100 Fascinating Facts About the Huntington in Honor of Its 100th Year

Henry Huntington’s paradise celebrates a century in San Marino
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The Huntington Library, rather the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens (see #6), recently celebrated 100 years in San Marino. We thought we would mark the centennial with a list of 100 fascinating facts about this magnificent institution.

Exterior of the Huntington Library in 1937

Photo by Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

  1. Henry Huntington paid $240,000 for his 600-acre ranch in San Marino in 1903.
  2. The Huntington Library began charging admission ($7.50 for adults) on March 19, 1996. Today adults pay $29 on weekends. Visits are free on the first Thursday of every month—but only with advance tickets.
  3. Pop artist Robert Rauschenberg said that a visit to the Huntington inspired him to become an artist.
  4. The sweet orange marmalade in the museum gift shop is made from fruit grown in the Huntington’s gardens.
  5. The interior of Henry Huntington’s private rail car Alabama was covered in African mahogany with inlay work and carvings, and held a  fireplace and observation compartment, and could provide dinner service for ten. In 1934 a coffee maker short-circuited and the car was destroyed.
  6. To make web searches easier, the museum changed its name in 2019 from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens to the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
  7. The 1974 musical Mame, starring Lucille Ball, was the first movie to include scenes filmed (that year) at the garden.
  8. The final phase of the Huntington’s Garden of Flowing Fragrance will make it one of the largest classical-style Chinese gardens in the world, with a total cost for all phases of $54 million.
  9. The library includes photographs and artifacts describing the local impact of the worldwide flu pandemic that killed millions the same year the institution was launched.
  10. At a weekly open house in the Ranch Garden on Saturday mornings, volunteer master gardeners are available to answer questions and share ideas.
  11. Architects Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey designed the Huntington home, completed in 1911. Hunt would go on to design the Rose Bowl, the Ambassador Hotel, and Occidental College.
  12. Dr. Lodewyk Bendixson, who joined the library staff in 1916, developed forensic photo techniques in the 1930s that helped reveal the contents of Benjamin Franklin’s handwritten autobiography that had been obscured by spilled ink.
  13. Tours of the Japanese teahouse are offered every 20 minutes on the second Monday of every month.
  14. Former District Attorney Gil Garcetti (and the mayor’s dad) has gathered his dramatic nighttime floral photography in a new book Protea: The Magic and the Mystery. The elder Garcetti appears at the Huntington for a talk September 12.
  15. Classes and tastings of wines and teas from around the world are offered.
  16. On September 28 chef and culinary historian Maite Gomez-Rejón of ArtBites will prepare a meal from the Huntington’s founding year of 1919 using historic cookbooks from the library.
  17. Every Wednesday afternoon a different musician performs traditional Chinese music in the Love for the Lotus Pavilion in the Garden of Flowing Fragrance.
  18. The library includes mug shots of German citizens incarcerated in Los Angeles during World War I.
  19. On October 5 master gardener Pamela Aitchison will give a talk on how to preserve, pickle, and ferment. The topics will include yogurt, kombucha, and sourdough bread.
  20. A copy of Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws, donated to the library by General George Patton, was transferred to the National Archives in 2010.
  21. More than 50 artisans from China have been brought in to do traditional handcrafted carpentry, masonry, and tile work on the Garden of Flowing Fragrance.
  22. The 8,000-square-foot neoclassical Boone Gallery, built in 1911, was once the estate’s garage.
  23. There are now five on-site dining options: Rose Garden Tea Room, 1919 café, Freshwater Dumpling and Noodle House, Patio Grill, and the Red Car coffee shop.
  24. The first Corpse Flower, or Amorphophallus titanum, to bloom in California did so at the Huntington in 1999. Seeds were harvested and nine blooms have occurred since.
  25. Henry Huntington had a private railroad spur installed on his property for delivery of his plants and art and library treasures.
  26. In the early years of the mansion, Arabella Huntington, Henry’s wife, would only spend two months of the year in San Marino and the other ten in Paris and New York.
  27. A $125 bottle of Veuve Clicquot is available in the tea room.
  28. At a flower-arranging workshop on October 19, you can learn to make a magnificent Thanksgiving centerpiece from pumpkins, succulents, dried pods, and nuts.
  29. Henry Huntington’s private rail car Alabama was one of the most powerful interurban cars ever built, with four engines that could reach speeds of up to 100 miles an hour.
  30. Every fall the garden hosts a plant sale. This year’s offerings will include manzanita, salvia, buckwheat, ceanothus, desert mallow, tecoma, and chocolate daisy.
  31. A graduate student doing research in the botanical lab is learning to cryopreserve tomatillos, which are high in chemicals that could have medical benefits.
  32. The Huntington holds one of only two known copies of the first published version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
  33. When it opens in May, Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, will increase the garden’s footprint from 3.5 acres to a long-planned 12 acres.
  34. Eddie Murphy filmed scenes from four movies in the Huntington Gardens: Coming to AmericaThe Nutty Professor, Imagine That, and A Thousand Words.
  35. Henry Huntington was one of the founders of the Southern California Gas Company.
  36. Henry Huntington was once asked whether he planned to write an autobiography.  He responded, “This library will tell the story.”
  37. In an educational workshop for teachers, a curator taught them how to make the same iron gall ink seen in ancient manuscripts from chemicals that female wasps inject into the garden’s oak trees.
  38. The fashion spread in the September 2019 issue of Los Angeles magazine was photographed at the Huntington.
  39. Original restaurant menus from the 1938 opening of Los Angeles’ Chinatown, including Li Po, Forbidden Palace, and the Golden Pagoda, are in the library’s collection.
  40. The library was represented on a float in the 1969 Rose Parade featuring floral renditions of Pinkie and The Blue Boy.
  41. Antiques dealer George T. Marsh opened the Japanese Tea Garden restaurant at Fair Oaks and California Street in Pasadena in 1903. Eight years later, Henry Huntington moved the ornate house, and its entire landscape, to his garden.
  42. Before his San Marino home was finished, Henry Huntington stored his collections at his home in New York, with some items kept at his private club in New York and at the Jonathan Club in downtown L.A.
  43. A 1777 portrait of Mrs. Edwin Lascelles by Joshua Reynolds was destroyed in a late-night fire in 1985.
  44. The library includes the oldest known cookbook, printed in 1475, along with 6,500 others.
  45. Gary Lyons, former curator of the desert garden at the Huntington, has over 1,400 cactuses and succulents growing in his front yard in Burbank.
  46. The institution earned a Los Angeles Conservancy preservation award for the restoration of the Japanese House in 2012.
  47. An intricately crafted 3,000-square-foot home in the Japanese city of Marugame that has been in the same family for 300 years is being disassembled and shipped to the Huntington.
  48. Electricity traveled 241 miles from a plant in Fresno County to the Eagle Rock substation to power Huntington’s vast L.A. streetcar system.
  49. In 2013 the library exhibited part of a silk scarf removed from the exhumed body of Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions.
  50. The library holds a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair, cut by his embalmer, from a location in “the vicinity of the wound.”

