by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Today was the first of our special weekend tours commemorating the centennial of the commencement of construction of La Casa Nueva with these visits exploring the Temple’s family’s motivations in building the remarkable Spanish Colonial Revival house, which took five years to build between 1922-1927.
As my colleague Gennie Truelock structured the tour, the concept is to have visitors look at evidence how the family sought to memorialize Laura González Temple, who died in the early stages of the project; to having the house be a monument to family, local, state and even broader historical ideas; how it was a showpiece through its remarkable architectural crafts and decorative details; and, finally, how it reflects aspects of home life.
Walking through the structure, we looked at such details as stained and painted glass windows; carved plaster and wood; decorative tile; a reproduction painting of William Workman; the plaque, installed on 28 December 1923 on the first anniversary of Laura’s death dedicating the house to her; and much more.
One of the more interesting aspects of the tour was sitting in the Music Room and having visitors read a letter from August 1923 by the eldest Temple child, Thomas, to his father imploring him to hire a well-known architect to carry the project through, but which is also filled with references to the family’s pride in the building and their hopes for its recognition because of its connection to the Temples.
A notable point about La Casa Nueva is that, when Walter and Laura purchased the 75-acre Homestead in late 1917 (it had been lost to foreclosure by Walter’s brother, John, almost two decades before), they had many plans for the ranch in mind—though work had to wait until a lease with a Japanese farmer named Yatsuda expired at the end of 1918.
One was to renovate the nearly-ruined El Campo Santo Cemetery, which was desecrated by an owner earlier in the century before Walter stopped the destruction with a lawsuit, including new walks, landscaping, replacement of missing headstones and the construction of the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum, also entailing the transfer to it of Workman and Temple family members from the fenced plot behind the structure. This work was carried out from 1919 to 1921.
Another was the modernizing of the Workman House so that the family could utilize the structure as a weekend residence, their full-time dwelling being in Alhambra. This work, completed in 1919-1920, including indoor plumbing, electricity, solar heated water for the new bathroom and other elements, so that the family could enjoy their frequent weekend visits to the ranch.
The trio of 1860s brick wineries constructed by William Workman were also overhauled, with the largest becoming an auditorium with a stage, a film projector on a platform over the front door, pool and ping-pong tables, and much else, while the adjacent building was a dining hall with facilities and seating for 150 persons. A third, smaller structure was converted into a nine-car garage and a gasoline pump was installed next to it.
To irrigate the walnut trees and other products raised on the ranch, a large reservoir was built just east of the Workman House, but it also doubled as a swimming pool (albeit without chlorine) and covered grandstands, changing rooms, a diving board, and a light for evening swimming were also included. Just north of this a tennis court with a handball wall and a basketball hoop was added.
At the west end of the ranch, two houses were built for Walter’s sister, Lucinda and Margarita, and there were outbuildings for various ranch purposes, as well. With all of this work, there was no thought of a second house nor of the family residing full-time at the Homestead; that is, not until summer 1922. We’ll cover more of the inspiration for La Casa Nueva in tomorrow night’s post, but it might be interesting to readers to know more about what the Temples were up to, at least in the press, during the first half of the year, because there was plenty going on.
For one thing, the year started with Walter having just completed his first building project as he took some of his substantial oil revenues and went into real estate and development. In Alhambra, he purchased several lots on Main Street in the downtown district and, just before Christmas 1921, opened the Temple Theatre.
This venue, designed by the Los Angeles architectural firm of Walker and Eisen, which also provided the finished plans for La Casa Nueva, seated well over 1,000 persons, was decorated with such details as murals by artist Julian Garnsey, and offered vaudeville as well as feature films. The theater was eventually part of a block-and-a-half of structures built by Temple and his Temple Estate Company, though much of it, including the theater, is gone, while a few buildings remain standing.
The New Year started with a float entered by the City of Alhambra for Pasadena’s famed Tournament of Roses parade. The edition for Alhambra and surrounding communities in the Pasadena Post‘s edition of 2 January 1922 noted that among those who contributed funds for the purchase of the flowers used on the float was Walter Temple.
