No Place Like Home: An Early Concept of La Casa Nueva, 1922

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Although Walter and Laura Temple had no intention of building a home when they bought the 75-acre Workman Homestead in late November 1917, that changed after they and their four surviving children took a lengthy vacation to Mexico in summer 1922.  They were so inspired by their trip that they decided to not only build a residence, but to make it something very personalized and customized.  The result, eventually, was La Casa Nueva, a highly distinctive Spanish Colonial Revival mansion finished in late 1927 after over five years of construction.

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A rough sketch of the rear or south elevation of La Casa Nueva as conceptualized early in the project.  The original drawing was found after 1940 by the Brown family, owners of El Encanto Sanitarium, in the attic of the Tepee near the house.

The Temples, upon arriving back home, committed rough ideas to paper and then had the well-known Los Angeles architectural firm of Walker and Eisen, which designed several of Walter Temple’s commercial buildings during the early 1920s, draw up finished plans.  The Temples contracted with master stone mason Pablo Urzua of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, who brought his crew up over several years to make adobe bricks by hand and work started soon after the family returned to the area.

By the end of 1922, however, Laura Temple succumbed to cancer and work on La Casa Nueva (so named as a simple contrast to la casa vieja or the Workman House) was halted for a time.  Work resumed and Walter commissioned a granite plaque dedicating the home in memory of Laura, with a ceremony being held on the first anniversary of her death.  Urzua was listed as maestro de obra (stone mason) and Walker and Eisen were represented as the structure’s architects.

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A close-up of a projected rear entrance accessed by some stairs and a stoop and with an arched portico on the first floor and arched balcony on the second.

By 1924, however, it was decided to hire Roy Seldon Price, a Beverly Hills architect whose fanciful Spanish Colonial Revival design, Dias Doradas (Golden Days) for film studio head Thomas Ince attracted significant attention.  Price immediately made major changes to those portions of the home already completed, including removing the main staircase and changing its orientation and adding the remarkable carved plaster work surrounding the front door.  Both of these were significant improvements to the building, but, as the Temples joked, the architect’s invoices matched his surname.

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A detail showing the east projecting wing and adjoining portico, the finished example of which does have the arch as shown.

Price’s exuberant transformation of the house certainly made it more distinctive and unusual than what was initially planned, which makes comparing what we know of the original concept and what the final result was so interesting.  Also notable was the fact that, when, after just a couple of years of residing in the home the Temples moved out in May 1930 to lease the Homestead to a boys’ military academy, they left behind furniture, photographs and blueprints and drawings.  When California Bank foreclosed on the property in summer 1932, the Temples did not return to claim many of these items.

Sometime after Harry and Lois Brown purchased the Homestead in fall 1940 so they could open their El Encanto Sanitarium (now El Encanto Healthcare and Habilitation Center), they discovered a cache of snapshots, blueprints and drawings stashed away in the attic of the Tepee, a whimsical adobe and brick building next to La Casa Nueva that was finished in 1927 as Walter Temple’s retreat and office.  Decades later, when the Homestead was being restored, the Browns donated these materials and they form an invaluable record of the building of the house and general development of the site during the 1920s.

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A detail of the west projecting wing.

Today’s post highlights one of the drawings that was found by the Browns.  It shows an early concept for La Casa Nueva in the form of a rendering of the rear or south elevation.  Much of the form shown is what was built, mainly in terms of the two-story main block with projecting rear wings and a center courtyard.

There are, however, some significant differences from what was eventually completed.  Namely, the drawing shows a first floor portico with a simple set of stairs to a stoop and a second-floor balcony, with both levels having archways and low walls in the arches.  These elements gave the structure more of a Mission Revival feel, rather than the Spanish Colonial style that the house developed.  There was no raised portico with steps or a projecting tile roof at the back entrance, as shown, either  Additionally, the ground floor porticos along the projecting wings were shown as raised significantly higher than what was built.

 

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Section sketches of roof lines and columns or pillars, including at the lower right the indicator of “Section 1 story / P.”

Those wings, with the strong encouragement of Price, were reconfigured as sun patios, with pillars connected by rough wood beams, Mexican cement tile floors, furniture and potted plants.  This was another major design element introduced by the architect that really distinguished the house, especially given the fact that the original design simply called for putting tar paper on a flat roof over the wings.

Other minor items of note is that the roof design, which would not likely have been flat as appears to be shown (note the little angled indicator at the far left), did become quite different from the squared off look indicated on the drawing and the windows are shown as dual sash, when most were built like French doors to open outward.

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This little indicator was to show how the clay roof tiles were to be laid in an overlapping configuration.

There are also vents shown at the end of the first floor wings, two for the upper roofs and four pipe vents for the rooms on that lower level.  To the left are some section drawings showing roof lines and what look like pillars or columns, including bases below grade, for the porticos.

 

It is not known whether this drawing was made while the Temples were ruminating over their early design concepts or if it was drawn by Walker and Eisen.  Whatever the case, it is a fascinating reflection of a beginning stage of a long process that culminated in a structure that was dramatically different when finally finished a half-decade later.

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The rear elevation of La Casa Nueva as it appears today.  An exact view replicating that of the drawing is not possible because of the Mission Walkway that extends around three sides of the house including the south side.  The second floor dormitories were built in 1930 by a boys’ military academy with permission from the Temple family.

Look for other posts here in the future highlighting surviving blueprints of La Casa Nueva.

2 thoughts on “No Place Like Home: An Early Concept of La Casa Nueva, 1922

Add yours

  1. Hi Ruth Ann, we’re fortunate to have the artifacts and information to share! Thanks for your continuing support.

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