Pacific Electric Magazine and the Huntington Library, May 10, 1938
Just eleven years after the passing of Henry Huntington, the Pacific Electric Railway Magazine, Volume 18 – Number 11, dated May 10, 1938, extolled the virtues of a visit to the former railroad baron’s home in San Marino. The article read as follows:
Priceless Art Treasures at Huntington Art Gallery
It was in 1910 that the late Henry E. Huntington “retired” from business to have more time to devote to his other great interest, that of collecting. He was then sixty years of age and was looking forward, after a busy life spent in developing transportation lines and real estate, to pleasurable leisure to enjoy the things he cherished – fine books and paintings, and the beauties of nature.
No one, least of all Mr. Huntington himself, could have predicted that within the next seventeen years, or until his death, he would become the world’s greatest book collector, an outstanding patron of the arts, and the donor of one of California’s most important cultural assets. Nor was the popularity to be of the institution he founded foreseen. Since the public exhibitions were opened in 1928, more than 1,300,000 people have visited and it has been necessary to revise the schedule many times. Now it is possible to visit any afternoon (except Mondays and during the month of October) from 1:15 to 4:30 o’clock, by telephoning the Exhibitions Office a few hours in advance.
To Beautify Home
When Mr. Huntington began collecting h had in mind gathering suitable paintings and other objects of art to adorn his San Marino home (now the Huntington Art Gallery) and to make it a more beautiful place in which to live. The house was completed in 1910 and one of the first purchases was a set of five magnificent French tapestry panels, made at Beauvais in 1755-56, during the reign of Louis XV. These were installed in the room originally designed to house his library, then in his New York home. Today, these tapestries, and a pair of Savonnerie carpets that were made in the period of Louis XIV, provide a perfect background for a collection of exquisitely carved eighteenth-century French furniture.
The French collections are interesting in contrast with the English furnishings made in the same century. Indeed, the house has become a museum which reveals something of the way of life in the days when the Georges ruled in England. The visitor sees the portraits (both life-size canvasses and miniatures on paper or ivory) of some of the great ladies and gentlemen who dominated Ehcnlsh society, politics, and the arts, along with the furniture such as they used. Here is a Chippendale settee on which they might have sat, a table on which the probably had tea; while on adjacent shelves are choice specimens of Chelsea porcelain similar to those that graced their drawing rooms.
The English portraits of the eighteenth-century are the outstanding treasure of the Art Gallery. There are fifty-eight, nearly all of them masterpieces. In one room – the New Gallery – twenty of the most important pieces hang, acknowledged the “cream” of such paintings in America. Here are “Mrs. Siddons as the ‘The Tragic Muse’,” by Sir Joshua Denolds, the greatest actress of her time; “The Blue Boy,” by Thomas Gainsborough, one of the most famous paintings in the world, and a little girl in a rose beribboned bonnet, familiarly known as “Pinkie,” by Sir Thomas Lawrence. If these paintings captivate the visitor there also many other attractions that will add to the joy and the cultural benefit of his visit. The charm of the Huntington galleries is that there is something for everyone’s taste and for varying moods.
To many people the great thrill to be experienced at San Marino is seeing the handwriting of such men as Christopher Columbus, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, or the earliest printed books, now nearly 500 years old, such as the Gutenberg Bible, or the first book printed in the English language, which came from Caxton’s press in 1477. These rarities are permanently on view in the Library, which was built in 1920 to house Mr. Huntington’s rapidly expanding collection of manuscripts and books.
In addition, there are numerous special exhibits drawn from the Library collections which interest large numbers of students and other visitors. During May these will include an exhibition commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Constitution of the United States, as well as one illustrating the transition from a Spanish-Californian culture in Los Angeles County, 1850-1870.
But if the visitor does not care for great paintings, or objects of art, or in seeing the originals of great historical or literary works, there is yet another part of the Huntington gift that few can resist – the Botanical Gardens.
Gardens on Par
Under the native oaks, of which there are many old and fine specimens, and across 50 acres of the estate, have been planted rare and subtropical trees and shrubs collected from every continent. Particularly beautiful in the spring are the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, and the 15 acre Desert Plant Garden. The latter collection is the most comprehensive of its kind in the world, having 25,000 cacti and other succulents. Most of these are large specimen plants, being indigenous to North and South America, the remainder from South Africa, Madagascar and the Canary Islands.
To mention all of the wonders to be seen would require the space of a book. The best suggestion that can be offered for those interested is to spend many afternoons at San Marino, judging of its offerings first hand.
No mention that Henry Huntington founded the Pacific Electric Railway.
To this day I have never heard a definitive explanation of how Huntington and the Southern Pacific Railroad fought and/or joined forces to control the local rail transit scheme. Maybe even back then the true history was a bit awkward. Who knows?
Pat and I are members of the Huntington association and have noted the additions in the last 20 or 30 years. She especially likes the Erburu gallery, because she knew Robert Erburu when she worked for Times-Mirror. One thing we’ve commented on is how the new buildings harmonize with the older structures, and are not jarring, obtrusive monuments to a big-name architect’s ego. A thoughtful feature that’s been there for many years is the drinking fountain under an arbor, just north of the cactus garden. Just as visitors are starting to wish they’d brought a canteen, here’s this cool spot.