The Guide to Museums of the Arroyo Day

Six unique museums open their doors for free

Gamble House in "Back to the Future"

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd at the Gamble House in Back to the Future

 |  Photo:  @filmtourismus

Museums of the Arroyo Day (MOTA Day) features six unique history-based museums that celebrate the art, architecture and history of the Arroyo Seco area. The public can visit one or all of the museums during the day at no charge.

Participating MOTA Day museums include The Autry's Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus, the Gamble House, Heritage Square Museum, the Los Angeles Police Museum, the Lummis Home, and the Pasadena Museum of History. In addition to ongoing regular displays and exhibits, each museum will feature a distinctive slice of Southern California history. Read on for a guide to Museums of the Arroyo Day.

The Autry Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus
Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus | Photo courtesy of the Autry Museum of the American West

The Autry - Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus

The Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus is the original location of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, which was founded by Charles Fletcher Lummis and is the oldest museum in Los Angeles. In 2015, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the historic site a National Treasure.

Currently on view, Four Centuries of Pueblo Pottery features more than 100 pieces of rare ceramics from the Autry’s Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection. This exhibition traces the dramatic changes that transformed the Pueblo pottery tradition in the era following 16th-century Spanish colonization to the present.

On the lower level, Making a Big Noise: The Explorations of Charles Lummis reveals stories about the site’s founder and his journeys, including his “Tramp Across the Continent”—a cross-country trek from Ohio to L.A.—and his archaeological expeditions in New Mexico, Peru, and Mesoamerica.

MOTA Day activities:

  • Visit the outdoor terrace and garden for panoramic views of the Arroyo Seco and Downtown L.A.
  • Outside in the courtyard, participate in craft activities presented in partnership with the Arroyo Arts Collective.
Exterior of the Gamble House in Pasadena
The Gamble House | Photo: D1v1d, Flickr

Gamble House

The Gamble House is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the Arts and Crafts Movement in American Craftsman style architecture. The three-story house and its furnishings were designed by Charles and Henry Greene in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Company. Today, the house is owned by the City of Pasadena and operated by the USC School of Architecture. Movie fans will recognize the house as Doc Brown’s mansion from the Back to the Future trilogy. The Gamble House is designated as California Historical Landmark #871 and is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The house was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1977.

MOTA Day activities:

  • Visitors can take a self-guided tour.
  • Visit the Gamble House Bookstore and browse MOTA Day-only specials and raffle.
  • Kids and adults can play lawn games and explore the crafts table.
Hale House at Heritage Square Museum
Hale House at Heritage Square Museum | Photo: Smart Destinations, Flickr

Heritage Square

Established in 1969, Heritage Square Museum is a living history museum that explores the settlement and development of Southern California during its first 100 years of statehood. The nine historic structures located at the museum serve as a perfect background to educate the public about the everyday lives of Southern Californians from the Civil War to the early 20th Century. Guided tours of the museum are supplemented by living history performances, educational programs, hands-on training, exhibitions and special events.

MOTA Day activities:

  • Guests can watch traditional blacksmithing demonstrations from Adam’s Forge.
  • Costumed docents will be on hand at the historical structures on site.
  • Visit a curated selection of vintage fashions in the Ford House.
  • Children can play with Victorian toys, do crafts, and learn about plants and flowers in the Ford House Kitchen garden.
  • Pump and Splash will also be onsite for water fun.
Los Angeles Police Museum uniforms
Photo: Los Angeles Police Museum, Facebook

Los Angeles Police Museum

Opened in 2001, the Los Angeles Police Museum displays the rich history of the LAPD from its 1869 beginnings. Located in the 1925 Highland Park Police Station, the museum was salvaged and restored to its original Renaissance Revival style and is a registered National Historic landmark.

MOTA Day activities:

  • View the museum's private collections and historical memorabilia that date back to the late 1800s.
  • Check out the vehicle shelter, where kids can climb into a retired police helicopter.
  • Visitors can experience a real jail cell, snap their own free police booking photos, or stand in a criminal lineup in the Interrogation Room.
Lummis Home and Gardens
Lummis Home and Gardens | Photo: @bekind74, Instagram

Lummis Home and Gardens

Charles Fletcher Lummis was a famous author, photographer, and an activist for Native American rights and historic preservation. Lummis was the first City Editor of the Los Angeles Times, when the city population was only 12,000. He later became the city librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library. In 1907, Lummis founded the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, now known as The Autry's Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus.

Lummis built his home - named El Alisal after the local sycamore trees - on the west bank of the Arroyo Seco over a 12 year period, from 1898 to 1910. The house reflects Lummis’ love of the American Southwest, with a design inspired by mission architecture and the dwellings of the Pueblo Indians. The south-facing facade is made with stones from the Arroyo. The beginnings of the Arts & Crafts movement can be seen in the handmade wooden furniture, exposed beams and concrete floors. Regarded as one of L.A.'s landmark houses, the Lummis Home and Gardens was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in September 1970 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 1971.

MOTA Day activities:

  • Self-guided tours of the home and garden will be available.
  • Historian Dennis Harbach will share his database research that lists the visiting and local dignitaries who were guests at the Lummis Home from 1897 to 1928. MOTA guests can see if any of their relatives were part of the early Lummis parties and gatherings.
Pasadena Museum of History Fenyes Mansion
Fenyes Mansion | Photo courtesy of Pasadena Museum of History

Pasadena Museum of History

The Pasadena Museum of History (PMH) is the only museum and research library dedicated solely to preserving and sharing the history, art, and culture of Pasadena and the west San Gabriel Valley. PMH offers the public changing exhibitions, events and lectures, docent-led tours, school tours, and free access to the Research Library & Archives. Since 1970, PMH has been headquartered on the two-acre grounds of the Fenyes Estate, a Pasadena Cultural Landmark that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

MOTA Day activities:

  • View the current exhibition: Giddy Up: Children Take the Reins. Explore the World of Carousel Animals & Childhood Toys that Rock, Bounce, & Roll. The PMH galleries will be filled with a dizzying array of more than 35 smaller scaled carousel horses and exotic creatures that visitors of all ages will be able to see – and touch.
  • Guest can create their own “Cowpoke Vest” with Art 2 Go’s arts and crafts workshop.
  • Mini-Tours of the 1906 Fenyes Mansion. Visitors can tour the former residence of Dr. and Mrs. Adalbert Fenyes, one of the few remaining grand homes on Pasadena’s Millionaire’s Row. Docents in select rooms will share information about the original period furnishings and the family.
  • Tours of Finnish Folk Art Museum. Members of the Finlandia Foundation will welcome guests to the museum which is furnished in the style of a 19th century Finnish farmhouse.
  • Enjoy cool treats from the Kona Ice Truck which will be on site.
  • Visit the Museum Store for 30 percent off selected items.

Getting There

Take the Metro Gold Line to MOTA Day by exiting at either the Southwest Museum or Heritage Square Station. Show your TAP Card and receive special discounts and perks at participating museums.

Shuttles will stop at all museums except Heritage Square - visitors must take a short walk from Lummis Home to get to Heritage Square. Shuttles will run in two routes: Gamble House/Police Museum route and the Police Museum/Lummis-Southwest route. Give yourself time to return to your car on the shuttle, so plan accordingly.