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Museum History

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The Workman Family
Now owned and maintained by the City of Industry, the Homestead was once the property of William Workman who in 1841, along with John Rowland, led the first group of immigrants to use an overland route from the east into Southern California. The pair received title to Rancho La Puente in 1842 from Governor Juan Alvarado (reconfirmed in 1845 by Pío Pico), divided the 48,790 acres between themselves, and engaged in the cattle industry. Shortly after they arrived, it is believed that Workman and his wife Nicolasa Urioste had Gabrielino Indians build an adobe residence on their property. 

Although the cattle industry was devastated by droughts in the 1860s, the Workman family acquired considerable wealth through agriculture by the 1870s, growing wheat and grapes (used for wine production). Both crops required little water. The family then remodeled their adobe house into a picturesque country house including modern brick and decorative machine-made elements. Only a few years later, the Workmans lost their fortune when the bank William co-owned with his son-in-law, F. P. F. Temple, collapsed in early 1876. As a result of this calamity, the family lost most of its property to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin. 

In 1880, the family repurchased 75 acres of the original Rancho, which included the Workman House. Two of the Workmans’ grandsons, Francis W. and John H. Temple, respectively, owned the Homestead until about 1900, when the property was lost again due to more financial problems.

The Temple Family
In 1917, Walter P. Temple, Sr., another grandson of William and Nicolasa Workman, and his wife, Laura Gonzalez, restored the family’s fortune after oil was discovered on their property in the Montebello Hills. They then set out to reestablish the Homestead as a working ranch, planting groves of walnuts and other crops. 

Almost immediately after they reacquired the land, the Temples restored El Campo Santo (The Sacred Ground), the family burial ground established by the Workman family in the mid-1850s. About 1919, the Temples commissioned the design and construction of a Neoclassical mausoleum for the small cemetery. Next, the family constructed a large swimming pool, tennis court, and a number of outbuildings including a garage (with a gas pump), and converted a winery into an auditorium. (With the exception of the mausoleum, none of these survive.) Once these improvements were made, the family hired the Los Angeles architectural firm of Walker and Eisen to assist them in designing La Casa Nueva (The New House), a home to be built adjacent to the Workman House, which the family renovated. After Laura Temple died in late 1922, the family halted work on the house until 1924 when Roy Seldon Price, a Beverly Hills architect, was brought in to complete the project. The approximately 12,400 square foot residence is exceptionally rich in architectural crafts such as stained and painted glass windows, carved wood doors and corbels, and American and Mexican tile.

While La Casa Nueva was being constructed, Walter Temple engaged in numerous building and real estate projects. In 1923 he founded the Town of Temple, known today as Temple City. Financial reversals at the end of the 1920s, however, forced the Temples to relinquish the property in 1932. After they left, the Homestead was briefly used as a military school before the Brown family purchased the property and opened the El Encanto Convalescent Hospital, which operated on the grounds from 1940 until the late 1960s. In 1957, when the City of Industry was founded, the Homestead became part of the new city.

Museum Beginnings
By the 1960s, the municipality designed as the ideal environment for industry had proven to be a remarkable success. Businesses flocked to the area thus increasing the city’s employment base and revenues dramatically. Though primarily concerned with the economic well-being of Industry, the city’s leaders were also sensitive to the cultural life of their community. As longtime residents of the area or as history buffs, they were well-acquainted with the local past and with the particular contributions of the Workman and Temple families to the area. With the intent of restoring at least a portion of the historic site, the city approached the Browns with an offer to purchase the property. The Browns appreciated the Homestead’s importance and agreed to sell the Workman House, Water Tower, Pump House, and El Campo Santo to the city in 1963. Between 1970 and 1973, the Industry Urban Development Agency purchased the remainder of the present six-acre site for the city, including La Casa Nueva. The city’s original plans to include the restoration of the Homestead as part of the construction of a private municipal hospital east of the Workman House fell through, but, at the suggestion of a city leader, it was decided to restore the Homestead as a United States Bicentennial project. 

The Homestead’s restoration was not completed as planned by 1976. The painstaking process took an additional five years and the museum opened to the public on May 1, 1981. Beginning in 1980, the city engaged the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum Foundation to operate the site on a contractual basis. The Foundation, in turn, hired an administrative staff headed by Dr. Carolyn Wagner. The staff initiated numerous programs during the museum’s first year, including the establishment of a volunteer group.

Museum Management and Growth
By 1982, the City of Industry and Los Angeles County saw the difficulties involved in two separate government bodies jointly undertaking such a project and decided not to renew their contract. Upon the city’s suggestion, the site’s management was then transferred to Historical Perspectives, Inc., a firm headed by Dr. Wagner. 

The museum, then referred to as the Workman and Temple Homestead, began expanding its interpretive mission at approximately the same time. Homestead tours had initially focused on historic contributions made by the Workman and Temple families. By 1982, the museum expanded that interpretation by relating Southern California’s social and cultural history during the 1840s, 1870s, and 1920s to the families’ history.

As an outgrowth of this change, the staff in 1983 introduced A Journey Through Time to fourth graders in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, one of the largest and most diverse districts in the state. This museum-school program went on to win awards from the Los Angeles County Board of Education and the American Association for State and Local History. 

Another major milestone in the museum’s history occurred in 1986 when the Homestead’s management was transferred to Historical Resources, Inc., a firm headed by Karen Graham Wade who had been the museum’s Director of Education since 1982. Since that time, the museum has expanded the scope of its programming; introduced the use of living history; presented a wide variety of public events both independently and in collaboration with other organizations; and expanded its volunteer program. Additionally, the museum’s collections have grown tremendously to support research and exhibition activities, and its catalogue has been entered into a computer database, allowing easier access for researchers and better management by the museum.   

Through its many programs, the museum continues to offer a variety of fun and educational ways for people to enjoy and get involved with the history of Southern California from 1830 to 1930.