by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As recounted in a post a couple of days ago, this week marks the centennial of Walter P. Temple’s purchase of the Workman Homestead. On 26 November 1917, he entered into an agreement to purchase the 75-acre ranch for $40,000 from Thurston H. Pratt and Eugene Bassett, who’d owned the Homestead for ten years.
Thanks to La Puente resident and descendant of the Rowland family who settled in this area with the Workmans in the early 1840s, the museum has received a remarkable donation of nearly two dozen snapshots of the Homestead dating to about 1912 when Pratt resided in the Workman House and was farming on the ranch.
The photos are important for a number of reasons, principally because they provide visual documentation of the Homestead during a period of which we’ve known relatively little until recently. Included are excellent views showing the Workman House, the wineries built by the Workman family in the 1860s, and other outbuildings on the ranch.
But, there are other notable elements, including those showing farming and agricultural implements; a group posed with crates and buckets of oranges; a group of women posed in three photos including one showing them playing croquet; two views of “a Mexican village a short distance from the ranch,” undoubtedly populated by workers at the various farms and ranches in the area; an Asian man who appears to be either cooking or washing laundry out on the ranch; and more.
The view of the Workman House is taken from the north, with the photographer standing on one of the two main access roads to the ranch (the other was from Turnbull Canyon Road to the west).
Most of the front elevation of the home, then 70 years old, is in view, although a large tree obscures much of the east side. To the right of the tree is the Lady Banks rose bush, said to have been planted in 1860 to commemorate the birth of the Workman’s first granddaughter, Lucinda Temple.
The porch was significantly modified from the late 1880s when the porch rail and balusters from the circa 1870 remodeling by the Workmans were intact. Here, the posts remain, but the other pieces are gone and replaced by a long series of what might be benches, with plywood fronts pierced with long arches.
A young woman and a small boy are on and next to a pipe fence that borders the driveway, while down the road and to the left, probably next to where the Pio Pico Memorial Walkway is a remnant of that road from Turnbull Canyon that ended at El Campo Santo cemetery, is a structure with a two-gabled roof and open sides. This is almost certainly a hay barn. Further back is part of a white building that appears to have an extending porch on its front.
Then, there is a great view showing two young women, who left their hats on the ground nearby, sitting high atop a load of hay on a wagon, to which two horses are harnessed. Behind the vehicle is the east side, or front, of the largest of the three brick wineries the Workmans constructed about 1864. To the left and behind the horses is part of the roof for the smaller winery building, slightly to the south.
After the Temples acquired the ranch, the larger structure was converted into an auditorium with a stage and piano, pool and ping pong tables, and a movie projector. The second building became a dining hall that could feed about 150 persons. A third building that would be to the left of the photographer and which was smaller than the others, became a garage large enough for nine cars and a gas tank and pump was installed next to it.
Today, the larger building is where the Homestead Museum Gallery sits, while the smaller one is in the path of Don Julian Road. Years ago, when the road was essentially rebuilt and all of the asphalt and underlying material was removed, some of us went out and scoured the roadbed and piles of dirt and found old adobe bricks, red bricks and other items.
Three images show farming on the ranch, two of which are mowers cutting wheat or some other grain on what looks like the area between the Workman House and San Jose Creek and looking to the southeast towards the Puente Hills and Whittier Narrows.
One of them has Pratt aboard the implement and watched by a woman and boy, while the other has the woman on the mower, to which two horses are yoked and harnessed.
The third photo has a man on what looks like a hay rake with one horse pulling it. Note how flat the terrain is, before all of our modern development, all the way to the tall peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains—this being on the northern end of the Homestead.
A couple other images include one men repairing a farm implement with other equipment, such as rakes, yokes and the like around them. Behind the pair are a building, wood fencing and some tall trees, while the hills in the distance look like the Puente Hills.
The other shows a gent at the handles of a box cart, in which a young girl with a massive bow in her hair sits. In the background, a woman stands at the door of a tall, narrow plank structure with an iron vent pipe coming out of the roof—that looks an awful lot like an outhouse. A wagon is parked off to the left and a row of trees might indicate where the creek was located. Again, those hills in the background could be the Puente range.
There are also images of a brick engine house, which was likely along the creek and which pumped water for farming purposes, and of Pratt and the woman and boy noted earlier standing with a large house appropriately named “Jumbo” in front of a barn with a projecting porch—this might, in fact, be the structure noted in the distance in the Workman House photo.
The same woman and young boy are seen, with a man wearing a suit coat, and Eugene Bassett next to an orange tree planted in the midst of a lawn. All, but Bassett hold pieces of fruit, while there are crates and buckets full of oranges on the lawn. The woman looks at the man next to her with a smile on her face because he has a piece of fruit balanced atop his right shoulder. This is also the only dated photo, well, it says “About April 20, 1912” and gives the place as “La Puente Rancho Homestead, Puente, California.”
A trio of images captures nine young women having a good old time on the ranch, including one of all of them sitting with their arms around each other on a massive tree trunk, another in which they’re laying in a field, most with their feet and lower legs in the air and hands on their chins, and the third showing the group playing croquet. Two photos show individual women with suitcases and wearing what might be called their Sunday finery. A particularly interesting one shows a pair of women astride a massive barrel, probably used at one time for making wine at the Homestead, and one holds an empty bottle near her mouth while she laughs.
The view of the Asian man, who appears to be Japanese, is very interesting. He is at a table that has folded down from a vehicle, like a wagon with four sides, and has his hands in a galvanized tub. On the ground to the right are several containers and smoke appears to be rising from a fire. A stand of trees are in the background and open fields beyond. Whether he was cooking or cleaning laundry is not clear, but in either case the man could have been an itinerant laborer offering services to field hands on local ranches and farms.
Finally, there are the two snapshots of the “Mexican village.” In the first, two women and a small boy are standing near a structure, which has a canvas roof and board siding and might have stored work equipment. The other has one of the women holding something towards a small child standing next to a woman, likely his mother and both probably residents of the settlement. The group is next to a clapboard building with shovels and other tools resting against it, and a brush lean-to at the left.
In all, this set of photographs is a tremendous find in terms of documenting a little-known period of the Homestead’s history, but also in terms of farming and ranching, ethnic groups and labor, and other topics. Because Tim Wictor is a descendant of the Rowland family and he has a long-standing interest in the history of the area, his gift is especially personal to him and we thank him for his generosity.