La La Landscapes: Historic and Brand New Trees at the Homestead

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It was a cool, overcast morning until the clouds burned off, the sun came out, and several dozen of us participated in an Arbor Day project that involved a grant from West Coast Arborists to the City of Industry, owner and funder of the Homestead, for the planting of twenty-five trees, including Tipu (a shade tree from Bolivia), Willow, and Coastal Live Oak, in the grounds between the historic houses and El Campo Santo Cemetery.

A major partner in the project was Delhaven Community Center, a private, non-profit organization that offers as many programs as there were trees planted today, for children, the developmentally disabled and others in the underserved areas in and around La Puente and the San Gabriel Valley broadly. Most of those participating in the planting were clients and staff from Delhaven with assistance and instruction from West Coast Arborists staff and help from City staff, Mayor Cory Moss, who welcomed everyone with opening remarks about the City’s beautification efforts, and staff from the Homestead.

Volunteers from Delhaven Community Center in La Puente planting trees this morning near the historic area at the Homestead as part of an Arbor Day project in collaboration with the City of Industry and West Coast Arborists.

Working in several well-organized groups, participants moved quickly to get these trees in the ground, loosely fill the holes with soil and create the wells (with rims of dirt to hold the water) so that, with expert care from the professionals at Square Root Landscaping, which provides the management of the Homestead’s landscaping that draws so many positive comments from visitors. After the planting was done, groups took tours of the Workman House and La Casa Nueva, had a box lunch and enjoyed each other’s company until the event ended by early afternoon.

In brief remarks before the groups set off to do this work and during the tour, I noted that the Homestead was described by visitors as long ago as the 1850s for having beautiful, well-tended gardens and that we still have some historic trees and plants. The earliest of these, as noted here in previous posts, is a Lady Banks rose at the front of the Workman House which just went through its annual bloom and has done so for over 160 years, being planted to mark the September 1860 birth of William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste’s first granddaughter, Lucinda.

A Deodar tree, decorated for Christmas and still surviving, though a whole lot taller, as seen from the north porch of the Workman House, ca. 1925.

Also near the Workman House are a grapevine on an arbor extending south through the courtyard and one of which may go as far back as the Workmans’ lifetime, while oak trees planted at the south end of that space certainly are quite old, though not from the 19th century, though they look as if they’ve been there for centuries!

At the front of the residence is the surviving of a pair of Deodar trees planted there by Walter P. Temple and Laura González soon after they took possession of the Homestead in 1919 (they acquired the 75-acre ranch in November 1917, but had to wait for the expiration of a lease to Japanese farmer, K. Yatsuda before they could occupy the ranch and make changes to it.

The same tree today with the 1860 Lady Banks rose bush behind it and behind the fence.

While there were initially no plans to build a second house and the Temples used the Workman House as a retreat when they visited from their full-time residence in Alhambra, a lengthy trip to México in summer 1922 provided the inspiration for their decision to plan and build La Casa Nueva, the stunning Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, that wound up taking five years to build (Laura Temple’s death at the end of 1922 led her grieving family to continue the construction and to dedicate the house in her memory.)

As the residence neared completion and there was the opportunity to begin installing landscaping around it, Walter Temple, always interesting in “repurposing,” as we like to say now, historic materials for his place (such as the 1840s Rowland grist mill stones for his fountain and the vault door and frame from the Temple Block building in Los Angeles where the Temple and Workman bank was located a half-century before) and this included at least one tree next to La Casa Nueva.

A circa late 1920s view of the front of La Casa Nueva including the Cypress trees at the corners of the flagstone patio.

The topic of a previous La La Landscapes post, there was a palm tree planted in 1925 to the southeast corner of the house from San Gabriel, where it was removed because Walter Temple had developed some property in that historic mission city. The project was important enough that Temple’s son Thomas documented it with photographs and the family claimed, though there is no way to know, that the tree dated to 1775 when the Mission San Gabriel was relocated to its current site from the original location at the Whittier Narrows where the Temples long lived in the Misión Vieja, or Old Mission, community.

Whether or not the palm was in its sesquicentennial (150th) year of life when it was moved, it was obviously quite old, but after over 90 years at the Homestead, it was infested by pests and had to be taken down five years ago as the post noted. There was another old palm tree, however, that was placed next to the Tepee retreat (home office, man cave, den?) that Walter Temple built at the southwest corner of La Casa Nueva, and that one is still with us.

