Visiting the Banning Museum
Wilmington is an area that encompasses the port of Los Angeles. As such it can easily be dismissed as industrial area not worth a visit by the average citizen. I used to think that. To me Wilmington was a place to drive through to get somewhere else not a place to spend any time in. Boy, was I wrong. Recently, I visited the Banning Museum in the heart of the neighborhood and discovered a true Los Angeles treasure.
Yes, that beautiful structure is located in Wilmington. It was built by Phineas Banning in 1864 and remained in his family for decades until it was acquired by Los Angeles in 1927.
You may wonder who Phineas Banning was. I certainly didn’t know before my visit. Turns out he’s one of the most important figures in the history of LA. After leaving his home of Wilmington, DE he took work on a sailing ship and landed in San Pedro. Nearly penniless he began to haul freight and transport folks via stagecoach throughout Southern California. His fortune grew and he turned his focus to the harbor. Realizing it would make an ideal port he campaigned to make that a reality. He convinced the railroad to make a route to the harbor. He dredged the land to make it easier for ships to come. He essentially made the port what it is today. As a result he is now considered The Father of the Los Angeles Port.
After Banning established his wealth he built this mansion in the Greek Revival style made popular in Washington D.C. From his balcony he could see the port and keep up to date on the progress being made there. He had thousands of acres which was reduced to the 20 that remain today. The house now sits in a park and is open for tours.
My mom and I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and were welcomed by the friendly staff. Tours are held at specific times and we were a bit early so we contented ourselves with checking out the visitor’s center and walking the grounds. The visitor’s center is an up to date museum offering rotating exhibits and a history on the Banning family. On our visit there was a paperweight exhibit showcasing beautiful examples of this once common household item. There was also a feature on the house’s history in film. Filming began at the mansion during the silent era and continues to this day. I’ve probably seen the house several times and never even knew it!
The grounds contain a stagecoach barn and a lovely rose garden that we took a stroll around.
Soon enough it was time for our tour to start. We were the only attendees and were given and in depth view of the house and barn. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed so I can’t offer any glimpses into the interior. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s quite lovely. It’s a huge structure and we were able to see most of it. As the house went directly from the family to the city the majority of the furnishings and artifacts are authentic to the Bannings. Phineas’ office remains just as it did when he was managing his various business endeavors. The remainder of the rooms also appear as they did in the family’s time. It was a fascinating glimpse into this little known yet highly important part of LA history.
Our tour guide was true delight. She was kind and polite and extremely knowledgeable about the house and the Banning family. It was a wonderful experience and both my mom and I were happy that we discovered this important place and can’t wait to return.