Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the 1970s, after the City of Industry’s General Plan included the preservation and restoration of the Homestead as one of its elements and it was decided to make the project the city’s contribution to the American bicentennial, the planning and execution of the work took place.
The city invested a significant amount of money and time on the project and it hired Raymond Girvigian, best known for his work in the restoration of California’s state capitol, to serve as restoration architect. Girvigian, in turn, worked with a great many contractors to carry the project to fruition, with the bulk of the physical work taking place between 1977 and 1981.
On this day, thirty-eight years ago, some Polaroid snapshots were taken of a few elements of the project, consisting of work at La Casa Nueva, the 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival mansion of the Walter and Laura Temple family that was the centerpiece of the restoration project.
The first group of images show the restoration of an exterior stair rail, leading from the ground floor to the second-floor balcony in the rear courtyard. It includes a view of the rail before any work was done, as well as two photos showing the completion of a ball top cap for the newel post at the bottom of the stairs and a section of a hand rail and balusters at the top.
The second group pertain to work on interior doors. After 194o, when Harry and Lois Brown purchased the Homestead and established El Encanto Sanitarium, the successor of which still operates, under city auspices, to the north of the museum, they tried to preserve what they could of the historic houses, while still renovating them for the use of the facility.
One room that probably had much the same use during a good deal of the years of the sanitarium’s occupancy as when the Temples used the home was the cold storage pantry behind the kitchen. At some point, however, one of the doors leading to the exterior of the house–probably the east-facing one which was hammered by the sun, while the west-facing one was shaded by a portico in the courtyard–had to be replaced. The original and its replacement are shown together in the one of the photos.
The Brown family, which vacated La Casa Nueva in the late 1960s when they completed the current El Encanto facility, sold the home to the City of Industry at the end of 1975. At some point prior, vandalism occurred at the house, including the loss of some stained and painted glass windows, an original 1876 oil painting of William Workman that hung in the main hall, and two sets of ornately carved wood doors leading from the hall to the library and the dining room.
Two of these snapshots show panels that were made for the replication of these sets of doors and give an idea of the kind of craftsmanship and detail that was involved in both the originals and their doubles. The wood carving that had to be done throughout the house was undertaken by Harvey Morris, whose career was as an electrician, but who did custom woodworking as a sidelight.
Harvey’s efforts during the restoration were so stellar that he was asked to stay on to do additional work of all kinds at the museum for many years. I had the great pleasure of working with Harvey for quite a while and, when I was married twenty years ago, he carved a plaque for me and my wife that has a proud place in our home. Harvey died in 2001, having devoted about a quarter century of work to the museum.
In fact, there were many people who had significant roles in the Homestead’s restoration. A few months ago, Lorenzo Valdez, who worked as a mason, dropped in to visit and he and I spent some time talking about his work and I found a couple of photos from the restoration years to show him.
Some twenty years ago, I did oral histories with Jose Gonzalez, whose company did the remarkable tile work during the restoration, and with the late Mel Gooch, who had a key supervisory role both during restoration and for some years afterward as the museum operated. Joe came by for a visit recently, as well, though I didn’t get a chance to speak to him.
Finally, there is Ray Girvigian, who just turned ninety years old and was here in 2015 when we unveiled the renovations at the Workman House at our Victorian Fair that spring. Ray’s oversight of and the work of many craftspeople during the Homestead’s restoration, including work with the historic structures, El Campo Santo cemetery, the award-winning gardens and landscape, parking lots, walkways, and the modern Gallery built at the time, is appreciated by the thousands of visitors who come to the museum’s tours, events and programs.
These photos are just a few of many that will be shared here in the future to show what the Homestead’s restoration process involved.