Charles Lummis seems like a pretty cool guy. He dropped out of Harvard and walked 3ooo miles from Cincinnati to California. He spent a decent portion of time in New Mexico and Arizona on his way, where he developed an interest in Spanish and Native American history. He was so enthralled by Native American culture that he had the local Navajo help him build a house.
The House was constructed along the Arroyo Seco in Los Angeles in 1896. The home contains architectural features reminiscent of the California missions and Indian pueblos with a hint of “castle”. The arroyo stones on the exterior give it the castle-like appearance and may have inspired the use of arroyo stones within homes throughout the area. (Granted, I am sure that the locals were happy to put the stones to use).
I first became aware of the Lummis House after noticing the signs along Highway 110. I consulted my trusty Frommers for information about the place but found nothing. It turns out that Frommers called the place by its alternative name “El Alisal”, which is supposed to be Spanish for “alder grove”. It sounded like a pretty interesting place, so we decided to head up the 405, then onto the 710, then north on the 5, then up the 110 to check it out.
Individuals are free to tour the first floor of the Lummis House, which consists of various artifacts such as old books, dishes, photographs, letters, and an old trunk. The first floor contained old furniture, including a rug over the concrete floors. The tour guide pointed out that the concrete floor descends within each room as you go from the kitchen out through the front door. The descending concrete allowed them to hose the place down after large parties. It is reminiscent of the Great Gatsby while also being completely unlike the Great Gatsby.
The tour guide was very informative about the history of the house and Mr. Lummis. We were especially appreciative, since we had (unknowingly) entered the home 30 minutes before its scheduled opening time (i.e. before they were obligated to talk to us). The tour guide had a lot of stories to tell. He informed us Charles Lummis originated the term “Southwest” to describe Southwestern U.S. culture. He also founded the Southwest Museum, which was the oldest museum in Los Angeles. The museum is currently closed and under direction by the Autry museum. The Southwestern Museum folks are pretty mad at the Autry Museum folks, as demonstrated by a pamphlet on display at the house (and various articles online).
The Lummis House is free. Your visit will only take about a half hour, so you may want to follow it up with a visit to the Heritage Square Museum just across the arroyo.