Almost the same view today over nine decades later and the trees are still with us.

Also next to the Tepee, which was built in 1927 and is a replica of a “cottage” that Walter Temple used when he stayed several times at Soboba Hot Springs, a mineral springs resort and golf course near Hemet and which the Soboba Indians now operate with a casino, are a two surviving of three sycamore trees. These massive sentinels with their wide-spreading branches provide a great deal of shade in that area, though we are continually watching them for signs of pest infestation and other issues, given that they are approaching their centennial!

There are three entries to La Casa Nueva, including the front, one on the east side through the three-sided Mission Walkway (so named because the walk has incised in it the names and founding dates of the twenty-one California missions and the Pala mission station, as well as 1920s-era grapevines on a trellis) and the last at the southeast corner, which was a regular access to the house from the Temples, whose garage was near where our Homestead Gallery is today.

A summer 1927 photo by Thomas W. Temple II of La Casa Nueva, with the partially constructed Tepee at the foreground right and the trio of newly planted sycamore trees, two of which have survived next to it. Note the shrubs and bushes next to the house (with its open second floor wing sun deck) and the palm tree trunk in the foreground.

At each of these locations, pairs of Italian Cypress trees were planted and, at the front and east entrances, the originals still stand, while the ones that were at the southeast corner were removed because the roots were doing damage to the surrounding walkway, which has an incised sunburst design and a tile panel honoring William Workman.

Adjacent to the Mission Walkway are a variety of plantings including a few dozen pomegranate trees of great age, perhaps as far back as the Temple era, and which are just now in full bloom with their bright red flowers with the burgeoning fruit soon to come—depending on whether critters, winds or other conditions get to them, we’ll see how many pomegranates will mature and ripen by this fall. At the northeast corner of the walkway is the other surviving Deodar tree from the Twenties, though, sadly, the crown was horribly trimmed years ago (something I well remember!) and it has been disfigured ever since!

The massive Sycamore trees shading the Tepee today, while the palm, and others next to it, in the above photo may be still with us at the right. Note also the Cypress trees at the left.

In his remarks this morning, Assistant City Manager and Public Affairs Manager Sam Pedroza, who oversaw much of the planning for the tree-planting project, pointed out that there are a remarkable 17,000 trees in the City of Industry. When its General Plan was adopted just over a half-century ago, in 1971, one of the adopted recommendations was a beautification plan that focused on attractive landscaping citywide.

A great many of those myriad number of trees were planted because of the carrying out of the plan and one of the sites that benefitted from the effort was the Homestead, when it was restored, as the City’s contribution to the American bicentennial (our 250th birthday is called by some a “sestercentennial”, sester being Latin for two-and-a-half, or “semiquincentennial, though “America250” seems like a more likely moniker to be remembered).

Another view of the Tepee area from Thomas Temple’s bedroom looking southwest towards the Puente Hills. The little Sycamore trees are next to the Tepee (check out the sticks emerging from the top of this unusual structure!) and several small and one large palm, this one also still apparently standing at the right, with the Mission Walkway behind them.

The landscape firm hired to devise the broader plan for the City was Emmet Wemple and Associates, a widely regarded Los Angeles landscape architecture firm, and its work at the Homestead included preservation of much of the existing plants and trees, the reconstruction of the distinctive round-shaped planters around La Casa Nueva, and the introduction of new plants. One of the more interesting of these was the widespread use around the Workman House of the acanthus plant, referring to circa 1870 Greek Revival Corinthian columns in some of that residence’s windows featuring an acanthus design.

The blending of historic plants and trees, along with new varieties, as well as the retaining of some original driveways and walkways, the planting of lawns, and much more was so well regarded that Wemple and Associates won a prestigious landscape design award from the American Institute of Architects once the Homestead opened to the public. That auspicious day, in fact, was 1 May 1981, so the Arbor Day project can also be seen as part of the Homestead’s 42nd anniversary!

More staff and volunteers from Delhaven planting a tree in the lawn east of the Workman House, part of which can be made out behind the pines and other trees.

As noted above, visitors consistently marvel at the beauty of the Homestead and its landscaping is, of course, a core component of that. The more than four decades of investment by the City of Industry and the daily care provided by Square Root Landscaping are obviously manifest in these comments and today’s Arbor Day planting event, thanks to the grant provided by West Coast Arborists, is another worthy addition to the beautification of the Homestead and, more broadly, the City.

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