Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In 1923, greater Los Angeles was at the peak of a population and development boom and the good time resounded throughout the region. Growth in the city of Los Angeles was accompanied by a massive suburban development in the San Fernando Valley, the South Bay, and the western San Gabriel Valley, as well.
For many towns and cities, promoting some vague historical connection to a generally imagined Spanish and Mexican past was part of a sales pitch to encourage residents and business people to come to their community. In some cases, one promotional and marketing vehicle was a town song.
In the Homestead’s collection of sheet music is the one highlighted here, a 1923 published tune called “Alhambra (The Town of My Golden Dreams).” With lyrics by C.J. Burns and F.F. Gualano and music by Gualano, the song was dedicated to “The Alhambra Business and Professional Women’s Club.”
The front cover featured a pretty typical image–through an elaborately decorated doorway brimming with Moorish influences, a couple wearing costumes from the pre-American era gaze out (presumably in wonder) at a valley that appears primarily agricultural and bounded by snow-capped mountains.
The back cover has a statement about Alhambra, which was a rapidly growing community in the early Twenties (funny that the front image shows only one house, though, amid the verdant landscape!) Also typically, the statement begins with the assertion that “in 1771, when the early Fathers [of the Roman Catholic missions] planted their seeds of a future civilization, little did they think that the results of their work would reach such large dimensions.” While this seems likely, it is notable that nothing was said about the native aboriginal peoples who had to make way (or, perhaps, get out of the way) for that civilization.
The rest of the text extolled Alhambra as “becoming one of the potential cities in Southern California, industrially, financially, educationally . . .” With its “rapidly growing payroll,” as well as fine houses, excellent schools and its churches, Alhambra was represented by a “Business and Professional Women’s Club” that staked its faith in the town’s future “and they take the opportunity in this unique way of helping to advertise the city by distributing their song, ‘Alhambra.'”
Notably, the origins of Alhambra date back to greater Los Angeles’ first boom, which took place in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Benjamin D. Wilson, who migrated to California in late 1841 in the expedition led by John Rowland and William Workman, owned considerable property that he called “Lake Vineyard.”
As the boom peaked in 1874 and 1875, he formed the Lake Vineyard Land and Water Company, the treasurer of which was Workman’s son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple. Just as the project was being developed, however, the state economy went into a tailspin in late summer 1875 and, in Los Angeles, the Temple and Workman bank collapsed the following January, which has been covered here recently. The Alhambra project languished until a direct transcontinental railroad line reached the region in 1885 and the great Boom of the 1880s ensued.
Revived due to the boom, Alhambra slowly grew in ensuing decades, though it was in the post-World War I period that it really transformed. One of those who saw “golden dreams” in the town was Walter P. Temple, F.P.F.’s son and William Workman’s grandson. In 1917, fresh from receiving his first royalty checks from Standard Oil Company of California, Temple, his wife Laura Gonzalez and their four surviving children moved to a spacious Craftsman home on the corner of Main and Almansor streets, buying the property the same week in November the family purchased the Homestead.
The Temples resided at their Alhambra home for some six years, remodeling and improving the property, while Walter chose the town to be the site of his earliest endeavors in real estate development. In 1919, he bought the first of several sections of downtown property and, two years later, finished his first building for what became the “Temple Estate Company.” The Temple Theater, an ornate movie house, opened just in time for the Christmas holidays.
Between 1921 and 1927, the Temple Estate Company built or purchased several structures over a couple of blocks along Main Street, including stores, a small hotel, a mortuary, a business building with architectural details used on La Casa Nueva and Temple’s last real estate project anywhere, the four-story Edison Building, at the northwest corner of Main and Third streets. The Edison building and a couple of others have survived so far.
In 1922, after returning from a summer trip to Mexico, the Temples decided to build La Casa Nueva at the Homestead and construction was not far along when Laura Temple suddenly died at the end of the year. The following year, as Walter Temple was launching his Town of Temple, renamed Temple City in 1928, he decided to sell the Alhambra house and move to the Homestead.
The buyer of the residence was the Methodist Episcopal Church, which built a beautiful church on the property and converted the Temple home into an office and rectory, which it remains today ninety years later.
As for the song, the lyrics are full of the romantic language common for the time and are are worth reprinting:
Yankees from Maine , Dons from Spain
All seeking the land of their dreams.
Rolling o’er the sea, roaming o’er the plains
With the Northmen from the land of ice and snow
To the land of song and sunshine, where ’tis ever springtime
And where nature smiled and welcomed them to stay
There is a town that I love
In the vale of Gabriel
With smiling skies up above
Lend their charm to thee
They can all be found in Alhambra
The Town of my golden dreams
Mountains and vales, rosy lanes
With orange blossoms smiling their goodbyes
Tho’ I went away, to the Great White Way
I am going back and never more will roam
Neath the palm trees gently waving, soft breezes swaying
I’ll kiss my love and then to her I’ll say