by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This morning, the Homestead hosted the second installment of the “Urban Gardens of Los Angeles” program offered by Road Scholar, a non-profit educational travel organization with which the museum has worked for some 20 years.
The program, a four-day, three-night extension of a very popular Tournament of Roses Parade offering, involves visits to local sites, like Descanso Gardens; the Huntington Library, Art Gallery and Botanical Gardens; and the Jean Paul Getty Villa as part of the exploration of the diversity of gardens in greater Los Angeles.
The second day of the program includes a visit to the Homestead, where I give a PowerPoint illustrated presentation about the evolving landscape in the region from the intersection of the period when native indigenous peoples and the Spanish first interacted in the late 18th century through the 1920s, with some general reference to more recent years and present and future concerns.
A tour of the historic site and its gardens completes the visit and that includes discussion about what was done with our landscaping done during the late 1970s and early 1980s restoration of the Homestead, for which a national landscape award was given for the work conducted by the well-known firm of Emmet Wemple and Associates.
We also examined some of the remaining historic landscaping elements around the Workman House, including a grapevine trellis at the rear of the 19th century structure and a circa 1860 Lady Banks Rose at the home’s front entrance (the topic of a post here after last year’s “Urban Gardens” program); and then 1920s landscaping elements around La Casa Nueva, such as cypress, sycamore and yucca trees.
Finally, the tour concluded with my colleagues Alexandra Rasic and Isis Quan talking to the group of 33 visitors about the recent additions of our demonstration vineyard, developed and overseen by our facilities coordinator, Robert Barron, and our native garden, which our Public Programs staff worked on with help from the Kizh-Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians and the Theodore Payne Foundation.
Alex talked about how the vineyard is a living educational tool about a key element of the Workman family’s use of Rancho La Puente when greater Los Angeles was the predominant wine-making region of California, as well as a place where visitors can have interactive experiences with the vineyard, such as when, at one of our Christmas holiday programs, guests were invited to help Robert prune the vines after the fall harvest.
Isis followed with a discussion about the native garden, including how it was developed, how it has been used for our “Under the Oak Tree” program conducted by Matt Tautimez, from the Kizh-Gabrieleño; and how the plants were (and still are) used for a variety of purposes, including medicinal and for cooking.
In both cases, the vineyard and native garden have also helped lower water use as a lawn, trees, and roses were removed and replaced with plants that are either on drip irrigation (the vineyard) or only require sporadic watering (the native garden.)
One of the historic landscape elements discussed during the program had to do with a palm tree that was moved to the Homestead from San Gabriel by Walter P. Temple in 1925 and replanted just outside the southeastern corner of his still-in-construction La Casa Nueva.
Temple was an avid collector of historic material which he creatively repurposed at the Homestead during the fifteen years he owned the 92-acre ranch. For example, when his uncle’s and father’s Temple Block was being razed in the mid-1920s for the construction of Los Angeles City Hall, Temple, with the aid of an attorney whose office was in one of the old buildings for over a half-century, salvaged bricks and the vault from the former quarters of the Temple and Workman bank and used them at La Casa Nueva and the adjoining Tepee.
At about the same time, two old millstones were unearthed on a Rowland family ranch a short distance from the Homestead, having likely been used in John Rowland’s late 1840s mill. Temple bought them and had them incorporated into the fountain in La Casa Nueva’s courtyard.
The same instinct to preserve historic items was employed with this palm tree. Temple became a real estate investor and developer in San Gabriel in the early 1920s, purchasing the block across the mission and building three commercial structures, all still standing, and donating one lot for the town’s city hall, which also survives.
While the palm tree was carefully uprooted after all that work was done, there may have been some other development going on at that site which prompted him to save and then move the tree, at some significant expense, to the Homestead.
A series of several photographs were taken to document the project, from the tree’s removal to its planting next to La Casa Nueva. The images, likely taken by Temple’s son, Thomas, a future historian, genealogist and preserver of family artifacts and records as well as avid shutter bug, were, in some cases, labeled with the date “1775” for the age of the palm tree as well as the photograph dates in 1925.
That 1775 date is a convenient reference to the relocation of Mission San Gabriel from its original home in the Whittier Narrows, just a short distance from where Walter Temple was born on the Rancho La Merced and also would have indicated a nice neat 150 year tie-in to the replanting. Palm trees, the “Urban Gardens” group leader mentioned this morning, don’t live that long.
At any rate, the photos indicate the effort taken to take the tree down to near ground level, enclose the root structure in a large wooden box, transport it by a flat-bed truck to the Homestead, and then carefully maneuver it into its new home. It is also remarkable that the tree managed to live another 90 years at the Homestead.
Of course, all living things have life spans and the venerable old palm reached the end of its existence just last year and had to be cut down. We know that this will happen to other historic plantings at the museum and have to be very aware of the vulnerability of them to drought, climate change, pest infestations, and diseases.
Today’s program led Alex to raise the possibility of offering a similar program to the general public as a special tour offering with the goal of not just talking about the history of the landscape regionally and at the museum, but also of discussing the issues of maintaining a historic landscape, of paying more attention to native plant gardening, and providing interactive experiences for our visitors.