by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It’s been almost fourteen months since the Homestead was closed to the public due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there have been dramatic improvements of late with increasing vaccinations and rapidly decreasing new cases of the virus and the swift move in tiers from red to orange to yellow.
Given the impressive results of recent weeks and months, we were very happy to be able to open the museum today, two weeks after the fortieth anniversary of the museum’s grand opening, with a limited period of outdoor-only, self-guided tours of the Workman House, La Casa Nueva and El Campo Santo Cemetery.
It was a gorgeous spring day and we welcomed a small, but enthusiastic, number of visitors who were given handouts summarizing the history of the three areas, but who also got to enjoy the gardens and landscaping which are now essentially in full bloom. It’s a soft opening of sorts as we are hoping that the continued ground being gained against the virus will allow us to resume indoor tours sometime in the latter part of June.
Meanwhile, visitors strolling the grounds can enjoy historic plantings like our amazing circa 1860 Lady Banks rose bush which graces the front of the Workman House and the deep red buds of the pomegranate trees which ring La Casa Nueva, as well as the myriad rose bushes found in all three locations, the rapidly spreading vines in our demonstration vineyard, and the wide variety of plantings in the native garden.
Photos taken today and shared here are just a few examples of our the site looks now, so, hopefully, this will motivate those of you reading this to come on down this weekend or upcoming Fridays through Sundays from Noon to 4 p.m. to walk the grounds, read some of the fascinating history of the Workman and Temple families and their houses, and enjoy the landscaping.
The forecast is excellent for this weekend’s weather, to boot, so that’s all the more reason to come out and see the Homestead. We are hoping that very soon we’ll be able to post the handouts on our website, so this can not only whet the appetite to see the museum, but visitors will be able to use QR codes to access these four-color versions on their devices when on the site.
Dovetailing nicely with our first phase of the reopening, though scheduled before those plans were made, my colleagues Jennifer Scerra and Robert Barron joined me in giving a talk for the Los Angeles County Library system to about 120 attendees. I led off with a very general overview of landscapes and gardens in greater Los Angeles, using an abundance of historic photographs from the Homestead’s artifact collection, largely covering the era from the 1870s through the 1920s, though there was some discussion of these areas before and after that time period.
Jennifer then followed with an excellent summary of how we have developed in recent years a series of small gardens that are both reflective of what could be found historically, but which also have important ties to today. For example, our native garden, created several years ago not only allows us to interpret plantings used by the indigenous people (our “Under the Oak Tree” program with the Kizh-Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians has been a popular and highly educational offering), but gives excellent examples of what we can use in our gardens so that low water use, but also practical benefit can be derived.
Working with the Pacific Rose Society, the museum developed a small garden of varieties developed during the Victorian era, with some named for historic figures like Queen Victoria of England and President Abraham Lincoln. More recently, Jennifer led the way in creating a garden with native plants that attract butterflies–again, there is beauty involved, but also a critical practical element as butterflies are essential for promoting plant pollination.
Robert, who developed quite a knowledge base about wine through intensive study on his free time and then turned that into a side career as a sommelier at The Cellar, a fine dining establishment in downtown Fullerton, walked attendees through the creation and nurturing of our demonstration vineyard.
Situated, as the other gardens are, adjacent to the Workman House, the vineyard originally included a row of mission grapes, the variety brought to California by Spanish missionaries and then planted throughout the region, including by the Workman family, who made wine for many years. Unfortunately, the grape just didn’t take well and all dozen of the plants died the first year.
The decision was to plant a more modern, but also common variety, so that we now have rows of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and chardonnary. Careful watering, pruning, training and other aspects over the last seven years, though, have yielded a healthy vineyard and Robert has even hand-pressed grapes to extract the juice and has found that the quality is quite good.
Robert was sure to give abundant and well-deserved credit to Square Root Landscaping, the contractor that manages the diverse landscape at the museum, from historic materials up to these latest demonstration gardens and the vineyard. Without the vital work done by the company and its employees, in consultation with our staff, including Robert and Jennifer, we would not have thes valuable and informative amenities for our guests to enjoy.
This program, given a couple of times before for the Road Scholar/Elderhostel lifelong learning program as an extension of its Tournament of Roses offering, is one that we are definitely looking at making part of our event roster. So, we’ll see how this all shakes out and whether we might be offering a future La La Landscapes-type program based on this presentation.
Speaking of which, the historic images here are of aspects of the landscaping and gardens at the Homestead during the 1920s, including what was done by the Temples in the early part of the decade at the Workman House and El Campo Santo Cemetery and then what was undertaken with La Casa Nueva toward the end of that period.
