Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It was on 5 August 1848 that, Francis Workman Temple, the second child of Antonia Margarita Workman and her husband, F.P.F. Temple, was born in the Workman House, owned by his mother’s parents, William and Nicolasa Workman.
Francis (also known as Frank or Pancho) was born just a few months after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially ended the Mexican-American War and after the discovery of gold in California was getting out to the world, spurring the famous California Gold Rush.
At the time of his birth, his parents and older brother, Thomas (born in 1846), were living in Los Angeles, because F.P.F. Temple was working as clerk in the store of his half-brother, Jonathan. But, when gold was found, F.P.F. left to try his hand out gold digging and found, as most did, that it was harder done than said.
But, the Workman and Temple families found another way to profit from the Gold Rush, sending cattle north to the mines to sell at high prices to the hordes flocking to California. By 1851, when Francis’ younger brother, William, was born, his namesake grandfather, William Workman, turned over the Rancho La Merced, obtained by a mortgage foreclosure, to the Temples and to Workman’s Rancho La Puente foreman, Juan Matias Sánchez.
The Temples built an adobe home at La Merced, near where Rosemead and San Gabriel boulevards meet, and ran their cattle ranching and farming enterprises there. This was Francis’ home through most of his childhood, though he was first educated at the private school his Workman grandparents established at their home at La Puente.
Francis had a knack for agriculture and, especially, wine-making. After attending Santa Clara College (now the University of Santa Clara) near San Jose, he spent a couple of years in the early 1870s in his father’s home state of Massachusetts, where Francis attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (the famous M.I.T.)
He then returned home to become his grandfather Workman’s vintner (wine-maker). The Workman vineyard had, at one time, some 100,000 vines on about 100 acres and, in the mid-1860s, three large brick wineries were built, about where our Homestead Gallery is situated now.
Life was good for the Workman and Temple families in that first half of the Seventies. They were successful ranchers and farmers, owned one of Los Angeles’ two commercial banks (called simply Temple and Workman), had a variety of real estate, oil and other business endeavors, and were among the wealthiest families in greater Los Angeles.
That all ended with the spectacular crash of the California economy and the failure of the family bank in 1875-76. After the bank collapsed, William Workman gave Francis his power of attorney, enabling him to act on the best interests of his grandfather, though that soon ended with Workman’s dramatic suicide in May 1876. It was Francis who found his grandfather’s body and had the sad duty to send the news to his mother at La Merced.
With the financial affairs of the families tied up with legal matters, Francis continued to live in the Workman House and operate what he could of the farming and ranching activities, including the vineyard and wineries. After Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who held a mortgage on most of the families’ properties, foreclosed in 1879, Francis had, evidently, made enough money making wine to buy back the Workman House and 75 acres of land surrounding it, which became known as the La Puente or Workman Homestead.
Even though the local economy was in a doldrums, Francis appears to have done well for himself concentrating on wine-making. Having developed tuberculosis, however, his health suffered greatly and he made frequent trips to the Arizona desert, specifically Yuma, to try and improve his health.
Unfortunately, these efforts failed and Francis died on 2 August 1888, just three days from his fortieth birthday, in the same room in the Workman House in which he was born. Francis was laid to rest in El Campo Santo, the family cemetery at the east end of the Homestead, and remained in the fenced burial plot behind St. Nicholas Chapel until his body was reinterred in the early 1920s in the mausoleum built by his younger brother, Walter.
Francis, who never married and left no heirs, had an estate valued at a substantial $150,000, including the Workman Homestead, which he left to his two brothers, William and John. More, however, about that later history is to come in a future post.