No Place Like Home: Photographs of the Construction of the Mission Walkway at La Casa Nueva, Mid-1920s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This year marks the centennial of the commencement of the construction of La Casa Nueva, the remarkable Spanish Colonial Revival mansion inaugurated by Walter P. Temple and his wife Laura González after they and their children returned from an trip to México in summer 1922. Presumably, while traveling in Guadalajara in Jalisco, they met Pablo Urzua, a stonemason who, with a crew of workers, was hired to build adobe bricks in mainly a traditional fashion for the edifice as well as associated elements.

With regard to the latter, it is hard to say what was planned and what was developed more or less “on the fly.” While we know the house came out of rough sketches by the Temples and contractor Sylvester J. Cook of Whittier and then were put into finished plans by the Los Angeles architectural firm of Walker and Eisen, with Beverly Hills architect Roy Seldon Price brought in in 1924 to continue the project with major changes, there were additions that may well have been added ad hoc.

A circa 1924 photo, likely by Thomas W. Temple II, eldest of the surviving children of Walter P. Temple and Laura González and who was an avid photographer and documenter of the building of La Casa Nueva, showing the southwest corner of the Spanish Colonial Revival mansion and early stages of the construction of the Mission Walkway’s west side. Note the piles of adobe bricks and other materials, the several workers laying bricks around the arches, Evergreen Lane (roughly where Don Julian Road is now) and the rural environment near the Homestead. The photographer stood atop the southern arched wall of the walkway to capture this view.

These included the distinctive planters made of stacked round adobe bricks faced with cement and placed around the dwellings—many visitors find them unattractive, while others like them; the Tepee, which was built as La Casa Nueva was being completed in 1927, after five long years; and the Mission Walkway, with its arched main walls, adobe columns and grapevine-covered trellis connecting the two structural components.

Perhaps the idea came from Price, who seemingly had no end of unusual ideas to add to the house including the addition of the amazing plaster work around the front door, the use of tile, kitchen ware and abalone shells in flagstone walkways around the building, the complete reconfiguration of the Main Hall, or the redesign of the southern wings so the tops were converted to large sun decks instead of merely being covered with paper and tar.

A circa 1925 view, perhaps by Thomas Temple, from the southern section of the walkway to the western part, where there is rough plaster on the arched wall, while the trellis work had just begin atop the columns of round adobe bricks. Note the piles of lumber for the trellis and other construction material, as well as the first roof tiles placed atop the wall at its north end. In the foreground left edge is a closeup of a column, while roof tiles are stacked in front of it.

On the other hand, the Temples were filled with a romanticized enthusiasm for pre-American California, which is abundantly clear from the many historical symbols employed in tile, glass, wood and plaster work throughout their highly distinctive and very personalized residence. Specifically, they had a long association and interest in the Mission San Gabriel, from having sacraments there, to residing at its original site in Misión Vieja (Old Mission), to Walter P. Temple’s purchase and development with commercial buildings of the block across from the mission, while being fascinated with the chain of missions built by the Spanish and, in the case of Sonoma, the Mexican periods.

Then again, the concept may have come from a close collaboration once Price, of whom the Temples joked made sure his invoices matched his surname, was hired to complete the house. In any case, Urzua and his men worked for several months each year when the weather was at its warmest and driest to build their bricks in several areas in walnut groves surrounding the La Casa Nueva construction site. Bricks were made for the planters, the northern wall with smaller sections on the east and west, and, on the other three sides, the Mission Walkway.

A later photo, perhaps from 1926, of the west side showing the arched wall and columns with the finish coat of cement plaster, the top of the wall covered by roof tile, and the trellis looking complete or very nearly so. At the left are covered stacks of round adobe bricks used for the columns, as well as pieces of rough lumber near the walk and construction debris near La Casa Nueva in the foreground.

The main walls rise about eight or so feet with their wide arches including, at several locations, built-in benches with curved backs, while cast-iron lamps project on the interiors and beautifully illuminate the walk. There are two arched openings, one to the east outside the Dining and Living rooms and leading to the Workman House and the other at the southeast corner with a flagstone walk coming from the Courtyard and then beyond the arch leading to a cemented area with a tile panel honoring “pioneer” [the indigenous people, of course, being the actual pioneers) William Workman at the intersection of a driveway between the two houses and Evergreen Lane, which ran from 10th Avenue (now Turnbull Canyon Road) to El Campo Santo Cemetery.

