Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The wrangling between the Los Angeles Herald and Los Angeles Express newspapers about the direction of the Temple and Workman bank assignment continued as February 1876 drew towards a close, a few weeks after the shocking details of the inventory of the bank’s affairs by assignees Daniel Freeman and Edward F. Spence was revealed.
The Express was wearying of continued detailed arguments with its contemporary, as judged by a short piece in its 25 Febuary issue, in which it admonished:
It is now about six weeks since the suspension of Temple & Workman. The failure of that bank is no longer a matter of public interest. Its affairs are now in the hands of the assignees, the advisory committee and the courts. It is indecent, malignant and hurtful to the city and county in the extreme to have a perpetual ding-donging about it. The universal opinion is that newspaper hounding should be dropped, and that there should be no more washing of our dirty linen in public.
Without mentioning the Herald by name, the Express stated that depositors had legal remedies if they were unsatisfied with the course of action chosen by the majority and asked who was fanning the flames of bankruptcy “and preventing the troubled financial waters from becoming still.” Simply, “indignant public opinion” demanded otherwise.
A separate article, titled “Financial Conundrums,” got specific in terms of those “who have started in to houng Mr. D. Freeman, one of the assignees of the Messrs. Temple & Workman, and a gentleman, by the way, who possesses the confidence of a large portion of this community.” The Express was referring to a statement made by its competitor about Freeman “who is a large debtor to the concern” and, therefore, was the subject of “a general distrust” among the public.
In fact, the Herald was quoted as saying:
The public are anxiously inquiring when Mr. Freeman, assignee, will commence suit against Mr. Freeman, debtor, for the large amount the latter owes Temple & Workman. They also want to see Mr. Freeman, assignee, commence immediate suit against D. Freeman, endorser, on two notes of the aggregate amount of $5,537. Finally, they want to see how economical Freeman, assignee, can be in employing lawyers to prosecute D. Freeman, the large debtor fo Temple & Workman.
The Express responded that the notes referred to were paid the prior month and that his notes were held by a San Francisco bank, so that “if it ever becomes necessary to sue on them” that could easily be done. After observing that the notes did not mature for several months, the paper reported that Freeman’s debts had “been reduced, by payments made since the assignment, to about $5,000, which sum matures in July.”
The paper concluded by stating, “there is something remarkably indecent in hounding a private gentleman, who is perfectly able to willing to pay his debts, in this invidious and grossly personal manner.” If Freeman could not repay what he owed “then will be the time to question his competency to act as assignee.” But, aspersions against his character “will not weaken this gentleman’s standing with a discriminating public.”
The same day, the 25th, the Herald released another detailed table concerning the finances of the failed bank, publishing a list of those persons who had deposits in the bank totaling less than $1,000. It stated “we will continue this list regularly until finished” and noted that “this list comprises all nationalities, both sexes and every condition in life.” This last portion was a more sanguine representation than some previous Herald editorials about those of lesser means losing their savings because of the mismanagement of the bank, though there is no question that many people did lose substantial amounts.
The list continued the names of 400 persons and institutions with a total amount of deposits just over $125,000. The latter included several with direct connections to the many and varied business interests of bank president F.P.F. Temple, including the Spring and Sixth Street Railway and its extension company, of which he was treasurer; his Lasina Oil Company, which was drilling in the San Fernando field in modern-day Santa Clarita; the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad Company, of which Temple was the first president and later treasurer; and the Coeur de Lion Commandery of the Knights Templar masonic fraternal order, of which Temple was the presiding officer.
The publishers of the Express were also depositors as was the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association, which incorporated in 1875 to found a new town in the San Gabriel Valley called Pasadena. A number of Los Angeles businesses were also listed including Louis Lewin and Company, which, later in 1876, published the first book in Los Angeles, a history of the city and county for the nation’s centennial celebration; the Boushey Silver Mining Company; Perry, Woodworth and Company, lumber dealers; Barrows, Furry and Company, metalworking; the Wilmington Manufacturing Company; and many others.
Those connected directly to the bank and its owners included the recently deceased wife of managing cashier Henry S. Ledyard; the nephews of William Workman, William H. and Elijah, who operated a saddlery, and William H. a future mayor and city treasurer, having an individual account just under $1,000; cashier Thomas W. Temple, son and grandson of the institution’s owners; and F.P.F. Temple and partner Fielding W. Gibson’s funds for sales of their land near the new town of Compton.
Individual depositors included some well-known names like real estate promoter, attorney, and judge Robert M. Widney; Los Angeles Star publisher Benjamin C. Truman; Dr. David Burbank, namesake of the suburb founded in the 1880s; Boyle Heights founder John Lazzarovich and his brother-in-law, George Cummings, whose Cummings Block is a historic landmark commercial building in that community; Luisa Dominguez of the prominent owners of Rancho San Pedro; San Juan Capistrano-area rancher John Forster; merchant Samuel Hellman; Judge Stephen C. Hubbell, a founder of U.S.C.; George E. Long, who became the bank’s assignee after Freeman and Spence; Dr. H.S. Orme; attorney and real estate developer Frank Sabichi; and city councilman and rancher Luis Wolfskill.
But, most of the names were of persons who clearly did not come from the upper classes of Los Angeles society and to whom, in many cases, the loss of their savings would be a significant blow and hardship. Many amounts listed were small, but there were a great deal in the several hundreds of dollars, which were substantial amounts for most residents.
Notably, the Los Angeles Star, established a quarter century previously as the first newspaper in Los Angeles, was largely quiet in the aftermath of the inventory and removed from the bickerings between the Express and the Herald. Yet, on the 25th, the paper did publish a significant extract from the same St. Louis Republican article on the failings of the federal general bankruptcy law that the Express discussed in significant detail a few days prior (and covered in an earlier post here.)
The paper, however, did not offer anything in the way of commentary, except to head the piece by stating “we call the attention of the creditors of Temple & Workman to the following reference to the practical operation” of the law. Obviously, the Star assumed, as did the Express, that depositors who chose to continue with assignment, rather than see Temple and Workman thrown into bankruptcy, were taking the wiser course.