When it comes to the many historic landmarks of Northeast Los Angeles, the Lummis Home in Highland Park ranks among the area’s most significant cultural and architectural treasures. Constructed more than a century ago from stones hauled up from the Arroyo Seco, the two-story home with a tower and courtyard served as the residence of Charles Fletcher Lummis, a journalist and civic activist who help establish the nearby Southwest Museum. Now, Lummis’ home, which he built himself and called El Alisal, is up for grabs. The City of Los Angeles, which owns the property, is looking for a new organization to operate the Lummis site after failing to reach an agreement with the Southern California Historical Society, which has occupied the building made for nearly half a century.
Officials with the Southern California Historical Society said the city’s Recreation and Parks Department rejected their last offer to occupy and manage the property and are preparing to move out of the state and local historic landmark by the end of 2014. The department is looking for a non-profit that can devote more resources and attention than the historical society to restore and maintain the Lummis Home and as well as make it more accessible to the public, according to a request for proposal to operate the site. But Ariel Van Zandweghe, curator of the Lummis Home, said it will be difficult to find an organization that can live up to the city’s expectations.
“We took it over and kept it open for 48 years,” said Van Zandweghe. “My personal fear is that they may not find someone. The house will be eventually boarded up, vandalized and totally destroyed It would be a big loss for the history of Southern California.”
Van Zandwehe and society Executive Director Patricia Adler-Ingram said the organization has found itself spending more time and money to restore property, which is outside of their mission to research Southern California history. The most recent society newsletter describes some of the challenges facing any manager of the property:
In addition to the worsening condition of the interior walls that had been over-painted by the city with lead-based paint, HSSC found itself battling a condition Lummis would have called “rising damp.” The floors of the house, built before vapor barriers, soaked and held water after the rains. HSSC re-graded the perimeter, removed plant material and installed a decomposed granite buffer zone.
Sometime in the past earthquakes had crashed down the top course of boulders on the great tower of the house. The integrity of the structure may have been compromised at that time, or it may have been affected more gradually by the subsidence of the soil at the bell tower corner of the dining room, an area where Lummis seems to have attempted to buttress the structure with his original masonry. At any rate deep cracks began to open in the wall of the dining room.
“The house is fragile and precarious,” Adler-Ingram said. ” We wish them well.”
In its request for proposals, the Recreation and Parks Department said it is seeking an operator who will “provide and implement” a plan to restore, repair and preserve the Lummis Home in addition to other requirements regarding fundraising and public access. The proposals are due March 11.