The Guide to Museums of the Arroyo Day

Six unique museums open their doors for free on May 20, 2018

The Gamble House | Photo by Lindsay Blake
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Now in its 29th year, 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. This year's MOTA Day is taking place from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 20 with last museum entrance at 4 p.m.

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 the 29th annual Museums of the Arroyo Day.

The Autry - Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus

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

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.

MOTA Day activities:

  • Inside the historic tunnel entrance off Museum Drive, see a special exhibit by local contemporary artist Miller Robinson. Opening on MOTA Day, Of this body; of this earth is an investigation of the historical and mythological overlaps of earth, body, and tool through the lens of the body’s elemental composition. By exhibiting raw materials, handmade tools, diagrammatic drawings, and a recorded monologue, Robinson aims to understand and connect the dots between matter, time, and body. Organized by Holiday, a non-location based curatorial project founded by Luke Forsyth and Pejman Shojaei. The tunnel exhibit will remain on view on Saturdays through June 16.
  • Be sure to visit the outdoor terrace and garden for panoramic views of the Arroyo Seco and Downtown L.A.


The Gamble House
Photo courtesy of The Gamble House, Facebook

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.
  • Go Back to the Future for MOTA! Check out a BTTF style DeLorean Time Machine and visit with Doc Brown.
  • Visit "Doc Brown’s lab" (aka the Gamble House Bookstore) and browse a selection of BTTF-themed merchandise.
  • Stop by the refreshment table on the rear lawn for lemonade and cookies.
  • Kids and adults can play lawn games and explore the crafts table.


Hale House at Heritage Square Museum
Hale House | Photo courtesy of Heritage Square Museum

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.
  • Costume docents will be on hand at the historical structures on site.
  • Ragtime entertainer Galen Wilkes will perform in the Perry Residence, the largest house at the museum.
  • Children can play with Victorian toys, do crafts, and learn about plants and flowers at the Ford House.
  • “Pump & Splash” will be onsite for kid-powered water play.

Los Angeles Police Museum

Los Angeles Police Museum uniform exhibit
Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Police Museum, Facebook

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.
  • Vintage L.A. Coppers will display vintage cars and costumed re-enactors in front of the museum.
  • Look to the skies at 2 and 4pm for a police helicopter flyover!
  • Check out 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 | Instagram by @bekind74

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 Garden 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.
  • Sneak a peek at the sun from a solar telescope provided by the Griffith Observatory.
  • Check out a nature exhibit and ask questions of Park Rangers.
  • Hands-on art activities for kids in the garden via the Highland Park Rec Center.
  • Historian Dennis Harbach will be available to research from his database about 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 at Fenyes Mansion
Fenyes Mansion | Photo courtesy of 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. 

Currently on view at PMH, Dreaming the Universe: The Intersection of Science, Fiction, & Southern California explores the history of science fiction in Southern California from the 1930s to the 1980s, and how it interacted with the advances of science, the changes in technology, and shifts in American society. Curated by Nick Smith, former president of Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, the exhibition brings together an unusual range of artifacts, fine and graphic arts, books, ephemera, and photographs.

MOTA Day activities:

  • In the Gardens, MOTA guests can craft their own vehicle for intergalactic exploration in Art 2 Go’s Rocket & Spaceship workshop.
  • Star Wars Volunteer Costume Groups, the Rebel Legion and the 501st Legion, will be on hand for photographs and more.
  • The Arcane Theatre Works will present a series of readings from “Martians – An Evening with Ray Bradbury” based on the short story “The Blue Bottle” at 1 and 3 pm.
  • Visitors can tour the 1906 Beaux Arts Fenyes Mansion, the historic residence that is one of the few remaining grand homes on Pasadena’s “Millionaire’s Row." Docents will share information about the original period furnishings, family heirlooms, and the unique California plein air art collection that enhance this architectural jewel.
  • Members of the Finlandia Foundation will welcome guests to the Finnish Folk Art Museum, which is furnished in the style of a 19th century Finnish farmhouse. This unique exhibition provides a fascinating glimpse into Finland’s tradition and culture and reminds visitors that the Fenyes Mansion once served as the Finnish Consulate.
  • Enjoy treats from the Kona Ice Truck which will be on site.


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 the following museums.

  • Gamble House: 10% off membership
  • Heritage Square: 10% off membership
  • Los Angeles Police Museum: 10% off gift store items
  • Pasadena Museum of History: one comp ticket for a future visit ($9 value), and a PMH poster that commemorates the opening of the Gold Line in 2003