La La Landscapes: Century Plant at the Rowland House, ca. 1872

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Today’s “La La Landscapes” entry is a stereoscopic photograph published by Henry T. Payne, a prominent early Los Angeles photographer who purchased the studio and inventory of William M. Godfrey, and showing three young women with a large century plant near the home of the Rowland family at Rancho La Puente.

Because Payne republished Godfrey’s earlier photos in addition to putting out his own views, it is difficult to say whether this photo is from about 1870 and came a few years or more later.

In any case, it’s a rare view of the Rowland House and rancho gardens.  A century plant is an agave (agave americana) and is known for having a tall and striking stalk in bloom after ten years.  Ranging in mature size from 6 to 12 feet, the plant’s yellow bloom occurs in the summer and can be from 12 to 25 feet in height.  The plant is found in California, Arizona, Lousiana, Texas and Hawaii and can attract hummingbirds, though the sharp points on the leaf’s ends can be irritating to people!

SV Century Plant 2014.1052.1.10
This stereoscopic photograph from the Homestead’s collection shows three young women standing in front of a century plant in the garden of the Rowland House, an 1855 brick dwelling that still stands in the City of Industry about a mile from the Homestead, and which is now owned by the La Puente Valley Historical Society.

As for the young ladies in the photo, there are no identifications (well, except for the words “Century Plant Los Angeles” inscribed at the lower right).  It seems reasonable to assume at least one of them is a member of the Rowland family.

Note that the young women in the dark dress holds a spray of flowers on her lap, while the the woman leaning on her at the left has bouquets in each hand.  The woman at the right stands net to the large century plant, which appears to be about eight feet or a little more high.  To the sides are three trees, perhaps fruit trees and bushes and shrubs are noted toward the bottom and lower right corner.

The landscape, in fact, obscures much of the Rowland House, though some of the brick on the south wall, shutters in the second floor southeast bedroom, and a bit of the porch stairs and wood columns are peeking out, as well.

The house was completed in 1855 by John Rowland and his second wife, Charlotte Gray, who married three years previously.  Rowland and his first spouse, Encarnación Martinez, came to Rancho La Puente from New Mexico in late 1842, about nine months after Rowland obtained a 17,000-acre grant to the rancho from Governor Juan B. Alvarado.  The Rowlands built an adobe residence on the north side of San Jose Creek, about a mile east of where William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste constructed the adobe portion of the Workman House that stands at the Homestead.

After Encarnación died in 1851, Rowland married Charlotte, who came to the area with migrants from the American South who established what became El Monte.  After the couple built the home shown in the photo, they bore two surviving children, named Victoria and Albert for reason obvious to those who know their 19th-century British royalty.  Presumably, one of the women shown in the image is Victoria, who was in her late teens at the time.

John Rowland was a highly successful cattle rancher, wine maker, and farmer, whose able management of his half of Rancho La Puente (expanded to nearly 50,000 acres in 1845 by Governor Pío Pico) was his sole business.  Unlike William Workman, who joined with his son-in-law F.P.F. Temple to jump into a myriad of business activities in Los Angeles, including the Temple and Workman bank often covered in recent posts here, Rowland remained largely occupied with his ranch.

In October 1873, Rowland passed away, leaving his share of the ranch to be divided amongst his wife and children.  One son, William, who was a two-time sheriff of Los Angeles County, discovered oil on his share up in the Puente Hills and formed the Puente Oil Company, a successful enterprise for many years.  Others continued to ranch and farm and there are some of his descendants who still own land on the ranch today.

As to the Rowland House, Charlotte passed it to her daughter Victoria, who married Josiah Hudson.   The couple significantly remodeled and modernized the home in 1898, adding a kitchen and stuccoing the exterior, among other improvements.  Their daughter Lillian, who was married to William H. Dibble, continued to live in the home until her death in 1959.

The property, by then located in the newly established City of Industry, was deeded to the Hudson School District, later renamed the Hacienda-La Puente Unified School District.  For a time, the home was the property of the City of Industry, owners of the Homestead, and there were plans to restore it.  These were not pursued, however, and the residence again passed to the school district.

Some years ago, the La Puente Valley Historical Society (click here for the society’s website) was given the home, the Dibble Museum in an old water storage building near the house, and land around both structures by the school district.  Through the energies of many volunteers, including my colleague Robert Barron, who has served as society president and overseen much of the work, the Rowland House has been substantially restored and renovated in recent years.

This coming weekend, an event featuring poets from New Mexico and California reciting their work inspired by the Old Spanish Trail, railroad routes and Route 66 between the two states will be held at the Homestead (Saturday) and at the Rowland House (Sunday).  For more information, contact the Homestead at info@homesteadmuseum.org or 626.968.8492.

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