No Place Like Home: La Casa Nueva in Construction, ca. 1923-1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It was a grand plan for Walter P. Temple and his wife Laura Gonzalez, conceived on a trip to Mexico in summer 1922 and begun soon after their return.  La Casa Nueva (The New House), distinguished from the older Workman House, was to represent elements of family and regional history through a remarkable design and decoration plan in the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture.

Sadly, Laura had colon cancer, from which she died at the end of that year.  Shaken, Walter delayed work on the home and pondered what to do with a building that was in the very early stages of construction.  Deciding finally to resume, he had a granite plaque made to dedicate La Casa Nueva in the memory of his late wife, with the ceremony conducted on the first anniversary of her passing.

In 1924, architect Roy Seldon Price, best known for his recently completed Spanish Colonial Revival masterpiece in Beverly Hills for film studio owner Thomas Ince, was hired to continue work on La Casa Nueva (Walter and Laura Temple made the initial decisions on the layout of the home and the Los Angeles architectural firm of Walker and Eisen prepared the finished plans.)  Price, whose invoices, the Temples like to joke, matched his last name, suggested significant changes and new ideas.  This served to delay the completion of the house, already in its third year of construction.

 

Yet, many of Price’s concepts totally transformed the structure and made it a distinctive and unique creation.  Chief among these was his design for carved plaster work around the front door that made for a striking visual statement that referenced family history and the style of the house.  Installing broken pieces of tile and dishes, old tools and other “found objects” in flagstone walkways around the building was another unusual touch.  Price also completely reconfigured the Main Hall, removing the center stairs that branches off to both sides and a bridge that connected the upper halls in favor of a wrap-around staircase that opened up the space and added more drama and interest.

Many of the surviving photographs of the construction of La Casa Nueva were apparently taken by Thomas W. Temple II, the eldest of the family’s children.  An avid photographer, he documented the building of the house with a clear understanding of not just its personal importance to him and his family but to its broader historical potential, based on letters he wrote about the home at the time.

La Casa Nueva Construction Probably End Of West Wing 99.5.35.100

It’s fortunate Thomas did this work, because, outside of one photo shoot by noted Los Angeles photographer Albert Kopec, a few images of which were the subject of a recent post in this series, we wouldn’t have nearly the sense of how the project proceeded without Thomas’ interest in documenting the project (assuming, of course, that most of the surviving photos were his.)

 

Today’s highlighted artifacts from the Homestead’s collection are a trio of images presumably taken by Thomas and which show two opposite corners of the 11,000 square foot mansion at slightly different stages.  The first is perhaps earlier than 1924 and shows the adobe walls being completed at the southern end of the single-story west wing.

Taken from about where the Tepee (an adobe and brick home office added to the project in 1927 as La Casa Nueva was nearing completion) stands, the snapshot shows the bricks stacked in an alternating pattern of longer and shorter ends.  At the right is the opening of one of the two windows at the south end, while at the far left are window openings that are more fully completed, given that they have wood lintels.

Also of note is some kind of wood frame at the top of the wall, which seems to show how the bricks were laid in for uniformity and a better fit. The photo is a bit blurry but, at the bottom, the foundation can be made out.  The structure does not have a foundation slab, however, because there are crawl spaces on these wings, as well as a large three-room basement at the main core.

The second photo moves to the northeast corner of La Casa Nueva and shows portions of both levels, with the Living Room and Dining Room at the lower one and the Master Bedroom and Walter Jr.’s bedroom (with a small window for the adjoining bathroom) on the upper.  At the far left is a sliver of the protruding space for the Breakfast Room, over which was the roof for the single-story east wing.

La Casa Nueva Construction East Elevation 99.5.35.1006

 

The adobe walls, including the Living Room chimney, are covered with a rough plaster coat which would later be overlaid with another plaster coat before the white finish coat was applied at the end.  The window and French door openings are finished and look close to being readied for the wood casings preceding the installation of the doors and windows.

The Master Bedroom balcony, which wraps around the east and north sides of the structure, was in the earliest stages of construction here, including the basic supports for the floor and the overhanging roof on the north end while temporary posts are in place until the balcony’s permanent supports are installed.  The roof has its unfinished beam ends and the plywood sheeting laid in, nearly ready for the installation of the tile that is one of the core distinguishing elements of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

Also of note is the temporary electric lines running north to south alongside the structure.  These lines were tapped from the main lines in the area that ran west to east along Valley Boulevard and were brought down the long easement to the project (at the lower right is a bit of the rural atmosphere surrounding the Homestead over ninety years ago–much of this is now commercial and industrial property in the City of Industry.)  They were soon removed and power brought in a different way because of the third photo in the series shown here.

It is of a detail of the same northeast corner, but taken from slightly to the south and closer than the second photo.  Its focus is on the first floor portion where the Living Room is situated, though the flooring and supporting brackets for the east side of the Master Bedroom balcony are also shown.

Perhaps from 1925, this image has the smoother plaster coat before the final finish coat was to be applied.  The door and window casings are in and the double French doors for the entrance into the Living Room are installed, though the arched windows on either side (which would feature portraits in stained and painted glass of the eldest Temple children, Thomas and Agnes, in Mexican costume) do not appear to be in yet.  The French doors for the Master Bedroom are also installed, as can barely be seen at the top center of the photo.

La Casa Nueva Northeast Corner 99.5.32.697

As for the balcony there are finished posts on the north side, with one visible, but not for the corner or east end.  The three supporting brackets are carved in an interesting “step back” pattern.  Finally, at the right is the finished border wall at the north end of the front yard.

These three images are interesting representations of the long development of the building of La Casa Nueva, from the rough adobe wall construction of the first view to the more finished appearance of the third photo.  Subsequent photos, eventually to be posted here, will continue the documentation of the project to completion and the brief 2 and 1/2 year period when the Temples occupied a fully finished La Casa Nueva before they had to move in spring 1930 as their financial situation worsened during the early stages of the Great Depression.

 

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