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.
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
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
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.
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!