Among the film-industry legends and titans of industry who populate the ranks of larger-than-life Angelenos, Charles Fletcher Lummis, born 152 years ago on March 1, cuts a unique figure. A journalist, adventurer, Indian rights activist, presidential advisor, and amateur anthropologist, Lummis was one of the city's greatest boosters and one of the most prominent promoters of our regional heritage. Southern California's libraries, museums, archives, and other cultural institutions inform our understanding of a man who helped shape the development of Los Angeles and preserved the region's link with its historic and prehistoric past.
Lummis (1859-1928) came to Los Angeles by unusual means: a 3,500-mile overland trek from Ohio. His reputation preceded him, as he chronicled his journey in weekly dispatches to the Los Angeles Daily Times. When he arrived in the mission town of San Gabriel on February 1, 1885, Lummis was greeted by the Times' publisher, Col. Harrison Gray Otis, who offered him a position as city editor. The two men walked the remaining ten miles of the journey to Los Angeles together, and Lummis began work at the Times the very next day.
The photo above, from the Security Pacific National Bank Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library, shows Lummis in the clothing he chose for his journey, which included a sombrero, serape, and his famed green corduroy suit.
In 1894, after a brief sojourn in New Mexico to recover from a stroke, Lummis returned to Los Angeles to edit a regional magazine, The Land of Sunshine: an illustrative monthly descriptive of Southern California. The journal published work by John Muir and Jack London and was distributed across the United States as promotional literature, cultivating a romantic image of California's Spanish past and extolling the benefits of Southern California life.
As his magazine's title suggests, Lummis was among the regional boosters who promoted L.A.'s generally warm and dry climate to would-be tourists and emigrants. In fact, Lummis himself traveled to Los Angeles for the salutary effects of the region's weather; having contracted malaria in Ohio, he pursued a fresh start in the mild weather of Los Angeles.
But he also perceived a deeper significance to the weather, based on the belief - common at the time - that the growth of civilization is linked to climate. Lummis wrote in the March 1899 issue of the Land of Sunshine:
...California has the climate of the lands which have given the world its noblest religion, its soundest philosophy, its highest art, its greatest poets and painters and sculptors and musicians. There does not seem to be anything bad for the intellect or the heart in the sort of climate that has mothered Jesus of Nazareth, and Homer and Socrates, and Praxiteles, Plato, Virgin, Michael Angelo, Titian, Correggio, Velasquez, Saavedra, and all the interminable list--even to Napoleon. That is the kind of weather California breeds.
In addition to his legacy as a regional booster and journalist, Lummis is also remembered as the founder of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian.
Lummis, who once lived among the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, was an outspoken advocate for Native American rights. In his writings, he protested injustices committed against the Native Americans, formed the Sequoya League to defend their interests, and served as an informal advisor to his old Harvard classmate, President Theodore Roosevelt, on Indian policy. The 1912 photograph below from the USC Libraries' TICOR/Pierce Collection shows Lummis and the former president touring Occidental College in Highland Park.
The Southwest Museum opened in 1907 in as L.A.'s first museum. Today a part of the Autry National Center of the American West (though currently closed due to a conservation project), the museum promotes awareness of the history and prehistory of the North America's indigenous people. In the 1913 photograph to the right from the Braun Research Library at the Autry National Center, Dr. Norman Bridge (left) and Lummis (right) are laying the cornerstone of the museum's permanent and current location in L.A.'s Mount Washington neighborhood.
The Autry's Braun Research Library maintains the Charles Fletcher Lummis Manuscripts Collection, which preserves Lummis' personal correspondence, papers from his service with the Sequoya League and as City Librarian of Los Angeles, and original manuscripts such as the pamphlet pictured below.
Archivist Holly Larson of the Braun Research Library recently blogged about the pamphlet, one artifact of a long tradition in which the Los Angeles cultural elite tried to enforce a "correct" pronunciation of the city's name. In the pamphlet, Lummis reminded his readers that "the 'G' shall not be jellified" but instead should be pronounced hard, as in "angle".
Hundreds of other images and documents from the Braun Research Library related to Lummis have been digitized and are available for browsing online. Other institutions across Southern California also maintain extensive collections on Lummis, including the Claremont Colleges' Hohnold/Mudd Library, the UC Irvine Libraries, and UCLA's Young Research Library.
A short walk from the Southwest Museum is the house Lummis built on the west bank of the Arroyo Seco, El Alisal. As Alison Bell wrote in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, Lummis hosted legendary parties at El Alisal with such luminaries as attorney Clarence Darrow and composer John Phillip Sousa. Today, the landmark structure is a museum, serving as the headquarters of the Historical Society of Southern California. It is also the setting of the annual Lummis Day Festival's opening event.