Yesterday, the Huntington revealed its new Education and Visitor Center and invited the press in for a sneak peek “hard-hat tour” among the loose wires and mounds of soil. So far, all that is operating is the “visitor” part. The new “arrival court” opened to the public at noon, featuring an admissions office, a coffee shop, and a gift shop that more than doubled the space of its previous iteration. The remainder of the development, which includes classrooms, a café, and a purpose-built lecture hall, will open in April.
There’s a lot to like about the Huntington’s Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center—even though critics of the project say it lacks ambition. When the construction fence is removed and the plantings finished, patrons will be able to look from the courtyard across the entire expanse of the Mediterranean “Central Gardens” to the tops of palms in the “Palm Garden.” Columns, trellises, and loggia abound in the new development, the buildings constructing exterior spaces as much as interior ones, ensuring that there is a fluid interplay between in- and outside.
The Garden Court, which serves as the atrium for the main educational structure, is an open-air courtyard that is protected from the weather by a glass cupola that lets in the light but protects from the heat. While the cafeteria, still bare of decoration, feels like a cafeteria, its window-composed walls welcome in the lush lawn to the South and the gardens to the West. To eat there might be as close as you can get to dining al fresco while still enjoying air conditioning. Of course, if you want the real thing, there’s a patio perched upon the lawn as well.
New artwork will dot the redone landscape. Though a mural by Millard Sheets will be restricted to those allowed entry to the boardroom, Alexander Calder’s Bicentennial Tapestries are visible to all who enter into the education center’s lobby. One of Calder’s metal monoliths, Jerusalem Stabile, welcomes visitors who walk westward toward the Huntington Gallery and a Doyle Lane mural will delight students and teachers in an open-air court outside of four new classrooms.
But even if the architecture is not your cup of tea, the additional new functionality is something to welcome. There are 42,000 square feet of tunnels below the new development to allow for more expansive on-site storage. Each new classroom will be able to serve “a busload” of kids. The auditorium can sit four hundred and allows for modulation of its acoustics to each show’s needs. The old bookstore is the new welcome gallery that will inform visitors about the Huntington’s history and future through text and film and also allow visitors to interact with the site with postcards to fill out and a wall of Instagram photos.
If you exit through the gift shop, you’ll witness a beautifully arrayed store planned out in six sections that attempt to encompass the diversity of the Huntington’s holdings, roughly themed as the Garden, Asianoiserie and Tea, a Children’s nook, California, Huntington Art holdings, and Arts-and-Craft design. You can purchase Michael Aram metalwork, Arts and Crafts clocks, Japanese lanterns, postcards with images from the old West, Frank Lloyd Wright chairs, silver tea strainers, and books on “small-space vegetable gardens” and Chinese nursery rhymes. “[People] can always come to the store.” Janet Crocket, the Director of Retail Operations, says, no ticket required, “We’ll sell them anything at any time.”