He was also a member of Lodge 1428 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in Alhambra and hosted large-scale barbecues at the Homestead in 1920 and 1921 for the lodge and others in greater Los Angeles. Early in February, John Steven McGroarty, author of the very popular, but very paternalistic, Mission Play, held at San Gabriel for many years and of which Temple was an avid supporter, spoke to the Alhambra lodge.
Temple, however, also presented his Workman Homestead Trophy, given to the the lodge in Southern California that won a competition, with Alhambra being that year’s winner. The ceremony was presided over by fellow Elk, from Los Angeles Lodge 99, George H. Woodruff, who also happened to be Temple’s personal attorney and business partner.
Speaking of San Gabriel, Walter’s expanding real estate enterprise included the purchase of a block directly across from the famous Mission San Gabriel. In March 1922, it was announced that Temple had Walker and Eisen draw up plans for a one-story brick building of 3,200 square feet on part of the property—this became what was known as the Arcade Building, because of its arched, covered portico along the front, and which is still with us today.
Two months later, another press notice was issued that a permit was taken out for another structure at the west end of this parcel, recently denoted as Tract 5017 by the Mission City. Walker and Eisen were the designers as well of this building which was to house the city’s post office and a real estate office on the Mission Drive frontage, while the corner property also faced on to Santa Anita Street and at that southern end of the structure was to be the San Gabriel Public Library.
This $7,500 edifice also has special meaning for La Casa Nueva because a photo of Thomas wearing a charro suit as part of his appearance in the Mission San Gabriel Fiesta, held each September, was rendered into a stained glass window at La Casa Nueva. At the end of June, the Los Angeles Times published a Walker and Eisen architectural drawing of the structure, showing it looking towards the southeast, though the San Gabriel Mountains in the background are actually to the north!
In early April, the Alhambra edition of the Post reported that a fountain for the children’s wading pool at the City Park was installed and that “this fountain, a gift to the city of Walter P. Temple, is a work of art and adds much to the beauty of the park.” Unfortunately, the wading pool and the fountain were removed long ago. Just prior to that, the paper noted that Walter had a proposed commercial building project in Monterey Park, recently renamed from its earlier name of Ramona Acres, and planned his two-story structure at the main intersection of Garvey and Garfield avenues, though he later decided to sell the property to focus on work in Alhambra.
On the first of May, the Post reported that Thomas, who was finishing work at the preparatory high school at the University of Santa Clara in the city of that name next to San Jose, was appearing in “a prominent part in Martin V. Merle’s famous ‘Mission Play of Santa Clara,” staged over five nights as part of the Mission Santa Clara’s centennial celebration.
The article added that Walter, Laura, and their daughter Agnes, then attending St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls Catholic school in southwest Los Angeles, were going north to attend the play and other centennial events at the school, where at least one of Walter’s brothers, William, attended more than a half-century earlier.
Thomas did attend the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena for his first semester of college in fall 1922, but, after his mother died at the end of the year, and seeking ways to assuage his grief, he returned the familiar and welcome surroundings at Santa Clara and earned his bachelor’s degree there in 1926.
Another interesting little item of note had to do with the Native Sons of the Golden West, a fraternal organization organized in San Francisco in 1875. The order has had controversy in its history, including strongly overt anti-Asian sentiment in its early years, and among its members have been former governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown (father of recent governor Jerry Brown); Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame; Richard M. Nixon; and former governor and United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. Not quite on that level was Walter Temple, who did, however, as reported in the Times of 4 June, donate historic artifacts for the Native Sons collection at Exposition Park in the Angel City.
A couple of other news items from July and August 1922 will be shared in tomorrow’s post, which will focus on what appears to be have been a major motivating cause for the decision of Walter and Laura Temple to embark on the construction of La Casa Nueva, so be sure to check back for that post, which will include photos from the recent donation of their granddaughter, the late Josette Temple.
Finally, if you are free tomorrow from Noon to 4 p.m., come on down to the Homestead and take one of our special La Casa Nueva tours, offered on the hour. We’re sure you’ll find them informative and interesting and educational and enlightening, or your money back (well, our tours are free, but then you really can’t lose with a bargain like that!)