A Historic House through the Years: El Alisal

Renaissance man Charles Fletcher Lummis (1859 – 1928) designed and built his Highland Park home over a period of some 13 years beginning in 1897, doing much of the labor himself. The name he gave his homestead was El Alisal, place of the alders — or sycamores — or California sycamores. The actual meaning is a bit lost in translation, but the important thing is it was a Spanish name and Lummis loved the Spanish influence in California. He also loved Native American culture and dedicated a portion of his very active life to preserving both.

Much has been written about Lummis the man. We’ll confine ourselves to describing him as a collector, writer, preservationist, founder of the Southwest Museum, advocate for Native American rights, and booster for all things Old California.

One of Lummis’ day jobs was Los Angeles City Librarian. Despite lack of any formal training, Lummis was appointed to the position in 1905 based on his reputation as a “noted scholar and practical leader (Blitz). In five years Lummis worked to build the library’s collection of rare books and manuscripts, particularly, of course, those reflecting the city’s Spanish heritage. He also found himself embroiled in a boatload of office politics which led to his resignation in 1910. He left behind him the well-established and respected Department of Western History Material.

In addition to collecting books, terra cotta pots and Indian blankets, Lummis collected friends….local and national luminaries from the worlds of art, letters, music, and politics.  And he held court at El Alisal.

Exterior 1905

Security Pacific National Bank, Image #00062061

A Man’s Home

The Los Angeles Public Library’s digital photographic collection contains a number of images of El Alisal over a century of life. Most of the photos are from the Security Pacific Bank Collection and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection. The image above, dated February 5, 1905, taken while the house was still under construction, shows the castle-like embellishments Lummis craved: towers, crenellations, slit windows.

Lummis’ taste for romantic and vernacular architecture is apparent. His design for El Alisal was part medieval castle, part California rancho, part Native American pueblo. Much of his building materials were locally-sourced, including river rock taken from the nearby Arroyo Seco and discarded railroad telegraph poles used as ceiling support beams. The nomination form that successfully placed El Alisal on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 described it as “a rambling 2-story random rubble stone, masonry and concrete structure,” and noted that the building did not “meet present day requirements of the Los Angeles City Building Code.”

Security Pacific Bank Collection, Image #00062064

Security Pacific Bank Collection, Image #00062064

The dining room at El Alisal, 1910, displays an eclectic assortment of china and artwork, as well as a pair of muskets mounted on the wall. Many of the pictures and objects displayed in the house were created for Lummis by his coterie of artist friends. Others Lummis collected on his travels throughout the Southwest.


Security Pacific Bank Collection, Image #00062066

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00062066

This 1905 photograph shows the backyard courtyard of the home, including a large sycamore and the central lily pond traditional to California rancho style. The kitchen wing is on the right.


Image # 00062058

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image # 00062058

An undated photo of the front room at El Alisal, plentifully adorned with photos, artwork, mission style furniture, and Indian rugs. A portrait of Lummis by Gerald Cassidy, now at the Autry National Center, hangs on the far wall. Lummis was very much a part of the Arts and Crafts movement in California which championed rusticity, natural materials, and folk art.


Image # 00062058

Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection, Image # 00047541

This 1949 photograph is an excellent study of the fenestration at El Alisal. Lummis enjoyed designing windows; some windows were placed at child’s-eye level. The same year the Southern California Historical Society took up the idea of turning the derelict building into a museum. Although things did not pan out that way at first, in 1965 the society finally was able to acquire use of the house as their headquarters, in an arrangement with the city that lasted 50 years. SCHS offered docent-led tours of the home’s exterior and a few interior rooms. Safety concerns and the need to use some rooms for offices made a full tour impossible.


Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00050164

In the 1980s the exterior of the Lummis Home took on a different look as the group Friends of the Lummis Home and Garden took on responsibility for landscaping and maintaining the surrounding acreage. Lummis’ rough two plus acres were transformed into a demonstration garden of drought tolerant plants. The image above shows an editor’s crop marks indicating that the photo was destined for publication, probably in the Herald-Examiner.


Security Pacific National Bank Collection Image #00062085

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00062085

An undated interior shot of the ground floor tower niche shows Lummis’ own glass photographs used as small window panes. The photographs in this set of windows are now gone; however, others exist in the main room of the house and make fascinating viewing (below).





Security Pacific National Bank Collection Image #00031210

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00031210

The King in his Castle

Lummis in his “Lion’s Den”: the framed photo of him with Teddy Roosevelt taken during the president’s visit to Los Angeles in 1912. This image was probably captured toward the end of Lummis life; he died in 1928 at the age of 69. His home survives in the care of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and is open for public tours. There have been changes since the City of Los Angeles took over direct management of this cultural treasure and the Historical Society of Southern California moved out early in 2015. To check it out, see https://www.laparks.org/historic/lummis-home-and-gardens .


Select sources

Special thanks to the welcoming and friendly Saturday docents who gave us a wonderful tour January 23, 2016!


Thanksgiving in Los Angeles

Thanksgiving celebrations in Los Angeles are as diverse as the city itself. Los Angelenos give thanks and share meals in ways that showcase the city’s unique and multi-faceted persona, as these photos from the Los Angeles Public Library’s Photo Collection demonstrate.