In the case of the La Casa Nueva courtyard, as pointed by Jennifer in her part of yesterday’s presentation, we embarked almost a decade ago on a replanting of the area between the house and the fountain to replicate what was found in photos like the one shown here. The photo, likely taken by family historian and shutterbug Thomas W. Temple II, the eldest of the family’s four surviving children (a fifth died as an infant), is taken from atop the Mission Walkway, which had arched adobe walls faced in concrete, the names and founding dates of the 21 California missions and the Pala sub-mission, and grape vines, said to have been cuttings from the famous mother vine at San Gabriel, on a wood trellis.
We can see the exposed sun decks over the wings of the house and which were enclosed in 1930 as dormitories for the military school that leased the Homestead from the Temples, as well as solar panels on the main gable of the tiled roof, these used to heat water for the second floor bathrooms (many of us don’t realize how far back the use of solar electricity, even in a limited capacity, goes.)
In front of the fountain, which had mill stones unearthed in 1924 on a farm owned by the Rowland family and almost certainly coming from John Rowland’s 1847 grist mill built a couple miles or so east of the Homestead, are at least a couple kinds of ground cover, including one that was flowering. Behind the fountain are a bunch of rapidly growing banana palms and we’ve replicated these and other plants based on photos like these.
The second La Casa Nueva landscape image is particularly interesting as it takes in a number of elements germane to the singular design of the house and its gardens. The photo, also probably from Thomas, was taken from the north end of the west side of the Mission Walkway, and of which a smidgen appears at the upper right corner, while, in the distance at the center is another portion—given that it was summer the vines are in full growth.
What is now an expansive lawn was mostly a rose garden, though there is a small tree at the left, what might be a deodar at the right, and next to the distinctive Tepee office and retreat for Walter Temple (note the branches peeking out from the top of the structure, as well as the attic vent and the projecting beam end at the left), a pair of young sycamores that are still with us, though just a bit taller and wider! At the lower left corner is one of the many unusual (and, to some eyes, unsightly) planters made of round adobe bricks (the same as used in the Mission Walkway’s columns) coated in concrete.
At the upper left is about half of the second story sun deck and the tops of potted palms can be seen along with a pipe scaling the wall and to which a hose was attached. Behind this and on the southeastern corner of La Casa Nueva is the upper portion of a palm tree that was moved, at some expense and effort, in 1925 from San Gabriel, where Walter Temple had extensive real estate interests. Sadly, that tree died a few years ago. Finally, in the background center is part of the largest of three winery buildings, erected by the Workman family in the mid-1860s, and which was an auditorium with pool and ping-pong tables, a stage with a piano and a film projector.
The two Workman House images don’t show all that much in the way of landscape, though a photo highlighted here before and showing a substantial portion of the southern side of the residence does feature a good deal of fruit trees, vegetables, the historic grape arbor and more, including more solar panels on its south-facing roof gable. A view of this part of the house from the eastern sun deck of La Casa Nueva does show a palm tree, what might be a fruit tree to its left, vines covering the west side of the Workman House, a small gazebo, the north end of the grape arbor and a large orange tree behind it. Part of a structure toward the lower right, awnings along the porch, and a clothesline are of incidental interest, as well.
The view of the front of the building includes five children in the Knueven family, with their father, Bill, being foreman of the Homestead for Walter Temple (and a contractor who built those dormitories mentioned above), and their mother, Evangeline, whose mother was Walter’s sister, Margarita Temple Rowland. The Knuevens lived in the Workman House at the time and groups of small palm trees are at either side and in front; small bushes or shrubs grew along the wire fence; vines cover much of the east side of the structure; the same tree at the west side of the house was seen in the previously described photo; and, most notably, the Lady Banks rose bush is on a trellis behind one of the palms.
Finally, there is an excellent photo, probably also taken by Thomas Temple, of a good portion of El Campo Santo taken from its northeast corner. Desecrated by a former owner some two decades prior, the cemetery was largely destroyed, but its reclamation and renovation was a priority for the Temples when they acquired the ranch in 1917.
With regard to landscape, large sections of lawn were installed; roses were planted around the original cast-iron fence enclosing the family burial plot; shrubs like the arbor vitae (examples of which are now tree-like in height and breadth); climbing vines trained on the mausoleum; and palm trees placed in several places. In fairly recent years, examples of the latter were planted as close to these locations as possible.
Meanwhile, it looks like there are walnut trees in the background just south of the cemetery and, in the distance, are the upper elevations of the Puente Hills. Finally, note three of the headstones placed by the Temples when the cemetery was renovated a few years before the photo was taken, while the original impressive tombstone for John Rowland, co-owner of Rancho La Puente with the Workmans, is at the far left.