by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The Homestead’s slate of holiday-related programming, aside from our regular schedule of public tours Wednesday through Sunday, ended this evening with the second day of our “Weekend of Holiday Merriment.”
About 600 visitors enjoyed seasonal music, lectures on Victorian-era holiday food, had story time with Santa, made holiday-related crafts, and toured the Workman House and La Casa Nueva to see how much Christmas-related decorations and traditions changed over the years.
This evening culminated with the second annual holiday tree lighting ceremony held by the City of Industry, which owns and funds the museum, and that included performances by the jazz band of William Workman High School (one of only two schools located in the city) and from the choir of Los Altos High School, located very near the museum in Hacienda Heights.
I was stationed at the front of La Casa Nueva both afternoons assisting guests with starting their self-guided tours of the first floor of this stunning 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival mansion. The house’s striking architecture was enhanced further with a wealth of seasonal decorations, mostly based on period sources such as magazines and party planning books. Period artifacts, such as a lighted tree stand, tinsel and garland, and original boxes of holiday lights, added to the experience.
Another treat was having pianist Dennis Aguilar playing the 1893 Steinway grand piano in the beautiful Music Room the house. Dennis mixed in some popular and classsical pieces along with holiday music and he entertained visitors with his enthusiasm as well as his technical ability. I was surprised to learn that he is almost completely self-taught and uses a deep understanding of chord structures along with a natural gift of playing by ear to develop his impressive pianistic skills.
After some heavy rain on Thursday, the weather was balmy and clear on Saturday and a bit overcast but very comfortable today. With our pomegranate trees turning golden before the leaves drop, there was a bit of fall color among our attractive landscaping and one photo here shows those trees with one of our two 1920s-era deodars in the background—a tree that was decorated for the holidays by the Temple family over ninety years ago!
This weekend’s festivities followed two other major program elements, including “Christmas Unwrapped,” which took place in mid-November and featured my colleagues Michelle Villarreal and Amanda Foster explaining to visitors how our holiday decorating is done using historical sources.
This largely focuses on La Casa Nueva, but, in the Workman House, we talk about the largely religious-focused Christmas of the Mexican era, as well as recreate a late 19th century holiday scene, using furniture used in the house by the Temple family and a replica tabletop Christmas tree, trimmed properly to hold candles (with the requisite bucket of water nearby just in case something went wrong with those candles!)
Last Sunday the 2nd, we had the second year of “Christmas Calamities,” a living history performance penned by my co-workers Jennifer Scerra and Gennie Truelock. They, along with yours truly, colleague Isis Quan, and talented volunteers Marcie Moreno and Bethanie LaFond, portrayed characters attempting to put on a pageant in the courtyard of La Casa Nueva after working with groups from the local women’s club and other organizations to get elements of the program together in a hurry.
When it was learned that a newspaper reporter was on his way out to the Homestead to do a feature on this local display of artistic initiative and ability, the pressure was on to get the pageant together, despite a near total absence of organization and production. Visitors interacted with characters who believed in their absolute artistic worth to those amused by the spectacle.
Working with making paper snowflakes, practicing a musical interlude, and other aspects to an uncertain end, visitors were finally hustled out to the courtyard and hurried onto a stage to begin the performance only to learn that, at the last minute, the reporter’s visit was abruptly cancelled, providing the last of several calamities incurred during the planning and execution of the pageant.
All in all, our slate of holiday-related programming provided by a diverse array of elements and activities for all ages. Visitors experienced a cross-section of holiday practices ranging from the Mexican era to the Roaring Twenties and use interactive components, living history, live performances, a range of season decorations, and the Homestead’s unique historic atmosphere to enhance the experiences of our guests.
While the special event phase of our holiday season is now completed, you can still come out and see our holiday decorations and learn about the transformation of the Christmas holiday over the century from 1830 to 1930 on our regular public tours. These are offered Wednesday through Sunday at 1:00 and 3:00 at the Workman House and 2:00 and 4:00 at La Casa Nueva through 6 January.