Southern California Vanguards: The Workman and Temple Family from 1830 to 1930

Paul R. Spitzzeri

Part I: From Pastoral Pueblo to Emerging City, 1830-1876

From the arrival of Jonathan Temple in the Mexican pueblo of Los Angeles in 1828 and that of his half-brother, F. P. F., and of the Workman family thirteen years later, the lives of the Temple and Workman families were linked with the fortunes of a pastoral southern California. Whether in cattle ranching, agriculture, or early business endeavors, the families were at the vanguard of regional activities, even as economic fluctuations from the Gold Rush, floods, and drought led to dramatic rises and losses among southern Californians. Ultimately, Los Angeles' first market growth spurt and the deep investment of William Workman and F. P. F. Temple led to a terrible setback for them and their families.

Few families have had as extensive an involvement in the public life of southern California as the Workman and Temple families. These activities were particularly noteworthy during the century between 1830 and 1930, as the families were at the vanguard of such varied pursuits as ranching, agriculture, real estate and construction, politics, oil and water development, banking, and social activism. The story of the families serves, therefore, as an appropriate case study for the story of southern California.

Top: Jonathan Temple, ca. 1850. Bottom: Rancho Los Cerritos adobe, constructed in 1844 by Jonathan Temple. Top: Jonathan “Juan” Temple, ca. 1850. From the Los Angeles Public Library. 
Bottom: Rancho Los Cerritos adobe, constructed in 1844 by Jonathan Temple. From the Los Angeles Public Library. 

The first member of the families to settle in southern California was Jonathan Temple (1796-1866). A native of Reading, Massachusetts, Temple lived in Hawaii and San Diego before opening the first American-style store in Los Angeles in 1828, which he operated for almost thirty years. In 1843, he purchased the Rancho Los Cerritos, a 27,000-acre property in today’s Long Beach area, where his 1844 adobe survives as part of the Rancho Los Cerritos historic site. During the 1840s, Temple was active in ship-bound trade throughout the coasts of California and Mexico and is said to have owned extensive lands between Acapulco and Mazatlán. In 1856, he became the lessor of the Mexican national mint, a concession held by him and his daughter until 1893 and reputedly worth $1 million.

Temple was also one of Los Angeles’s first developers, constructing such landmarks as the original Temple Block and the Market House, which later served as city and county administrative headquarters, contained the county courthouse, and featured the first true theater in southern California. He also served as the first alcalde (or mayor) of Los Angeles after capture of the pueblo by the United States during the Mexican War and served on the first American-period common (city) council. During his tenure on the council in 1849, he arranged and paid for the Ord Survey, the first detailed survey of Los Angeles. When a new street was opened in Los Angeles in the mid-1850s, near the Temple Block, the city named it Temple Street in his honor. He lived his last years in San Francisco where he died on May 30, 1866, two months after selling Rancho Los Cerritos.

The next member of the family to come to Los Angeles was Jonathan’s half-brother, Pliny Fisk Temple (1822-1880), who arrived by ship from Massachusetts in the summer of 1841. Pliny was twenty-six years his brother’s junior and, because Jonathan had left the East Coast before Pliny’s birth, the two had never met. Pliny’s visit became a permanent move and he took a position as a clerk in his brother’s store, where he worked until 1849. During this period, Pliny met Antonia Margarita Workman (1830-1892), fifteen-year old daughter of William Workman (1799-1876) and Nicolasa Urioste (1802-1892). Their marriage in September 1845 (during which Temple was also baptized as Francisco, giving him the distinctive name of F. P. F.) linked the two families together and, symbolically in the changing demographics of early Los Angeles, was the first nuptial in southern California history where both parties had Anglo last names.

William Workman (right) and David Alexander, ca. 1851
William Workman (right) and friend David W. Alexander, ca. 1851. From the Los Angeles Public Library.

William Workman was the fifth of eight children born to Thomas Workman (1763-1843) and Lucy Cook (1764-1830) and grew up in the village of Clifton in northern England. His older brother, David (1797-1855), left England for the United States about 1817, settled eventually in Franklin, Missouri, and opened a saddlery, the apprenticed trade of the brothers. In 1822, David returned to England and convinced William to join him in America. William remained with David until the spring of 1825, when he joined a caravan to New Mexico. In July, he checked in at the customs house in Santa Fe and later settled in San Francisco del Rancho, a community south of Taos.

It was in the Taos area that Workman began his involvement in fur trapping, distilling, and operating a store, with partner John Rowland. Workman was baptized a Catholic in 1828, became a naturalized Mexican citizen, and married Nicolasa Urioste, a Taos native. The two had a daughter, Antonia Margarita, and a son, Joseph Manuel (1832-1901).

Workman seems to have made a good living in Taos, but politics soon made life difficult. In 1840 the Republic of Texas named Workman and Rowland agents, perhaps without their prior knowledge, to represent Texas’s interests in annexing New Mexico. Although they did not apparently accept this role, Workman and Rowland’s identification with the Texans was tantamount to treason. As tensions increased and the Texans began to march for Santa Fe, Rowland and Workman formed a party of some forty whites that left New Mexico in September 1841. Taking in about 25 New Mexicans shortly after leaving, the party traveled the Old Spanish Trail, arriving in Los Angeles on November 5, 1841. The Rowland and Workman expedition left its legacy as the first emigrant party to enter southern California from an eastern-based land route. It, with a similar party that arrived in northern California from Missouri at the same time, signaled a new age of white influx into Mexican California and heralded serious changes for the region.

John Rowland petitioned for, and received, though in his name only, a rancho east of Los Angeles, on former Mission San Gabriel land, called La Puente. Limited initially to four square leagues, about 18,000 acres, the rancho was regranted in 1845 by Governor Pío Pico to both Rowland and Workman and expanded to eleven square leagues (48,790 acres). After living in a temporary dwelling and planting a crop of corn and beans, Workman erected an adobe by the winter of 1842 and began raising cattle, the lifeblood of the California economy.

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