by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Along with the decorative tile work, the wealth of stained and painted glass found throughout La Casa Nueva is one of the most distinctive features of this highly personalized and remarkable house. Though it has not yet been learned where the glass work was done, the last living member of the Temple family who built the structure remembered that at least some of it was made in Chicago, a center of stained glass manufacture, including prominent firms like the Munich Studio operated by German emigres.
Some of the windows are generalized in their depictions, such as a door in the Library with images of Shakespeare, Milton, Longfellow and Cervantes, whose Don Quixote provided material for scenes shown in other windows in that space, or in the Music Room where ten French doors have portraits of famous composers from Bach to Wagner. Others were customized, including full-length representations of the eldest of the four surviving Temple children, Thomas and Agnes, based on photographs of them wearing Mexican costume at the annual Fiesta at the Mission San Gabriel.
It is not known where Agnes, wearing a gorgeous fringed shawl with a complex floral design, and a flowing lace mantilla, was standing when her photo was taken, though the background shows an Italianate railing, an arbor with an exuberant vine and, in the distance, a large building amid a lush landscape. As for Thomas, we know that his more prosaic locale was a side window at the San Gabriel Post Office, built by his father in the early 1920s and situated across the street from the mission, though he sports an impressive charro suit with intricate designs on the jacket, vest and trousers, while he wears a colorful sarape over his right shoulder and has an impressive sombrero atop his head.
The wearing of these outfits by the Temples at the Fiesta was, of course, a conscious reflection of the Californio heritage they had going back on both sides of their family. Their mother, Laura Gonzalez, had, through her mother, Francisca Valenzuela, ancestry dating well into the Mexican and Spanish periods of California, while their father, Walter P. Temple, had antecedents who settled Mexican California as far back as the late 1820s. While, by the 1920s, the Temples were living as up-to-date and modern a lifestyle, subsidized with significant wealth, as anyone in the region, they were also immensely proud of their family history, even if such representations could be romanticized.
When the City of Industry was readying to acquire La Casa Nueva in the early 1970s, these windows were in a prime location in arched openings on either side of highly impressive and stylized front door with its massive oak main door, glass screen and, outside, a striking carved plaster surround with grapes, what looks like wheat, and the Spanish royal coat of arms. Having Thomas and Agnes as something of silent sentinels at the home’s entrance seemed as natural as could be.
There were, however, two issues with the presumption that their windows were in their original positions. The first, sadly, is that they were stolen, along with some doors and windows (the thieves even tried to remove a massive built-in bookcase but gave up the attempt after pulling one side out a few inches). The other is that they were originally . . . well, let’s save that part of the story for a little later!
Nearly a quarter century ago, when I was conducting a slew of oral histories for the Homestead, one of the subjects was Mel Gooch, the supervising architect for the restoration of the Homestead, which took place in the late 1970s and very early 1980s. Mel told me, as we talked at his self-designed Claremont house, that just prior to the break-in and theft at La Casa Nueva, a photographer was hired to document the house’s condition and, among the images taken, were details of such prominent decorative elements as the stained and painted glass windows, including the the two depicting the Temple siblings.
Mel was not hired until shortly after the incident and so could not state definitively what happened, as no one seems to have known just exactly what took place and who committed the crime, but he definitely expressed the view that it was more than coincidental that the photographic documentation was undertaken and then the break-in and theft occurred very shortly thereafter. As he and I discussed and colleagues at the museum also stated over the years, much of what was taken was customized, so either the doors and windows remain stacked or propped up or whatever in someone’s house or storage unit or whatever, or a custom house happens to have them included in its construction.
In any case, it did prove fortunate that there was photo documentation of these windows because, once restoration work began at La Casa Nueva, Pasadena stained glass artist John Wallis was hired to create replicas of the originals, as he did for the “author’s door” and other missing elements. In some cases, as with a missing stained glass window in the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum at El Campo Santo Cemetery, Wallis relied on the recollections, albeit from nearly a half-century later, of Walter, Jr. Being the last survivor of his family and the only to see the Homestead become a museum, he was particularly important as a resource for everyone involved in the restoration and operation of the museum for nearly two decades until he passed away in 1998.
