January 30, 2015

Photo Essay: In the Footsteps of the Pioneers

Sure, you can read books and articles. You can attend lectures, and chat with historians.

But the best way to see how people really lived in the past is to walk in their footsteps.

Thankfully, there are enough preservationists out there to save some of the historic homes of the early Los Angeles pioneers – whose legacy includes some unique architectural structures, gardens, art, and, of course, burial grounds.

One such site is the Workman-Temple Family Homestead Museum, a six-acre site where you can explore LA history in the century between 1830 and 1930.

The gazebo is actually a relatively recent addition to the property...

...which is now just a fraction of the original Rancho La Puente.

The Workman family, led by English-born William Workman (ancestor to the former LA mayor), were cattle ranchers that also had successful vineyards.

Workman, an early settler, is known to have led a group of pioneer wagons overland from New Mexico to Southern California via the Old Spanish Trail.

The family took a simple three-room adobe house built in the 1840s, and started adding on to it,
by 1870 transforming it into a traditional American home of the time (with its adobe beginnings almost unrecognizable unless you examine the thickness of the original exterior walls).

Adjacent to the Workman House is the 1920s Spanish Revival La Casa Nueva...

...was built from the wealth of oil discovery by Workman's grandson, Walter Temple.

The home has been restored to a period-appropriate condition...

...despite having been repurposed between the 1930s and 1960s: first as a boys' military school, and then for nearly 30 years as the El Encanto Convalescent Hospital.

Students and patients who stayed here over the years were treated to a tremendous amount of interior ornamentation...

...thanks to wrought iron, carved wood accents, ceramic tiles, and nearly 50 stained glass windows.

Many of them depict familiar scenes of the pioneers... well as the scenery of the time, including the oil derricks that brought the Temples some of their fortune.

Others provide architectural glass portraits of the cultural and artistic luminaries of all time, like Handel...

...and fellow classical music composers Liszt...


...Bach, and literary figures like Shakespeare, Milton, Cervantes, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

It is one of the largest public collections of its kind in California, many (if not all) custom made specifically for this house.

Although Mexican tiles are used exclusively in the house's larger gathering rooms, American tiles are used in the bathrooms, each with their own colors and patterns.

The outdoor vine-covered walkway is also tiled on its concrete floor...

...and some can be spotted on the exterior, especially upstairs along the balcony outside of the museum's archives...

...and in contrast to the red clay Spanish tile roof.

Perhaps the most intriguing structure at the museum is Walter Temple's Tepee...

...a separate retreat from the Temple's main house...

...consisting of an enclosed, windowed single room...

...adorned with tiles, textiles, a dramatic chandelier, and the requisite mounted taxidermy.

It's Walter's version of a 1920s man cave.

Walter was originally interred at San Gabriel Mission Cemetery, and later moved – and now he and the rest of the Temple and Workman families are buried at the private cemetery on the property, El Campo Santo ("the cemetery," or "sacred ground" in Spanish), one of the oldest of its kind in Southern California.

The mausoleum at El Campo Santo also contains the remains of Pio Pico, the last governor of California while it was under Mexican rule, but there are many unmarked graves in the plots behind it, many markers reading simply "At Rest."

Even though the homestead was not such a bad place to live, and, in fact, not such a bad place to die and spend eternity, there is a real sense of sadness and loss to this place – a cherished home that multiple generations of two different families could not manage to keep in times of financial ruin.

After William Workman came all this way, crossing the entire country to (eventually) get to California, his moderate success was overshadowed by his failed banking business. Owing an unpayable debt to Lucky Baldwin, Workman lost his homestead, and, in 1876, shot himself at age 76.

According to the Los Angeles Herald, "...In a moment of wild despair he sent the bullet crushing through his brain." It was "...a deplorable circumstance..." that "...cast a gloom of sorrow over the entire valley."

Hopefully he is now at rest.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Day at the Rancho, A Step Back in Time
Photo Essay: The View from a Famous Mapmaker's Estate
Photo Essay: Compton's Historic Urban Garden Oasis
Photo Essay: The Unseen Buried at Pioneer Cemetery
Photo Essay: Savannah Memorial Park Pioneer Cemetery, Memorial Day

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