Walter P. Temple was born on June 7, 1869. Temple was the son of Pliny Fisk Temple, who settled in Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1841. Pliny married Antonia Marquerita Workman, daughter of William Workman, a prominent settler in the San Gabriel Valley. In 1850, Pliny was granted the La Merced Rancho 12 miles east of Los Angeles, where he made his home. The site was near the original San Gabriel Mission, founded by the Franciscan Fathers. During the years at La Merced, 11 children were born to Pliny and his wife. Their tenth child was Walter.
In the 1870s, due to drought conditions and other family financial failures, Lucky Baldwin foreclosed on a loan and took back the land. On November 28, 1903, Walter Temple married Laurenza Gonzalez, a descendant of early Spanish-Californian families. Walter purchased 400 acres four miles east of San Gabriel, which had been part of Lucky Baldwin’s vast Rancho Santa Anita. The site soon thereafter became known as the Town of Temple, and a great American community was born.
Envisioning a community where people of moderate income could afford to own their own homes, Walter Temple divided the area into lots and laid out the park facing Las Tunas Drive. Realizing the Town of Temple would not grow unless it was fully integrated with the rest of the valley and region, Temple successfully petitioned the Pacific Electric Railway Company to extend its Los Angeles-to-Alhambra San Gabriel line to a depot adjacent to Temple City Park. Residents and merchants attributed the steady growth of the town to this extension of the legendary “Red Car,” which crisscrossed southern California long before the freeways were built.
In 1936, the town was officially designated as Temple City by the local post office, but remained a city in name only until after the post-World War II population explosion and incorporation of the community on May 25, 1960. Walter Temple, who was also instrumental in development of the Montebello oilfields and construction of many buildings in Los Angeles and San Gabriel, died on November 13, 1938, but his legacy is a desirable California city that values hard work, community and family.
The Chamber of Commerce became a chartered organization on March 1, 1924. For meetings, its members used a building at the southeast corner of Las Tunas Drive and Temple City Boulevard. A local newspaper reported: “Activities of the Chamber will be confined to creating a civic spirit and obtaining those things for the community which can only be obtained through united efforts.”
Originally, business owners were against incorporating the town and wished “to maintain a clean, rural community unattached to any big city government.” The Chamber supported this point of view, although it did encourage such cosmopolitan advances as initiating foot-service mail delivery and bus service. It opposed parking meters and a name change of Las Tunas Drive to Arrow Highway. The Chamber sponsored the first Camellia Festival and continues to support the city’s signature event.
After years of working with the county and state, Chamber members reconsidered their former opposition to incorporation. Without incorporation, the Chamber found itself fulfilling many of the functions normally provided by local government, and additionally, there was the possibility of an increase in county taxes without an increase in services or representation. Therefore, after a 13-year struggle, Temple City was incorporated.
Incorporation of Temple City only enhanced the role of the Chamber of Commerce, and it has remained an aggressive advocate for the interests of the business community, actively participating in redevelopment efforts and supporting and sponsoring many events and charitable causes. In 1944, the Women’s Club of Temple City held a contest to choose a flower and slogan for the community. Mrs. Ralph Saunders submitted the winning entry: “Temple City, Home of the Camellias.” The following year, Sharon Ray Pearson, only eight months old, was crowned “Queen” and rode in an open car down Las Tunas Drive as Camp Fire Girls handed out Camellia blossoms to spectators. This was the genesis of the Camellia Festival.
The Chamber of Commerce began promoting the city’s new slogan in 1946, as about 150 members of local youth groups participated in a parade. A “Queen” and two “Princesses” were honored, and a drum and bugle corps entertained the crowd. With this success, more ambitious plans were made for the following year. In 1947, the Chamber of Commerce chose to use the festival to promote its commitment to youth, which has always been central to the event. More elaborate entertainment was provided, and merchants donated gifts to children. In 1948, a theme was chosen—“Jewels of Temple City”—and youth groups constructed a variety of floats for the parade. Also added was a carnival and coronation pageant. The profits were used to create a Temple City Youth Center.
As the years have passed, the Camellia Festival has dramatically grown in size and popularity, and more than 5,000 children now participate in the annual parade. Entertainment and prizes abound, and service clubs and organizations take great pride in this venerable and meaningful event. The festival, celebrating and supporting the community’s youth, continues to be Temple City’s signature event, attracting people from throughout southern California and the world. The Chamber of Commerce is proud to be a founder and continuing supporter of the Camellia Festival.
Help “Preserve Our Past”—
Join the Historical Society
of Temple City!
To learn more about the rich history of Temple City, visit the Historical Society of Temple City at 5954 Kauffman Avenue, Temple City, CA 91780. It is open most Sundays, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. More information is available by calling 626-451-0833.
The Historical Society of Temple City
5954 Kauffman Avenue
Temple City, CA 91780
Temple City Camellia Festival
9701 Las Tunas Drive
Temple City, CA 91780
Temple City Chamber of Commerce
9050 Las Tunas Drive
Temple City, CA 91780-1834