Permanent Marker: Celebrating National Historic Marker Day with the Homestead’s State Historic Landmark Plaques

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It’s a new commemoration, but the William G. Pomeroy Foundation sponsored the inaugural National Historic Marker Day last year to bring attention to and celebrate the approximately 157,000 of these remembrances of our nation’s history. The organization’s mission is that it “is committed to supporting the celebration and preservation of community history, and working to improve the probability of finding appropriate donor matches or other life-saving treatments for blood cancer patients.” Bill Pomeroy had Acute Myeloid Leukemia and received a stem-cell transplant that saved his life, so establishing a bone marrow match registry was his foundation’s first project.

This was followed up with a program to fund historic markers and plaques and, since 2005, the organization has provided money for more than 1,700 of these across the country and now offers a half-dozen grant programs as well as works in partnership with city, academic institutions and non-profits. When the Homestead was contacted by the foundation earlier this month about the second National Historic Marker Day and specifically about the idea of having markers cleaned to commemorate the day, which is today, we decided to take part.

Specifically, it was an opportune time to put a shine to the California State Historic Landmark plaques we have at the Workman House and El Campo Santo Cemetery, these jointly being landmark #874 and accepted into the registry in 1974 as the City of Industry was in the planning stages for the restoration of the Homestead as its contribution to the American Bicentennial commemoration of 1976.

Administered by the state’s Office of Historic Preservation with selection by the State Historical Resources Commission, the California Historical Resources program is concerned with the idea that “California’s historical resources represent the contributions and collective human experiences of a diversified population spanning 10,000-12,000 years of occupancy in California. This rich heritage is embodied in the cultural and historical landscapes of California as evidenced by archaeological remains, historic buildings, traditional customs, tangible artifacts, historical documents, and public records extant in California. All these evidences of the past contribute to the sum total of California’s history. Such historical resources provide continuity with our past and enhance our quality of life.”

The program includes a few components. One is a California Register of Historical Resources, which the office describes as comprising “buildings, sites, structures, objects and districts significant in the architectural, engineering, scientific, economic, agricultural, educational, social, political, military, or cultural annals of California.”

Within this are two categories, with California Points of Historical Interest including “buildings, sites, features, or events that are of local (city or county) significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other historical value.”

California Historical Landmarks are defined as those that “have been determined to have statewide historical significance by meeting at least one of the criteria listed below:

  • The first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region (Northern, Central, or Southern California).
  • Associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California.
  • A prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder.”

When the Workman House and El Campo Santo were designated as a CHL and the plaques dedicated on 5 November 1976, the 135th anniversary of the arrival of the Workman family in the region, these criteria were not part of the program, so the obvious question is whether the two would qualify. We could make the argument that El Campo Santo is perhaps the earliest surviving private family cemetery in our region.

The Workman House might be considered a significant architectural work, including its late 1860s remodeling, said to be designed by Ezra F. Kysor, the first trained architect to practice in Los Angeles (there is, however, no concrete evidence of his work on the building. Its notable mélange of styles, including Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate in that renovation and which surround the early 1840s adobe core, can also be considered outstanding.

Then, there is the matter of whether the Workman family and/or Pío Pico, interred in the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum in El Campo Santo since 1921, would be considered as having that “profound influence” on state history that is one of those criterion. Pico certainly was a significant figure statewide because he was the last governor of Mexican-era Alta California.

The Workman family’s place in the 1841 expedition from New Mexico that included others who settled throughout California could be construed as having statewide impact, as might William Workman’s involvement in key aspects of the American seizure of Alta California during the Mexican-American War.

It should be noted that, in 1974 when the application was made on behalf of the City of Industry by the firm led by architect Raymond Girvigian, whose recent restoration of the state capitol brought him to the attention of the City, the availability of information on the Workman House and El Campo Santo was infinitely more challenging than it is now as the digital revolution in our information age makes such a task a great deal easier.

So, when it comes to the text of the plaques, there are some elements that have come into question, something that we have to acknowledge can happen to almost any historical research. For the El Campo Santo plaque, which is headed “Workman Family Cemetery,” the text reads:

“El Campo Santo,” this region’s earliest known private family cemetery, was established in 1850 by William Workman. The miniature classic Grecian mausoleum was built in 1919 by grandson Walter P. Temple. Included in this cemetery are the remains of Workman, his family and descendents [sic], partner John Rowland, friend Pio Pico (the last California governor under Mexican rule), and his wife Maria Ygnacia Pico.

It does appear that the cemetery is at least among the earliest known private cemeteries, though the date of 1850 cannot be substantiated. The first documented date of the use of El Campo Santo was the November 1855 funeral and burial of William’s brother David, but it seems clear that the cemetery already existed, at least we can infer that from the way the services were described in the Los Angeles Star newspaper account.