Flatt Family Thanksgiving

The Flatt family hosts Thanksgiving dinner at their home in West Los Angeles. (circa 1964, Shades of L.A. Collection)


Skid Row Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving dinner for Skid Row residents hosted by Union Mission was served by members living in Los Angeles as well as others coming into the city by bus from other states. (November 27, 1970, Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)


1943 Canteen Thanksgiving

Servicemen prepare for a Thanksgiving feast at the Hollywood Canteen. (November 26, 1943, Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)


Biltmore Thanksgiving 1955

Chef William Lacheman (far left) of the Biltmore Hotel helps his cooking staff prepare 120 turkeys to be served to hotel guests. (November 23, 1955, Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)


Thanksgiving for Livestock at Alexandria Hotel

A steer from the Great Western Live Stock Show peruses the Thanksgiving Day menu at the Hotel Alexandria. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection)

Photographer’s Eye – Elisa Leonelli’s 1970s Street Photography on June 24th

Ave Pildas. Real Estate, Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, February 1976
Ave Pildas. Real Estate, Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, February 1976

Bring your lunch and join Elisa Leonelli, a Los Angeles-based photo-journalist, who will present B&W photos from the 1970s, in the style of “Street Photography”, inspired by French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson, taken in Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, and her native Italy.

Elisa. self-portrait. August 1976
Elisa. self-portrait. August 1976
Leonelli’s work was featured in the California Living, Sunday supplement of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper, and she worked on assignment for US publications (Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Westways, Time, etc) and foreign magazines (Epoca, Espresso, Europeo, Grazia, Panorama, Vogue, Zoom, etc).  During her career, she specialized in travel photography, and photographed and interviewed actors, writers, and musicians.
Sponsored by Photo Friends. Presented by the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.
Full details can be found on the LAPL website.

The Valley Times Featured in the Los Angeles Times

We were thrilled today to see the Throttle Queens featured on the front page of the Los Angeles Times for a full blown story on the Valley Times Collection! Reporter Hailey Branson-Potts spent a lot of time with LAPL photo staff and came to love these photos just as much as we do and we appreciate her enthusiasm for the collection.

After reading the article, thumb take a look at the 11,000 plus photos from the Valley Times that are available on the Los Angeles Public Library website!

L.A. in Focus: Gary Leonard and the Los Angeles Music Scene

L.A. in Focus
Gary Leonard and the Los Angeles Music Scene
Saturday, view March 14th, 2 p.m

Central Library, Taper Auditorium









Flesh Eaters backstage at the Whisky, April 21, 1981 and at the Echo, January 10, 2015. Photos by Gary Leonard.



For over thirty years, photographer Gary Leonard has been telling the story of Los Angeles through his images. One piece of that story included the music scene of the 1970s and 80s where Gary witnessed firsthand many of the bands who would come to define the era and place Los Angeles at the epicenter of the music industry. Join us as Gary talks about some of his favorite music photos, many of which are featured in his book Make the Music Go Bang! : the Early L.A. Punk Scene and in the current exhibit From Pop to the Pit: LAPL Photo Collection Celebrates the Los Angeles Music Scene, 1978-1989,  and as revisits some of those musical subjects in recent photos.

Additional details available at the LAPL website.

This program is presented in conjunction with the exhibit From Pop to the Pit: LAPL Photo Collection Celebrates the Los Angeles Music Scene, 1978-1989on display at Central Library through June 2015.

Turn Up the Radio!

Turn Up the Radio!
Harvey Kubernik Discusses the L.A. Music Scene, 1956-1972
Sunday, September 14, 2 p.m.
Mark Taper Auditorium, L.A. Central Library
630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles CA 90071

Longtime music journalist and L.A. native Harvey Kubernik will share his experiences in the zeitgeist of the Los Angeles rock and pop music world between 1956 and 1972.

You’ll see rare and previously unpublished photographs of iconic bands and musicians, including the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Ike and Tina Turner, Elvis Presley, Thee Midniters, Barry White, Sonny and Cher, and many others.

Recording artists are only one part of the rich history of music in Los Angeles. You’ll also learn about the studio musicians, background vocalists, songwriters, producers, and engineers who helped propel the Los Angeles rock and pop music scene to such a legendary status. Bones Howe, Barney Kessel, Hal Blaine, B. J. Baker, Merry Clayton, Jack Nitzsche, Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Jim Keltner, Bobby Womack, Kim Fowley, Bruce Botnick, Dave Gold, and Stan Ross are just a few of the names recognized for their crucial contributions to the music created and produced in the recording studios of Los Angeles.

Harvey has been an active music journalist for over 40 years and the author of five books, including Turn Up the Radio!

The presentation will be followed by a book sale and signing.

Reservations not required. Doors open approximately 15 minutes before the start of the program.

Parking is available at the 524 S. Flower Street Garage. Show your LAPL library card at the Central Library information desk for validation for reduced rates.

To arrange for accessibility accommodation, please contact Christina Rice within 72 hours of the event at (213) 228-7403.

Presented by Photo Friends. Sponsored by the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.