News from Home[stead]: A Letter from George H. Woodruff to Thomas W. Temple II, 9 April 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As yesterday’s post mentioned, Thomas W. Temple II (1905-1972), the eldest of the five children of Walter Temple and Laura Gonzalez, was a faithful letter writer while he was away from home at his several schools for about a dozen years from the late 1910s to late 1920s.

Obviously, sending and receiving letters was a way to combat homesickness and the Homestead is fortunate to have quite a few of Thomas’ surviving letters, mainly ones sent to his parents until his mother died at the end of 1922 and then to his father thereafter.

There is, though, a significant imbalance between those he sent and were saved by his father and those that he received.  Today’s post highlights a relative rare example of the latter, a letter written on this day in 1927 by George H. Woodruff (1873-1944), Walter Temple’s attorney and business partner, to Thomas at his room at the Brattle Inn in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he stayed while attending Harvard Law School.

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Woodruff, a native of Watertown, Connecticut moved to the Pacific Northwest, settling in the state of Washington just a couple of years after it was admitted to the Union.  He graduated from a college in Tacoma and then moved south to attend Stanford University, where he completed law school in 1900.  Two years later he was admitted to the California bar and became city attorney in Whittier.

This was followed by tenures were trust and insurance companies in Los Angeles for a few years before Woodruff went into private practice by 1907.  Over the remainder of his long legal career he was a principal in a few firms based in Los Angeles, but maintained his ties in real estate and insurance, as well, being an officer and director in several companies, including the Great Republic Life Insurance Company and the National City Bank, housed in structures across the street from each other in the city’s financial district built by a syndicate of which Walter P. Temple was a major investor.

Woodruff was also Temple’s personal attorney for most of the 1920s and into the following decade and teamed with business manager Milton Kauffman to form, with Temple, the Temple Estate Company and, with the addition of Alhambra sheep rancher Sylvester Dupuy, the Temple Townsite Company.

It was through the veteran barrister’s connections and efforts that a major restructuring of Temple’s real estate development projects took place in spring 1926 with the issuing of bonds to raise needed capital for work at the Town of Temple (renamed Temple City in 1928) and elsewhere in greater Los Angeles, including real estate and oil projects.  This effort, however, could not stem the tide of mounting debt that put great pressure on Temple’s financial stability.

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So, Woodruff took another tack as the Twenties was inching toward a close, suggesting a combination of selling off properties, taking out trust indentures, and other measures to try and get the Temple Estate Company, in particular, into a better financial footing.  Another key component was to restrain spending, since the Temples, as was the case with many individuals and families who came into sudden and seemingly illimitable wealth, spent money as if would last forever.

The situation, however, was not yet dire in spring 1927 when Woodruff wrote his nearly six-page missive to Thomas, who at 22 was becoming more familiar with his father’s financial affairs, but was across the country at Harvard, diligently completing his first year of studies that culminated with his graduation two years later, when things really were getting difficult for the family’s finances.

Woodruff began his missive, written from his law firm address in the Great Republic Life Building at 8th and Spring streets in downtown Los Angeles, with a statement that he’d not forgotten Thomas amid his busy business life.  He’d listened to Walter Temple’s recitation of the young Temple’s regular letters home, including news of his studies at the prestigious law school.  The lawyer showered praise on Thomas for his efforts, noting

While I never attended Harvard [Stanford has sometimes been viewed as a West Coast Harvard], I know something about the work at any law school and especially one that maintains the high standards that Harvard does, and anyone who makes the required grades to get by the first year has to be pretty regularly on the job.

The lawyer added that it was important for new entries in the field to know the fundamentals of the law and merging that “with the other capacities for getting business and handling it,” which reflected credit on the profession.  A key was to overcome the sense of drudgery often found early in the study of the vocation with pleasure in the growing knowledge of the field.

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With the summer break on the horizon, Woodruff told Thomas that “I was talking with your father at the time he received your last letter . . . and I told him I would hold a place open in our office for you” so that Thomas could get some practical experience in a firm.  In fact, before law schools were commonplace, most attorneys learned the law by “reading” with a firm before being admitted to the bar.

Spending a few months at Woodruff’s firm would, he advised, give Thomas a grounding “in how the law is applied and become acquainted with the machinery of the practice.”  Noting that Thomas had “a splendid opportunity to prepare yourself for a great achievement in your profession,” the attorney implored him to be well-prepared for the necessary devotion “to building up a reputation for yourself as a high class and successful lawyer.”  Satisfaction was twice as important as money.

