WAACNewsletter
Volume 10, Number 1, Jan. 1988, pp.5-7

Textile Conservation at the Workman and Temple Homestead

by Sharon Gordon Donnan

When first approached by the Workman and Temple Homestead, I was very much in the dark about who, or what, the Workman and Temple Homestead was, exactly. Be assured that it is a fully functioning museum / historic site located in The City of Industry, California. The Curator, Carol Crilly, recognizing the importance of proper conservation, hoped to set up a program which would provide regular maintenance for the collection of costumes and textiles as well as any needed treatment for individual pieces. Approximately $3,500 had been allocated for textile conservation. The big question was, of course, how much could we accomplish within that budget.

The Workman and Temple Homestead is a six acre historic site containing eight structures which document nearly 90 years of Southern California life and architecture. The structures include the Workman House, an 1840's adobe which was later remodeled; a water tower and pump house dating from about 1872; a Greek Revival Mausoleum; a 1920's Spanish Colonial Revival Residence and its accompanying tepee-like retreat; a contemporary Glorieta or Gazebo; and a contemporary visitor's center.

Now owned and maintained by The City of Industry, the Homestead was once the property of William Workman, who, along with John Rowland, led the first overland expedition of settlers to Southern California in 1842. The pair received title to La Puente Rancho in 1842 and divided the more than 48,000 acres between themselves. At about that time, Workman and his wife, Nicolasa Uriarte, had local Indians build an adobe residence on the Rancho. By the 1870's, the Workman family had acquired considerable wealth and remodeled the adobe into a picturesque English Manor house. Only a few years after the conversion was completed, the Workman family lost its fortune in the collapse of the bank William co-owned with his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple.

By 1917, Walter P. Temple Sr., the grandson of William and Nicolasa Workman had restored the family's fortunes through oil profits and real estate investments. He and his wife, Laura Gonzales, set out to restore the Homestead's grandeur. They commissioned a Whittier firm to design and construct a Greek Revival Mausoleum for 'El Campo Santo', the family burial ground, said to be the oldest private cemetery in Los Angeles County. They then hired the Los Angeles architectural firm of Walker and Eisen to assist in designing and constructing 'La Casa Nueva', an 11,000 square foot residence. Evidence suggests that the Temples themselves designed the tepee. Servants quarters, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and garages were added to the estate and a winery was converted into a movie theater, none of which survive. But, alas, "the good life" ceased for the family in 1929, and they were forced to relinquish the property. The Homestead passed through a series of owners. In 1957, when The City of Industry was founded, the Homestead was being used as a convalescent facility.

By the 1960's, the municipality, designed as the ideal environment for industry, had proved a remarkable success. Businesses flocked to the area, increasing the city's employment base and revenues dramatically. Though primarily concerned with the well-being of industry, the city's leaders were also sensitive to the cultural life of their community. The property was purchased by the city with the intent of restoring at least a portion of the historic site. At the suggestion of a city leader, the restoration was proposed and authorized as a United States Bicentennial Project.

The restoration of the Homestead was not completed until 1981. In 1982 operational responsibility for the site was transferred from the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum to an historical management firm. The Homestead continues to flourish under the direction of Karen Graham Wade and a full time staff of eight.

After familiarizing myself with the site, the Curator and I carefully assessed and assigned priorities to the needs of the textile and costume collection. This required going through every room, drawer, and closet of the fully restored Casa Nueva. The collection includes fabric covered furniture and lamps in the downstairs and in the tepee. The bedrooms, upstairs, have much the same in terms of furnishings, but also include costumes and textiles on display to enhance the first person interpretive program. These displays change seasonally with the program, and the textiles used require treatment before and after their exhibition.

Immediate treatment was begun on a number of pieces in the collection. After some time and thought, the curator suggested that a volunteer group be formed to assist with simple conservation treatments and the maintenance of the house.

The selection process for choosing volunteers was methodically planned. Advertisements were placed in local newspapers, throw- aways as well as the Los Angeles Times, and on public access television. Interested applicants were asked to telephone the Homestead and request an application form. A cover letter, sent out with the application, briefly outlined the program. The application asked basic questions of the applicant such as: "Why would you like to be a Homestead textile volunteer?", "What is your work experience, both paid and volunteer?", "Do you have any experience with textiles, and if so, what are your specific skills? Embroidery, needle point, pattern drafting?". Two references were also required.

The curator and I jointly interviewed the applicants. Anxious to dispel the myth that all museum work is glamorous and exciting, we included words like 'housekeeping' when referring to the maintenance program and 'tedious' when describing the myriad of labels to be stitched to the artifacts. We found that, although good sewing skills are necessary, compatibility and flexibility are equally important in forming a group such as this. As constant supervision is necessary, we decided to limit the number of volunteers to a maximum of four.

The application and interview process was successful on all counts. The selection resulted in an outstanding group of talented and dedicated volunteers being chosen.

During the interview process, the work space was readied. Basic supplies were purchased and an eight by eight foot work table was constructed. The table, complete with electrical outlets and locking wheels, was provided with a work surface of insulation board covered with washable contact paper.

The first volunteer project was the making of padded hangers. On the recommendation of Catherine McLean, of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, we used the padded hanger design developed for the New York State Historical Association by Janet Susan Low, Historical Clothing Consultant, and Elizabeth Warner, museum intern. We also made padded pant hangers of our own design. Every garment in the collection which can be safely hung now has a padded hanger.

Stored costumes and textiles were repacked. Acid free boxes, tubes, and paper were purchased, and several sessions were spent vacuuming, rolling, folding, and padding. Several drawers in one of the bedrooms were lined with acid free board providing extra storage space.

Three times a year the entire Casa Nueva is vacuumed. To simplify the task of vacuuming the large size arm chairs, the stuffed upholstered pieces, and the dining room chairs, custom fiber glass screens were made by volunteers with pattern drafting skills. These screens, which fit over the furniture like slipcovers, have greatly reduced the time spent vacuuming. The custom screens make it possible for one person to safely vacuum a chair, rather than the usual two (one to hold the screen in place, the other to maneuver the vacuum). A pair of screen boards, screens framed on three sides with cardboard, provide support while allowing furniture fringe to be vacuumed. The entire house can now be vacuumed by five people in approximately eight hours.

Wet cleaning of small textiles is done in the workroom. Photographic trays and bottled water are adequate substitutes for sinks and running water. A large floor drain in the corner of the room, once an outdoor patio, allows for the disposal of the cleaning solutions. We have successfully wet cleaned many of the cotton and linen dresser and furniture doilies. The basic procedure is to use a 1% solution of Orvus and water, followed by repeated rinsing in distilled water, pin blocking, and fast drying.

The volunteer textile conservation program has solved many of the problems at the Workman and Temple Homestead without compromising the high standards of the field. The first year of operation stayed within budget and saw five individual pieces fully conserved, a work space prepared and equipped, a maintenance program for the Casa Nueva developed and implemented, and the complete renovation of storage using padded hangers and acid free packing materials. The success of this program is due, in large part, to the well informed and responsive administrative and curatorial staff at the homestead as well as the enthusiasm of the volunteers.

We, at the Homestead, are very pleased with what we have accomplished on a limited budget, and hope that this paper can serve as an impetus for other small museums.

Sharon Gordon Donnan
Textile Conservator
Workman and Temple Homestead

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