by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Just after the royalty checks started arriving from the first oil well on the Temple lease at the Montebello field in summer 1917, Walter and Laura Temple began sending their four surviving children (a daughter died in infancy) to local private schools. Within a couple of years, eldest child, Thomas W. II, was sent to Santa Clara University to attend its preparatory high school, following some of his father’s brothers who went to that school in the 1860s and 1870s.
While Thomas returned to greater Los Angeles after completing high school and enrolled at the California Institute of Technology, he finished his first semester just prior to the death of Laura. He decided to go back north early in 1923 and pursue his college studies at Santa Clara and was soon joined that fall by his brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, who attended Belmont School on the peninsula between Santa Clara and San Francisco.
The sole surviving daughter, Agnes, meanwhile, spent several years at St. Mary’s Academy in southwest Los Angeles and, once she completed her high school education there in spring 1925, she also headed north and enrolled that fall at Dominican College, an all-girls school in San Rafael north of San Francisco.
In 1926, even though Walter Temple and his business associates decided to take out bonds to raise capital to meet the demands of his growing real estate interests and despite the fact that his oil revenue was diminishing as expenses, including the lengthy and costly construction of La Casa Nueva, were rising, he decided to send his children to the East Coast to further their educations.
Agnes demurred, deciding to remain at Dominican, where she graduated in 1929, but her brothers enrolled in schools in Massachusetts, the ancestral home of the family. In summer 1926, the family, along with Maud Bassity, erstwhile housekeeper, but also Walter’s paramour, traveled across the continent for a lengthy summer vacation.
Walter, Jr. and Edgar were placed at Dummer Academy in East Byfield, Massachusetts, some thirty miles northeast of Boston and where they were to complete their high school educations. Thomas enrolled at Harvard Law School, one of the oldest and most prestigious of its kind in the country and where his uncle, William W. Temple, attended and graduated in the 1870s.
Unlike his siblings, Thomas was a consistent correspondent, writing regular letters to his father (and, until her death, his mother) from the time he was sent to private schools. Many of these survive and, two years ago, a large cache of these were donated by Ruth Ann Michaelis, a daughter of Edgar Temple. Tonight’s post highlights a missive from Thomas to his father that is undated, but has an envelope postmarked 8 November 1926. The letter does have “Sunday night” on it and that was the prior day.
It begins by stating “have been working hard on my casr all week and will have my briefs ready tomorrow.” Thomas added that “the case comes up for trial next Monday night and will let you know how it comes out.” This mock trial involved his defense who someone “who has been convicted of larceny” and this was, apparently, an appeal, from which Thomas noted “I think I have a good chance” of winning. He concluded this discussion by calling the case “very interesting” and saying “I like it.” It turned out that, while Thomas did earn his legal degree in 1929, he never entered the profession of law.
Fall means football and so Thomas devoted some space telling his father that “Harvard lost to Princeton yesterday & what a wonderful game it was.” He reported that there were some 54,000 spectators and was particularly observant “of all the fur coats, derbies and what not,” because of the climate in the east. His father had season tickets to the Rose Bowl and the apparel worn for games at the Pasadena venue was evidently quite different.
The season only had eight games and Harvard came in to this sixth game having lost its first two contests, but then won three in a row, including a shellacking of Tufts the previous weekend by a score of 69-6. Princeton, which only played seven games in 1926, played its first five contest at home and had three wins, one loss, and a tie. Before the large crowd on the road, however, the Tigers took it to the Crimson, winning 12-0.
The match up between the two Ivy League schools was a major rivalry dating back to 1877 and there was frequently bad blood between the bluebloods. This was exacerbated with the 1926 contest when the famous Harvard Lampoon put out a mock issue of the official Harvard Crimson magazine and reported the sudden death of Princeton’s legendary head coach Bill Roper.
One account called the contest “indescribably intense,” while a former Harvard gridiron star from the teens, writing in the Boston Globe, called the match “the poorest played ‘big game’ I have ever seen,” while acknowledging that “Princeton won a thoroughly deserved victory.”
The Lampoon‘s lampoon, however, caused a breach between the two schools and no games were played for nearly a decade. To date, there have been 112 games played between the two schools, with the only rivalry involving more contests being the one between Princeton and Yale, and the Tigers have a 57-48-7 edge on the Crimson. That includes a game played just a couple of weeks ago, with Princeton besting Harvard 30-24, for the team’s third straight win in the series.
