Charles Lummis Sat Here: Handmade commode among “Out of the Vault” items on display at MOTA Day


Charles Lummis’ name engraved into the seat of his wooden toilet. | Brenda Rees

By Brenda Rees

Arts & Crafts Commode |Brenda Rees

A chair made from cow horns, a child-size fainting coach and the handmade commode of early L.A. civic leader Charles Fletcher Lummis. These are just some of the rarely seen “Out of the Vault” items that will be on display at the six museums participating in the Museums of the Arroyo (MOTA) Day on Sunday, May 18.

Celebrating its 25th year, the annual open house includes museums located near the famed Arroyo Seco from Pasadena to Highland Park: the Southwest Museum, the Gamble House, Heritage Square, Los Angeles Police Museum, Lummis Home and the Pasadena Museum of History.

Of all the “Out of the Vault” items on display, perhaps the one that elicits the most stifled chuckles would be the hand carved wooden commode at the Lummis Home in Highland Park. Looking like a tree stump, this artifact is a reminder of the power of indoor plumbing and the ability for artists to take anything – ANYTHING – and turn it into art.

“Lummis did have an outhouse on the property,” says Ariel van Zandweghe of the Historical Society of Southern California, which is located in the famed arroyo-stoned Lummis Home, built in the late 1890s. “But he also had an indoor room near his bedroom that we think was a bathroom of sorts,” van Zandweghe said. The heavy commode was probably housed in that tiny space.

One can imagine that with all of Lummis’ grand parties, visiting dignitaries and gatherings of important people, this commode may have been a, ahem, “well-used” item.

Later when Lummis expanded his house, he did include another bathroom, one featuring the modern conveniences of indoor plumbing.

Lummis’ handiwork will also be showcased in the “Out of the Vault” exhibit at the nearby Southwest Museum in Mt. Washington, where guests will be able to listen to recordings and view archival documents related to Lummis’s famed wax cylinder collection.

After purchasing an Edison recorder and cylinders early 1904,  Lummis  made more than 900 recordings of Spanish songs with diverse origins from Mexican, Latin American and European music. In addition, hundreds of Native American songs from 23 different tribes are part of the collection. At MOTA Day, Spanish songs from Old California will be heard.

Along with free admission, entertainment and family fun at each of the six museums, MOTA Day also provides free shuttles between all six museums; shuttles will stop at all museums except for the Pasadena Museum of History.  Click here for details and parking information. MOTA Day is noon – 5 p.m. with last museum entrance at 4 p.m.

Charles Lummis toilet with the seat down | Brenda Rees

Wax music recordings owned by Charles Lummis | Courtesy of the Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center

1904 photo of blind guitarist Rosendo Uruchurtu playing into the recorder at Lummis’ home, which was known as El Alisal | Courtesy of the Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center

Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.


  1. Chas. Lummis was one amazing fellow. He walked to L.A., worked at The Times, 1st L.A. librarian, collector, friend to the Native Amer., hung with the celebs and politicos of the day. Partied hard in the Arroyo. Oh to be a fly on the wall at the time, see Lummis and Chaplin and others cavorting.

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