple, leased portions of the ranch to pasture cattle owned by him and his father-in-law, William Workman. F. P. F. then found an opportunity to pick up a nearby property when he, and family friend David W. Alexander, took advantage of a golden opportunity to pick up the neighboring Rancho San Emigdio in an 1864 tax sale.
By the mid-1860s, however, the dual disaster of floods in 1861-62 and drought for the next two years, following on the heels of the decline of the Gold Rush and a national depression in 1857, sent the already-reeling cattle industry into the doldrums.
Jonathan Temple, who decided to abandon Los Angeles for San Francisco, joined del Valle in selling Tejon to Beale in 1864 (Kern County took in most of the ranch when it was created in 1866) and died in San Francisco two years later. His Temple Block, meanwhile, was sold to his brother in 1867 and, as the Los Angeles economy recovered and turned into its first growth boom, F. P. F. Temple added three new brick business buildings to the Block.
The last, finished in 1871 on the spot of the two-story adobe Jonathan had built there nearly a quarter century before, housed the ornate quarters of the private bank of Temple and Workman, which F. P.F. and William Workman opened after parting ways with Isaias W. Hellman, proprietor of the new Farmers and Merchants Bank. The grandiose ambitions of Temple and Workman as financiers were dashed when the boom went bust and the bank’s mismanagement could not be reversed by a loan from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin in 1875.
Meanwhile, the Beale and Baker connection applies out here at Rancho La Puente. In 1872, the two land moguls (Baker was also owner of much of what became Santa Monica and built a hotel named for his wife Arcadia Bandini Stearns–he also built the Baker Block on the downtown Los Angeles property of her first husband, Abel Stearns), putchased 5,000 acres of the northern and eastern sections of the ranch from William Workman and another man, Peregrine Fitzhugh. The two maintained this grazing property until the 1890s.
So, if anyone reading this decides to spring for the $2,500 five-month membership to use Tejon Ranch land for recreation, maybe give Jonathan Temple a thought or two as the half-owner of the ranch some 150 years ago!