No Place Like Home: The Workman House, ca. 1872

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As mentioned in Saturday’s recap of our highly successful Ticket to the Twenties festival, the Workman House was available for self-guided tours and included a repackaged version of the exhibit on temperance that was in the Homestead Museum Gallery for most of this year until the current Prohibition-themed display was opened there about a month ago.

For years, the house was not given its due attention because only its exterior was worked on during the site’s late 1970s and very early 1980s restoration, with the inside remaining largely “as is” until work began about a decade ago to renovate (though not restore) it.

This culminated four years ago with the completion of the remaking of the first floor so that all of it, excepting the former kitchen and well room, could be utilized.  Even the second floor, which is only visited on occasion during our Behind the Scenes tours, was reworked.

Kysor 1850 census
Workman House architect Ezra F. Kysor was from the hamlet of Leon, New York, southwest of Buffalo and was listed here with his family in the 1850 federal census.

Having been at the museum for over thirty years, it was stunning enough just to be able to see from one end to the other of the core adobe section of the house, once a 1930s partition at the center was removed.  Then to watch the renovations take place over a matter of several years and see exhibit material planned, developed and installed was another period of remarkable change.

Nothing was as dramatic, however, as the work done in what was much closer to restoration than the other rooms in the house and in the space deemed least important to work on—this being the ca. 1870 bedroom at the southwest corner of the house.  Dubbed “The Graveyard” because it was where such items as old computers and damaged piñatas and the like “went to die,” this room became a showcase with its stenciled and painted walls based on ca. 1890s work found beneath layers of wallpapers, a repainted plaster ceiling cartouche, and a repaired original marble fireplace. Adding historic furniture once used in the house and donated in the late 1980s by the Temple family, capped everything off beautifully.

Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a reproduction photograph, the earliest yet found, of this fascinating house.  An original may well be out there somewhere, but, for now, we’ll have to do with the copy.

Kysor 1861 Sacramento directory
Kysor listed at the bottom of this detail in a page from the 1861 Sacramento city directory.

The circa 1872 image shows the north elevation, of front, of the recently and extensively remodeled structure.  When first built in 1842, the building had two or three adobe rooms (we say that because the west and center rooms are at the same height, while the east room is slightly lower with a ramp between it and the center room) and a flat roof.

Probably in the early 1850s and perhaps as a result of Gold Rush-era wealth from the beef trade that the Workmans enjoyed, the house was enlarged with two long adobe wings extending some 150 feet to the south and there may have been an attic added, given the existence of a section of roof in the present unfinished area of the second floor that was clearly earlier than the current roof.  These rooms were primarily work spaces and included a blacksmith’s shop, a ranch store, a storage room for saddles and other equipage for farm animals, and a classroom for the private school William and Nicolasa Workman established for their daughter’s children.

As the cattle economy largely gave way, after the Civil War years, to agriculture and the Workmans reconfigured their half of Rancho La Puente for such crops as wheat and grapes and as William Workman joined son-in-law F.P.F. Temple in business and banking, the house was radically remade.

Kysor 1870 census
In the 1870 census, Kysor, listed as 25 years of age rather than 35, was enumerated as a laborer, though he was working as an architect in his newly adopted hometown of Los Angeles.  It is believed that the Kysor-designed remodel of the Workman House was completed that year.

Unfortunately, documentation is very sparse concerning this remodeling.  There are some surviving references to lumber for fencing around the house and these are dated to 1870.  Because it seems highly unlikely that a fence would be added around the building before it was finished, it seems very likely that the work was done that year.  In addition, a map drawn up in October 1870 and showing the Homestead and the southwest portion of the Workman part of La Puente, depicts the house as an H-shaped structure, again indicating that the work may have been finished by then.

That orientation was achieved by razing the adobe wings and building new rooms on the four corners, the eastern side having two smaller spaces appended to existing adobe rooms probably built in the 1850s, while the west side had much larger rooms appended.  The second floor was also added or at least new sections at the corners while the core section may have replaced adobe or wood with red brick, this latter being the material used in all of the new spaces.

Then there was the striking use of several architectural styles popular in the period.  Gothic Revival, Italianate and Greek Revival decorative elements were blended in such a way that we’ve characterized the overall effects as “picturesque,” as in the common term “picturesque country home.”  This is reflected in such details as stuccoed quoins at the homes corners, Corinthian columns with acanthus leaf capitals, steeply pitched roof gables, and prominent roof brackets.

Kysor ad Los_Angeles_Herald_Sat__Apr_25__1874_
Los Angeles Herald, 25 April 1874.