Inside the arched opening here is another tile panel that appears to have originally featured the Temple family coat-of-arms, though our pictorial evidence is, so far, scanty and, when the site was restored in the late 1970s, it was decided to remake the large destroyed panel with one showing various family cattle brands as well as that of Mission San Gabriel. This was a good idea insofar as the latch to secure the double wooden gates (other examples being at that eastern arched way as well as the main entrance at the front or north of the house) is purported an original Workman family brand from the 1840s repurposed for the gates.

An excellent view, perhaps from 1924, of the east side of La Casa Nueva, taken from where Evergreen Lane intersected with what we call the Center Drive between the dwelling and the Workman House. The lower part of the east wall of the Mission Walkway is shown towards the south, while some of the arches are laid toward the north with two of the wood forms in the last two arches. A small stack of adobe bricks is near the wall, while a much larger one is near the southeastern corner of the house. Deodars and palms are planted next to the walkway and driveway and temporary power lines and poles are also of note. The fencing at the bottom right surrounded the Pump House and Water Tower south of the Workman House.

As for the walks, they are made of large sections of cast concrete with etched diamond figures and other decorative stylings. Periodically there are tile panels, including ones that feature the castle (Castile) and lion (Léon) representative of the royal coat-of-arms of Spain. Finally, with circular designs are the names and founding dates of the missions and the “mission station” of Pala, attached to and east of Mission San Luis Rey in northern San Diego County near Oceanside.

Notably, as the missions were placed in the walkway, there is no easily discernible order so far as we can tell. That is, they are not positioned by alphabetical order, by founding date, or by geography. Perhaps the Temples had their own method of determining which mission should be placed where, but we have not, to date, figured out or come across any documentation of what exactly this arrangement is. Maybe the layout is random?

Perhaps later in 1924, this view is taken from on top of an outbuilding behind the Workman House and looks southwest towards the western end of the Puente Hills and nearby farmlands. The large structure at the center in the distance was the North Whittier Heights Citrus Association packing house. More of the east side of the Mission Walkway, including the roughly plastered lower section of the wall and the adobe arches filled in and above with more bricks and note the worker atop the wall at the far left. More of the landscaping between the walkway and Center Drive stands out, as does the south end of the east wing of La Casa Nueva.

When the walkway was built, the Temples planted grapevines on the inside along the columns so that the plants grew onto the low end of the wood trellising which angles up to the top of the arched walls. It appears this was done so that the vines would, in fact, grow and spread more quickly on the trellis work. At some undetermined date, these were removed and, if not replanted than replaced by vines placed on the outside of the walls, which meant they had to climb about two feet higher and over the top of the walls to reach the trellis.

It has been said that these vines were cuttings from the famous mother vine across Santa Anita Avenue from the mission and, in a courtyard, where the Mission Playhouse, to which Walter Temple was major cash donor with his business manager Milton Kauffman serving on its board of directors, was finished in 1927, the same year as the completion of La Casa Nueva. A few years ago, my colleague Jennifer Scerra, sent samples from the Mission Walkway vines and those in the courtyard of the Workman House to be tested as to variety and both came back as the mission grape—this is highly suggestive that both were supplied by the San Gabriel vine.

As La Casa Nueva had its main roof laid with tile and the arched entrance at the southeast corner of the house was plastered and the wooden gates installed (including the Workman cattle brand as a latch barely visible at the right), the thick wood beams laid across the unfinished columns on the east side of the walkway and the absence of any flooring are in evidence, though it does appear that grapevines have been planted next to the columns. An eagle eye can discern what appears to be a woman’s arm next to the finished entrance column at left—this may be Agnes Temple with the photographer likely her brother Thomas. The date is perhaps 1925.

The incorporation of the Mission Walkway surrounding La Casa Nueva not only significant architectural and historical interest, but provided a nice spot to sit and enjoy the house and grounds (not to mention refreshing late afternoon ocean breezes when those roll in) and an enclosure for the mansion and the last-minute addition of the Tepee that, while not necessary in the 1920s when the Homestead was something of an oasis in a rural, sparsely populated Puente, because almost necessary decades later.

