Friday, June 16, 2006

Great Architecture of Los Angeles

I've been seeing more great architecture of Los Angeles recently.

June 3 I went to Lummis Home El Alisal (The Sycamores) in Highland Park right off the Pasadena Freeway (110). Charles Lummis, Los Angeles's first intellectual who also led the first English-language literary salon ast his home El Alisal, built the stone house with tower himself betweem 1898 and 1910 to last a thousand years. Lummis walked from Ohio to Los Angeles in 1894, writing newspaper columns along the way. On his walk he fell in love with Native American cultures and Hispanic architecture; in L.A. he became City Editor of the Los Angeles Times, had a stroke, and then went to live on the Zuni pueblo in New Mexico with the Zunis to recuperate. There he began his career as a Native American activist. He also organized a group that led to the saving and eventual restoration of the missions.

Lummis built his house on the west bank of Arroyo Seco, the usually dry creek, and he took the stones from his house from the creek. When the creek flows, it carries stones and boulders out of the San Gabriel mountains, depositing them from the mountains dwon to the sea. Lummis and his Indian helpers built this stone house main house with its tall stone tower and the guest house behind

In the main room Lummis created a gallery to show his many Native American art objects--baskets, pots--which he later donated to the Southwest Musuem a few blocks away. He founded the Southwest Musuem, Los Angeles's first musuem which holds one of the great collections of Native American art. He furnished the house with wooden crafted furniture, railorad poles supporting the beams ceiling, and his photos of Indians embedded in the glass windows. The home represented one of the great examples of Arts & Crafts style in Los Angeles. Arts & Crafts, started by William Morris and others in England to retain the great crafts such as woodworking then being lost in England, was taken to Los Angeles, but Lummis's genius is to adapt this English architecture/decoration style of elegant carved wood houses/furniture to include the great arts of Latinos and Native Americans in the Southwest.

The house has sycamores in front as well as is surrounded by native plants including a cactus garden. Lummis had regular literary parties at his house, the last in 1928 when he died. Since then there was one literary event in 1990 and then June 3, 2006. We sat in folding chairs underneath the sycamores in front of the main door of the house listening to a poetry reading organized by Charles Lummis's granddaughter Suzanne Lummis. The poetry was fine. Even though the day was hot, we were well-shaded by the sycamores. I felt honored to attend the first literary event at El Alisal in 16 years, and hope there are many more.


66 Productions said...

Don't forget Lummis' Southwest Museum, currently in danger of permanent closure by the Autry National Center (it closes on June 30 for restoration). Also, Lummis Day was held on June 4, a day after your visit, in nearby Sycamore Grove Park.

Lyle Daggett said...

Really enjoyed this post, Julia. Just fascinating.

Unknown said...

I also enjoyed the post. Sad to say but I have never heard of Lummis, I will google him and see what comes up.