by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This year’s Tax Day is actually on an unusual date. This is because today being a Sunday, there’d normally be an extension to tomorrow. Yet, tomorrow is another holiday in the District of Columbia only, this being Emancipation Day. celebrating the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on 16 April 1862. So, the deadline is on Tuesday the 17th. Last year was an even longer extension, because the 15th and 16th were weekend dates, so the deadline was moved to the 18th. Enjoy the extra time this year, however, because in 2019 we’ll revert back to the deadline of the 15th until the next cycle of weekend dates returns.
Back in 1850, as California statehood was granted in September, residents of greater Los Angeles prepared for a new element of the new order of things: taxation. Property taxes, for example, were required to pay for public expenditures, principally law enforcement and the court system. For example, there was no paid fire department (until the 1880s), no public schools (until 1854), no street lights and sewer systems (also a few decades off), and few other amenities.
The Workman and Temple families, being among the wealthier of the region’s residents, paid among the highest amounts. While some of the earliest records are missing, the Los Angeles Star, in its 17 July 1852 issue, listed the names of those who paid $100 or more in taxes.
Heading the roster was Jonathan Temple, who shelled out $912 to the county and state. He paid nearly $200 more than the next highest figures, these being Jose Sepulveda and Abel Stearns at $723 and $718, respectively, while Antonio María Lugo was fourth at $676. From there, the amounts dropped down into the low 400s with Bernardo Yorba and then Isaac Williams at $382 and the Pico brothers, Pío and Andrés, at $342.
William Workman was 20th on the list, doling out $212 to the tax collector, who was also the county sheriff. His Rancho La Puente co-owner John Rowland was 25th at $164. Notably, Workman’s son-in-law (and Jonathan Temple’s half-brother) F.P.F. Temple did not make the list, though in later years he would move up considerably among the county’s economic elite.
The earliest surviving tax records apparently date to 1853 and were written in Spanish (after all, of the fifty persons and entities [a few companies and the City of Los Angeles] on the list, thirty-three of them were Spanish-speaking Californios.) That year, William Workman had two listings, one of them being for Rancho Cajon de los Negros [Black Canyon], which he acquired in 1846 from Manuel Coronel and is in the Lytle Canyon area north of present Rancho Cucamonga and just below Cajon Pass. The 14,349-acre property was valued at $1793, apparently because it was undeveloped and only suitable for limited stock grazing, though Workman’s land claim to the rancho was soon rejected by a federal commission and Cajon de los Negros disappears from his assessment listings.
F.P.F. Temple also had two listings in 1853. One was for property he owned in Los Angeles, with the land valued at $850, but the improvements at $3500 and personal property at $4000. The second listing was with Juan Matias Sánchez for their Rancho La Merced, which was granted to them in 1851 by William Workman, who took possession by foreclosing on a loan to the rancho’s original owner, María Casilda Soto de Lobo. La Merced includes most of northern Montebello and some surrounding areas. Temple’s portion of the land was valued at $3891 with improvements at $800. What the improvements were was not specified, but these usually involved homes, outbuildings and like additions to a property.
In 1853, Los Angeles was still enjoying the prosperity that accrued to it because of the Gold Rush, particularly the economic windfall that the area’s cattle provided as they were sold for fresh meat in the mining regions. That soon changed, however, and conditions considerably worsened by the end of the decade.
After a few years of missing tax information, returns exist for a few years in the late 1850s. For the 1856-57 tax year, Workman was assessed for 8,680 acres of Rancho La Puente. The land value was determined to be $6000, the improvements $8000, and Workman’s personal property at $11665, for a total of $25665 (for some reason, another listing set the land value as $2500 and the personal property at $15265–with the grand total being the same.) The total tax paid was $372.14, a little under 1.5% of the assessed valuation.
This is interesting because, the original grant to the rancho, given to John Rowland, was for four square leagues, or about 17,600 acres, which roughly corresponds to Workman’s acreage in the assessment. Yet, a new grant to La Puente, made by Governor Pío Pico in July 1845, was for eleven square leagues, or just under 49,000 acres, so that Workman’s share was 24,395 acres.
Because, however, the land claim to La Puente, filed with a federal commission in 1852, had yet to be approved, it was obvious that the assessment was reflecting the earlier grant amount. This may also explain why, in a January 1856 advertisement for the county’s delinquent tax list for the prior year, Workman and others appeared for non-payment of 7,500 acres of the lands of the former Mission San Gabriel. That claim, too, was in the midst of being processed and Workman and his partners were hardly willing to pay taxes on property that was not legally theirs (the claim, after being approved by the commission and federal district court, was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in spring 1864.)
As for Temple, he still had his Los Angeles property, shown as totaling ten acres on Main Street, and which was assessed at $2000 ($300 in land and $1700 in improvements.) His share of La Merced, recorded as Mision Vieja (Old Mission, because Mission San Gabriel’s original site was in the area) was shown with a land value of $2000 and the same amount for improvements, while his personal property was at $8770, for a total of $12770 (shown in the total column, however, as $11770.) Temple’s total property elsewhere, though, is shown at $14270, not the $14770 that is from the above amounts. His total tax paid was $216.91 and the rate of roughly 1.5% matches the $14770 amount. The clerk who recorded and tabulated the figures was clearly not on his game!
For the 1857-58 tax year, Workman’s share of La Puente was listed as 9000 acres, with the land precisely recorded as valued at $2957 and improvements as $8000 and personal property at $10900, for a grand total of $21850. Notice the drop of about 15% in assessed valuation from the prior year, an indication of a decline in the economy. Workman’s tax, however, was $382.02, so the rate climbed to 1.75%.
As for Temple, his home and lot on Main Street in Los Angeles and his half of La Merced were combined on the sheet, for totals of $500 in land (it was $4000 the prior year!), $2000 in improvements, and a very exact $7337 in personal property, for a grand total of $9837. His tax bill amounted to $172.14, also a 1.75% rate. The county tax was 60% of the amount and the remainder went to the state. His brother, Jonathan, had many properties in his listing, including eight parcels in Los Angeles and 20,000 acres of Rancho Los Cerritos in modern Long Beach and nearby areas.
Records for the next few years are also missing, but the above information does provide some financial information about the Workman and Temple families that helps our understanding of their landholdings and what was required of them for taxation, before there were sales and income taxes at the local, state and federal levels.