Founded in 1903 by Charles Fletcher Lummis and legally incorporated in 1907, the Southwest Museum was created to preserve knowledge and artifacts of the native people of the American Southwest. The first museum established in Los Angeles and one of the first in the nation to be privately endowed for the study of Native American culture, the Museum continues today to reflect its architectural origins and purpose. The Southwest Museum building, constructed 1912- 1914, is also considered to be one of the first major examples in Los Angeles of the transition from Mission Revival to Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.
The mission and architecture of the Museum were both largely conceived by Lummis, while the museum has been led throughout its history by directors knowledgeable in Museum studies as well as in anthropology and archaeology. Many made a significant impact on the types of artifacts collected by the Museum as well as how they were displayed to the public.
The architectural firm of Sumner P. Hunt and Silas R. Burns was responsible for creating the design of the Southwest Museum, collaborating with Lummis on every detail. Both Lummis and Hunt were knowledgeable on Spanish architecture as well as how to incorporate this older tradition into a native Southern California architecture. The result is that the Southwest Museum is a monumental public building that incorporates themes Lummis and architects Hunt and Burns found in Andalusian Spanish, Pre-Columbian Revival, and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.
pencil drawing of The Caroline Boeing Poole Memorial Wing
Another influential Los Angeles architect, Gordon B. Kaufmann, designed The Caroline Boeing Poole Memorial Wing, a later addition to the Museum, between 1940 and 1941. The Poole Wing was designed with elements depicting the artifacts stored within, allowing this complimentary addition to reflect the Museum’s mission of preserving and sharing Southwestern artifacts.
The overall historic significance of the Southwest Museum, which includes both physical materials and historic associations, has been evaluated using several pertinent sets of criteria. First, the criteria established for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and for the California Register of Historic Resources (California Register) were studied. The period of significance and its major phases of development were established during research into the Museum’s archival collection, building permit information, and other sources. The significance of individual character-defining, architectural features and spaces that comprise the Southwest Museum was determined through an extensive survey of the physical spaces and of the features, and what alterations, if any, they may have sustained.
In 1979, the Braun Research Library was designed by Glen E. Cook. It houses the premier library in the world on the Indians of the American Southwest but is not a historically significant structure, and therefore is not included in this report.
site design by Jack Marquette, Theoretical Places