Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As the assignment of the failed Temple and Workman bank continued to cause controversy and contention among the Los Angeles press, the matter continued to involve the increasing rancor towards the institution by the Los Angeles Herald, which once counted bank president F.P.F. Temple among its owners.
On 24 February 1876, that paper published full lists of bills payable by the bank and of certificate of deposit holders. With respect to the first part the Herald wrote that “the bank was having its notes discounted as early as last August and was then required to furnish endorsers.” It was about that time when the collapse of San Francisco’s Bank of California after Virginia City, Nevada silver mine speculation went haywire.
One of the endorsers of a note was assignee Daniel Freeman, who along with Juan Matias Sanchez, a longtime friend of Temple and William Workman, signed off on a $4,000 note secured in late October. There were several other notes, some dated from late September to late October, and others without dates and coming from San Francisco, San Bernardino, Mexico, and Los Angeles that totaled over $130,000. Then, there was Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin’s mortgage for $340,225.
On the deposit certificates, the Herald stated “in this account much of the great injury to poor people was done. In Temple & Workman’s bank they imagined they had positive security for their little savings, and their all was swept away.” At the same time, the paper stated that there were wealthy savers, too, and that “every class of society is represented from the boot black to the banker.” Moreover, some, it claimed were “superannuated pensioners, poor cripples, and invalids.” Warming up to the indignation, the Herald lamented that the showing
marks the wreck of poor men’s fortunes, it is the blasting of poor women’s homes, a chaos of financial misery that affords no sign of relief for the invalids, cripples, orphans and widows whose little savings are swept away.
While many amounts were from $25 to a few hundred dollars, which could be a significant amount for many persons, there were plenty of big amounts, too., in addition to the biggest creditors named in earlier posts in this series. In all, there were 131 names with a total of over $220,000.
Then, there was the matter of some $23,000 in Los Angeles city funds that were deposited in the bank by treasurer James J. Mellus. What arose in this regard was not just the probable loss of most, if not all, of these public funds, but the fact that F.P.F. Temple was due in a couple of weeks to take office as Los Angeles County treasurer, a position he secured in the election of 1 September 1875, the day Temple and Workman suspended business for a month to try and stave off the continued flood of panicked depositors besieging the bank.
The Herald, in another 24 February editorial, noted that it was obvious that the
inexcusable, if not criminal, management of his [Temple’s] business by those to whom he had entrusted it, had so far disqualified Mr. Temple from holding the office to which he had been elected.
Notably, the paper was sure to separate Temple from those, like managing cashier Henry S. Ledyard, who were supposed to conduct the day-to-day affairs of the bank. Yet, the paper went on
in fact, if not in law, the bank of Temple & Workman is a defaulter to the city of Los Angeles in the sum of $23,000, and according to the report of the assignees Mr. Temple is himself a bankrupt. He is not, therefore, qualified to fill the office of County Treasurer.
There was another possibility raised by the Herald: “the question of his right to delegate his office to another is one rather for the decision of the courts than for newspaper discussion.”
But, the greatest invective in the piece wasn’t even for the bank or its managers, but for the rival Express, which the Herald claimed was fomenting the idea that the Herald was responsible for using the county treasurer issue as a wedge towards driving the bank’s estate into bankruptcy. To this, the paper went on, the Express was fighting for its own survival “and to do this it would use the livery of heaven as a cloak to hide its serfdom to the devil.”
In fact, the Herald continued
The Treasuryship is a matter between Mr. Temple and those whose funds, but for his insolvency, he would have become the custodian. If, after the great financial change Mr. Temple has undergone, it is lawful and the people desire that he shall have control of their money, he will act as County Treasurer; but if it is not deemed safe to entrust the county funds to one who, no matter how honest, is deeply involved, then the appointment of a County Treasurer is a duty devolving upon the Board of Supervisors.
Again, the paper was sure to identify Temple as honest, but, the bottom line was that “the city has temporarily, and perhaps finally, lost $23,000, [and] the people owe it to themselves to see that the county money is placed where no risk of its loss will be incurred.”
Next, a response from the Express, another list from the Herald, and a few tidbits from the other Los Angeles daily paper, the Star.