by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It started off cool and foggy as our staff arrived this morning to complete set-up for our Homestead Holiday Open House, but we were just happy to be able to have an in-person event, aside from our guided tours and a few small programs, since we reopened last spring. Fortunately, just as we were about to open the gates at Noon, the sun burned off the haze and it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.
We had about 200 visitors during the event with the biggest turnout between about 12:30 and 2 and everyone seemed to have a great time, taking self-guided tours of the main section of the first floor of La Casa Nueva, where they saw the extensive decorations redolent of the late 1920s, visited with Santa Claus (our very own Facilities Coordinator Robert Barron), made holiday crafts in the courtyard, and took abridged tours of the home’s second floor and of the Workman House, where one room was decorated something as you might have seen in the 1870s.
All of my colleagues lent a hand in making this event happen and we had several volunteers also pitching in to greet visitors, provide information in the houses and help with crafts. Gennie Truelock, who leads our public programs team, put in a great deal of time and effort with oversight of all the elements needed for carrying the open house off with great aplomb and handled everything from developing event components to staff assignments to making signs to reading stories.
Gennie was assisted by new and returning members of our public programs staff, including Isis Quan, who helped with creative aspects, social media promotion and logistics, while recovering from an ankle fracture; Steve Dugan, who staffed the Museum Store and helped with set up, just a couple of weeks after returning to the staff; and Beatriz Rivas, who joined us as a part-time staff member not quite a month ago, but who has proven to be not just a quick study, but willing and able to help wherever needed with assisting visitors in La Casa Nueva.
Decorating the site takes some considerable effort and Robert coordinated with staff from the city-contracted landscape company, Square Root, to handle the outdoor beautification, while he also worked with Michelle Muro on the remarkable holiday decoration in La Casa Nueva and the vignette at the Workman House.
At the latter, there is an artificial table-top Christmas tree, trimmed as would be the custom in the late 19th century when candles were often used for illiumination (hence, the ever-present bucket of water by the side!), original Temple family furniture from the era with books, dolls and other appropriate gifts, and other touches to give a good feel for what the holiday would be like roughly 150 years ago.
Michelle, with assistance from some of our volunteers, put in many, many hours putting together the holiday exhibit at La Casa Nueva, including a bountiful number of historic Christmas decorations, cards, and other artifacts in addition to modern materials for decoration, not to mention setting up the Dining Room with a beautiful snow-filled landscape centerpiece to accompany a holiday meal, filled with realistic replicated food, that would make anyone’s mouth water in anticipation.
The Living Room, too, was very impressive, with the use crepe paper streamers, paper bells, an excellent selection of 1920s holiday light strings and boxes, a remarkable tree stand with colored lights to illuminate a tree from the base (though we, of course, would not think of trying to plug it in now!), tinsel, a tree star, and other decorative items.
Michelle worked with Gennie on the selection of historic holiday artifacts to highlight in several of the rooms, including 1920s games that might be received as gifts. Of course, the centerpiece, as has been the case for several years now, is a 12-foot artificial tree under (and actually within) the massive chandelier in the Main Hall.
The landscaping crew helped out greatly by putting the tree together, while Robert and Michelle hung garland from the chandelier to the second floor railing, placed pointsettia flowers and garland over inside of the front door and added other notable decorative touches. For visitors walking into the room from either the courtyard or the front of the house, the sight was usually very obvious in its impact given the wide-eyed looks, smiles and other reactions.
All of this was enhanced by Santa seated on a bench in front of the tree, greeting young and old alike, and receiving the usual roster of requests for Christmas gifts, due to be delivered in just under three weeks time. One of the more touching moments of the afternoon was when a young boy asked Santa if he could have his father, who is serving our country in the military, home soon. St. Nick’s answer was that our country needed his father’s service, but he would do all he could to help him get home as quickly as possible.
Gennie, Michelle and I gave the short tours of the second floor of La Casa Nueva and the Workman House and it was great to see the interest visitors had in being able to see these parts of the site and hear more about the Workman and Temple families. At the Workman House, guests were able to hear how differently the holidays were celebrated in the 1840s, when feasting, dancing and the attending of religious plays like Las Posadas were standard parts of Christmas observances. By the 1870s, the holiday was becoming as popular as New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July, which were previously much more important, and, locally, Christmas trees, gifts, balls and dances and other elements were gaining prominence.
It seemed like most of the folks who came by to see us today took at least one, if not both, of the tours, because it was virtually a non-stop series of these from one house to the other and back. As we often tell our visitors, we are fortunate that we have both houses as immersive venues to tell the stories of greater Los Angeles from the Mexican era of the 1840s through the Roaring 1920s.
Invariably, people who visit the Homestead for the first time express amazement at finding such a beautiful place in the middle of the bustling commercial environs of the City of Industry and there are always questions about the ownership and funding of the museum, so we are particularly thankful for the City for its 40 years of support since we opened in spring 1981.
We have one more holiday program, which is a virtual presentation next Sunday the 12th at 2 p.m called “Holiday Spirits,” during which Gennie, Robert and volunteer Janet Austin will be sharing examples of forgotten Yuletide treats and holiday beverages that are mentioned in some of the popular holiday songs and stories. So, if that sounds appetizing, please join us by signing up here.
And, for those of you who want to see our holiday decorations and hear about the evolution of Christmas observances, we offer guided tours of the Workman House and La Casa Nueva Friday through Sunday from Noon to 4 p.m., excepting, of course, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (which are on Fridays and Saturdays this season) through Sunday, 9 January. We hope to see you on one of those tours over the next month or so!