A Photographic Summary of El Campo Santo Cemetery at the Homestead Museum, 1890s-1920s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Today, a presentation was given in La Mirada to a local chapter of PEO International and the topic was El Campo Santo Cemetery at the Homestead. This post is something of a review of what was discussed and, with plenty of photos as illustration, might properly be called a “photographic summary” of the history of the “Little Acre of God,” which has existed for close to 170 years now.

There are plenty of unusual and notable aspects to the Homestead, physically and with its diverse and broad history concerning the site specifically and the Workman and Temple family broadly. Yet, while there are plenty of historic sites that have houses (though the Workman House and La Casa Nueva are certainly distinctive) or water towers (yet, the circa 1880s one at our site is unusual in that it was built of brick and had a large observation deck, a flag pole and a “crow’s nest”), it can be pretty rare to find one, at least locally, that has a cemetery.

St. Nicholas’ Chapel in a late 19th century cabinet card photo, the only known image of the structure.

In Gold Rush-era California, greater Los Angeles ranchers had a window of a few years in which the income generated from the sale of cattle, for their fresh beef, to the teeming hordes working the mines or living in nearby towns and cities, could be substantial and far exceeding anything they’d earned before or, likely, imagined was possible.

William Workman, co-owner, with John Rowland, of the massive Rancho La Puente, which spanned nearly 49,000 acres, had ample room for herds of several thousand cattle, not to mention sheep and horses during the so-called “pastoral” period which lasted through the mid-1860s. Some sources indicate that one head of cattle could fetch up to $50 during the height of the Gold Rush, so, if hundreds or more of the animals were sold yearly, you can imagine the windfall that accrued—as long as the demand was there.

One of several cabinet card photos taken in 1906 of the desecrated El Campo Santo for the lawsuit filed against Homestead owner Lafayette F. Lewis by future owner Walter P. Temple.

It was small wonder, then, that Workman and other regional rancheros, took the opportunity to use some of their expanding fortunes to embellish their houses with fine furniture, including pianos, rugs and more; added wallpaper or faux finishes to the interior and exterior walls (the Workman House had plaster covering porch walls painted to mimic granite); and other touches to bring luxury to what had been a remote outpost of northwestern México with little opportunity for such relative opulence.

A few of the upper crust, though, went a step or two further. By the late Fifties, Workman was joined by neighbors or near-neighbors, Ygnacio Palomares of the Rancho San José and Bernardo Yorba of Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana, in not only establishing family cemeteries in reasonable proximity to their houses, but, in the case of Workman and Yorba, along with San José co-owner Ricardo Vejar, even built Roman Catholic chapels. The Yorba Cemetery remains (!) in Yorba Linda in, of all places, the middle of a residential complex, while the Palomares Cemetery is a patch of dirt, with no headstones or markers, except for the one identifying the site, next to Pomona High School. The chapels, however, that all three men constructed at about the same time are long gone.

Another image of the ruined grounds for the court case. Notice the cast-iron fence which survived the desecration and is still with us.

It is generally said that the Yorba Cemetery was founded in 1858, two weeks before Don Bernardo died, though the chapel was then under construction. The cemetery was used for many decades and is in a relatively decent state considering all that has gone on around it, including the building of the houses around it. What is now known as Palomares Memorial Park is more of a mystery because of the absence of gravestones in the five-acre plot, but Find-a-Grave.com has 112 records with the earliest year of death shown as 1859, while the 190 or so names on a plaque at the site only list names, but no years of death or burial.

While there is certainly no abundance of documentation about El Campo Santo, we do know that it existed by fall 1855 when David Workman, the older brother of William, was interred there. The funeral took place in November, almost four months after the elder Workman was killed while driving stock to the gold fields for his sibling, and a previous post here goes into some detail concerning that event.

This image appears to be from about 1920 after Walter Temple put up pipe fencing around three sides of the cemetery, with some of the fencing at the lower right. In the distance is today’s Industry Hills near what was called Puente.

Just under a year later, in October 1856, artist Henry Miller, who was traveling through California making renderings of the remains of the California missions, stopped for a stay with the Workmans and, in addition to describing the house and a bit of the ranch, Miller wrote that he was commissioned by William Workman to make sketches for a chapel the rancher intended to build. Seven months later, on the last day of May 1857, Bishop Thaddeus Amat, whose namesake high school is nearby in what is officially known as “West Puente Valley,” blessed the cornerstone of what became St. Nicholas’ Chapel, named for Workman’s wife, Nicolasa Urioste.

