We’re “Growing”

A section of an 1880 map commissioned by William Workman’s grandson, Francis, shows three wine cellars and vineyards separated by an orchard.
A section of an 1880 map commissioned by William Workman’s grandson, Francis, shows three wine cellars and vineyards separated by an orchard.

Taking care of the museum’s historic structures has been a priority for years—and it still is, but we feel we can tell a more comprehensive story about life in the Los Angeles region between the 1840s and 1920s if we focus on the environment around the historic houses, too. The location where the Workman family chose to build their home was practical and purposeful. It was close to water, at a slightly higher elevation, and probably determined to be quite fertile due to the fact that the San Gabriel Mission used the land for many years before the family’s arrival.

Early on, the family planted corn, beans, and barley, and by 1856, a visitor noted “a fine and large vineyard and orchard…and an abundance of fruit of all kind.” We know the family produced port, as well as white, red, and sweet, or Angelica wine made using Mission grapes. The earliest documentation we have pertaining to the family’s wine-making is the 1850 census agricultural schedule, which showed the family having either 150 or 750 gallons of wine on hand. By the late 1880s, Workman’s grandsons were producing almost 10,000 gallons annually!

In the coming months visitors will notice a lot of change taking place on what we refer to as our Center Drive, a dirt driveway that separates the Workman House, built in 1842, and La Casa Nueva, completed about 1927. Pomegranate trees planted by the Temple family adorn the west side of the walkway—and they aren’t going anywhere! The east side of the drive is where we are experimenting with some new plantings: a plot of grapes and a native garden. These spaces will provide us with new and exciting opportunities for programming and interpretation, and more importantly, they reflect plantings that were abundant in the region during the time that the Workman family lived here.

This week, three rows of grapes were planted: chardonnay, cabernet, and Mission. If all goes well, the cordon-trained vines should produce their first harvest in two to three years. The trellising system will enable the grapes to grow vertically, hanging down like a curtain. Stay tuned for updates from the vineyard—and better yet—stop by to see it for yourself.

Special thanks to Alexandra Rasic, director of public programs, for contributing this post.

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