Pet Project: The Restoration of Wood Carvings in the Courtyard of La Casa Nueva, 28 February 1979

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The remarkable La Casa Nueva, the expansive (and expensive) home of the Temple family, built between 1922 and 1927, is notable for many features, including its mostly adobe construction, extensive use of Mexican and American tile and stained and colored glass, much carving in wood and plaster, and, particularly, the highly personalized decoration employed throughout the Spanish Colonial Revival style masterpiece.

1875La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Far Left Beam Before Restoration

On this day in 1979, as the Homestead was undergoing restoration by the City of Industry in preparation for its opening two years later as a historic site museum, woodcarver Harvey Morris worked on one aspect of many for him at the house.  This was the replication of deteriorated carvings on the ends of decorative beams projecting from the balcony in the courtyard.

1871La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Beams Before Restoration

These carvings were among the many personal touches found throughout La Casa Nueva and are easily counted as likely the most whimsical: the three dogs and a cat who were the Temple family’s pets at the time they worked on the structure more than a half-century before.

1892La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Cats Head Replication

Harvey, who stayed on to become what could be called the Homestead’s “resident craftsperson” for almost two decades after the museum opened in 1981, wasn’t a wood carver by trade, but he was exceptionally skilled.  This was especially demonstrated by the examples highlighted in this post, but also his work in replicating stolen doors from the Main Hall to the Library and Dining Room and the door leading from the Courtyard to the basement, just to give a few instances.

1895La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Buldogs Clay Model And Replica

As for the carvings of the pets, exposure to termites and water caused the original figures to be completely defaced by dry rot from the latter and the voracious appetites of the former.  The photographs here show the condition of the beams prior to Harvey’s work, as well as what the carvings looked like when completed and, in some cases, installed at the beam ends, which also were redone.

1896La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Cats And Dogs Heads On Fountain

With regard to the original animals, the most prominent place, at the center of the group and projecting further out on a longer beam on which is a lantern, was bestowed on Prince, a German shepherd, who was prized by the Temples.  I recall Walter P. Temple, Jr., the only of the four surviving children in the family to see the Homestead restored and opened as a museum, talking about Prince with great affection sixty or more years later.

1876La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Princes Head Replacement In Place

At the opposing ends of the courtyard and a little hard to view because they are partially projected over the tile roofs that cover the porticos on both sides of the space, were Duke and Maxie, the other canines who roamed the Homestead grounds in the Twenties.  Near Prince is Tonchy, the sole feline in the assemblage of family pets, and given the nickname of eldest child, Thomas.

1872La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Beam Before Restoration Princes Head

There isn’t much of broad historical import to say about this subject, though the former curator of the La Puente Valley Historical Society and I talked for years about writing a mock history of Lobo, a dog said to have accompanied the Rowland and Workman Expedition from New Mexico to California in late 1841 and who, in our telling, would have been responsible, Zelig-like, for successfully guiding the expedition to California, saving them from bandits like Joaquin Murrieta, warning them of depredations from cattle and horse thieves, and other heroic acts.

1894La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Princes Head Replica Reset

Still, what gives La Casa Nueva so much of its considerable charm are little touches of whimsy and wonder throughout the building.  This includes family symbols like Workman cattle brands and Temple coats-of arms; hinges on doors shaped like angels and monkeys; plaster carvings of griffins said to be representative of the guardians of Queen Calafía, purported namesake of California, and the warrior women who populated the mythical island as told in Europe centuries ago; pieces of tile, abalone shells and other objects in the cement between flagstones in walkways around the residence; and much more.

1873La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Far Right Beam Restoration

Much as the stained and painted glass images in the Living Room of Thomas Temple and his sister, Agnes, dressed in Mexican clothing, the likenesses of Prince, Duke, Maxie and Tonchy are inspired personal touches that humanize an imposing mansion.  In concert with wood carvings in the Dining Room that include a goat, a cat, a dog, including a pair of canines dressed in suits and ties, this quartet could also be viewed as adding a needed dose of levity, lest La Casa Nueva be taken too seriously!

1898La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Princes Head Reset

After all, the home was intended to be used by the Temples for generations, but this great ambition, as is all too often the case, was cruelly unrealized within just a few years after La Casa Nueva was finished.  Fortunately, the house, along with the remainder of the 92-acre Homestead, proved to be idea for commercial uses, with a boys military school occupying it during the first half of the 1930s and El Encanto Sanitarium (now Healthcare and Habilitation Center) using the house for nearly three decades from 1940 to the late 1960s.

1897La Casa Nueva Courtyard Balcony Cats Head Repaired And Reset

While so many homes of the Twenties have been lost to the wrecking ball (or the equivalent), the City of Industry invested heavily in the restoration of La Casa Nueva and the remainder of the six-acre site that became the museum.  These photos are among dozens in the Homestead’s holdings that document the intensive work undertaken in the late 1970s and early 1980s to restore the site.  The City’s continuing support, just about four decades later, includes the major upkeep of the property, including at least a couple of other efforts to replicate these pet beam ends and this commitment is appreciated by the public, fur sure.

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