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.