Ticket to the Twenties Themes: La Casa Nueva and the Loss of Laura Gonzalez Temple

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It’s the final countdown and we’re about three hours away from the start of the first of two days of the Homestead’s “Ticket to the Twenties” festival.  This last, short post also concludes a series dealing with themes and topics covered in displays in our historic houses, with the Workman House focusing on development and the seemingly limitless potential in greater Los Angeles during the 1920s, while La Casa Nueva has a small exhibit on the loss of Laura Gonzalez Temple and what that meant for the family and the house.

A post last December on Laura’s passing covered a lot of the ground the display deals with, so today’s entry won’t go into a lot of detail.  Family members have said over the years that La Casa Nueva was “Laura’s dream house” and that she had a significant amount of input on its design and decorative elements.  So, her untimely passing at the end of December 1922, just a few days after Christmas and just as the early stages of construction on the home were underway, is particularly poignant.

Naturally, work stopped on the residence for a period after she died and, when it resumed in 1923, it was decided to dedicate the house in her memory.  There’ll be a post at the end of the year on that, but suffice to say that her widow and children made sure that the house was blessed by Bishop John J. Cantwell of the Roman Catholic Church and that the plaque, then placed next to the front entrance, would be a permanent reminder of Laura and the home into which she put some much energy and thought.

As I mentioned in last December’s post, her loss was obviously personally devastating for each of her family.  Eldest son Thomas wrote her letters, in Spanish (she and Walter insisted their four surviving children were fluent in the language), lamenting life without her and showing the grief that resonates with anyone who has had a similar situation.  Undoubtedly, the other children felt the same, though they may not have expressed it in writing as Thomas did.

Laura Gonzalez Temple portrait ca. 1920
Laura Gonzalez Temple (1871-1922)

Also notable was a 1926 family photo, included in last December’s post, in which Walter and his children posed for a studio portrait, but made sure to leave a space next to Mr. Temple as an overt reminder that Laura should have been standing next to him.  It is a particularly evocative and powerful image that we have on our tours to demonstrate in visual terms (as Thomas’ letters did in written ways) the sense of loss that continued.

I well remember talking to middle son Walter Temple, Jr. in the early 1990s, some seventy years after Laura’s death and tears welling in his eyes as he talked about his mother.  To be a thirteen-year old and lose your mother is a feeling that may diminish somewhat, but never dissipates.

He also told me that he was sure that, if Laura had lived, the family’s financial situation, deteriorated by real estate and oil investments and other spending, would have been different.  This is testament to his belief that his mother’s practical nature was a counterbalance to the enthusiasm and energy his father was willing to put into speculative business enterprises.

La Casa Nueva is a stunningly beautiful house, filled with stained glass windows, handmade Mexican tile, carved wood and plaster, and intriguing and personalized references to family and regional history.  As a home, however, it did not become what Laura and her family intended, because it was largely empty, with her passing and the children’s long absences at school.

This isn’t to say that there wasn’t some enjoyment when the Temples were together, but it was fleeting.  This is especially because the structure wasn’t completed until 1927, five years after construction started, and then the family vacated the house in spring 1930 to prepare for a lease with a military academy.  Two years beyond that, as the Great Depression worsened, the house and Homestead were lost to foreclosure.

The story of La Casa Nueva is significantly one about Laura Temple’s dreams and desires for what it could be and then what it couldn’t be after she passed away.  As a direct memorial to her and as a legacy from the family broadly, it speaks to general ambitions and hopes families have, some of which are not realized.  The home is a laboratory of sorts for discussing, with our visitors, aspects of family life that we hope are relatable and which resonate, including this weekend at “Ticket to the Twenties.”

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