It is the last place you would expect to find it. I turn onto Don Julian Road in the City of Industry on a lovely Saturday afternoon. The street has the empty yet purposeful feel of every well-tended, solid, American office park on the weekend -- large, uniform low buildings, and recently planted trees. The only indications of difference are the tasteful markers identifying the buildings that house companies such as Southern California Edison and Fleetwood Fiber. In between all this commerce, so unassuming that if it weren't for the signs and the distinctive gazebo I would easily miss it, is the Workman-Temple Family Homestead Museum.
At first, it seems like just another corporate office, with its large parking lot, squat visitor's center, and man-made lake. But nestled behind high walls and gates, and walkways shaded by trellises dripping with small grapes, are two beautiful homes that sit side by side. I take a very informative free tour of the two structures. The first is the adobe of pioneer William Workman, built in 1841, originally of clay and sticks. It was remodeled in the 1870s in such a way that it now vaguely resembles an over-scale gingerbread house. Next door is La Casa Nueva, the Spanish Colonial Revival masterpiece built in the 1920s by Workman's grandson, Walter P. Temple. The interior of the home is a rich revelation, with unique stained glass windows, ornate tile work, beautiful woodwork, and an entrance hall so grand it has to be seen to be believed.
After the tour is over, I take a short promenade on the tree-lined pathway to the small family cemetery (El Campo Santo means "the cemetery" in Spanish), established by Workman in the early 1850s. Banners featuring black and white photos of the family, including a forever dissatisfied looking William Workman, blow in a gentle, calm breeze. At the end of the pathway, framed by high shrubs, is a small neo-classical mausoleum. I peer through the locked, wrought iron gates and see an oil painting of the Virgin Mary and Child. I have to strain to see the profusion of flowers near the crypt of Pio Pico, Mexican-California's last governor.
Behind the mausoleum is a peaceful, immaculately kept graveyard, bordered by a low brick wall and shaded by lush ginkgo and juniper trees. Small stones, many which simply say "at rest," lay flat on the ground. One small gravestone has been broken off almost to the base, and is now covered in a thick, rich green moss. An intricate, Neo-Gothic cast iron fence surrounds a smaller plot, where a few grand headstones sit clean and slick in the sun. The air smells like freshly cut grass, and a baby bird flies onto a headstone and perches perfectly until I get out my camera and it flies away.
If I look with narrowed eyes and ignore the 16-wheeler rumbling by on Don Julian Road, I can imagine myself in the past, visiting from the nearby homes to cut one of the roses that twine around the iron fence, and placing it on a family member's grave. Indeed, the tastefulness and almost corporate shininess of this elegant little Campo Santo betrays the rough and tumble roots of the pioneer family who inhabits it. And it exposes none of the heartache and strife of the men and women who twice won and lost the land where they now eternally rest.
Catching the Wagon Train
For some reason, I have always had a difficult time calling those who settled Los Angeles "pioneers." It is a word that seems so grandiose, so mythical, so other. But William Workman and his wife, Nicolasa, were pioneers in every grand sense of the word. Workman was born in Clifton, England in 1799, and eventually made his way to New Mexico, which was then a part of Mexico. There he got involved in storekeeping, fur trapping, and distilling. He married Nicolasa, became a Mexican citizen, and converted to Catholicism in 1828. In 1841, Workman and his long-time friend and business partner, John Rowland, found themselves in political hot water. They organized and led a wagon train from New Mexico to Mexican-California, bringing their families along over the famed and brutal Old Spanish Trail.
They arrived in Los Angeles on November 5, 1841. Rowland soon rode to Monterey to meet with the Mexican governor, Juan Alvarado. For $1,000 in gold, he returned with the deed to Rancho La Puente, which had once belonged to Mission San Gabriel. Workman and Rowland divvied up the land, built simple adobes, and began raising cattle, which was then the mainstay of the California economy. In 1845, Workman's 15-year old daughter Antonia Margarita married F.P.F Temple, from a pioneer family even older than the Workmans. It was the first marriage in Southern California in which both the betrothed had Anglo surnames.
Also in 1845, Rancho La Puente was enlarged to 48,790 acres by Governor Pio Pico, a personal friend of Workman's. Workman was soon deeply embroiled in California politics, negotiating with the Americans on behalf of his adopted country during the Mexican-American War. With the discovery of gold in 1848, Workman had a massive new market of hungry miners to sell his beef to. He quickly made a fortune, thanks to California's first big boom.
The Workman family and Rancho La Puente prospered. It is within the next few years that El Campo Santo was established, just 300 yards from the Workman family's adobe. Believed to be one of the oldest private family cemeteries in Los Angeles, it was to be used for the burial of not only the Workman and Rowland families (inner plot), but also their faithful servants and nearby neighbors (outer plot). In 1855, the first recorded burial there was that of Workman's brother David, who was killed while driving sheep to the mining regions.
As the rancho became more established and ornate, so did the graveyard. By the 1860s, the graveyard featured a brick wall enclosure and the distinctive cast iron fence that surrounded the inner plot. Most impressive was St. Nicholas, the small brick chapel, named in honor of Nicolasa Workman and designed by the artist Henry Miller. In 1857, the chapel was blessed by Bishop Thaddeus Amat. According to the letter of a family friend, the chapel was to be for the benefit of Workman's workers, as well as for his family.
