Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
After about two-and-a-half weeks since the failure of the bank of F.P.F. Temple and William Workman, assignees Edward F. Spence and Daniel Freeman completed their inventory of the books of the shattered institution and compiled the list of assets of its owners, had the document signed by the pair, and then submitted them for certification with the recorder’s office in Los Angeles.
Being an evening paper, the Los Angeles Express was the first to break the news with a detailed accounting of the bank’s books. The paper chose in its main article to approach the subject of the inventory from an essentially factual point of view. It congratulated itself for releasing “a correct account” by utilizing “its customary enterprise.”
The Express then observed that there were 187 overdrafts and 74 unpaid drafts on one side of the ledger, with 132 certificates of deposit and 402 cash depositors, while there were 365 bills receivable.
It stated “from the hour the Recorder’s office opened this morning, throngs of curious persons, bankers, editors, etc., were on hand to scrutinize the exhibit.” Moreover, the paper went on, “debtors and creditors of the late bank seemed to vie with each other in showing their interest in the progress of things.” Meanwhile, “those who had no earthly concern in the bank’s affairs were on hand to find out how their neighbors stood.”
As to commentary, the Express did have a separate editorial, in which it stated
A critical examination of the statement of Temple & Workman’s Bank reveals some of the most remarkable curiosities of looseness in a business of this strict and exacting character that we remember ever to have seen developed in the affairs of a financial institution conducted by honorable and responsible men.
Some of the overdrafts and bills receivable look like the assets of one of those collapsed wild-cat banks that used to infest the Western country twenty years ago.
No one can escape the conviction that the manager of this bank [Temple appears to be who is meant here] was made the easy victim of schemes which no careful business man would have touched and the wonder if that the crisis which brought the institution to an end was delayed to the present time.
The paper continued that it was the “great solid wealth” of Temple and Workman that kept the bank going “under conduct so decidedly opposed to the true principles of banking.” Yet, the Express went on that the pair’s valuable landholdings would be “more than sufficient to meet all the liabilities.”
It concluded that the lesson in the debacle was “that men should never engage in a business for which they are totally disqualified by nature. No man is fitted to be a banker who is susceptible and confiding.” The paper manifested sympathy for Temple and “his desire to do things which are good natured, but not good as business transactions.” It was, in fact, “a deplorable circumstance that he should ever have turned his attention to a business for the conduct of which he was manifestly not fitted.”
The Herald, which in 1874 counted bank president Temple as one of its owners, titled its article “The Gordian Knot,” with the subheading containing the statement that the inventory “Would form a Valuable Treatise on the Science of Debits and Credits.”
The paper reported that the inventory consumed “83 pages of closely written large sheets” and that it provided “a comprehensive idea of the affairs of the bank.” The main article, though, did not delve into the deeper meanings of the titular “Gordian Knot”, though it might be worth noting that a separate short notice observed that a heavy fog rolled into town the previous evening severely limiting visibility.
A fog of a different sort may have clouded the judgment of the bank’s principal figures, president Temple and managing cashier Henry S. Ledyard, and the Star was easily the most dumbfounded of the press about what the inventory revealed.
Its memorable headline partially read “A Document That Shocks A Community / Mismanagement, Wild Speculations, and a Betrayal of Trust / An Unparalleled Array of Dead Beats / An Interesting Ethnological Study.”
The main article launched right in with:
In all the annals of collapsed moneyed institutions, no statement or inventory, of whatever you may term the style of the document now on file at the Recorder’s office, has ever been exposed to public scrutiny anywhere, that has elicited such general and pronounced expressions of disgust and disappointment. It is, in all respects, a most unsatisfactory showing, except that it betrays great mismanagement all round, combined with a perfect recklessness of trust imposed, the manipulation of depositors’ moneys for purposes of the wildest kind of speculation, and an utter absence of the commonest kind of business qualifications.
The Star continued by noting observers’ “deep feeling of disgust at the monstrous record of shame and unfair dealing exposed to public gaze” with the inventory. As to those who were overdrawn at the bank, the list was composed of “the most stupendous array of dead beats ever seen outside of the penitentiary.” Those who had bills receivable against them were members “of a full regiment of professional bilks” who absconded with “funds extracted from their industrious, provident and trusting fellows.”
The paper went on:
The perusal of this ponderous document is an ethnological study, in more ways that one. In all its seriousness, there is a spice in the discovery that nearly who have given out that they had large amounts “tied up” in the suspended bank, but who generally have the name of “having nothing, nowhere” not only have no dollars and no cents placed to their credit, but here and there coolly personate among the overdrafts.
Finally, as to the owners of the bank, the Star lamentingly concluded:
It makes us sick to chronicle the fact that two estimate old men have permitted themselves to be fleeced of fortunes that would be considered substantial, if not regal, in any country. We are not prepared to [in]criminate anyone, but we really do think it a pity that Messrs. Temple and Workman had not had guardians appointed to take care of them and their property . . . [as] these two old gentlemen are ruined, unless this proves to be an unparalleled case.
The next post will delve into some of the details that emerged from the release of the inventory, so check back tomorrow!