by Paul R. Spitzzeri
No Place Like Home is a Museum Director Musings feature that focuses on architecture in greater Los Angeles, including commercial and residential structures ranging from grand palaces to cozy bungalows, through the 1920s.
At the Homestead, we are fortunate to have two houses that represent a wide range of eras, from the 1840s to the 1920s, and styles, from Italianate and Gothic Revival on the Workman House to the exuberance of La Casa Nueva’s Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.
With regard to La Casa Nueva, the initial design came from sketches on butcher paper according to the wishes of Walter and Laura Temple, soon after they and their children returned from a vacation in Mexico in summer 1922. Once their ideas were captured, the prominent architectural firm of Walker and Eisen, noted for their many commercial structures in Los Angeles and hired by Walter for some of his early business buildings, produced scale drawings suitable for use in the construction of the structure.
By late 1922, the basic shape of the house, with its distinctive adobe walls, was taking form when Laura Temple passed away from complications from colon cancer. Devastated, Walter suspended construction of La Casa Nueva, though he resumed later the next year. On the first anniversary of her death, December 28, 1923, the house was dedicated to Laura and a plaque, now on a corner of the building, installed.
Then, Thomas W. Temple II, Walter’s oldest surviving child, heard about an architect whose latest Spanish Colonial Revival home in Beverly Hills was receiving a great deal of attention. Roy Seldon Price was promptly hired by Walter Temple to complete La Casa Nueva.
The home Price was noted for is shown in the accompanying photo. The residence was built for the famed film director, Thomas Ince, who had his own studio complex, dubbed Inceville, on the coast near Santa Monica, and then another studio in Culver City, where Sony Pictures now resides, died in late 1924, just after his home was completed.
His death, determined by the coroner to have resulted from heart failure, came after he was hurriedly taken off the yacht of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst near San Diego. Rumors, however, spread that Ince was killed by Hearst after the latter shot him in the head, mistakenly believing the director was silent film icon Charlie Chaplin, who Hearst believed was having an affair with his mistress, Marion Davies. The 2001 film by Peter Bogdanovich, The Cat’s Meow, takes the rumor of Ince’s death as part of its story-line.
In any case, the Ince House incorporated elements, whether it was the appearance of balconies, the use of niches, the installation of leaded doors, the decoration of flagstone walks with inset pieces of tile and other found objects, and more, that Price transferred to his reworking of La Casa Nueva.
What a remaking it was, too! Price altered many existing elements of the residence, redesigning the stairs in the Main Hall, adding an elaborate and striking hand-carved plaster door surround at the front, and installing a front door that draws gasps today, ninety years later, among many others.
The makeover of La Casa Nueva wasn’t cheap, either. In fact, the Temple family used to joke that Price’s invoice totals matched his last name. Beyond that, the extra work further delayed the completion of the home, which was finally completed in late 1927, a full five years after it was begun.
By then, Walter Temple’s faltering financial fortunes forced him (how’s that for some fancy, fleet-footed alliteration?) to mortgage the mansion in order to complete it. Within just 2 1/2 years of finishing La Casa Nueva, the Temples had to move out and rented it to Golden State (later, Raenford) Military Academy to try to save it. But, in 1932, as banks failed rapidly and the Great Depression worsened, the home and the Homestead were lost to foreclosure to California Bank.
La Casa Nueva, however, endured. As part of the school and then, for a quarter century, as a key element of El Encanto Convalescent Home, it served perfectly for those institutional purposes. Its purchase in the mid-1970s and preservation and maintenance by the City of Industry for the Homestead Museum assured that this remarkable residence, with all of its architectural wonder, will serve as a vehicle for telling the amazing story of greater Los Angeles over roughly a century.
As for the Ince House, which was prominently featured in architectural magazines and made Price a name in his field locally, it has not survived. But, without it, who knows what La Casa Nueva would have looked like and what its fate would have been?