Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
With the end of the school year comes a great many excited graduates finishing at their various levels of education, including college students preparing to enter the workforce and make their way in the working world.
For the Temple family, as with others, there was a bit of tradition in terms of where family members went to college in successive generations. For example, several of the sons of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F Temple attended Santa Clara University, then called Santa Clara College, a Catholic institution that opened in 1851 around the Mission Santa Clara and which is the oldest operating college in California.
When Walter P. Temple came into oil money starting in the summer of 1917, he was determined to give his four surviving children the education his older siblings had, but which he didn’t (Walter did attend St. Vincent’s College, now Loyola Marymount University, for what was the equivalent of a high school education and then took courses at Woodbury Business College, which still operates as Woodbury University.)
His eldest child, Thomas W. II, named for Walter’s oldest sibling, started his education at the La Puente School, which was actually located in the Whittier Narrows-area community of Old Mission. The school was founded in 1863 on an acre donated by Walter’s father, F.P.F. Temple, and was situated on the west side of Durfee Avenue just a short distance from the Temple ranch at La Merced. Today, the Army Corps of Engineers maintains in Los Angeles district office from 1920s-era buildings from the school, which was renamed Temple School in honor of Walter Temple’s contributions to it.
Once the oil money started to roll in, Thomas was sent to private military schools, including Page Military Academy in Los Angeles and the Pasadena Army and Navy Academy, which stood where the Annandale Golf Club is located just off the 134 Freeway in the San Rafael area of Pasadena.
Thomas was then sent to Santa Clara in 1919 to attend their preparatory school, graduating in 1922 with his high school certificate. Because of his father’s interests in the oil industry, it was decided that Thomas would pursue an engineering degree so that he could assist his father in that field, so he enrolled at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) in fall 1922. He completed a difficult semester of study compounded with the worsening health of his mother, Laura Gonzalez. She died at the end of the year and Thomas, who was very close to Laura, was devastated.
When it came time to return to school, Thomas decided that he did not want to continue at CalTech, so he convinced his father to allow him to return to Santa Clara and pursue his studies in liberal arts, with an emphasis on law. In early 1923, he went north and enrolled at the college, where he did well in his work and graduated on 29 May 1926 with his bachelor of arts.
With the law being his vocational goal, Thomas and his father realized that, if he was to be able to be admitted to the bar to practice in California and represent Walter’s business interests, he would have to go to law school. Again, family precedence entered into play here. Walter’s brother, William, attended Harvard Law School and then studies at the Inns of Court in London during the first half of the 1870s. The intention there was for William to represent F.P.F. Temple in his business activities, while the elder Thomas was to be the business manager for their father.
Consequently, Walter Temple had James Perry Worden, who he’d hired to write a Workman and Temple family history for publication, make inquiries about all four of his children studying in England and then, when that idea was abandoned, in New England, specifically the Temple family’s ancestral home state of Massachusetts.
Worden’s efforts led the younger Temple sons, Walter, Jr. and Edgar to attend high school at Dummer Academy, now Governor’s Academy, the oldest continuously operating school of any kind in the United States and situated north of Boston in South Byfield.
While the thought was originally to enroll Agnes at Wellesley College, she decided to remain in California at Dominican College, then an all-women’s campus and now co-ed, in San Rafael, just across the bay from San Francisco, where she’d started her studies in 1925.
As for Thomas, he followed his uncle William’s footsteps and enrolled at Harvard Law School, one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, for the fall semester of 1926. He completed the three-year course of study and received his law degree in spring 1929, at the same time his brothers finished high school and his sister completed her college work.
While at Santa Clara, however, Thomas developed a passion for history that only grew as he attended Harvard and explored his family ancestry in Massachusetts. Though his father’s finances were severely weakened by the time Thomas finished at Harvard, there was still a thought he would take the bar exam and he’d had a standing offer to take a position at the Los Angeles firm of his father’s attorney, George H. Woodruff.
Thomas, however, decided to forego the law entirely and dedicate himself to history. He had a significant role in the 150th birthday celebration of the founding of Los Angeles, which was commemorated in 1931, doing research and writing an article for the Historical Society of Southern California that claimed to establish the founding date of the city as 4 September, which is still the official birthday despite claims that it is not correct.
Thomas also went on to be the official historian of both the Mission San Gabriel and the City of San Gabriel and he and his wife, Gabriela Quiroz (who had the distinction of being the first woman officer in the city’s police department), hosted an annual “Pioneer Reception” for the September fiestas held each year to commemorate the founding of the mission and presided over other mission-related events
Thomas was also one of the first genealogists to work with the original records of the California missions, utilizing his skills in Spanish developed from his regular use of the language while growing up, and did paid work to establish the genealogies of persons descended from the Californios of the Spanish and Mexican eras.
While his work is still often referenced, there have been questions about his accuracy, which is a complicated and controversial subject for genealogists. In fact, I’ll be giving a talk in August on Thomas’ work as a historian and genealogist and the issue of what authority is in these areas at the annual conference of the regional chapter of the Genealogical Society of Hispanic America.
The accompanying images are artifacts from the Homestead’s collection, including a photo of Thomas in his cap and gown for his Santa Clara commencement as well as an image of the diploma granted to him, both from the end of May 1926.
Congratulations to all graduates and best of luck in whatever directions of further study and work you pursue!