Again, though, Wallis had the benefit of these photos, 8″x 10″ prints of which were provided by Raymond Girvigian, who was the architect in charge of the entire restoration project and who will be 94 years old next Friday. The photos, donated by Girvigian to the Homestead when it first opened, are dated 20 November 1979, though they may be prints produced at the time from negatives or prints created at the time the images were taken, perhaps seven or so years prior.
Wallis did a masterful job with these and the other reproductions he and his studio made for La Casa Nueva and, for years, our docent training classes would take field trips to his studio where he would lead us through the process of making the replicas, using drawings, in-process examples and other elements as illustrations of the fascinating processes involved. Wallis was a born raconteur and was a great deal of fun to listen to in general, with one stand-out story being the fact that, when he was hired to reproduce painted glass work, such as in the Breakfast Room, he had to relearn the process because he hadn’t done that kind of work since the 1920s when, as a teen, he learned his trade on such projects as The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. Visiting Wallis’ studio and hearing him talk about La Casa Nueva, it was clear that the project was both a major challenge for and a great pleasure to him.
So, when the Homestead opened to the public in May 1981 (next spring, of course, marks our 40th anniversary), the newly replicated windows of Thomas and Agnes were installed in the Main Hall as planned. For years, tour guides would use these windows as a way to introduce the Temple family to visitors once groups entered the house through that fantastic front entrance and explain that, while they were reproductions, they were in the original locations. Alas, one truism of historical interpretation is to be careful about what you assume is established fact!
Colleagues, including my long-time boss, Max van Balgooy, now a museum consultant based in the Washington, D.C. area, and a summer employee, Bill Smith, a former instructor at Mount San Antonio College who organized and cataloged our slide collection (yes, this was back in the Nineties!), began to piece together the timeline of the construction of La Casa Nueva.
What was learned pretty quickly is that the assumed construction dates of 1919 to 1923 were, in fact, a few years off. It turned out that work did not begin on the house until summer 1922, after an inspired Walter and Laura, fresh from a long trip with their children through Mexico, launched the project. Moreover, the building was not completed for more than four years and other elements, including some furnishing and landscaping continued beyond late 1927.
With respect to the windows of Thomas and Agnes, it was also discovered that the Main Hall was not their original locations. Rather, photos of the construction of the house revealed that they were placed in arched openings on the east side of the Living Room, where the morning sun would provide a vivid impression of these windows. At the time this was discovered, however, it was decided, after some rumination, to leave the replicas where they were. Over time, however, more cogitating led to serious discussions about what to do and we finally made the decision to move the windows to their original locations.
Doing this involved a fair amount of work, though, as we needed to build framing to accommodate the windows in openings that were changed to contain the clear windows that had been there since the unknown time when they were moved to the Main Hall—we assume this took place during the ownership and use of the house from 1940 to the early Seventies by the Brown family, operators of El Encanto Sanitarium, now El Encanto Habilitation and Health Care, adjacent on the north to the house. And, of course, we had to take those clear windows and put them with newly built framing and install them in the Main Hall.
Once we made this change, and it’s been near twenty years since that was done, it was clear that the effort was well worth it. For one thing, the pair was “back” where they belonged, but, beyond that, they provide a dramatic backdrop to visitors entering the room from the Main Hall. Moreover, with a copy of the original photo of Thomas on the mantelpiece of the fireplace and with family photos elsewhere in the room, they are an ideal way to talk about the Temples in correlation and conjunction with the home that is so customized to include their family history.
In recent years, an original promotional pamphlet for Temple City, dating to about 1928, has been exhibited in the room and it provides a striking contrast with the windows. This is because the brochure plainly states that “only white people of a desirable class” were allowed to live in Walter Temple’s town, even though, in the privacy of his impressive Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, he indulged himself in celebrating his Californio ancestry and heritage. Doing this is not intended to criticize him so much as to bring up the question of conflicting and shifting identities, something applicable to many people at the time. Having the replicas in the original locations has proved, in the long run, to have been the right move to make, both for the sake of accuracy, but also for viable and valuable interpretive reasons.