The chapel was described in subsequent visits, including a fairly detailed one in 1860 by John Quincy Adams Warren, who was touring ranches and farms in the Golden State. The structure, he noted was 48 feet by 24 feet in size and, allowing for wall thicknesses and the like, was probably around 1,100 square feet inside. It had stained glass windows, gilt decorations in the ceiling, and was probably quite a sight to see as travelers on Valley Boulevard, a short distance to the north, passed by in what was largely ranch and farm land. The photo here dates to the later 19th century, probably around three decades or so after St. Nicholas’ was constructed.

A 1920s photo of the cemetery with the mausoleum, rose bushes, lawns (note the grave markers placed by Temple to mark sites with lost tombstones), and arbor vitae bushes now as tall as small trees. In the distance is a section of the Puente Hills.

Aside from an occasional reference in a newspaper to burials or the arrival of tombstones—John Rowland died in October 1873, for example, but his imposing grave marker did not arrive until spring 1875, while Workman’s “obsequies” in May 1876 following his tragic suicide after the collapse of his bank were covered in much less detail than those of his brother—we are generally bereft of documentation concerning El Campo Santo.

As a private country cemetery, with no official status or record-keeping, this is not much of a surprise. We also believe that the cast-iron fence around the plot at the rear, or east, of the cemetery, dates to around the time the chapel was constructed. About fifteen years ago, on the iron gates, stamps on the staves were noticed and it turned out these were made by a British company called Chillington Iron Company, located at Wolverhampton near Birmingham, a preeminent steel town in England’s industrial heyday.

Roman Catholic Bishop John J. Cantwell blessing the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum in April 1921. It was 64 years prior that Cantwell’s predecessor Thaddeus Amat blessed the cornerstone of the chapel, on the site of which the mausoleum was built.

With the onset of the 20th century, however, matters changed considerably, though much of this, unfortunately, was due to an act of desecration carried out by Lafayette F. Lewis, the second of three non-family owners of the much-reduced 75 acre La Puente, or Workman, Homestead. A livery stable owner from Anaheim, Lewis looks to have purchased the tract from Pomona realtor Frederick J. Smith, for the purposes of farming and, to this end, he decided that the cemetery was in the way of his planting plans.

As a 1905 article put it, those old graves were preventing Lewis from planting more barley, so he simply began razing the brick enclosure walls, tore out headstones, plowed up the ground and was well on his way to razing the entire burying ground before he was stopped by a lawsuit. It was stated that the chapel burned and had to be dismantled, though there is no corroborating evidence to support this and it would hardly be surprising if Lewis concocted the story to justify its demolition. Bricks were, it was said, used to build structures in nearby El Monte.

After the blessing, visitors walked around the newly renovated El Campo Santo.

The legal action that halted Lewis’ devastation of El Campo Santo was taken by Walter P. Temple, 10th of the 11 children born to Antonia Margarita Workman (daughter of William and Nicolasa) and F.P.F. Temple. In 1906, he resided at the Temple Homestead, comprising 50 acres left after the failure of the Temple and Workman bank thirty years prior, with his wife Laura González and their two children (a baby daughter died that February and two sons were born later in the decade.)

Though hardly in an independent financial state, Temple managed to marshal the money to take Lewis to court and secured witness testimony and affidavits from the relatives and descendants of those interred at the cemetery. Because Lewis ripped out most of the grave markers, the exact locations of many of those buried at El Campo Santo were lost, though court records do provide names of some of those persons.

The casket of John H. Temple being carried into the mausoleum in April 1926.

While Temple prevailed in court and Lewis was ordered to repair the damage he’d done and cough up $5,000 in damages, he easily evaded the proscriptions of the judge by simply selling the Homestead. The ranch was acquired by Pasadena residents Eugene Bassett and his son-in-law, Thurston H. Pratt, with the latter moving onto the place and the cemetery basically remained in ruins for the decade the two men owned the Homestead.

Then came a remarkable circumstance, as Temple and his family were rather suddenly the beneficiaries of a stunning discovery of oil on the land he purchased after selling the Temple Homestead and moving just a short distance west, with some of his 60-acre property, grandly designated as “Temple Heights”, on the northeastern extremity of the Montebello Hills. Starting in June 1917, the Temple lease worked by Standard Oil Company (California) yielded several gushers among approximately two dozen wells drilled there.

Another 1920s image of the cemetery with the impressive 1870s tombstone of John Rowland prominent in the foreground.

With a substantial income, often of tens of thousands of dollars a month, Temple acquired the Workman Homestead late in 1917, though a lease to a Japanese farmer known only as K. Yatsuda meant that occupancy was delayed until the dawn of 1919, though his younger brother Charles was buried in the cemetery after his death in October 1918. Almost immediately after assuming control of the ranch, Temple pursued plans to bring El Campo Santo, as it were, back from the dead.