While there is also no verification for the assignation, the use of these varied architectural styles was a hallmark for the architect credited with the renovation of the Workman House, Ezra Franklin Kysor (1834-1907.)  He was a native of Leon, New York, southwest of Buffalo, but almost nothing of Kysor’s life is known prior to his appearing in the 1861 Sacramento city directory as an architect.

By the end of the decade, though, Kysor drifted south to Los Angeles and designed the Pico House hotel for ex-governor Pío Pico.  Given that Pico and Workman were close friends, it is not surprising that Kysor was enlisted to design the Workman House remodel and, there are many architectural features the home and the hotel share in common.

In subsequent years, Kysor designed a number of high profile buildings, including the Farmers and Merchants Bank (1874), the house of William H. Perry (1876 and which was moved from Boyle Heights to the Heritage Square Museum), and St. Vibiana’s Cathedral (1876).  For a time, Kysor had W.J. Mathews as a partner, including when the cathedral was designed.  After taking on Octavius W. Morgan as a partner by the early 1880s, Kysor also provided a design for the Boyle Heights home of Joseph M. Workman, son of William and Nicolasa.

St. Vibiana Los_Angeles_Herald_Sun__Mar_12__1876_
Herald, 12 March 1876.

The firm then took on John A. Walls as a partner, but Kysor gradually took on less direct involvement in the firm’s work.  Owner of a 30-acre parcel in what became the city of Vernon and which he sold for development, Kysor moved to a fashionable area near Westlake (now MacArthur Park).

By the end of 1890, Kysor left the firm, which became Morgan and Walls and which went on to do a great deal of work in the city.  The retired architect died of stomach cancer in July 1907, with his passing or his pioneer work in local architecture hardly mentioned.  Kysor’s only child, Charles (1883-1954), followed in his footsteps to become an architect.  Interestingly, Charles changed his surname to Kyson during the First World War because it was pronounced “kaiser” as in the German Kaiser Wilhelm, the prime enemy of the Allies including America.

As to the photo, there are several persons shown, but, so far, no identification has been made.  It does look like William Workman is standing on the porch steps in profile.  At the bottom of the steps are two women, both holding small children and two young children standing close by.  At the right, against the northwest wing of the structure are two other men, the one at the left quite a bit younger than the one at the right.

WH 1870

It is tempting to believe that at least one of the women is Nicolasa Workman, of whom there are no known surviving photographs, and that she may be the woman at the left facing to the west.  The other woman could be the Workmans’ daughter, Margarita.  If the estimated year of 1872 is right, might the toddler at the base of the stairs be Walter P. Temple, who was born in 1869.

As to the two men at right, it might be that the younger fellow is one of the older Temple children, perhaps Francis who was about 24 and was the winemaker for his grandfather Workman.  The older man might be Francis’ father, F.P.F. Temple, but, again, this is all very speculative.

Other items of note include the barn off in the distance at the left past the staircase leading into the east side of the house where one of the older adobe rooms was situated.  Large trees are discerned behind the barn and were likely from an orchard of fruit or nuts.  In the landscaped area in front of the building, staked with ropes to the ground and against which is a wood trellis, is the Lady Banks rose bush that grows there now, nearly 150 years after the photo was taken.  This area was surrounded by the low brick wall in the foreground, which undoubtedly, passed in front or behind the photographer and then went to the west side of the house at the right.

WM Godfrey obit The_Evening_Transcript_Mon__Nov_5__1900_
San Bernardino Evening Transcript, 5 November 1900.

At the lower left of the image on the cap of the wall is the inscription “Godfrey Photo.” William Molloch Godfrey (1825-1900) was, like Kysor, a pioneer in his field in Los Angeles, being one of the first photographers in the city.  The Homestead has several rare Godfrey photos in its collection, all stereoscopic images dating to the early 1870s.  There are also quite a few images published by Henry T. Payne, who purchased Godfrey’s negatives and studio and then reissued many of Godfrey’s views under his own name, a common practice.  Godfrey spent much of his life in San Bernardino, where he died from injuries after falling off the roof of his barn at age 75 over a quarter century after abandoning the difficult and low-paying profession of photographer.

Unfortunately, there are only three known photos of the Workman House before 1900.  In addition to this one, there is a view from about 1875 that was published, but I’ve only seen a poor photocopy of the small image.  Then, there is one from about 1890 showing the family of John H. Temple, another grandson of the Workmans who owned the home and 75-acre Homestead from 1888 to 1899.  That image will be feature someday in this “No Place Like Home” series.

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