by Paul R. Spitzzeri
From the time that revenues began to accrue from the royalties derived at the Temple family’s oil wells at Montebello in June 1917 and from other sources for the next thirteen years, Walter P. Temple invested significantly in the education of his four surviving children: Thomas, Agnes, Walter, Jr, and Edgar.
All attended private schools for that period, locally, in Northern California and in Massachusetts, the ancestral home state of the Temple family. As the eldest and first son, however, there was more expected of Thomas than the rest.
After completing middle school at a military academy in Pasadena in 1918, Thomas was sent north to the preparatory academy of Santa Clara College (now the University of Santa Clara.) He received his high school diploma there four years later and then enrolled at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena for the fall semester of 1922. The idea was to study engineering, specifically petrochemical, so that he could assist his father in oil ventures.
The coursework proved to be rigorous, as would be expected at the vaunted CalTech, but when Thomas’ mother, Laura, to whom he was exceptionally close, died at the end of the year, he decided that the shock of her passing and the uncertainty about continuing to go to school at CalTech provided an opportunity to reassess his education.
In early 1923, he withdrew from CalTech and returned to Santa Clara to pursue his college education at the safe, familiar, and not as challenging college there. Three and a half years later, he earned his bachelor’s degree with a new emphasis, the law. Now, the concept was for him to help Walter, Sr. with legal advice concerning business endeavors, and the next step was to get his juris doctorate.
With the Temples being very keen to follow tradition, Thomas was enrolled at Harvard Law School, which his uncle William attended and from which he got his J.D. in 1874. Thomas completed the course in spring 1929, at the same time Agnes finished her bachelor’s degree at Dominican College in San Rafael, north of San Francisco and Walter, Jr. and Edgar graduated high school at Dummer (yup, Dummer–named for a colonial governor of Massachusetts) Academy north of Boston.
Thomas then contemplated two courses. The first was to study for and take the California Bar Exam (something his uncle William did not have to contend with over fifty years before) and seek work in a law firm. His father’s attorney and fellow business investor, George H. Woodruff, was a successful lawyer and offered to advise Thomas on how to get into the legal profession.
There was, however, a second option he considered. This was banking, though the reasons are not clear. Thomas appears to have had contacts in the industry in Northern California from his days at Santa Clara College. He liked the area, as well, so that was likely a factor. But, another one may have been that he was not as keen on the law as he might have thought or as his father encouraged him.
In the months after his graduation from Harvard and his return home to the Workman Homestead at Puente, moreover, Thomas became more interested in another passion: history and genealogy. So, as he mulled his career options, he began to visit or receive material historical archives, specifically at Mission San Gabriel and Mission Santa Barbara, as he made his first explorations of the genealogical history of prominent Californios.
These initial efforts, recorded in surviving journal entries from the Homestead’s collection that Thomas wrote on 8 and 9 January 1930, reflect how Thomas’ intense interest in the subject were developed through these early researches and which led him to over four decades as a historian and genealogist.
On the 8th, he recorded:
Today I made my seventh visit to the Mission of San Gabriel the archangel nombrada de los Temblores [named the Earthquake–because the Spanish explorers of 1769 experienced strong tremors when moving through greater Los Angeles], founded Sept. 8, 1771, in search of vital records, Baptismal, Matrimonial, burial for use in various genealogies I am compiling for my own personal interest and advantage and later perhaps to be published for public consumption.
It is interesting to note the dual cited purposes–personal and, possibly, professional, presuming that looking to publish genealogical material was something that he was going to pursue quickly.
Thomas added that he’d been given access by mission priests to records dating back to 1771 in the categories mentioned, with the addition of confirmations, and to the present, and that “they hold a great deal of interest for me.”
His first task was “to write the Genealogy of the Lugo family in California,” to which he had family connections through his mother. He noted that he’d written to the fathers at Mission Santa Barbara and that “Father Zephyrin Englehardt, their historian, told me that all the Lugo records were at the Jesuit church in Santa Barbara,” starting from 1779. Englhardt was, in fact, the writer of several published mission histories.
Thomas added that Father Felix Rossetti of the Jesuit order “has been very accommodating in forwarding names & thus completing a record which grows and grows with every new branch added thereto. I have already over 250 names of Lugo descendants from the original couple who came in the later part of 1769 [the year 1774 is added in pencil in the margin].”
He added that “I have made several visits to the Lugo Homestead at Rancho San Antonio near the present City of Bell where lives Don Pedro Lugo, son of Vicente Lugo who built the old adobe in 1850 having left his town house in ‘El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula.'” This two-story structure once stood near the corner of Gage Avenue and Garfield Avenue in Bell Gardens and, long neglected, was destroyed by fire in the early 1990s.