Woodruff then turned to local news, telling Thomas “I get out [to the Homestead] to see your father about once a week and sometimes oftener.”  He noted that Walter was not in the best of health, though looked better lately.  As for the ranch, he reported

The place looks very natural, although somewhat dilapidated since the heavy storms this winter.  The whole country between El Monte and Puente was pretty well flooded a couple of times and washed out the fences and left a lot of debris around, which had made things look a little rough, but spring is opening up now and everything will soon be cleaned up and will look ship-shape again.

The winter of 1926-27, much like this season, was one of more than above “average” precipitation, as was the prior year, and much of the rain fell later in the season.  As Woodruff noted, flooding was pretty severe in the area near the Homestead, due in part to overflowing of the San Gabriel River, where a railroad trestle bridge washed away and derailed a train, and of San Jose Creek, which formed the southern boundary of the ranch.  The Workman House and La Casa Nueva were on a slight knoll so remained above the rise of flood waters.

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Still, Woodruff continued, “I think Southern California never looked more beautiful than it does now.”  In what could largely be said about the region this year, he added,

the hills and valleys are green and strewn with wild flowers.  This is truly a land of sunshine and plenty and while we all have our trials and tribulations, I sometimes think they are all more or less imaginary, especially here in Southern California. I often say that one ought to be contented and happy here if he has good health and a good job and enough to eat and wear, and perhaps a “Henry” [meaning a Ford automobile] to get around over the boulevards and enjoy the beaches and valleys and mountains as leisure hours may permit.

Woodruff noted that in the evening the Temple Estate Company’s Edison Building in Alhambra was to have “a formal opening.”  The four-story commercial structure, built at the northwest corner of Main and Third streets and still standing though much altered, had the utility company as its anchor tenant and the lawyer told Thomas “I am very much pleased with the building; it is certainly a fine one and I see no reason why it should not be a business success.”

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He added that the first floors were nearly “all leased to very high class tenants” and the corner drug store was the “equal to almost any drug store in Los Angeles.”  Southern California Edison boasted “very pretentious quarters” and “Young’s Market is equally high standard.”

As for the office spaces comprising the upper levels, there were prospects if not many signed leases, though Woodruff reported

we have moved the offices of the Temple Estate Company and the Temple Townsite Company out there and this works better all around, besides the expense of maintaining the offices is very greatly reduced from what it was in the city.  It is very convenient for me to stop there to and from my way to the city and it takes less time than when the officers were in this building, because the interruptions were less frequent.

Woodruff, who lived in the Sierra Madre Villa tract of northeast Pasadena, also informed Thomas that he’d dissolved a long-time partnership with Clyde Shoemaker and formed a new firm with three other attorneys.  This was largely because Woodruff’s outside interests led him to want to step back from active management of the firm, but Shoemaker did not have an interest in stepping up in that area.  He even wrote that “I have but little time to give to the practice of the law.”

The lawyer included a newspaper clipping announcing his new firm, claiming it could be “one of the biggest law firms of the city in point of ability and prestige, as well as volume and character of business handled.”  He also enclosed a photograph of the newly completed downtown Los Angeles building at 6th Street and Grand Avenue of the Security Title Insurance and Guarantee Company, of which he was a principal, as well as information on its directors and its balance sheet.

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News was forwarded about Kauffman, Maud Bassity (who ran the Homestead and was Walter Temple’s love interest), and others, including the doings of Woodruff’s children, Lois and Hobart, both a little younger than Thomas and in college.  He then concluded his lengthy missive, joking that “if I do not quit pretty soon I will qualify as a rival of Dr. Worden in writing letters.”  James Perry Worden was hired in the early Twenties to write a history of the Workman and Temple families, which went unfinished, but did write very lengthy and verbose letters, of which a sample has been highlighted here and others to follow.

Woodruff’s comment about greater Los Angeles being a land of plenty is interesting to contemplate given what happened months after Thomas earned his coveted juris doctor degree in the law from Harvard in 1929.  The Great Depression erupted in October and the very fragile financial condition of the Temples gave way to a near-total collapse in the next few years.  Woodruff, though also hard hit by his investments in Temple City and the Temple Estate Company, managed to continue his practice into the World War II years, during which he died at age 71.

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