Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Today’s “Portrait Gallery” entry shows William Workman Temple (1851-1917), the third child (and son) of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, in a carte de visite format photograph.
William was born just after his parents took possession of half of Rancho La Merced, which William’s grandfather, William Workman, obtained by foreclosure of a loan made to the ranch’s original owner, Casilda Soto de Lobo. Workman gave the other half of La Merced to his ranch foreman, Juan Matias Sanchez, who moved into Casilda Soto de Lobo’s adobe, while the Temples built their own adobe house at what is now the southeast corner of Rosemead Boulevard and San Gabriel Roulevard/Durfee Avenue.
William Workman operated a private school for his Temple grandchildren at the Workman House here at the Homestead and his namesake grandson attended that through his childhood. In the late 1860s, William Temple went to study for four years at Santa Clara College, now the University of Santa Clara, and that’s why the image was taken at the “photographic rooms” of Wilbur W. Wright, who practiced his profession for over thirty years in San Jose.
While there is no identification on the photo to indicate why William was dressed in a military-style uniform, a clue was found in an article published in the Los Angeles Star newspaper in early March 1869 by “A Subscriber.” Two weeks earlier, under “W. Temple,” William sent a short summary of a legal matter affecting Santa Clara college, so it seems almost certain that he was the author of the later piece which covered the celebration of George Washington’s birthday.
In it, he observed that, as part of the ceremonies, “the College companies paraded in full uniform the streets of Santa Clara, to the music of the fife and the drum.” This sounds very much like a military-style procession in uniforms probably like the one William wore in the photo.
While studying at Santa Clara, William also worked for a San Francisco law firm. He then went to Harvard Law School, close to his father’s hometown of Reading, Massachusetts, and received his J.D. in 1874. He was then sent to the Inns of Court in London, England to further his legal studies and was there in late 1875 when news reached him of the dramatic suspension of the Temple and Workman bank owned by his father and grandfather.
William rushed back to Los Angeles to assist in legal matters relating to the bank, but the institution failed soon after his arrival. A ledger in which William recorded land deeds and other documents that he researched in the county clerk’s records is preserved in the Homestead’s collection.
When William Workman committed suicide in May 1876, his grandson took on the representation of the estate in probate court. Because of the significant issues with resolving the bank’s financial situation, the work proved to be very difficult. Moreover, conflicts with family members about how to deal with the estate added to the stress William Temple felt.
As the bank’s affairs and that of his grandfather’s estate wound up, William decided to leave Los Angeles, frustrated with the many responsibilities thrust upon him. He enlisted in the United States Army in July 1880 and was first stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco with Company B of the Fourth Artillery Regiment. He was discharged from the service in April 1884 at Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island, but decided not to return home.
Instead, his whereabouts for some twenty years are little known. He was in New Mexico at the end of the 1880s and spent considerable time, according to short biographical sketches, in Mexico and the East Coast. When his brother Francis, owner the Workman House and 75-acre Homestead around it from 1880, died in August 1888, he left the property to William and a younger brother, John. Because William was out of the state, he agreed to sell his interest to John for $3,000.
By 1909, William returned to Los Angeles, perhaps because of health problems that required his stay in county hospitals in San Bernardino and Los Angeles for the most of the remainder of his life. He wrote some published editorials about issues of the day, including his dislike of women’s suffrage, his support of Asian exclusion from the United States, the consequences of the Mexican revolution and others in the years after he came back to the area.
William was financially supported by his brother Walter and when his younger brother signed a lease with Standard Oil Company of California for oil drilling on his property in and near the Montebello Hills, William wrote long letters including legal advice for Walter about his oil interests.
On 1 February 1917, just four months before the first Temple oil well was successfully brought into production, William died at the age of 65. He was interred at the Mission San Gabriel Cemetery, but not long after Walter bought the Homestead late in 1917, he was reinterred at the El Campo Santo cemetery and rests in the mausoleum his brother completed a few years later.