Thomas went on note that Pedro Lugo “has a good memory & many a time I have found him already lying in bed, one of those old four psosters. He showed me the costumes of his father, Don Vicente who was the Beau Brummel [a fashionable figure of early 19th century England] of the Pueblo in those days.”
He noted that he was shown paintings by French artist and photographer Henri Penelon of Pedro Lugo’s father and his grandfather, Antonio María Lugo, a towering figure among the Californios before his death in 1860. The two works are among thirteen now in the holdings of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Thomas continued that “Don Pedro has given me many names and stories of the old rancho. He & his brother Felipe Lugo live in the old house and are getting on in years.” He went on to observe that another brother, Andrés, lived nearby and he and his wife, Erolinda Valdez, were “great friends of my mother and I used to think quite a lot of one of the girls, Clara, now married to George Pryor, descendant of Don Miguel Pryor [Michael Pryor was an early American settler in Mexican California.]” With that reference to a crush the young man once had, the entry ended.
The following day, the 9th, Thomas began by writing
much to my surprise and great satisfaction, I received this morning from Father Felix Rossetti, asst. Pastor of the Jesuit parish of Santa Barbara, the baptismal records of a number of the Early Lugos and also the record of birth of Maria Rafaela Benedicta Cota, born 21st day March 1812.
He then went into the ancestry of Rafaela Cota, descendant of a family that came early in the Spanish settlement of Alta California and which became prominent in Santa Barbara. Thomas recorded specific details of Rafaela’s parents, grandparents and other relations and then noted “the above mentioned Rafaela Cota was married on the 17th September 1830 by Rev. Fra. Ximeno at Santa Barbara to Don Juan Temple, son of Jonathan Temple and Lydia Pratt, natives of Reading, Massachusetts.”
While concluding with the names of the witnesses of that nuptial and a bit of the genealogy of one of them, Thomas did not note that “Don Juan” (born Jonathan like this father) Temple was his own great-uncle and the second American or European to live in Los Angeles when he settled there in 1828.
Jonathan Temple became a prominent merchant (the first, in fact, in the pueblo), landowner (including the Rancho Los Cerritos, which he purchased in 1843 from his wife’s Cota relatives), and political figure in Los Angeles. In summer 1841, Jonathan’s half-brother, F.P.F. Temple, Thomas’ grandfather, came to meet Jonathan, who’d left their hometown of Reading, Massachusetts before the younger Temple was born, and stayed permanently.
Thomas then signed off on his second journal entry, writing “y para que conste lo firme,” meaning “and for the record I signed” and then his full name of “Thomas Workman Temple II” and residence of “Workman Homestead / Puente, Calif.”
Actually, that residence changed just a few months later when the worsening financial situation of Walter P. Temple, Sr., led to the leasing of the Homestead to a military academy that moved from Redondo Beach to take possession of the 92-acre ranch. Walter, Sr. moved to Ensenada, Baja California to live more economically and hope that his finances would improve so that he could save the Homestead and return to it. Thomas moved in with his mother’s sister, Luz Vigare, and her family in a historic adobe house that still stands just south of Mission San Gabriel and remained a resident of the city for most of his life.
The Great Depression, which erupted a few months before Thomas’ journal entries, worsened considerably in 1932 as waves of bank failures rocked the country and, in July, the Bank of California foreclosed on a mortgage and took ownership of the ranch.
As for Thomas, his first public endeavors in history and genealogy was not through the research into the Lugo family detailed in these journal entries, but, rather, his work for the 150th anniversary of Los Angeles, which was celebrated in early September 1931. Thomas, in fact, provided articles for the quarterly publication of the Historical Society of Southern California, that stated the founding date of the city was 4 September 1781, which is still officially recognized, though others have questioned its veracity.
Until the early 1970s, Thomas continued his historical and genealogical work, especially noted for his early efforts in transcribing, translating and compiling mission records that were generally in poor condition and often difficult to read. In recent years, researchers have discovered problems with his work, including faulty translations, links made that are not clearly established, and other issues.
Still, we have often been contacted by people who have genealogical charts and tables prepared by Thomas during his long career, which included being the official historian of Mission San Gabriel and the City of San Gabriel. Upon his death in early 1972, he became the only layperson buried with the priests in the courtyard next to old stone church at San Gabriel. These journal entries are fascinating as early indicators of his budding interest in history and genealogy.