Los Angeles Under The Radar: Charles Lummis, the first Mr LA!


http://www/angelinonativo.blogspot.com (MrLA)

For so many people in and out of Los Angeles, Los Angeles conjures up images of objects and foods Latino.  When many people think of California overall, California's Missions often come to mind and are visited annually by millions from around the world.  In and out of Los Angeles, AAA (more often than not known by it's nickname: the Auto Club) plans the trips and makes travel far more pleasant for millions all over the United States.  President Obama and thousands of others attended Occidental College, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning  in the United States, located in one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Eagle Rock.  The Los Angeles Times is one of the leading newspapers in America and is an icon of Los Angeles.  What do all of these have in common?      Him below
Charles Lummis

Charles Fletcher Lummis, though born in Lynn, Massachusetts, left such a wide and varied mark on the city of Los Angeles that one could say he, singlehandedly, created the city of Los Angeles.  He was the first MrLA!!!

Suffering from a respiratory ailment, Lummis was advised, as was the medical practice of the day to treat respiratory diseases, to move to a milder climate.  Always possessed by an intense spirit of adventure, the 28 year-old Lummis chose to go to Los Angeles and skipped going by train to L. A. 

HE WALKED THERE!  It took him two years to reach Los Angeles!   He was stranded in northern New Mexico by the winter snows of 1884.  While there, he lived among the Pueblo, came to love their culture, and saw the firsthand degrading attempts by the U. S. government to eradicate their culture so that they could fully emulate Anglo America.  He became one of the most ardent supporters of Native American rights as well as one of the earliest exponents of  Native American cultures to a mainstream American public.  His collection of Native American artifacts, especially rare pieces from Californian nations, became the Southwest Museum, in Highland Park, still the largest and most comprehensive museum dedicated to Native Americans in the United States. 
Southwest Museum
He became friends with a journalist, Helen Hunt Jackson, when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1885.  He had been so passionate to her describing the cultural traits and mistreatment of the Pueblo Indians that Mrs. Jackson, likewise a supporter of Native American rights, determined to change U. S. government treatment of Natives by writing a book, Ramona, which became one of the best-selling American books ever but backfired in rousing the U. S. government from treating Native Americans as fellow citizens.  It did, accidentally, lead to the turning of Los Angeles' (and California's) history of Spanish settlement into a billion-dollar industry, which Charles Lummis wasted no time in exploiting for his pet projects and self-promotion.

When Lummis arrived in Los Angeles, although he was hired to become the Los Angeles Times' first city editor and wrote articles for publication in this fairly-new newspaper, including an interview with famed outlaw, Frank James, while he walked to Los Angeles, he arrived at the Los Angeles Plaza almost dead from exposure, hunger, and exhaustion.  A few months after assuming his duties at the Times and living two doors down from what is now the Grand Central Market, he suffered a stroke at age 27 that left him paralyzed on one side.  He fled Los Angeles back to the Pueblo Indians and divorced his first wife. during which time he exercised his way back to full recovery.  His experiences there not only led to regaining his health, he met and married his second wife at a Pueblo reservation in New Mexico, he wrote essays that he collected and published nationally.

Pomo Basket, Southwest Museum
In 1892, he returned to Los Angeles with his new wife and daughter.  His essays were  now netting him riches and national recognition.  His love of the early Spanish history of California led him to take photos of early California buildings for the club he founded, the Landmarks Club, and it's magazine, Out West.  The Landmarks Club gained hundreds of members over the next 10 years, enthusiastic to preserve California's Missions and Native Californian cultures.  His maps for owners of those newfangled automobiles to visit the missions and other California landmarks made the Missions made them accessible to countless people, turning them into some of California's and America's most famous tourist destinations.  Their fame led to the state and federal governments restoring the missions to their original forms and turned into state historic parks, protected and preserved for future generations.   The club grew so large that it became known as the Automobile Club of Southern California and, later, the American Automobile Association.  It's magazine, Sunset Magazine, is still one of the leading sources for tourism in Los Angeles and Southern California.
Santa Barbara Mission, Made Famous by Lummis' Landmarks Club, now AAA
Mission Bell Landmarks Lobbied by Lummis for Visitor to Easily Find and Tour California Missions
San Fernando Mission, New Year's Day, 2015

Lummis' ever-growing collection of Native American artifacts grew as he traveled to other areas of the United States, Mexico, and Guatemala.  To house them and to further get American public opinion to respect and value Native Americans, Lummis founded and raised funds to build the Southwest Museum, still towering almost like an Italian hilltop palace overlooking Highland Park and the Arroyo Seco. 
Highland Park became Lummis' home for the rest of his life.  Not only did the Southwest Museum come into being through his efforts, he led the creation of Occidental College in 1913, from the beginning, one of the most prestigious private colleges on the West Coast, traditionally famed for its writing, pre-law, and political science programs, makers of many careerists in the U. S. State Department, Oxy, as locals call the college, graduated President Barack Obama. 
Hohokam Fetish, Southwest Museum

Occidental College
By this time, Lummis was on a first-name basis with luminaries of the late 19th-early 20th Century, such as John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Ethel Barrymore, Enrico Caruso, and the Duke of Albuquerque, representing King Alfonso XII of Spain, among many others.  They not only knew Lummis, they visited and often stayed at the home he built on the banks of the Arroyo Seco, just after recovering from blindness caused by jungle fever on a trip to Guatemala.  From 1897-1910, he built the two-storey home himself from river rock and trees along the Arroyo Seco. He christened his home, El Alisal (The Willow Tree, in Spanish), and entertained these and other luminaries for the next 30 years.  Today, it's a museum with Lummis' furnishings, writings, and personal artifacts, facing off to the 110 Fwy. and Heritage Square Museum.
El Alisal, Lummis' final home, in Highland Park
As celebrated as Lummis was in his day, he underwent a steady decline in his health, fortunes, and personal life.  With most of his money gone, his eyesight gone, and his third marriage dissolved, Lummis lived off of lectures until his death in early 1928.  He arrived in a small, dusty Western town of 12,000 in 1885 and died when Los Angeles had reach 1,000,000 inhabitants. 43 years later.  He played NO small part in creating the Los Angeles of today.  In a world where news media can devote weeks to a four-letter word by Kanye West and its fallout in the music industry, it is criminal that the City of Los Angeles, that received and benefits so much from the work of Charles Lummis, lets him be unknown and insignificant in the lives of Angelenos. 
Since 2006, residents of Highland Park commemorate Charles Lummis and all that he achieved in Los Angeles by hosting a weekend Lummis Day Festival, featuring music, readings of Lummis' work, food, and visits to the Highland Park institutions Lummis founded.  This year, on July 9 and July 30, 2016, MrLA will be commemorating his own 1-year anniversary by taking visitors to enjoy, experience, and savor the life, accomplishments, and legacy of Charles Fletcher Lummis with a 4-hour tour beginning at the Los Angeles Plaza, next to Olvera Street and returning there, with travel to Lummis sites by way of the Metro Gold Line. For more information, visit:  www.mrlatours.com or call (323) 452-2743.
Do what you can so that the original Mr LA, Charles Foster Lummis becomes as loved, respected, and sought out as any entertainment personality or L.A. Live!

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