Southwest Museum of the American Indian

Perched on the hills of the Arroyo Seco, the Southwest Museum opened its doors to the public in 1914. It's no exaggeration to say that it was the Getty of its era, and the city celebrated the Southwest Museum's arrival with good reason. Los Angeles now had a world-class museum with an immense collection of Native-American and Pre-Columbian artifacts (collected by Charles Lummis during his travels throughout the Southwest and South America) that rivaled anything the U.S. (This was an era before the provenance of Native American artifacts much interested museums.)

The city had Lummis to thank not only for the items in the collection, but also for his vision and perseverance. He deeply believed that public institutions played a positive role in the health and growth of cities, and where other institutions often focused exclusively on donors, he initiated discussions about the then proposed museum under the auspices the newly formed western branch of the Archaeological Institute of America. Through fierce advocacy and saavy fundraising, Lummis gained the support of city leaders and financial backing from attorney Joseph Scott. In 1907, he opened a temporary Southwest Museum in Downtown Los Angeles. Soon after, inspired by the notion that man should "climb for knowledge," Lummis acquired the land atop the hills across the Arroyo to build a permanent home for the museum.

The museum opened in 1914 and remains there today, overlooking Lummis' home, El Alisal, and the Arroyo Seco. The views afforded from the Museum are some of the most breathtaking in the region, and they provide a window into both the love affair many early settlers had with the area and the arroyo, as well as the expansiveness of Charles Lummis' genius. Unfortunately, almost a century later, the first museum in Los Angeles is closed to the public, with only portions available by appointment. The building is now owned by the Autry National Center and houses an archaeological research center, an extensive collection of local historical artifacts, and the Braun Research Library, which contains all of Lummis' writings.

Above, Lummis Day Festival co-founder, Eliot Sekuler, Director of the Braun Research Institute, Kim Walters, and granddaughter of Charles Lummis, Suzanne Lummis, explain Lummis' motivations and development of Los Angeles' first museum. Below, see a slideshow of historical images.

An Advocate for Native Americans
Eliot Sekuler explains how Charles Lummis became an advocate for Native American rights and worked to preserve indigenous cultures and traditions.
Southwest Culture
Eliot Sekuler explains how the term 'Southwest' evolves as a location and aesthetic with the work and promotion of Charles Lummis.
Kim Walters recounts the origin and subsequent struggles of the Southwest Museum to retain its integrity, building and history.
Staging the Southwest Museum
Suzanne Lummis describes how Charles Lummis used his social and political connections to promote and build a museum home for the Native American artifacts he has collected throughout his life.
Kim Walters on Charles Lummis founding the Southwest Society, the western branch of the Archeological Institute of America.
From the Southwest Archives
Kim Walters describes the wealth of riches in the Charles Lummis Collection, including literature, photographs and music, that provide a unique historical record of Spanish culture.
Explore the related interactive mural


Charles Lummis


Sycamore Park