This meant replacing three of the four original brick walls with pipe fencing, having sidewalks poured, and grass, trees and shrubs planted. Cement headstones, some with names if the person buried at the locale was known and most simply reading “At Rest” for those who remain unidentified in perpetuity, were added. Finally, after giving some thought to building a replica of the chapel, Temple decided to build a mausoleum, denoted the “Walter P. Temple Memorial” on the spot, with the Neoclassical “Temple”-like structure, occupying a smaller footprint, some two-thirds of so the size of St. Nicholas’.

Thomas W. Temple II and his younger brother, Walter P., Jr. visiting El Campo Santo after the family lost the Homestead, ca. 1930s.

Designed by Los Angeles architects Charles Garstang and Alfred W. Rea, who mainly worked on school projects, with Whittier contractor Sylvester Cook (who also worked later on the Temple family’s masterful mansion, La Casa Nueva, building the structure, the mausoleum was dedicated in April 1921. A notable element at the time was the reinterment of Don Pío Pico and his wife Doña Maria Ygnacia Alvarado, formerly buried at the old Calvary Cemetery at the base of the Elysian Hills where the Catholic Cathedral High School is now, in it.

Through the 1920s, El Campo Santo was used for the burials of friends and family, most notably Walter’s wife of 19 years, Laura, who died of colon cancer just a few days after Christmas in 1922 and just as the construction of La Casa Nueva was initiated. One of the more unusual aspects of the mausoleum is that, when Laura was interred, the shutter was simply carved with her name and dates of birth and death. Later, however, it was decided to add that she was the wife of Walter and the mother of five children, whose names were listed and, with another shutter placed there, the first one was moved to the other location—there are, however, other coffins in that space and we think we know who are buried there, though they are, of course, unidentified.

Masons laying historic brick from other sites to replicate the original walls at the east end of the cemetery, ca. 1978.

Also buried in the mausoleum during the decade were Walter’s older brother, John, who owned the Homestead from 1888 to 1899 and who was buried in the mausoleum in 1926, and his sister and brother-in-law, Lucinda and Manuel Zuñiga, and Jeanette Friend de Temple, widow of his oldest sibling, Thomas—all three of these dying in 1928. Another relative who passed away that year was the infant Joseph Lindebaum, but his remains were placed in a crypt the shutter of which was unmarked until just a few years ago when it was finally confirmed that he lies there and his name and year of life and death finally added.

As to the grounds in the back, there were friends of the family buried in that section during the 1920s, including members of the Didier (Nellie, one of the French family’s members, married Walter P. Temple, Jr., and the couple, married for 64 years, were buried within the fenced plot in 1998) and Yorba/Palomares families. Shortly afterward, however, Walter Temple’s finances faltered and he lost the Homestead in 1932 as the Great Depression considerably worsened.

The funeral of Walter P. Temple, Jr. in January 1998. His widow, Nellie Didier, seated in a wheelchair at the left, died a few months later and was laid to rest next to her husband of 64 years.

Over the next few decades, El Campo Santo was owned by California Bank and the family of Harry and Lois Brown, proprietors of El Encanto, a healthcare and rehabilitation center now to the north of the Museum. The Browns used the cemetery for the final resting places of their family members, even after the Homestead was sold in stages to the City of Industry. The City extensively restored the cemetery in the late 1970s and early 1980s and it has continued to provide the substantial funding for its maintenance, along with that of the rest of the Museum, for over four decades since. In 2002, Walter P. Temple, Sr., buried at Mission San Gabriel since his death in 1938, was reinterred at El Campo Santo, thanks largely to the efforts of his granddaughter Josette.

This is only a brief summary of the history of El Campo Santo, which can be visited on a self-guided basis daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., though tours of the Workman House and La Casa Nueva are offered Friday through Sunday from Noon to 4 p.m., except the 4th weekend of each month. It is a quiet, peaceful place to take in, so readers are welcomed and encouraged to come out and pay their respects to those interred there from the mid-1850s to 2020, when Josette Temple, the last of the family to be buried there, was laid to rest in this special place.

2 thoughts

  1. Very interesting article. I entirely enjoyed it mostly because I lived in Montebello near the hills where oil is still being pumped out of the ground. (Oil is a naturally occurring element of the earth and not dead dynasuars remains, as the fairy tale depicts.) Yes, a totally enjoyable article. Thank you Paul R. Spitzzeri.

  2. Hi California Born, we’re glad you found this post of interest and there are also posts on this blog concerning the Temple oil lease near Montebello that you might enjoy.

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