by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Next year marks the centennial of the initiation of construction of La Casa Nueva, the roughly 11,000-square foot Spanish Colonial Revival mansion built by the Temple family over a five- year period from 1922 to 1927. We are in the midst of planning an exhibit in The Homestead Museum Gallery that will present the story (or stories) behind the project and the display will change from year to year as we make our way forward towards 2027.
Among the reasons for the delay was the passing of Laura González Temple at the end of 1922 not long after building commenced, the necessity to manufacture adobe bricks during warmer weather, and the hiring of architect Roy Seldon Price who made a number of important, but time-consuming and expensive (hence the family’s wry jokes about his invoices matching his surname) changes to the dwelling.
A key one of these is reflected in tonight’s “No Place Like Home” entry and the featured photographs from the Homestead’s collection, a trio of images, likely taken by Thomas W. Temple II, whose photographic hobby proved significant as he was the primary documentarian of the house’s construction. Each of the photos provides a different view of the courtyard and adjacent areas but one of the constants is at least a portion of the second floor sun decks.
When the original design was developed by Walter and Laura Temple, first in conjunction with Whittier contractor Earl Wheatland (who also built the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum at El Campo Santo Cemetery) and then with finished plans by the Los Angeles architectural firm of Albert H. Walker and Percy Eisen (who worked on many of Temple’s commercial real estate projects in the Angel City along with San Gabriel, El Monte and Alhambra), the idea was to simply cover the roofs of the wings flanking the courtyard with tar paper and place red tile along the edges.
Price, however, rightly considered this a monumental waste of usable space and came up with the inspired idea of creating the decks. This included creating a mosaic floor with the same light blue and dusty pink cement tiles with a simple floral design as found in the Breakfast Room and Barber Shop in the first floor. This provided an easy-to-clean surface for parties and other uses while distinctively beautifying what would otherwise have been an unattractive area.
A series of a half-dozen adobe pillars on each side of the wings was to be plastered and then surmounted with long rough-hewn round-shaped wooden beams with the ends projecting out a few feet on the sides. A shelf of a double layer of file was between each of the pillars. Rustic wood rocking chairs and tables, large porch swings, and potted plants, watered thanks to hoses attached to pipes ascending up the outside walls, were also to be added.
Access was had from a central balcony, with four posts withdecorative brackets at the top and a machine-tooled railing with rounded caps and smooth rounded newel posts entered from a door off the Upper Main Hall, but the wings could be directly reached through French doors from the bedrooms of the only daughter, Agnes, and the middle of the three sons, Walter, Jr. These windows had stained and painted glass work, with the former comprised of wisteria and roses and the latter of religious iconography and elements of the Temple family coat-of-arms from England.
As for the courtyard, the porticos on either side had sloping tile roofs with the tile laid on slats placed north to south on beams that extended out a little into the courtyard and then were trimmed off at the ends. The porticos began from one under a balcony running the length of the main block of house with arches at the first floor level and squared pillars with caps where the arches terminate.
Five rounded pillars hold up the sloping tile roof along these side porticos and, at the end, are arches with the same square pillars and caps as under the balcony. For all three porticos, flagstone walks were to be laid and, when this was done, pieces of abalone shell, broken tiles, and other items were to be placed in the wet mortar between the stones. This was the same effect as at the front porch and steps leading from the Music Room to the West Lawn. Benches, rocking chairs, a porch swing, potted plants and others on tables, as well as cattle brands suspended from beams and other unusual touches were added to the porticos.
To make the most of this area from a decorative standpoint, baseboards of blue and yellow machine-stamped and painted American-made tiles in a ziggurat pattern were to be installed, while the stairs leading to the balcony was to have hand-made and painted Mexican tiles with variable pattens for each riser between the steps—this creating one of the more stunning displays in a house filled with them.
There are also tile panels over the door to the Main Hall, in the northwest corner by a bathroom and in a niche outside a window on the east side. Another dramatic touch was to be the building of a multi-layered door leading to the basement and ornamented with several dozen metal pieces of various shapes and designs hammered to the front panel. At the top of the wall below the balcony and above the arches are seven projecting beams on four of which were to be the carved faces of the family’s pets, including three dogs, these being German shepherd Prince flanked by his pals, Duke and Maxie, and a cat named Tonchy, the nickname of his owner, Thomas.
In the center of the yard was to be a fountain with millstones, acquired from a member of the Rowland family whose 1847 mill a short distance east of the Homestead was one of the earliest in the region. The fountain would later have indigenous metates and grinding stones on the larger millstone, while the basin had lily pads in the water. A flagstone walk, also inlaid with the materials mentioned above, was to connect the fountain with the porticos on either side.
Two of the unique planters made of layers of round adobe bricks with cement facing and situated around the house were also placed in this area, one north and the other south of the fountain. A dense array of plants, including banana palms and alocasia, or the elephant ear, were to be located between the fountain and the main block of the residence.
Finally, it should be noted that a set of solar panels was placed on the main block’s south-facing gable on the roof, perfectly positioned to take in the sun’s rays during much of the day for the purpose of heating water stored in redwood tanks in the attic to provide hot water for the second-floor bathrooms.
Of course, when these three photos were taken, almost all of these wonderful details were still at least a couple of years or so in the future. What we get here are views of exposed adobe and otherwise mostly rough finishes on the walls, wood siding at the portico ends yet to be plastered, projecting beams below the tiled portico roofs that need to be cut back, flagstone walks in the porticos yet to be laid although a cement border on the outside was poured.
In two of the views looking to the southeast, we can see parts of the circa 1880s Water Tower, including the substantial wood water tank on the open third level and crow’s nest above that; the large north gable and a bit of the walls of the circa mid-1860s winery building converted to an auditorium by the Temples; and a corner of the Mission Walkway including the archway leading out to the auditorium (note the car in the arch) and sloping rafters from the wall out toward the columns atop which are thick beams on which the lafters lay (these would be soon covered with grapevines grafted from the Mother Vine at San Gabriel and planed at the base of the pillars–a couple little vines are visible). Piles of adobe bricks, sand, wood, wood forms, barrels, and other construction debris are also of note in all of the views.
We’ll continue the “No Place Like Home” series of posts regarding the construction of La Casa Nueva, including more views of the courtyard as the building neared and then finally came to completion, so look out for those soon, including the in the new year as our exhibit comes to fruition.