by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Thanks to the avid photography interest of Thomas W. Temple II, the eldest child of the family who built La Casa Nueva, there are many surviving snapshots he took of La Casa Nueva in the midst of construction between 1922 and 1927.
La Casa Nueva appears to have taken much of its inspiration after the Temple family returning from a summer 1922 vacation to Mexico. In fact, while the Temples were in Guadalajara, Jalisco, they met and hired a master stonemason, Pablo Urzua, who brought his crew up to work on manufacturing the adobe bricks used for the walls, as well as other adobe forms for columns and the like.
The basic design of the house was planned and initially sketched out by Walter and Laura Temple on butcher paper and then put onto measured drawings by the Los Angeles architectural firm of Walker and Eisen. Construction began shortly after the Temples returned from Mexico, but, by the end of 1922, tragedy struck when Laura died of colon cancer and an intestinal blockage.
After a period in which construction stopped, the project resumed and a significant change took place when architect Roy Seldon Price was hired to complete the building. It is not known when the photograph was taken by Thomas but it was probably summer 1924, once he returned home from his studies at the University of Santa Clara near San José.
Here is one interesting view of the southern elevations and rear courtyard of the house as a rough coat of plaster was being applied to the adobe walls and the earliest stages of building the balcony at the end of the structure was underway.
Along the edges of the courtyard, the cement borders for the portico’s walkway were laid and the bases for the columns poured, as well. The round adobe bricks stacked in the center were for those columns.
See at the left, where the doorways are for the west wing, where the barber shop, guestroom and housekeeper’s bedrooms were located and note the interlocking pattern of stacking the adobe bricks in those spaces where the doors would later go.
Some of the stacking is also noticeable on the chimney just above the roofline. To the right along the roof are the solar panels (yes, they had solar panels ninety years ago!) used to heat the water in redwood tanks in the attic for the second floor bathrooms.
On the first floor of the main block of the house are the openings for the doors to the dining room, main hall and library, as well as the access to the basement. Second floor openings include the windows for the bedrooms of daughter Agnes, at the far left and youngest son, Edgar, at the right, as well as the doorway to the second floor and the wide opening for the massive stained glass window allegedly depicting Spanish-era California at the center.
At the right is a downspout for a drain coming from the second floor east-side patio that would be finished above the wing and there was one for the west side, as well. Peaking out over the roof at the top just right of center is a palm tree planted at the front of the home.
The intensive and expensive construction of La Casa Nueva was such that it would not be until late 1927 that the home was finished. But, with its phenomenal use of handmade Mexican tile, carved wood and plaster, wrought iron, stained and painted glass and more, the structure was a unique example of the family’s personalized approach to utilizing the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture as a means to project their sense of family and regional history.
More photos of the building of La Casa Nueva will be featured here in the future!