El Alisal: Built Stone by Stone

After purchasing two adjacent lots next to the Arroyo Seco, Charles Lummis began the construction of El Alisal—"Place of the Sycamore Trees." Built over a twelve year period ending in 1910, entire structure was constructed with Lummis' own hands using stones gathered from the Arroyo, with assistance of a few Native American laborers he had trained in carpentry.

With El Alisal, Lummis manifested the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement by creating a hand-made structure that referenced its surroundings and provided sanctuary from the rapid industrialization of the city. Once completed, El Alisal acted as a social anchor for the burgeoning bohemian community, hosting parties—which he called "noises"—that attracted well-known residents of the city, as well as characters and intellectuals from Garvanza and beyond.

A visit to El Alisal and the nearby Judson Studios, though, offers a clear indication of the different ways in which the Arts and Crafts movement was understood and advanced by its proponents. Although both structures proposed a return to material, craft and nature as ways to stand against mass production and industrialization, Lummis' raw material was the Southwest—its terroir so to speak. In contrast, William Lees Judson transported the lessons of William Morris and John Ruskin (pioneers of the movement in England) to Los Angeles more directly. Judson Studios was remembered for its intricate woodwork and borderline Gothic flourishes.

Today, El Alisal is often referred to as the Lummis Home to commemorate the man behind the building. Visitors who tour the home today find it much as it was left by Lummis upon his death in 1928, but it was almost lost to history. Lummis's children struggled to maintain the property before donating it to the Southwest Museum, which in turn struggled to keep the property relevant to a forgetful public. The building was given to Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation and was almost bulldozed to make room for the Arroyo Seco Parkway in the 1930s. A decades-long effort by the community finally saved El Alisal in 1970, when it was designated as California Historic Monument #531. Currently it houses the Historical Society of Southern California, which offers tours of the building and grounds, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 12pm to 4pm.


Building a Social Anchor
Kim Walters explains how El Alisal is designed as a cultural space, where artists, politicians and friends are brought together.


Building El Alisal
Eliot Sekuler describes how El Alisal was built from the river rock along the Arroyo Seco, in the process creating a nexus for the cultural heart of Highland Park.


With His Own Hands
Kim Walters explains how Lummis designed and built his house along the Arroyo Seco, and names it El Alisal after the sycamore trees that surround it.


Archaeologist and anthropologist Adolph Bandelier explored the Southwestern United Stateswith Lummis. He named his son Amado Bandelier Lummis in tribute to his friend and fellow scholar. 1891 | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Arthur Farwell was a composer and music publisher who worked with Lummis in collecting and publishing Native American melodies and songs. 1904 | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Edward Borein was one of the leading artists of Western Scene painting. A close friend of Lummis, Borein married his wife Lucille at El Alisal. 1921. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Author and Naturalist Ernest Thompton Seton was one of the pioneers of teh Boy Scouts of America. 1901 | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Yiorgos "Greek George" Caralambo was a camel driver whose farmhouse in present day West Hollywood was a frequent hideout for notorious Meixcan bandito Tiburcio Vasquez. 1903 | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Guillermo Arcos was an actor and flamenco guitarist. 1911 | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Renowned naturalist John Muir, the "Father of the National Parks," was a contributor to Lummis's The Land of Sunshine and Out West. 1905 | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Broadway actor Louise Wakelee Elliot in 1909. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Artist Maynard Dixonwas mentored by Lummis, who encouraged the young Dixon to travel outside of California to the Southwest. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Naturalist John Burroughs with Lummis in 1921. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Novelist and ethnographer Constance Goddard DuBois was a contributor to Out West, edited by Lummis. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Painter and photographer William Henry Jackson was renowned for his images of the American West. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Procopio Montoya from the Isleta Pueblo reservation in New Mexico came to Los Angeles to help Lummis build his home. Also a musician, Montoya's music was preserved by Lummis with his wax cylinder recorder. He was later shot to death at El Alisal during a fight with a houseguest. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Guitarist Rosendo Uruchurtu accompanied many of the musicians who were recorded by Lummis at El Alisal. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Novelist and screenwriter Lorna Moon, 1926. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Scottish soprano Mary Garden visited El Alisal in 1921. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center
Novelist Vincente Blasco Ibanez, whose most well known work was the The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. | Image courtesy of The Autry National Center