AN INCUBATOR of the late 19th century Arts and Crafts Movement, the area of northeast Los Angeles along the Arroyo Seco (a tributary of the Los Angeles River) once boasted dense groves of sycamore trees and a diverse array of native California plants -- a verdant landscape that was manna for bohemian artists and leisure-mongering socialites alike.
This Sunday, Angelenos will get a chance to celebrate the area's unique contribution to the city's cultural identity as six museums open their doors free of charge for Museums of the Arroyo Day. Three of the sites are within walking distance from Metro Gold Line stops (Heritage Square, the Lummis House and the Southwest Museum) and shuttle service covers the other three (the Los Angeles Historical Police Museum, the Gamble House and the Pasadena Museum of History).
"The arroyo has a long history . . . of being an arts community because of people like Charles Lummis," explains Heritage Square Director of Development Brian Sheridan, adding: "There's a lot of optimism in Highland Park. We're experiencing a kind of comeback . . . with a resurgence of art galleries on York and Figueroa." A few galleries -- such as Monte Vista Projects, Avenue 50 Studio and David Patton Los Angeles -- are walkable from Sunday's sites.
Heritage Square Museum, 3800 Homer St., (323) 225-2700; www.heritagesquare .org: This living history museum, made up of a cluster of restored Victorian mansions, sits on parklike grounds along the Pasadena Freeway. It features eight historic structures, each saved from demolition in different parts of the city. And on Sunday, quasi-Victorians in period garb will mill about, adding historical flair and quintessentially L.A. surrealistic kitsch.
Lummis Home and Garden, 200 E. Avenue 43, (323) 222-0546; www.socalhistory .org: Charles Lummis, who famously walked from Cincinnati to L.A. to take a reporting job at The Times, later became city librarian and founder of the Southwest Museum. Lummis toiled for over a decade on a charmingly idiosyncratic river rock house on the banks of the Arroyo Seco he dubbed El Alisal. Today it stands much as it was: adjacent to a botanical garden featuring native California plants, including some that will be on sale.
Southwest Museum, 234 Museum Drive, (323) 221-2164; www.southwestmuseum.org: While the fate of L.A.'s oldest museum has been uncertain of late (the building itself, recently imperiled, is now being seismically rehabbed), the still partially shuttered Southwest Museum of the American Indian, which is under the stewardship of the Autry National Center, will feature tours of the botanical gardens, Native American storytelling, crafts for the kids and film screenings on Sunday. An exhibition, "Preserving California: Charles F. Lummis and the Landmarks Club," will be on view through July 6.
Los Angeles Police Historical Museum, 6045 York Blvd., (877) 804-1523; www .laphs.com: Here you can not only "lock" your kiddies in a real jail cell, but take their "booking photo" as well. Scare those kids straight, or just educate them in the history of the LAPD. The restored 1925 Highland Park police station also features historical memorabilia and a retired police helicopter.
The Gamble House, 4 Westmoreland Place, (626) 793-3334; www.gamblehouse .org: One of the premier architectural specimens of the Arts and Crafts Movement, this 1908 house incorporates Swiss and Japanese elements, handcrafted furnishings and supreme examples of fine woodwork and art glass windows. Now in its centennial year, the Gamble House has teamed with the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising to mount an exhibit of 1908 fashions, and on Sunday the house will present a performance by Ian Whitcomb and His Bungalow Boys.
Pasadena Museum of History, 470 W. Walnut St., (626) 577-1600; www.pasadena history.org: Situated on Orange Grove's "Millionaire's Row," the museum occupies the 1905 Beaux Arts-style Fenyes Mansion and is dedicated to preserving the history of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley. Currently on view is an exhibit of objects and artifacts documenting Mount Lowe Railway, the 19th century incline railway that once scaled the San Gabriels.
Museums of the Arroyo Day. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sun. Free. www.museumsofthe arroyo.com. For more photos, go to latimes.com/arroyo.