by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Though much of the photography documenting the construction of La Casa Nueva was taken by Thomas W. Temple II, the eldest of the four surviving children of Walter and Laura Temple, a professional photographer was hired at least once to take images of the structure while it was being built.
Today’s “No Place Like Home” entry highlights a trio of photographs taken by Albert J. Kopec. Born in 1896 in what is now southeastern Poland and was a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. An emigrant to the United States in 1913, Kopec began his career as a photographer in Chicago a few years later and served as a private in the U.S. Army during the First World War. Shortly after the conflicts’s conclusion and not long after he mustered out in 1919, Kopec was naturalized as an American citizen.
By spring 1920, Kopec arrived in Los Angeles and quickly found a job as a photographer at the Mack Sennett Studios, one of the most prominent producers of comedy films, and expressed an interest in becoming an actor, though it is not known if that every happened.
Kopec worked as a second unit photographer for Sennett, then worked as an aerial photographer (which he did in the 1920s and up to at least the World War II period.) He also specialized in architectural photography, which could well have been how his name came to the attention of the Temples.
Kopec was active in the Polish-American community in greater Los Angeles, was an avid dancer, and married Stella Kaznowski in 1926, with the couple raising two sons. He lived a long life, dying on the last day of 1982 and was interred at the Riverside National Cemetery because of his military service.
As for those photographs taken on this day in 1924, one is taken from to the southeast of La Casa Nueva and shows a portion of the courtyard and wings at the south end of the building. There is a considerable amount of construction material, including long boards that appear to have been used for the overhanging roof of the porticos that are on both sides of the courtyard. A makeshift ladder leans against the east portico where plastering of the columns for the roofs are nearly completed. The east wing is roughly plastered, but there are tiles laid on the two gables of the main block of the home.
A second image is from the south end of the Mission Walkway and looks towards the west side where the columns supporting the trellis that would later hold grapevines were made of round adobe bricks. The arched wall on the outside of the walkway is largely finished and work started at the far end on applying a row of tiles on top. More construction material and what looks like tiles stacked on their short ends are of note, as well.
Finally, there is a very interesting view of the south side of the walkway looking to the east. Those unfinished columns, topped with large beams resting on rectangular boards and the rough plastered wall, are central to the view, while a portion of the east end is also discerned. The arched adobe opening leading out to the southeast looks newly completed (in fact, we will be soon having this arch opened up and repaired due to cracks.)
Kopec and his family are at the bottom of this detail from the 1930 federal census, where they lived near the Mid-Wilshire area of West Los Angeles and he is listed as a “commercial photographer.”
But, there is another notable element to this photo, which is the visibility of the upper portion of the circa 1880s Water Tower with its tall flag pole on which a weather vane was placed (that vane was returned to the Homestead during its late 1970s/early 1980s restoration and is still there today.) See also the water tank, which could hold 1,500 gallons pumped up from the adjacent pump house (part of which is visible through the arched opening). The second story window was for Walter P. Temple’s bedroom, which he used until there was a space into which he could move into at La Casa Nueva (other family members resided in remodeled rooms at the west side of the Workman House.)
There are a couple other photos of La Casa Nueva taken by Kopec, including one of Walter Temple in a doorway and one of the photographer holding a massive adobe brick and these will be featured in a future post in the “No Place Like Home” series.