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The home of Charles Fletcher Lummis is a must see stop on the itinerary of any person who wishes to truly understand the history and culture of southern California. Southern California does have history that preceded Disneyland, Universal Studios, and all the other attractions most tourists have on their lists of trip must-dos. Lummis was one of a handful of people who helped make southern California the place it is today. He was a booster of the region, a transplant from the east who walked--yes WALKED!--to southern California in the 1880s following an invitation from a local newspaper honcho to come see the place for himself. And so he did, writing letters to the newspaper man, thereafter published in that paper, about the journeys he had on his trip from Ohio to southern California.
Along the way Lummis grew fascinated by the Native people of the Southwest. In fact, he made especially good friends with some Indian people in New Mexico. Their descendants still visit El Alisal to pay tribute to Lummis and the spirit of friendship that existed between their ancestors and Lummis.
Lummis had a wide ranging career after his arrival in LA: newspaper editor, city librarian, founder of the nearby Southwest Museum, founding member of the Landmarks Club that worked to preserve southern California's Spanish missions. He also wrote and published books on the Southwest and its Native people, and edited some influential magazines, inlcuding Land of Sunshine, the predecessor to today's Sunset Magazine. He was a friend of many artists and writers of that period, including John Muir, Charles Russell, and Carl Sandburg, all of whom came to visit at El Alisal and even occasionally helped him build his house.
The home itself is perhaps the finest example of the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement in America. It was built entirely by hand of found materials, including stones taken from the nearby Arroyo Seco, beams made from unused telegraph poles, his own photographs and glass negatives, some of which he embedded in a window in the main salon, a room he called "the Museo." No two doors or windows in the house are exactly alike--and there are many of both--each handcrafted by Lummis, his Indian friends and helpers, and anyone else who happened on the property and was willing to work. Each stone, swath of masonry, piece of wood and metal represent the vision and hand of Lummis.
No two rooms are built on the same level. The docents here say that Lummis liked to have many parties, which he called "Noises." When cleanup time came, he simply hooked up a hose and hosed the place out, starting at the highest point and letting the water run through the rooms and out the two entryway doors.
When Lummis built the home, he helped develop the first "arts and culture" neighborhood in Los Angeles. The arts and culture are still very much alive in the neighborhood. In fact, right up the street is the Southwest Museum, which used to house one of the largest collections of Indian artifacts in America. (They have sinced been moved to safer environs, the Autry National Center in Griffith Park.) Still, in the same neighborhood today, artists, musicians, and writers live elbow-to-elbow with relatively poor Latino and Asian neighbors, and a growing African-American population. It makes for some exciting times.
The Lummis home also serves as the official headquarters of the Historical Society of Southern California, even though the house is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. It is open Friday through Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m. for docent-led tours. Oh yes, and it's free! (Donations are gladly accepted.) Don't miss the waterwise garden that surrounds the home. It may or may not be true to Lummis' time, but it does show how nice a garden can be with limited water resources.
For more information about the Lummis Home, contact Historical Society of Southern California at (626) 440-1883, or visit them on the Web: Historical Society of Southern California.
The Lummis Home is located at 200 E. Avenue 43, about 5 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. From downtown take the 110 freeway north. Exit at Avenue 43. (Watch out! This is one of those infamous 5 miles per hour exits on the 110.) Turn left at the stop sign; go over the bridge that spans the freeway. At the stop sign, turn left onto Carlota. Park and enter through the iron gates.
From Pasadena: Take the 110 south. Exit at Avenue 43--from this direction, the exit is far more reasonable. At the stop sign at the top of the off-ramp, go straight ahead. The Lummis Home is on your right, immediately after you go through the intersection.The home is obscured a bit by a chain-link fence and surrounding shrubbery, but it is there!
On public transit, you can take the Gold Line light rail from Union Station downtown to the Southwest Museum station, only a 10-minute ride. From there, walk to your right to Figueroa St. Turn right on Figueroa and walk a few blocks down to Avenue 43. Turn left on Avenue 43. It's about a 10-minute walk. You can also catch the Gold Line from Pasadena.
Now go and "Get Your Lummis On!"