No Place Like Home: A Trio of La Casa Nueva Construction Photographs, ca. 1924

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

While there are only two known exterior photographs of the Workman House prior to 1900, which is perhaps not surprising, given that images from the 19th century were largely taken by professionals and, in rural regions, like in the (La) Puente, such things were even rarer, there are plenty of photos taken of La Casa Nueva during and after its construction in the 1920s.

While some of these were taken by professionals, including Albert C. Kopec, a trio of whose images were featured in a “No Place Like Home” post here previously, most of the credit for amply documenting the Spanish Colonial Revival mansion goes to Thomas W. Temple II, the eldest of the four surviving children of Walter P. Temple and Laura Gonzalez, which began construction in 1922.

Thomas, an avid photographer in general, provided us with a good representational record of the project, which extended to late 1927, with images from a variety of angles, including the three highlighted photos from the Homestead’s collection here.  Unfortunately, almost all of the images we have of the house are exterior shots, though we will feature some of the very few interior views some day, but, still, his efforts are valuable in documenting the early history of this remarkable residence.

LCN Under Construction From South of Workman House
This circa 1924 photograph from the Homestead’s collection, probably taken by Thomas W. Temple II, eldest of the family’s children, shows the northeast corner of La Casa Nueva, part of the east side of the Mission Walkway, a portion of a gazebo in the Workman House courtyard, and some of the rural environs west and north of the Homestead.

The first photograph is taken from an elevation position in the southern courtyard of the Workman House and looks to the west.  In the foreground corner is the steep pitched roof of a gazebo that was in the courtyard for many years.  Next to that is a pillar with a potted plant on it, behind which is part of the east side of the Mission Walkway in construction.

As for the house, the walls are up, rough plaster applied to them, the plywood sheeting for the roof has been nailed down and the earliest stages of building the balcony outside the Master Bedroom has begun.  Note the window and French door openings for that room and the Living Room below it.

It also appears the palm tree in front of the house had just been planted as a wooden scaffold is in place, evidently to ensure it stayed straight in its formative stages.  See also, in the distance, just how rural and agricultural the Puente area was ninety-five or so years ago, with lots of farmland and relatively few structures in view.  In the hazy horizon are the faint outlines of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The second photo was taken, it appears, from the top of the Water Tower, providing an excellent panoramic view of the valley to the north and west of the Homestead, as well a full view of the large home.    Here we can again see the completed rough plastering and plywood sheeting on the roof, as well as all of the door and window openings, some of which seem to have casings in place.  Just to the right of center, in the projecting Breakfast Room windows, there are two curved wooden forms for those arched openings.

Construction of LCN From Water Tower
Here is a great panoramic view taken from the Water Tower and taking in the entirely of La Casa Nueva, more of the Mission Walkway and adjacent landscaping and a broader look at the agricultural landscape west and north of the ranch.

The top of the projecting wings to the south were originally intended to be flat with a tar-coated roof, but, when the Temples hired Beverly Hills architect Roy Seldon Price, then known for his recently completed Spanish Colonial masterpiece for film studio owner Thomas Ince, he convinced Walter Temple to make these open-air sun decks.  This was not only a good use of otherwise wasted space, but was an unusual and highly attractive element to the completed house.  Portions of the Mission Walkway and trees planted in front of it are also of note, as is the temporary wooden pole for electric service to the site.

Finally, there is ground level view from the southeast.  Evergreen Lane, which went from the west entrance off Tenth Avenue (soon changed to Turnbull Canyon Road) to the El Campo Santo Cemetery is where Thomas stood.  The driveway at the center ran between La Casa Nueva and the Workman House and is still intact, if a bit narrower.  The fencing at the bottom right corner surrounded the original Pump House, where a 75-foot deep water well was situated, and the adjoining Water Tower.

While much of La Casa Nueva, especially its eastern side can be seen in this photo, there are some notable features in front of it.  One are the evergreen and palm trees planted at the center and right.  Behind these is the Mission Walkway, with the lower wall basically completed, while a few of the arches are being built towards the right.  Some of the wall was cut at its left extremity and construction materials, such as a wheelbarrow, trough, sand, and other items are at the lower left, as is a tall pole.

LCN Under Construction From Center Drive
Thomas stood at the intersection of Evergreen Lane, a west to east road on the ranch and what we call the Center Driveway, running between La Casa Nueva and the Workman House.  While we see a good portion of the former and more of the Mission Walkway and adjacent landscaping, also of note are the stacks of adobe bricks in the center outside the walkway wall and at the left inside it.

In the planter, however, is a large pile of adobe bricks stacked next to a palm and a deodar tree at the center.  To the far left, behind the cut portion of Mission Walkway wall, is an even larger stack, or two, of adobe bricks.  It is presumed that all of these were being used for the walkway, though there may have been other uses for these, which were made with massive pits and enormous adobe kilns in the fields near the project site.

There was still a long way to go when these photographs were taken, but they do provide some fascinating views of La Casa Nueva as it was moving from the earliest stages of construction and, apparently, just after Price came on board and made many significant and impressive changes to its design and construction.  Look for more photos in this series in later posts!

Leave a Reply