No Place Like Home: The Homestead in 1941

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Although this great aerial photograph of the Homestead was taken in 1941, the site and the area around it had not likely changed all that much since the 1920s when La Casa Nueva and other additions and improvements were made to the property.

After the early 1876 failure of the Temple and Workman bank (which has been covered in many recent posts), William Workman’s 18,000 acres of Rancho La Puente was lost to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin in a foreclosure three years later.

During that period, however, Workman’s grandson and winemaker, Francis W. Temple, continued to live in the Workman House and tended the vineyards that were on the property.  He evidently used the proceeds from winemaking to pay, in 1880, $5,000 for the house and 75 acres surrounding it.

Francis owned the Homestead for eight years when he died of tuberculosis in August 1888. The property passed to his two younger brothers, William and John. William was then in Mexico City, so he sold his interest to John, who moved his family to the ranch from his 130-acre walnut ranch on the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, several miles west.  John remained at the Homestead for a little over a decade, but got into financial trouble and lost the ranch in 1899.

After three distinct periods of ownership, another Temple brother, Walter, purchased the Homestead in late 1917, several months after royalties from oil wells on his property near Montebello (and just a mile from John’s old walnut ranch, now the Whittier Narrows Nature Center) began to come in.


Walter, his wife Laura Gonzalez, and four surviving children used the Homestead as a weekend getaway, with the Workman House extensively remodeled and updated with electricity and plumbing, El Campo Santo Cemetery renovated and the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum added, and William Workman’s 1860 winery buildings rehabbed as an auditorium, dining hall, and garage.  Many other improvements were made and much of the ranch, which was enlarged to 92 acres, was planted to walnuts.

In 1922, just before Laura’s death from cancer, the Temples started the construction of La Casa Nueva, an adobe Spanish Colonial Revival-style mansion replete with stained and painted glass windows, wood and plaster carving, and handmade and painted Mexican tile. The work was so extensive (and expensive) that it took five years to complete the house, though the family moved into it during construction.

Oil and real estate investments, as well as the cost of building La Casa Nueva and other expenditures, put Walter Temple into financial difficulties and money was borrowed and bonds taken out to try to deal with the shortfall.  When the Great Depression hit, Temple was unable to dig himself out of the avalanche of debt and lost the Homestead in July 1932.

By then, the ranch was leased to a military academy that operated there from 1930 to 1935.  For the remainder of the Thirties, the California Bank owned the Homestead and caretakers resided on the site.  In October 1940, Harry and Lois Brown, parents of three sons, moved from Monrovia and opened El Encanto Sanitarium.  The facility operated at the ranch for about a quarter century.  The Workman House and cemetery were sold in 1963 and La Casa Nueva in 1975 to the City of Industry by the Browns.  The city then restored six acres of the property to create the Homestead Museum, which opened in May 1981 and remains owned and fully funded by the city.

The photo is taken from about Valley Boulevard and looks southwest.  The road moving from the lower right corner to the Homestead still exists as an easement as an alley from Valley to Proctor Avenue and then El Encanto Road from Proctor to the convalescent home, which moved just north of the historic houses in the mid and late 1960s.  A defined line from west to east marks the Homestead’s northern boundary, south of which are some of the many walnut trees planted in the Twenties by Temple.

From left to right at the center is El Campo Santo and Evergreen Lane heading to the right (west) past the houses and then out to Turnbull Canyon Road (formerly Tenth Street), a part of which is at the center right. Behind the historic houses are outbuildings are more walnuts and then some undeveloped land leading up to San Jose Creek, the southern boundary of the Homestead.  Out of view at the left (east), the western line was at Hudson Road, now Hacienda Boulevard.

In the distance are orange groves and a few homes in what was known as North Whittier Heights, developed in the early 1910s after the estate of Lucky Baldwin, who died in 1909, sold off much of its holdings once probate cleared.  In the early 1960s, the community’s name was changed to Hacienda Heights.  The Puente Hills form the backdrop to the photo, including the tallest point, Workman Hill, towards the upper left.

It sure would be interesting to get an aerial view now 75 years later to compare and contrast to this great image!

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