by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The winter of 1977-78 was quite memorable as our semi-arid Mediterranean climate, during an El Niño condition, included total rainfall about 30 inches for only the fourth season since official records were inaugurated exactly a century before. The official count of 33.44 inches had only been exceeded twice, in 1883-84, when over thirty-eight inches fell, and in 1889-90 when just shy of thirty-five inches rained down. That total went unmatched (though 1982-83 and 1997-98 came close) until the winter of 2004-05 when over thirty-seven inches were recorded. Since then, we’ve only hit twenty inches once and eight of the last fourteen years have been under ten inches—the seasonal average since 1877 is a little south of fifteen, while this year to date we’re barely over four.
When that wet winter hit forty-three years ago, the Homestead was undergoing restoration, a project launched by the City of Industry several years prior as its very generous contribution to the American bicentennial. With all of the general site preparation with grading, demolition, and utilities; new elements including the Homestead Gallery, the Glorieta, walkways and sidewalks, parking lots; and the restoration and replication of La Casa Nueva, the Water Tower and the Pump House, it was decided that the Workman House would have its exterior restored, but the interior would await future work.
There was plenty to do with the outside of the structure, the earliest part of which dates to 1842 and which included additions through about 1870 and rooms and spaces significant renovated over the years since. Moreover, as the old plaster was removed, it was discovered that the east wall of adobe covering three rooms was significantly bowed due to the intrusion of water. The wall, however, was not shored up as it should have been and, when workers arrived at the site the next morning, it had collapsed, requiring a composite of concrete block and adobe on the inside, while the brick wall on the second floor had to be rebuilt, as well.
Another major element of the exterior restoration of the house was the replication of the four tall brick chimney stacks that once emerged from the corners of the building. It is not known what happened to them, though they were all present in photos from the 1920s. By the time a 1940s aerial view was taken, when the site was used for the El Encanto Sanitarium, only one remained, at the southeast corner.
Perhaps the major earthquake that struck Long Beach and the South Bay in 1933 caused the destruction of the other three. Whether the lone survivor was topped by another tremor, such as the 1971 Sylmar quake, or was removed for other reasons is also not known, but, when the restoration project was launched it was decided to replicate the quartet.
Only, it wasn’t quite a full replication. The stacks on the west side of the building were constructed to line up with the flues coming out of the circa 1870 marble fireplaces, which, however, had shallow openings only suitable for burning coal in a basket, not wood, as in a deeper opening, in the large bedrooms, presumably used by William and Nicolasa Workman, in the north and south wings. In that sense, they would appear to be workable replicas.
On the east side, however, there were no fireplaces or flues to connect to as major changes were made in that area of the house. At the southeast, we knew, from detailed descriptions left to us by John H. Temple, grandson of the Workmans and owner of the building from 1888 to 1899, that there was a smoking room, built of adobe and adjacent to the older central adobe core of the structure, in which there may or may not have been fireplace.
At the northeast, it seems that a fireplace could either have been in the older east room (likely an addition, though, and not present as far back as the 1840s) or in the adobe room built next to it to the north and which may have been a guest or traveler’s room, but, there is no evidence left for fireplaces in either space. In fact, the original stacks on this side of the edifice have been surmised to have been “fakes” to give architectural symmetry to the house when it was remodeled by the Workmans, though there are photos that show a pipe emerging from the southeast one during the time when the room below it (the old smoking room) was a kitchen.
In any case, when it was decided to replicate the four chimney stacks, all of them were true “fakes,” with I-beams of steel cased in brick, and then these solid and very heavy pieces dropped in by crane to the openings created in the roof for them. Concrete was poured as a base in the attic and steel beams secured in triangular shape at the bottom as an extra precautionary step in case of a major earthquake, though it’s been stated that, if the temblor was strong enough to dislodge the stack from its cement base, the beams would likely be useless.
Tonight’s highlighted artifacts from the Homestead’s holdings are photographs of the placement of these chimney stacks on 4 January 1978, during that wild and wet winter. Some of the photos show the newly reconstructured east wall with its CMU (Concrete Masonry Unit) block wall for the first floor—again, half portions of adobe bricks from the original were placed on the inside, while the exterior was stuccoed directly over the cement blocks—and the rebuilt brick wall on the second floor. Note the black tarp covering the roof because of the weather.
Other images show the stacks attached to the crane and being set in place, with one of them showing a scafford which the stacks were lifted and then positioned into place. These latter photos came out quite dark because of the very cloudy conditions and the angle at which these images, which were from good old Polaroid cameras, were taken.
Naturally, over the last forty years (the museum’s anniversary will be on the 1st day of May), visitors to the site would assume that these chimneys are original and have flues extending through them from working fireplaces below. In restoration projects, however, it is invariably the case that many features of buildings are not only replicas of originals, but not working ones, and this is the case with the Workman House and its quartet of chimneys.