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A Bit of California History Survives : Workman and Temple Homestead Preserves the Past

March 10, 1985|WILLIAM S. MURPHY | Murphy is a Times photographer. and

In the 1920s, thousands of cattle grazed across the San Gabriel Valley and wagon traces were the forerunners of modern freeways. A piece of that pastoral era is preserved today at the six-acre Workman and Temple Homestead, which was acquired in 1981 by the City of Industry and restored as a cultural landmark.

The site was originally occupied by William Workman, who came to Los Angeles in 1841 with John Rowland and a party of settlers at a time when California was under Mexican rule. Rowland proceeded to Monterey where for $1,000 in gold he negotiated with the Mexican governor for a grant to the Rancho La Puente. He and his partner, Workman, fared better than many earlier American intruders who had been either jailed or turned back after crossing into California. They acquired nearly 50,000 acres, extending from the present Whittier Hills north to what is today the San Bernardino Freeway and from Walnut west to the San Gabriel River.

Settled Into Homestead

Workman built a house of adobe brick. Between 1843 and 1868, he added two wings to the structure, and in 1872 constructed a new house over the adobe that resembled the manor houses of his childhood in England. This is one of the eight structures on the property, which have been restored at a cost of $3.5 million. The City of Industry has contracted with Historical Perspectives Inc., a company owned by Carolyn Wagner, to operate the site.

Workman founded the first banking house in Los Angeles with his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, and I. W. Hellman. The bank failed in 1876, bankrupting Workman. His half of the huge rancho dwindled to 75 acres, which the family lost through foreclosures during the 1890s.

In 1917, Walter P. Temple Sr., the grandson of William and Nicolasa Workman, acquired ownership of the homestead, having recouped the family fortunes in real estate and oil investments. He moved into the old residence, where he began planning a more imposing house nearby. He first had a Greek revival style mausoleum built at the entrance to a private cemetery where many members of his family were interred, as were Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, and his wife, Ygnacia.

A Strong Friendship

The inscription on Pico's crypt states that he died Sept. 11, 1894. Little is known of his relationship with the Workman family other than there was obviously a strong bond of friendship between them. (Pico had been caught in the turmoil of war with the United States. He had accepted American rule in California, prospered for a time, but had suffered financial reverses in later years.)

Imposing House

Carolyn Wagner, the director of the Homestead, accompanied by Carol Grilly, its curator, led the way from the mausoleum to the most imposing house on the property, called La Casa Nueva, which she called an outstanding example of Spanish Colonial Revival craftsmanship. It was built by Walter Temple and was completed in 1923.

The mansion with its shaded walkways, tiled roofs and garden patio centered by a huge fountain is patterned after the chain of missions constructed throughout California by the Franciscans in the 18th Century. The interior was furnished with fine wood carvings, stained glass windows, ornamental plaster work, colorful ceramic tiles and intricate iron work.

Slow Process

"Much had deteriorated over the years," Carol Crilly said. "It was necessary to find artisans who could replace or restore furnishings inside the house. For example, Harvey Morris, a master wood carver, restored many of the carvings, and John Wallis re-created fine portraiture in fired polychrome glass. It was all a slow and meticulous process, but now walking into this house is like entering a stately Los Angeles home during the 1920s. The furnishings are authentic down to the wind-up Victrola standing in one corner of the living room."

Tours Offered

"We have a continuing program of lectures," Wagner added. "There are also daily tours except Monday when we are closed. Children from schools are brought here and have an opportunity to learn what life was like in Los Angeles during the 1840s, the 1870s and the 1920s."

The Homestead staff is preparing for its biggest event of the year, its second annual Architectural Crafts Fair on Sunday, May 19, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. California artisans will demonstrate such crafts as wood and stone carving, plastering, tile work and stained glass. There will be tours of the restored residences, musical entertainment, children's craft activities and a Mexican food festival. Admission is $1 for adults, 50 cents for those 12 to 17, children under 12 free. The Workman and Temple Homestead is located at 15415 E. Don Julian Road, City of Industry. Phone (818) 968-8492.

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