by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Tonight’s post features another grouping of snapshot photographs of the construction of La Casa Nueva, taken in the mid-1920s with two taken by professional photographer Albert J. Kopec and third likely by Thomas W. Temple II, the eldest of the four children of Walter P. Temple and Laura Gonzalez, who were inspired after an extended family vacation in México in summer 1922 to design and build the 11,000-square foot residence.
As mentioned here previously, the couple sketched out rough ideas on butcher paper and these were turned into initial finished drawings by the prominent Los Angeles architectural firm of Albert R. Walker and Percy Eisen, who were mainly known for their many commercial building designs in downtown.
Most of the walls were constructed of adobe bricks, made on the property with large pits dug and adobe kilns constructed to fire the bricks. This work was undertaken by Pablo Urzua, a maestro de obra, or master stonemason, who came to the site with a crew of workers from Guadalajara, the major metropolis of the state of Jalisco. Because adobe making could not be done in wet weather, the crew worked for periods in a given year, returned home, and then made the long trip back the following year.
By 1924, after Laura’s passing from cancer, the decision was made to scrap much of the Walker and Eisen plan and turn to a new architect, Roy Seldon Price of Beverly Hills, who was known for his striking design of the Spanish Colonial Revival home in that city of film studio owner Thomas Ince. Not long after Días Dorados (Golden Days) was completed, Ince died shortly after taking ill aboard the yacht of publishing titan William Randolph Hearst.
Price, whose career was short and not nearly as well known as that of Walker and Eisen, was, however, much less conservative and far more exuberant in his architectural expressions. Some of his more inspired contributions, including the beautiful plaster surround at the front entrance, the reworking of the Main Hall stairs from a central case with branches leading to both sides in favor of a wraparound case which dramatically opened up the space, and the completion of the sun roof decks over the rear wings, among many others, truly transformed the house into something unique and full of character.
As the Temples joked, with some chagrin, such flights of fancy and whimsy (others including custom-made tile panels, wood-carved doors, ornate plaster carvings, custom stained glass windows and much else) came at considerable time and expense and, so, they noted, Price’s invoices matched his last name. The dramatic reworking of La Casa Nueva meant that construction dragged on for three years after the architect’s hiring and the home was not completed until late 1927.
Still, while the house would, undoubtedly, have been striking and beautiful if the original design was retained and it would have been much less costly and done more quickly, the results are stunning. In 1924 and 1925, however, Price’s plans were just starting to be implemented and the photos highlighted here do not give us any sense of just what was to come once the ornamental phases were implemented.
In any case, the photographs are interesting, giving us perspectives from the specific to the general. In the first example, a gent, who appears to be photographer Albert J. Kopec given that his inscription is at the lower right corner and who was discussed in some detail in an earlier post in this series of construction images, stood in a doorway to what became the Music Room, and held a large adobe brick.
Kopec, who was quite well-layered with his clothing, including a coat, what looks to be two vests, a dress shirt and tie, was a slight figure, so the brick stands out even more in its impressive proportions, which, no doubt, was the point in having the image taken. The walls were recently covered with a rough coat of plaster and scored for a later coat of the finished plaster. It’s hard to see much of anything inside, but there are wood floors laid down at an angle.
The second photo, again with Kopec’s identifying mark, shows the same side of the house, this being the northwest corner, and the two French door openings of the music room are at the left with a drain pipe opening between the two being the same as in the first image. To the right are the two windows at the west end of the Library and which was later fitted with stained glass images of scenes from Miguel Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote. Note that the opening at the ground level between these windows has a water line and spigot protruding from it.
At the second floor are, from left to right, a window for Thomas’ bedroom, the bathroom window (which has a wood casing in place), and the west side window for the bedroom of Agnes Temple, the only daughter in the family. While Thomas’ bedroom window has family crest elements and religious scenes, Agnes’ window features a beautiful wisteria vine and roses. Note, again, the rough, scored plaster coat on the walls and the roof had its rafter tails and plywood sheeting laid down, ready for the tiles to be laid on.
The last image, probably by Thomas, who was an avid photographer and took many views of the house over time and of the site generally, making him a crucial visual documentarian of the Homestead during the 1920s, is taken from in front of the Workman House.
In those days, the older building, extensive remodeled and renovated by the Temples in the very late teens and very early twenties, had a broad circular front entrance including a large expanse of grass, bushes and shrubs, palm and deodar trees (one barely visible at the left is still standing today), and the sidewalk on which Thomas (or whoever took the photo) was standing. These days this spot is just outside a cast-iron fence that surrounds the historic area, though a chicken wire fence bordered the Workman House at the time.
Between the two buildings is the center driveway, so named because the main entrance to the Homestead from Valley Boulevard to the north, and which is now an alley and then El Encanto Road leading to the habilitation and care center (formerly a sanitarium that operated at the Homestead from 1940 to about 1970) of that name, branched off into three driveways.
One turned right and went to the front walkway and entrance of La Casa Nueva, continuing in a curve around the west of the building. The second was the one seen here going between the two structures. The third curved to the left and went down the east side of the Workman House. All terminated at what was called Evergreen Lane, because it was lined by deodars as it headed east from Turnbull Canyon Road, then known as Tenth Street, to El Campo Santo Cemetery.
On the La Casa Nueva side of the driveway are more palm and deodar trees, two of the latter of which are still there, though one was badly butchered by tree trimmers perhaps thirty years ago. Behind some of these is a portion of the east side of the Mission Walkway, surrounding the house on three sides and which was also in construction. See also that the tall palm tree planted in front of the building has a wooden structure to keep it growing straight.
As for the building, it has the rough plaster walls, the plywood sheeting on the roof laid in, the beginnings of the balcony for the Master Bedroom on the northeast corner of the second floor, many of the window and door openings, and the chimney for the Living Room fireplace is almost covered with the rough plaster, though there is some exposed adobe brick at the bottom near the roof line.
One element that definitely stands out to those who know the building is that there is a little dormer projecting from the sloping roof over the front entrance. These usually have a window on them, but magnifying this as much as we can without losing visibility, it does not appear there was a window, though there might have been a vent.
In any case, whether this was a holdout from the original design or not, it was later removed, likely because it is a bit of an oddity, especially for a Spanish Colonial Revival home. Early drawings by Walker and Eisen, however, show Craftsman influences in the design, so this may have been an element from that version.
What replaced it was a new design feature, in which the roof line was removed and a two-gabled element, later covered with Spanish tile like the rest of the roof, inserted in the gap with facie boards instead of rafter tails. This appears to have been done because, when an ornate wrought-iron cage was installed on a small balcony leading from the Upper Main Hall, it was topped by an iron panel or shield with a Temple family crest from England. This required that the main roof line be cut back to accommodate the crest..
The fourth photo included here is from a later stage of construction, perhaps 1926, and shows what the change involved, including the cage and the shield atop it. In fact, our next installment in this series of La Casa Nueva construction photos will take us to around that 1926 period as we see the house get to a more finished form.