While he is best-known today as the man who built a stone house by hand in Los Angeles between 1897 and 1910, Charles Lummis had, overall, an amazing life. Someone must have whispered in his ear when he was young: ‘Do great things. Do astonishing things.’ You can read details of his life on Wikipedia, but here are some of the highlights. He dropped out of Harvard–what is it about Harvard drop-outs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and Lummis and ‘doing great things’? He loved women–many women–including his 3 wives. He loved giving parties and smoking, too. Instead of taking a train he walked across America, filing news reports along the way with the Los Angeles Times, his new employer.
He headed the Los Angeles Public Library. He was the editor of ‘Out West’ magazine, publishing works by authors such as John Muir. He founded the Southwest Museum and amassed the museum’s enormous collection of Native American artworks which is now owned by the Autry Museum of the American West. He traveled to South America and wrote at length about the role of Spain in the New World. For that effort he was knighted by the King of Spain. And keep in mind that this was all long, long after the pioneer days.
I had some trouble finding the Lummis House — because it is smack-dab beside the 110 Freeway exit 43. It looked like a vacant lot overgrown with trees.
As it turned out, I was at the back of the two city lots that make up the entire property. When he bought the land, it was simply two lots in a neighborhood, Highland Park, that was being developed. His neighbors were building California Craftsman bungalows; he built El-Alisal, using stones he collected from the nearby Arroyo Seco. The house is set up beautifully for entertaining, including a small low stage in the rear courtyard.
The home is only open on Sundays. There is a very informative docent on the site who will tell you a great deal about Lummis, the house and its history.