Sharing Homestead History in the La Crescenta Valley

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Tonight, it was an honor to share the history of the Homestead with about thirty-five members of the La Crescenta Valley Historical Society, which deals with the history of San Gabriel Mountains foothill communities like La Cañada/Flintridge, Montrose, upper Glendale and La Crescenta.

The impressive stone barn of winemaker Georges Le Mesnager is at the heart of Deukmejian Wilderness Park at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains in the Crescenta Heights neighborhood of Glendale.

Heading out from Chino Hills and finding traffic largely agreeable, I got to the area, known as the Crescenta Heights neighborhood of Glendale, a half-hour ahead of schedule.  Remembering from maps that there was a Deukmejian Wilderness Park, named after a California governor from a couple of decades back, I headed up there with a snack and a bottle of water and looked around.

When I saw a massive stone barn, built in 1911 by Los Angeles winemakers Georges Le Mesnager and used, among other things, for grape storage and pressing, and a recently planted vineyard, I recalled that Stuart Byles, a La Crescenta resident who works with this vineyard and has done a lot of research and writing on regional wine history had told me of his work with the site, but I’d forgotten where it was located.  This was a fortuitous discovery!

There are many fine views from the park, including this view to the southeast towards “lower” Glendale.

So, too, was a little walk up to a grassy area just at the edge of where hiking trails head up the steep slopes of the San Gabriels on the way up to Mount Lukens.  Those trails would have to be explored some day–it’s been a while since I’ve hiked in the San Gabriels, something I did a great deal of in years past, but further east from Sierra Madre over to Claremont.

I did have a chance to eat my snack perched on a bench with shoes off at the edge of this clearing and soaked up the silence and the environment.  Some snapshots of the area were striking in the early evening of what was a hot and humid day, especially with cloud formations.

The early evening sun and a diverse array of stormclouds from a hot and humid day made for an impressive view to the west.

But, by 6:30, it was time to break from the reverie and head back down to the location of my talk at the Center for Spiritual Living, an interesting place that is a facility of the Church of Religious Science, established on the site in 1948.  The presentation was in the church building and I had to take a photo of the “Hugging Tree,” a towering pine adjacent to the structure.

The presentation, which I adapted from an earlier PowerPoint talk of mine that I felt was too helter-skelter and needed some tightening and shortning, focused on the ups and downs of the Workman and Temple families in the context of greater Los Angeles history from 1830 to 1930.  It turned out that Stuart presided over the gathering tonight.

The talk didn’t just focus on the families who were directly connected to the Homestead, like those of William and Nicolasa Workman, F.P.F. and Margarita Temple, and Walter and Laura Temple, but also the “Los Angeles Workmans,” including former mayor and city treasurer, William Henry Workman, and his children, Boyle, city council president for most of the 1920s, and Mary Julia, who was prominent in social work, civil service and other endeavors, and Jonathan Temple, a major figure from the late 1820s to the early 1860s.

Tonight’s presentation on the Homestead’s history and the greater Los Angeles context was in the picturesque late 1940s Center for Spiritual Living of the Church of Religious Science.

It did so using a new alliterative phrase I recently coined for a text panel in the foyer of the Homestead Gallery: striving, struggling and starting over.  I hope this somewhat reasonably summarizes how the Workmans and Temples had ambitions, experienced some difficult financial times, but managed to return to the site three separate times after losing portions of the property.

It seems to be that this is a situation many families encounter at some point in their own histories, even if those are not generally made public as in the case of the Workmans and Temples.  Another important element is to find ways, when appropriate and meaningful, to tie in their history and stories to current and recent events.

One example, clearly, is connecting the 1876 failure of the bank of Temple and Workman, which had issued questionable loans, with the debacle of 2008-09,which also involved banks issuing questionable loans.

Check out this massive “Hugging Tree,” a pine looking over the church building at the left.

Another was Walter Temple’s enthusiasm during a 1920s boom with speculating on real estate, including the creation of Temple City, which, however, was created at the peak of the boom in 1923, just as his oil income was dropping, while spending was rising.

At the same time, the aims and ambitions of the families also provided them notable examples of success and left us the beautiful and interesting homes at the museum, the Workman House and La Casa Nueva, as well as El Campo Santo, a rare private cemetery.  So, the talk looked to put the families’ history in a balanced perspective and context.

It is always gratifying sharing our region’s history with an attentive and appreciative audience and we had a nice exchange during the Q&A on several topics.  Then, it was time for the 45-minute drive home.  It’s been quite a week with five talks since last Monday and in a widespread geographical area, including downtown Los Angeles, Wilmington, and La Crescenta/Glendale.

When it comes to talking history with “fellow travelers”, though, even piling up some miles is basically not an issue.  Next up, though, is our Ticket to the Twenties festival in less than two weeks on October 1 & 2!

5 thoughts

  1. My father, Grant Leenhouts, grew up in La Crescenta. He was born in 1905 and lived in a ranch house with his mother, Emma Brown Leenhouts, and father, John Leenhouts, and brother John and sister Betty. Grant told me stories of walking with his siblings and donkey to a one-room schoolhouse. He also shot quail and rabbits to help provide food for his whole family. He told me that the ranch was on New York Avenue. His house had no indoor plumbing. If anyone knows where that might have been, I would love to know. I used to love to hear stories of his childhood in La Crescenta.

  2. Hi Wyn, thanks for the comment and question. The 1910 census showed the Leenhouts in La Crescenta (the father, John, was registered to vote that year at Spring and 3rd in downtown LA, so maybe they moved just before the census was taken in late April?) but there were no streets listed. In 1920, the family was the first counted in La Crescenta and were on Michigan Avenue (now Foothill Boulevard). Two households down were people on New York Avenue, so it looks as if the Leenhouts were at or near the intersection. There were no street numbers recorded. By 1930, the family moved to San Pedro.

  3. Thank you! Yes. My father moved to San Pedro to support his family, as his father was ill. Grant only had an 8th grade education when he left school to work on a fishing boat out of San Pedro. He later worked on the docks, as did his brother. He was also one of the early surfers in So. Cal. and was a stuntman in Hollywood. Grant became a movie producer and was Vice President in charge of production for the original Cinerama. I would love to know approximately where he lived so that I can visit the area the next time I’m in So. Cal.

  4. A check of newspapers found that both parents (John and Emma) operated Turkish baths in Los Angeles and John had a fish canning business in San Pedro and bath houses there and at Redondo. The best that could be found for the La Crescenta place is at or near the intersection of Foothill Bl. and New York Ave. The family had a 10-acre lot and drew water from the Dunsmore Canyon channel which is just west of that intersection.

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