by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Although the Workman House and El Campo Santo Cemetery were sold by the Brown family, owners and operators of El Encanto Convalescent Hospital, in fall 1963, the purchase by the City of La Casa Nueva was not completed for another dozen years. The reason appears to have been about finalizing a sale price agreeable to both parties.
Once the City adopted its general plan in 1971, however, the groundwork was laid for the restoration and renovation of the Homestead into a historic site museum. Officially designated by the City as a “Historic-Cultural Landmark,” the Homestead initially was conceived as a stand-alone project.
Within a couple of years, however, the concept changed dramatically with the introduction of what was termed the “Industry Health Care Center.” In an undeveloped portion of the property east of the Workman House, planning ensued for a seven-story full-care hospital with a HMO health insurance plan proposed for employers within the city to offer for their employees. Because El Encanto moved to the north of the historic houses in the mid-1960s, the idea of having long-term care adjacent to the proposed hospital was an attractive element in the city planning process.
The project went as far as site preparation, the construction of parking lots to the south and east, and the laying of sewers and other underground infrastructure elements. To screen the hospital from El Campo Santo (after all, who would want to be recovering from a major illness and have a room overlooking a cemetery?), a fish pond and tall pine trees were installed. Drawings and renderings were made of the structures and a sales office, serving also as an architectural model, for space in the facility was built next to the historic houses. The project, however, was shelved, though the parking areas, pond, and sales office remained.
Meanwhile, Raymond Girvigian, a restoration architect whose most notable project was his work in overseeing work with the state capitol, was hired by Gruen Associates, the city’s planning contractor, to embark on a preliminary study on the Homestead. In August 1973, Girvigian submitted his report, identifying “as-found” conditions; providing historical information based on research; advice on what restoration efforts were necessary; and possible “adaptive reuses.”
With respect to this latter term, discussion included “museum use” with “authentic restoration for its own sake . . . done with extreme sensitivity and taste” that would be “compatible with the essential historic-cultural integrity and atmosphere of the restoration attempt.” Another concept was “adaptive preservation” in which the landmark is used “for a purpose other than its original use” so that “adequate economic support for its maintenance and preservation” was provided. Then, there was “historic fantasy” which was “mentioned only in passing,” and including theme-park like places, such as “Disneyland, Historyland, U.S.A., Knotts Berry farm: and so on.
The historic survey was very preliminary and much of what is in the report has been updated and corrected over the last forty-five years. Notably, Girvigian advised that the Workman House be restored as a museum with authentic restoration and including an “Indian interpretive center” focusing on the native aboriginal people of the area. La Casa Nueva, however, which was less than 50 years old at the time (it was thought the home was finished in 1925, but it was actually completed a couple of years later), could be a cultural center.
If a full restoration of the Workman House as a museum was not desired, he listed several possibilities for its use, including a local historical society headquarters; a library; a meeting and events center; a place to show outdoor movies in the summer in the courtyard; a general community center; overnight accommodations for City guests; a venue for music performances; an exhibit space; and others. Girvigian, though, recommended restoration to the first half of the 1870s “as a Workman and Rancho La Puente Museum.”
El Campo Santo was suggested for restoration and use as part of the interpretation of the historic site, with no recommended adaptive uses (not surprisingly!). The Water Tower, pending further research, had potential for such uses as: an archaeological museum and Indian interpretive center; a recreational facility; a meeting place; an observation tower for viewing of the local area; a souvenir shop; a refreshment stand; a general interpretive center for the Homestead; restrooms; a storage facility; and others. The adjacent Pump House could be used with some of the recommendations made for the Water Tower, although on a smaller scale.
Finally, there was “Temple Hall” as La Casa Nueva was often known in these early reports and its adjacent Tepee (also called the “Old Smokehouse,” because Girvigian believed that it was used “for the curing of meats,” when it was actually Walter P. Temple’s office and retreat.) The structure, Girvigian wrote, “while lacking antiquity more than makes up for it in charm and artistic merit, especially as an outstanding example of the craftsmanship available in the period.” Its value as “a cultural monument,” rather than as a museum, as the Workman House was viewed, was considered highly significant. The Tepee was thought to be of value because “super markets weren’t on every corner” and that “prepared food was not readily available,” though there were stores in nearby Puente.
As “an extraordinary architectural example of excellent craftsmanship and a fine specimen of the Spanish [Colonial] Revival style in fashion in the 1920s,” La Casa Nueva had many potential uses, tough it “need not be so meticulously restored as the historic Workman Adobe.” Later events proved to be just the opposite, but the other main issue in summer 1973 was that the house was not yet owned by the City, so Girvigian aded that “it is hoped that this facility might be acquired for some public or quasi-public use.”
Among the public uses were a “museum of the Temple family”; a cultural facility for the arts; a library; a meeting space; a locale for special events (including the removal of the 1930 dormitories over the south-facing wings); a general community center; “overnight “VIP accommodations, city or civic related”; an art gallery (this was considered “ideal, with special lighting”); and a day care center or children’s park.
Non-public industrial use types included: a residence for the director of the medical facilities planned for the site; executive officers for doctors and staff; research facilities for the hospital; and other related uses to the planned health care center. Then, there were possibilities for City-related meetings, conferences and seminars; a health club for local firms and their employees; job training and classroom facilities; exhibits, fairs and displays; a Chamber of Commerce site; and others.
Then, there was the home’s potential for civic uses, such as: government facilities and offices; a city library; recreational facilities; a county regional facility; university and community college space for research; and a “think tank” set up as a non–profit foundation.
There was one possibility, however, that really stands out, which was listed under “Industrially Oriented” uses along with those two paragraphs above. This was “a specialty restaurant — Early California theme (“Don Julian’s”). Imagine if La Casa Nueva actually was converted into a restaurant! It is likely that Girvigian was trying to provide a comprehensive and exhaustive range of possibilities and he certainly leaned towards something more cultural and educational.
Two and a half years after this early report, La Casa Nueva was acquired by the city, which then made the restoration of the Homestead its project for the American Bicentennial, celebrated in 1976. The work, however, which amounted to some $3 million in investment by the City, was not completed until spring 1981. Future posts on this blog will address the restoration effort.
Now that the full year of commemoration of the City of Industry’s 60th anniversary is over, so is the “Time Capsule Tuesday” series (even if this final entry is a day late.) Over some fifty posts, the history of the city, including early aspects of the planning for the work on the Homestead, have, hopefully, given readers a general overview of its early years and provided some context for the City’s development, especially in its first two decades.