Thursday, October 16, 2014




      The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens are located in a residential neighborhood of palatial homes in San Marino, CA, about twelve miles from downtown Los Angeles. The property was originally called the San Marino Ranch when it was purchased by Henry E. Huntington in 1903. He was a successful investor in the railroad industry and real estate. His special love and knowledge of books, art, plants, and trees resulted in his amassing one of the finest research libraries in the world, significant art collections, and gardens.
      When Henry first purchased the working ranch in 1903, it was covered with citrus groves, alfalfa crops, poultry, and small herds of cows. Working with his superintendent, William Hertrich, Henry developed over 120 acres into gardens of rare and exotic plants from all over the world. Among the most popular is the Japanese Garden, which includes a drum bridge, Japanese house, and walled Zen garden. The desert garden is one of the largest cacti and succulent gardens in the world with over five thousand species of plants. You couldn't miss the sweet scents when walking through the rose gardens.
      We arrived when it opened at 10:30 am on October 4, and with a weather forecast of over 100 degree F, it was not crowded. Due to the heat, we were the only ones to join the one and one-half hour garden tour. Fortunately, our informative guide made sure stops were in the shade.
      There are currently more than three thousand trees on the property, including hundreds of Huntington's favorite oak and palm trees. Our guide pointed out the Pinus coulter, which produces the largest cone of any pine tree species. Its nickname is the widow maker because the cones can weigh up to ten pounds (people are actually advised to wear hardhats when working in Coulter pine groves). I could easily spend many more hours perusing these twelve lovely gardens, especially in the spring when the roses and camellias are at their peak. There was a large shaded veranda at the front of Huntington's mansion with comfortable chairs—not a bad place to take it all in on such a warm October day.
      After our tour through the gardens, it was time to move into the three air-conditioned buildings that house the art collections and library. Our first stop, the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, includes 18 rooms full of paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts from the colonial period through the middle of the 20th century. My favorite piece of work is by an American artist, Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), entitled Breakfast in Bed. I think I was partial to the painting because it reminded me of my daughter, Anna, and her baby, Mila.
Breakfast in Bed  by Mary Cassatt
      Next, we visited the Huntington Art Gallery which offers magnificent works of art, and an opportunity to see the original early Huntington residence. Although many of the rooms have been converted into art galleries, one still gets a glimpse of the opulent lifestyle of one of the richest families in America in the early 1900s. The focus in this gallery is European art from the 15th to the early 20th century. Among the famous paintings is the Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). This was purchased by Henry Huntington in 1921 at a price of $640,000 ($8.5 million in 2014), making it a record price for art at the time.
Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough
      At the entrance to the mansion is a life sized painting of a stern looking woman with thick black- rimmed glasses, dressed in widow's weeks. It is Arabella Huntington, the second wife of Henry, and before that, the second wife of Henry's uncle Collis Huntington. After the death of Collis in 1900, she always wore black when in public even after marrying Henry in 1913. They married in their 60s, and shared interests and expertise in collecting. The story of her life from modest beginnings to becoming one of the richest women in the world is fascinating. I am looking forward to reading the well researched 2013 book: The Art of Wealth:The Huntingtons in the Gilded Age by Shelly M. Bennett.
      Our visit would not have been complete without a stop at the Library where Henry E. Huntington collected millions of rare books and manuscripts. It's considered the largest library ever assembled by one person and currently holds about nine million items. Among them is a Gutenberg Bible on vellum and a world-class collection of the early editions of Shakespeare's work. For qualified scholars, it is one of the largest and most complete humanities research libraries in the US.
      We left about 4:30 when they closed—glad to have had a full day visit without rushing—the vintage way. By then we were hungry and thirsty so we stopped at Maria's Italian Kitchen, 3537 E. Foothill Blvd, Pasadena. It was a good choice. Ron had three rather large meat balls with melted cheese over them and I enjoyed a caprese salad and french fries. Later we walked around old Pasadena, enjoying all the activity and peering into the interesting restaurants and shops.
      We are fortunate for the generosity of Henry E. Huntington who left his entire estate in a public trust for all of us to enjoy.

Garden Door

The Long Leg by Edward Hopper 

The Gutenberg Bible
Desert Garden
Japanese Gardens
Chinese Gardens

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