Going With the Flow: The Homestead’s Water Tower

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Without giving it much thought, we turn the taps on in our sinks and out comes water like we expect it to every time.  It wasn’t all that long ago, when you stop and think about it, that this wasn’t the case, but we generally take the convenience for granted.

When the Workman family established the Homestead nearly 180 years ago, access to fresh water for home use was dependent on digging out a well right next to the southeastern corner of the three-room adobe the family built in the 1840s.  The well is about 30 or more feet down, which only goes to show how abundant the water table was in the sparsely populated eastern San Gabriel Valley.

Workman Residence ca 1890
This detail of a circa 1890 photo of the Workman House does (doesn’t it?) show, at the far left, a portion of the screened deck and roof of the Water Tower, as well as the east side of one of the wineries with its steep two-gabled roof.

By 1870, when the house was significantly remodeled and a second floor and rooms added at the corners of red brick, the well was enclosed.  John Harrison Temple, one of the grandchildren of the Workmans, who attended the private school on the other side of the house and then owned the 75-acre Homestead from 1888 to 1899, left valuable recollections of the layout of the building.  He noted that the well room had a large iron pump and a blind native Indian was responsible for drawing the water.

By the time, Temple became owner of the ranch, however, a new well was dug to the southwest, perhaps fifty or so yards away, and a pump house built around it.  Next to that, a two-story brick water tower, with tapered walls and a wooden, roofed upper deck where a large tank was placed, was built.

Water Tower From South ca 1925
A 1920s snapshot taken from the south with the east side of the winery at the far left, the Water Tower at center and the Workman House in the background.

For years, the museum’s staff assumed the tower was built in the 20th century, perhaps when John’s younger brother, Walter, owned the ranch from 1917 to 1932.  One day, however, when I looked closely at a photo of John, his wife Anita Davoust, and their two eldest children, F.P.F. II and Pliny, standing at the northeast corner of the Workman House, I could see what seemed to be to be a small sliver of the Water Tower and part of another building behind it.

The two youngsters were born in 1887 and 1888, respectively, and couldn’t have been older than a few years of age, so the image looked to be from about 1890.  As noted above, John inherited the Homestead with his brother, William, who was out of state and sold his half to John in 1889, so, if that was the tower, it was either brand new or was already there when John moved on to the property (some sources say it was not until 1889 when he and his family did this).

Demolition of the screened deck in a Polaroid (remember those?) photo from 30 March 1977.

Now, I made this “discovery” in the early 1990s before we had the ability to scan photographs at high resolution and zoom in on details, though I tried blowing up a reproduction photo on a photocopier.   But, some of my Homestead colleagues were skeptical of my inference and jokingly said I was engaged in a whimsical exercise in wishful historical thinking.

It seems pretty clear now that the southeastern corner of the tower’s four-gabled roof and screened deck are visible, as is the east side and main entrance of the largest of three brick wineries erected by William Workman in the 1860s (this latter structure is about where our Homestead Gallery is located today).

Another demolition Polaroid from 30 March 1977.

Later, my long-time boss, Max van Balgooy, was researching at the Huntington Library and, in a collection of photographs owned by Henry T. Hazard, an attorney and mayor in Los Angeles (and whose attempts to prevent lynchings during the Chinese Massacre of 1871 led to members of the mob to fire their pistols at him in outrage), were several photographs of the Homestead.  Taken about 1905, these images included one of the Water Tower, so we at least knew it was built earlier than anticipated.

As mentioned above, John Temple moved to the ranch in 1888 or 1889 and the Workman House photo couldn’t have been more than a couple of years beyond that. Whether he had the resources to build the Water Tower so soon after moving on to the ranch is uncertain, but someone who did was the brother from whom he inherited the Homestead.

New joists installed in the deck, later in 1977.

Francis W. Temple, who was born in the Workman House in summer 1848, was the winemaker for his grandfather William Workman for at least a few years before the latter’s death in 1876.  Francis remained on the property during the three years that followed and until Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin foreclosed on a loan to the failed Temple and Workman bank.  By continuing to grow grapes, make wine and raise other crops, Francis made enough money to buy the Workman House, wineries and other outbuildings, El Campo Santo Cemetery and 75 acres from Baldwin in 1880.

Francis died in summer 1888, just a few days prior to his 40th birthday and in the same room in which he was born.  He seems to have done relatively well economically and left an estate of decent size.  It seems more probable that he built the Water Tower than John, who wound up struggling economically as the 1890s included a national depression and several years of local drought and which ended with his being foreclosed upon and losing the ranch.

Demolition of the circa 1920s pump house with the electric pump standing at the foreground left.

What does appear to be from the Walter Temple era is the old pump in the pump house adjacent to the tower and which was reconditioned in the late 1970s restoration of the site so that the machinery operates, though the long wooden sucker rods that went down into the well and forced water up by pressure were removed, cut and displayed in the enlarged replica of the structure.

It is not known what the motive power was before that electric pump was installed, perhaps a steam-powered pump was there and, maybe in the earliest days there was a windmill that generated the power to operate a pump.  In any case, the pump and tower continued to be used by Walter P. Temple during his fifteen-year ownership of the Homestead.  He even had the second floor of the Water Tower remodeled as a bedroom for him when he and the family visited the ranch prior to the building of La Casa Nueva.

The upper deck restoration, 1977.

By the 1940s, when Harry and Lois Brown of Monrovia bought the 92-acre Homestead for their new El Encanto Sanitarium, the Water Tower may not have been used to draw water any longer.  Perhaps the water table had sunk lower than the 75-foot long well could access.  The wooden tank was removed and, it was said, the wood repurposed for a wall that enclosed a courtyard to the south of the Workman House.  The tower was occupied as a nurse’s station and supply room until the current El Encanto facility was built in stages during much of the 1960s.

After the Browns sold the ranch to the City of Industry in sections between 1963 and 1975 and as restoration of the property took place in the late Seventies and into the Eighties, the upper portion of the tower, which was stuccoed at some undetermined time, was in a bad state.

The finished Water Tower project.   Note the corner of the Homestead Gallery built where the winery once stood.

Termite and dry rot damage was rampant, so it was decided to completely rebuild the screened deck and roof, as well as flag pole to replace the one that Walter Temple put up.  A weathervane that he placed atop the original pole was saved, restored and replaced on the new pole (and, very recently, was worked on again after some four decades, so it looks brand new now.)

Several photographs taken on 30 March 1977 show the work being done on the Water Tower and others here show it at different points in its history.  It’s pretty rare to find old water towers in our region and the Homestead’s is an apt reminder of the importance of these to the running of households and ranch activities before water delivery service came along.


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