Workman continued making improvements to the rancho, constructing wineries, a mill, diversifying agriculturally, and expanding his once simple adobe. During the speculative boom of the late 1860s and early '70s, Workman and his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, expanded into banking. In 1868, they opened the second bank in Los Angeles, which would come to be known as the banking house of Temple and Workman.
In 1875, a rush on the banks forced Workman and Temple to close their bank. They borrowed money from wealthy landowner Elias "Lucky" Baldwin, and temporarily reopened -- but it was too late. Unable to pay back Baldwin and their other creditors, they were financially ruined. Workman lost most of his vast acreage. On May 17, 1876, the court sent a receiver to take possession of what was left -- Workman's beloved adobe and some surrounding acreage. He went into his office in the back of the home that he had helped build with his own hands. He took out his gun and shot himself. He was 75 years old.
Workman was buried, with full Masonic honors, in the family cemetery at a cost of over $500. A train was rented for mourners coming from Los Angeles. His body was prepared and placed in a metal casket, and he was interred in the inner plot enclosed by the cast iron fence. He joined his lifelong friend, John Rowland, who had been buried in the inner plot three years earlier. F.P.F Temple, who had become a virtual shut-in before his death, joined them in 1880. In 1892, both his wife, Antonia Margarita, and mother-in-law, Nicolasa, followed. It was a final, sad homecoming.
Bust Boom Bust
By the turn of the century, the Workman-Temple family had lost all of the old Homestead, including El Campo Santo. But Walter P. Temple, the son of F.P.F and Antonia Margarita, never forgot the little graveyard where those who reared him lay.
In 1903, a peach of a man named L.F. Lewis purchased the Workman Homestead, including the graveyard. He tore down the remains of St. Nicolas Chapel, which seems to have burned that same year. More egregiously, he began tearing down the cemetery walls to sell the bricks, and allowed his cattle and other livestock to roam free, trampling and damaging many graves. At a meeting held between the furious Workman-Temple family and Lewis, he is said to have stated that he owned the cemetery and intended to do with it what he pleased. Walter Temple called his bluff and sued in him in 1907 in L.A. Superior Court. According to the L.A. Times dated July 21,1907, a judge ruled that:
The remedy which will right the wrong will be the replacing of the walls. Stating then, the limits of his power to command, judge grants a permanent injunction against injury to the cemetery, and suggests that the defendant restore the walls, and in the event of failure to do so within six months, the order is made that the plaintiff may have the work done and receive damages in a sum equal to the cost of the work, not to exceed $1130.
But Walter Temple's triumph would be much greater than a simple win in court. In 1912, Temple bought back some land that had once been his fathers from the estate of "Lucky" Baldwin. In 1914, his son Thomas discovered oil in a rain puddle on the property, and by 1917, Standard Oil brought the first well on the land into production. The Temples were again tremendously rich. In November of that year, Temple bought the Workman Homestead, which included his grandfather's adobe and the old cemetery.
So important was the cemetery to Temple, that before any other work was done on the ranch, he hired architects Fred Rea and Charles Garstang to design a new mausoleum to take the place of the long gone chapel. Broken tombstones were replaced, the grounds were re-landscaped, and numerous pathways added. Illegible headstones were replaced with markers that simply read, "at rest."
The neo-classical mausoleum, named the Walter P. Temple Memorial, was finished in 1921, and a large dedication service was held. Temple had his grandparents, parents, siblings, and other relatives moved inside. He also had Pio Pico and his wife, Maria Ygnacia, moved from the soon-to-be-destroyed Old Calvary Cemetery to the mausoleum. In 1922, his beloved wife Laura died suddenly, and she too was placed in the new, stately mausoleum.
The construction of La Casa Nueva, with its many references to the family's rich history, also began that year. It was designed by firm of Walker and Eisen and the architect Roy Seldon Price, and completed in 1927. The family turned the old rancho into a thoroughly modern estate, adding a movie theater, a swimming pool, and tennis court. Temple, like his grandfather and father before him, found himself in the middle of the boom-time '20s. He branched out into real estate, and construction and founded the town of Temple (now Temple City) in the spring of 1923. Overextension and the crash of 1929 led to his financial downfall, and by 1931 the family had once again lost the Homestead, including El Campo Santo.
Temple died in 1938 and was buried, not in the cemetery he had so lovingly brought back to life, but in the San Gabriel Mission Cemetery. The Homestead became a boys' school, and then a sanitarium, before it was purchased by the City of Industry in 1963. In 1981 the Homestead Museum was opened to the public.
Since no records have ever been found, we do not know exactly how many people are buried in the little cemetery. It is thought that 32 individuals are in the 24-crypt mausoleum. Nor do we know how many people are buried in the outside portion. Twenty-three names are known, yet there are definitely more people there, their names lost to time.
We do know of one new addition to the list. In 2002, the remains of Walter P. Temple were relocated to the inner plot, from the San Gabriel Mission Cemetery. One hundred sixty years after William and Nicolasa Workman first set foot on the soil of Rancho La Puente, their reverent grandchild finally came home for good.
Special thanks to the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum for their help and support.
- More Graveyards of L.A.:
- Evergreen Cemetery: Snapshots of a Forever Changing Boyle Heights
- A Los Angeles Primer
- Arrival Stories
- Block by Block
- Engaging Spaces
- Green Justice
- I Am Los Angeles