As for the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum, which was built on the site of a brick Gothic Revival Chapel erected by the Workmans by about 1860, construction started in 1919, the year that Temple was able, after the expiration of a lease to a Japanese farmer named Yatsuda that preempted any work after Temple bought the 75-acre Workman Homestead in November 1917.

The structure, which might also be called Neoclassical (almost like a mini Greek Temple) and designed by architects Alfred W. Rea and Charles E. Garstang, was constructed by Whittier contractor Sylvester J. Cook, but the completion date was not until spring 1921. We know this because the mausoleum was dedicated in April of that year and the event was covered in the Los Angeles Times, which put emphasis on the reinterring of the remains of Pico and his wife, who was Maria Ygnacia Alvarado.

It is striking that, while the wording does mention that John Rowland is buried in the cemetery, no reference is made to the original cast-iron fence that, dating to about the mid-19th century, encloses the plot in which he rests. As an aside, many of the Workman and Temple family members that were interred in the plot were moved into the mausoleum on its completion, including William Workman, his wife Nicolasa Urioste, their daughter Antonia Margarita, her husband, F.P.F. Temple, many of their children, and David Workman.

As for the Workman House plaque, it’s title is “William Workman Home” and the text reads:

Home of pioneer William Workman. Workman and co-owner John Rowland developed the 48,790-acre La Puente Rancho. Workman and co-leader Rowland organized the first wagon train of permanent eastern settlers which arrived in Southern California on November 5, 1841. Workman first began this home in 1842, then remodeled it in 1872 to resemble an English manor house.

There is much more to unpack and ponder with this description than is the case for the El Campo Santo plaque including gender and ethnic biases. For example, the title of “William Workman Home” clearly is a bias reflecting a male-centric way of thinking, because his wife Nicolasa Urioste lived in the home with him for some 35 years (and survived him by more than 15 additional years) and obviously had a key role in its development over the decades.

Secondly, the use of the word “pioneer,” reiterated by Walter P. Temple in a tile “plaque” at an entrance gate to his La Casa Nueva, finished in 1927, is problematic for the obvious reason that the actual “pioneers” of our region were the indigenous people who were her for untold generations and millenia prior to the arrival of Europeans and Americans.

Another major mischaracterization comes with the description of what was long called the “Workman and Rowland Party” of 1841. This group of some 65 persons left New Mexico in early September and arrived in this area two months later, but, despite Walter Temple’s depiction in stained glass in La Casa Nueva’s Master Bedroom french door window, there were no wagons on this trip, certainly not the Conestogas shown in that imagery.

Rather, what we have come to call the Rowland and Workman Expedition, but which also was guided by a New Mexican of long Old Spanish Trail experience and which followed a regular trade caravan, was not just comprised of so-called “permanent eastern settlers,” which seems to imply Americans. Rather, there were some Europeans, such as Workman and a fellow English native William Gordon, but, more importantly, a large cadre of New Mexicans, included Manuel Vaca, namesake of the northern California city of Vacaville, and founders of the communities of Agua Mansa and San Salvador in what is now Riverside.

The reference to the completion of the remodeling as being completed in 1872 is almost certainly incorrect, though it is the case that the earliest known photograph of the house is from that year, which may have led to the conclusion that it has just been finished. An 1870 map, however, of a portion of what was technically called Rancho La Puente, shows the remodeled residence in the corner.

Letters from that year, recently featured in a post on this blog, about fencing materials suggest that fencing right around the house would not have been undertaken if the remodeling was not already completed. It must be stated that, absent of other more concrete documentation, a definitive completion date for the house has, so far, proven to be elusive.

The description of the building as resembling “an English manor house” is an interesting expression. It seems likely that this term was used because William Workman came from England, but, as noted above, it is a combination of styles popular at the time and Kysor, for example, employed such examples in his design of the Pico House hotel, also completed in 1870 for Workman’s compadre, Don Pío. Some years ago, we settled on the term “picturesque” because of the use of a group of architectural revival styles.

For years, the Workman House state historic landmark was attached to the wall between the doors, just as the cemetery plaque was affixed to the surviving original front brick wall at El Campo Santo.

Finally, it should be noted that another change from how things were done nearly a half-century ago has to do with how the plaques were installed. In both cases, these were attached directly to original historic walls—with the cemetery plaque affixed to the brick on the west wall, the only remaining portion from the mid 19th-century and the Workman House one attached to a circa 1870 brick wall on the front porch. Years ago, we had both removed and placed on brick pedestals outside both.

Incidentally, the California Historical Resources page on the state parks website also makes reference to the the National Register of Historic Places, a federal program , operated by the National Park Service under the Department of the Interior. La Casa Nueva, which in 1974 was thought to be a half-century old with a completion date of 1923 and, thereby, qualified for national register status, was added to the register. It turns out that we late found, through detailed research, that the Spanish Colonial Revival mansion was not finished until late 1927.

In any case, what we’ll do is discuss that marker and others we have on the site when next year’s National Historic Marker Day comes around on 28 April 2023!

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