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History of Temple City

The town of Temple was founded on May 30, 1923 when approximately 285 acres of land were purchased by land developer Walter P. Temple.   A one-year celebration for the Town of Temple took place in September 1924 with a rodeo and became officially designated as Temple City in 1928.  The redundancy in the name City of Temple City came when Temple City incorporated on May 25, 1960.

Behind the story of the proud family bearing the name of Temple lies the romance of missions and ranchos, the gallantry of the pioneering dons and beautiful senoritas and indeed the history of the San Gabriel Valley down to the derivation of many of the street names in Temple City.

Temple was the son of Pliny Fisk Temple who was born in Reading, Middlesex County, Massachusetts on February 12, 1822.  He was a descendant of Abraham Temple who had landed in Salem from England in 1636.  Pliny’s eldest brother, Jonathan, or Don Juan as he became known in Alta, California, sailed around the Horn, visited the Sandwich Islands and finally landed in San Diego in 1826.  A year later he had established himself as the first merchant of the Pueblo de Los Angeles in an adobe building at the intersection of what is now Spring and Main Streets.  He later built the first important buildings there, including a market, a theater and the courthouse.

At home in Reading, Pliny attended the public school until he reached the age of 17.  He then took a two-year mercantile course in Boston.  Letters from Jonathan no doubt prompted him to ask his mother for permission to visit his brother in California.  As the voyage took six months each way, his mother granted him two years’ leave.

Pliny embarked on the American brig “Tasso”, a vessel of 314 tons burden with Captain Sam J. Hastings as master on January 18, 1841.  The Tasso arrived in Monterey on June 26 of the same year with a cargo valued at $15,000 and a customs duty of $16,000 to be paid, which demonstrates how high the percentage of profit was in those days.

Traveling over land on horseback, Pliny arrived at the Pueblo de Los Angeles.  It was 30 years later before he returned to Reading, long after his mother had died.

In 1841 the Workman-Rowland party arrived in Los Angeles from Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was then part of old Mexico.  The party was the first immigrant caravan to travel the trade route to Southern California.  Trade caravans, which ran from Santa Fe to Los Angeles and back in the early ‘30s, were the only land connection Los Angeles had with the East.  The Workman-Rowland expedition brought rugs, blankets and other native goods from Santa Fe.  Workman and Rowland did not make the trip for commercial reasons; however, they intended to settle in the San Gabriel Valley with their families.

William Workman was an Englishman by birth.  In 1823 he had met John Rowland at Taos, New Mexico and took him as a partner.  Rowland had traveled over land from Maryland in search of adventure.  His British parents had come to America before the Revolution.  He emigrated first to New Mexico and ran a fur trading post and flour mill at Taos.  Both Workman and Rowland married Spanish girls.  During the revolution in Texas, they were forced to flee with their families in fear of their lives.

They had heard of a fair land in the west and came to see it.  The weather was good all the way, and they traveled from 15 to 20 miles a day.  They followed the old Chihuahua Trail through Silver City, Yuma and Palm Springs, west of the Salton Sea to Indio and through the Cajon Pass.  The journey covered 1,200 miles.

The party, which arrived in California, consisted of persons, including riders at the head, scouts and roustabouts with pack animals, herds of cattle and covered wagons.

After leading his friends to beautiful San Gabriel Valley, Rowland and his friend Benito Wilson petitioned the Spanish government at Monterey for some of the San Gabriel Mission lands.  Rowland and Workman were granted the La Puente site of 48,000 acres where they built a rancho home and settled down.  They paid a sum of gold and promised to care for the Indians already living on the land in accordance with an agreement to the San Gabriel Missions priests and the governor.

William Workman became acquainted with Pliny Fisk Temple who married Workman’s daughter.  Pliny had been baptized in the Catholic faith at San Gabriel Mission a short time before taking the Christian name of Francisco P. F. Temple.

In 1850, “Templito” or “Little Temple” as Pliny had been nicknamed by the natives because of his five foot four inch height was granted the Las Merced Rancho 12 miles east of Los Angeles where he made his home.  Here he planted a vineyard of 30,000 vines, set 30 acres of fruit trees and laid out a beautiful garden.  This was the site of the original San Gabriel Mission founded by the Franciscan Fathers next to the rich bottom lands of the San Gabriel River called “Rio de los Temblores” or river of the earthquakes.

During the years at La Merced, 11 children were born to Pliny and his wife; the 10th child was Walter P. Temple.  On April 27, 1880, Francisco Pliny Fisk Temple died.  He was buried in the family burial ground at La Puente, which was laid out by Workman before his death in 1876.  Other pioneers, including Don Pio Pico, last Mexican governor of California, and members of the immediate Temple family also are buried there.

On November 28, 1903, Walter Temple married Lorenza Librada Alvitre-Gonzales, a member of an early Spanish California family it has been said was related to half the residents of San Gabriel.  Some years later, Walter Temple participated in the purchase of 400 acres of land four miles east of San Gabriel which had been part of Lucky Baldwin’s vast Rancho Santa Anita.  He envisioned a community where people of medium income could afford to live and own their homes.

He laid out the park facing Las Tunas Drive and named other streets after those close and dear to the family such as Workman, Kauffman, Temple, Agnes, etc.  Bond issues instigated by Temple were responsible for street paving and electrification.

Temple also petitioned the Pacific Electric Railway Company to extend its Los Angeles to Alhambra line to a depot in the park.  Present residents and merchants attribute the steady growth of Temple City to his foresight in bringing about the connection.

In 1926 the town officially was designated Temple City but remained a city in name only until after the post-war population explosion.  The voters approved incorporation of the community in 1960.