After the 1926 victory, Thomas wrote to his father, “The Princetonians came on the field and tore down the goal posts as souvenirs. Very exciting and colorful day.” The Californian clearly had a level of detachment that others at Harvard Stadium did not share that day!
Then, it was time to talk about his brothers and their exploits on the football field. Thomas wrote Walter that “the boys At Dummer finally scored a victory, 7-0 against Lawrence Academy, a much larger team, who had been 20-0” and was “a team that Dummer earlier in the season lost to.” Thomas added that “I did not see the line up, but rest assured that your 2 stalwart sons had a lot to do with the victory.”
A search of newspapers did not find reference to that game, but there were a couple found before and after and the line-ups showed that Edgar played on the line, while Walter was a halfback. The 8 October game was a 20-0 shutout of Dummer by Browne and Nichols, but the last game of the 1926 campaign on 17 November found Dummer edging Sanborn Academy 19-14. In that contest, it was reported in the Globe that “W. Semple’s [sic] running was a feature of the game” and Walter, Jr. scored a touchdown during the first quarter when Dummer scored all its points.
Thomas also noted that his former college, Santa Clara, suffered losses and, with clippings of the game sent to him, Thomas wrote the president of the school to offer his condolences.
The second page of the letter referred to letters sent to Agnes and appreciation for walnuts and pomegranates sent from the Homestead to the Temple boys and to Thomas’ landlady at his Cambridge boarding house. He also reported that his father’s sister, Lucinda Zuñiga sent a letter “after all these years” and he joked that “she’ll be bobbing her hair next.”
Thomas also mentioned Ramon Roca, a relative of Thomas’ Santa Clara roommate and future brother-in-law, Luis P. Fatjo and noted that Roca and his “father still have a plentiful supply of vinito [wine] and [I] wish that we were all together again,” including the open honoring in the breach of the Prohibition of alcohol consumption! Thomas asked his father about whether there were still plans, mentioned in other letters, of a trip to Europe, including to the Roca’s home in Spain.
These discussions of a grand vacation sometimes mentioned Walter taking his children, but apparently also occasionally referred to the children remaining behind. In this case, Thomas implored his father, “I hope your [sic] not taking Mrs. Bassity.” He told him to take the Homestead’s maid, Eulalia Delgado or someone denoted as “Mrs. High Fig,” and then added “but hardly the one first mentioned.”
Letters from the children to their father occasionally contained ambivalent references to Maud Bassity, who cared for Laura Temple in her last illness and then stayed on to run the Temple household and become Walter’s romantic partner. Sometimes they expressed appreciation for her sending care packages, but they also showed their strong concern about her relationship with their father.
Thomas infrequently referred to his father’s business activities and, in this missive, briefly inquired “how is the Alhambra Bldg.,” probably referring to Walter Temple’s last real estate project, the Edison Building, which was finished in spring 1927. Later, however, as the family’s financial picture darkened, Thomas did address the issues a little more.
Homesickness may have been in evidence at the end of the letter when Thomas wrote, “I hope to hear from you this wk. Can’t you make the telegrams every week, instead of every 2 wks. It make it easier on us.” Walter was not a letter writer and sent frequent telegrams, though later on, he shocked and surprised his son by penning some letters.
This letter ended with a brief mention of the Bancrofts, cousins of the Temples, and who “wish to be remembered.” With the Thanksgiving holiday and school break coming shortly afterward, Thomas concluded by noting that “we are all looking forward to Thanksgiving day,” which also happened to be the anniversary of his parents.
Letters like these provide us a window into the separated lives of the Temple children from each other and from their father and home. The desire of Walter and Laura to provide excellent educations for their four surviving children is contrasted with both statements of appreciation but also indications of regret for the lengthy stays away from home.
La Casa Nueva, which was not mentioned in this letter, was still in construction after four years and it would be another year before it was completed. For the roughly two-and-half years that it was occupied fully finished, the four Temple children were hardly home, only spending significant time there after they all graduated from their respective schools in 1929, but just months before the family vacated the Homestead the following spring as a desperate attempt was made to save the ranch by leasing it to a boys’ military academy.
The delineation of what makes a house a home is one that we explore at La Casa Nueva during tours and letters like this are important primary sources to use in that analysis. More family letters will be posted here from time-to-time, so look for those in the future.