As the City of Industry developed after its 1957 incorporation amid the relentless spread of suburbanization in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, the walnut groves and orange orchards of the area gave way to manufacturing businesses. A general plan incorporated in 1971 included the better arrangement of streets to support continuing development and as the City decided to preserve the Homestead through the creation of the Museum, the area around it continued to involve the construction of new industrial buildings, increasingly for warehousing as well as manufacturing and Don Julian Road was extended eastward to Hacienda Boulevard.

This great view, approximately from 1925, shows the south end of the Mission Walkway with the photographer (Thomas, again?) looking eastward toward the arched entrance and, behind it, the Water Tower and its large third-floor tank. The arched wall is largely complete with the columns recently topped by the thick wood beams that will support the trellis placed over the walkway with the floor a long way from being placed. Through the arch is the west gable of the original Pump House (today’s structure is a larger replica.)

This was necessary to the orderly growth of this part of the City as well as to provide ready access to the Museum, but, of course, meant that traffic would be moving within just feet of La Casa Nueva. While not intended, naturally, for that purpose, having the Mission Walkway on the west, south and east sides does provide a welcome buffer so that a visit to the house, which is fully restored inside and adorned with beautiful landscaping outside, still very much feels like a trip back in time nearly a century ago.

As we commemorate the building of this amazing house over the next five years, we’ll continue to highlight on this blog its construction, decoration, features and other associated components, such as the Tepee and Mission Walkway, as part of the “No Place Like Home” series of posts.

8 thoughts

  1. Good to know the grape vines on top of the Mission Walkway has been scientifically proved to be of the same kind as those in the San Gabriel Mission. It’s one big step closer to the confirmation of it’s origin!

  2. Hi Larry, yes, it is at least highly suggestive of where the vines were taken as cuttings!

  3. Is the Pala Mission Station the same one as the Mission San Antonio de Pala Asistencia? Ive been wondering why its completion year was marked 1791 on the walkway ground instead of 1816, even seven years prior to 1798 when the mother mission, Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, was established.

  4. Years ago I read one book (forgot which one), and it indicated that the Turnbull Canyon Road led to the main entrance of the El Encanto Convalescent Hospital. I don’t recall whether the nursing facility was then still located at La Casa Nueva or had been relocated to the north of LCN. But in either case I was unable to figure out, by viewing it’s route shown on the current map, how the distant Turnbull Canyon Road could run towards the entrance of the El Encanto.

    I am guessing Turnbull Canyon Road at that time might lean more eastward before hitting Valley Boulevard in a straight line years later. Or, it connected with the El Encanto via Evergreen Lane, and in the old time this lane looked more like an extension of the Turnbull, particularly when the hospital and the roads were both environed by vast rural areas.

  5. There is no cooler place to sit and enjoy a very hot day than the built in benches under the grape vines. The stone work acts as a heat sink and resists warming up in the direct sunlight. Great place to sit and listen to the performers at Ticket to the Twenties.

    Were the adobe bricks sun dried? I understood that the Workman house bricks were sun dried but the LCN were kiln dried. I was also told that the Workman bricks were a water/mud mixture and the LCN bricks contained a petroleum (oil) component that made them stronger.

    Also I assume that the adobe dirt was mined on site. Where was the borrow hole dug? Was there just one or did they dig many holes to secure the necessary adobe clay?

  6. Hi Larry, well, William Workman’s crypt in the mausoleum at El Campo Santo Cemetery and the tile panel honoring him as a “pioneer” at the southeast entrance at the Mission Walkway have his wrong birth year, so we can chalk this up to a lack of proper fact-checking!

  7. Hi Larry, whatever you saw was in error as Turnbull Canyon (formerly 10th Avenue) always went in a straight line and ended at Valley (then Pomona) Boulevard. When the Brown family bought the Homestead in 1940 to establish El Encanto, the road was in existence for over a quarter century.

  8. Hi Jim, there were several adobe brick making sites west and south of La Casa Nueva. They built adobe kilns and used kindling from trees on the ranch to bake the bricks for a quicker turnaround. They even experimented with a cement mixer to try and get the consistency improved faster, but it looks to have been ineffective as the mixer was “gummed up” by the very thick material. Check out:
    And, yes, the walkway is a great spot to enjoy a later afternoon breeze.

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