    William Hertrich in the Desert Garden

    Courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

  51. The Huntington’s former desert garden curator Gary Lyons says he was inspired to study the plants after seeing singing and dancing cartoon cactuses in Disney cartoons.
  52. When his uncle Collis died, Henry Huntington married his widow (and aunt) Arabella. She wore the new wedding ring next to the first one.
  53. Christmas legend Christopher Radko created glass ornaments based on Pinkie and The Blue Boy in the 1990s.
  54. The Pasadena Buddhist Temple donated the Seifu-an teahouse (the Arbor of Pure Breeze) to the Japanese garden in 2012.
  55. During World War II the Japanese garden was renamed the “Oriental Garden.”
  56. Henry Huntington’s net worth increased by $25 million dollars between 1909 and 1910.
  57. The headquarters of Huntington’s Pacific Electric railroad in downtown Los Angeles was converted to lofts in 2005.
  58. Huntington’s Yellow Car line boasted 140 million passengers in 1914 alone.
  59. Huntington’s heirs owned L.A.’s Yellow Car Line until 1944.
  60. Henry Huntington arrived here at the age of 42, when the population of all of Los Angeles County was 170,000.
  61. Henry Huntington’s uncle Collis created the nation’s transcontinental railroad empire with Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker.
  62. There is a plant cryopreservation lab at the library where rare seeds, cells, and tissues are preserved in liquid nitrogen and can be brought back to life.
  63. In 1939, 70,000 PTA members lobbied against a state measure that would have taken away the library’s tax-exempt status.
  64. A cycad, Encephalartos whitelockii, in front of the art gallery is only native to the area around a waterfall in Uganda.
  65. Henry and Arabella Huntington rest in a mausoleum on the grounds.
  66. Huntington’s L.A. streetcar system was more extensive than the New York subway by 1910.
  67. The new two-story restaurant in the Chinese garden will be nestled in a forest of redwoods, oaks, and pines, and have the name Pavilion Encircled by Jade.
  68. A custom-made hybrid rose called “Huntington’s 100th” was created for the centennial. It is a cross between roses named “Julia Child” and “Stormy Weather” and smells like baby powder and lemons.
  69. When a forgotten cemetery was unearthed next to the Plaza Church in downtown Los Angeles, the library was able to help identify the origins of some of the 700 souls interred between 1823 and 1844.
  70. More than 14,000 pounds of oranges, lemons, and persimmons were harvested from the garden last year and donated to hungry Angelenos.
  71. After a melting beehive was removed from the Japanese House last summer, the honey was given to staff. Ants, robber bees, and other insects cleaned up the rest of the sticky mess.
  72. Huntington’s streetcar system stretched 90 miles in all directions. “We will join this whole region,” he said, “into one big family.”
  73. Henry Huntington purchased 90 percent of Redondo Beach in 1905, along with the rail system that tied it to Los Angeles.
  74. To power his massive streetcar system, Henry Huntington built the first large hydroelectric plant in the United States in 1910.
  75. Henry Huntington brought Hawaiian surfer George Freeth to Redondo Beach to promote his big public pool and spa there, and introduced the sport to the United States.
  76. The circular marble tomb of Henry and Arabella Huntington was designed by the same architect as the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  77. Huntington Lake in Fresno County powered Huntington’s enormous hydroelectric plants that sent electricity to Los Angeles.
  78. Warren Buffet’s business partner Charles Munger has a research building named after him.
  79. Henry Huntington was one of the cofounders of the Southern California Gas Company.
  80. Gardens curator Andrew Mitchell is also a veteran beekeeper, who gets called when a beehive shows up in a busy area.
  81. One collection of “devotional ephemera” contains more than 12,000 greeting cards, sentimental notes, and valentines.
  82. Two large carpets in the art gallery were originally made for King Louis XIV to place in the Louvre. After the revolution, the royal fleurs-de-lis in the center were replaced with garlands of oranges.
  83. Albert Einstein marveled at the spineless cactus when he visited the garden in the 1930s.
  84. Reproductions of paintings Pinkie and The Blue Boy, both of which are in the Huntington’s collection, hang on the walls of the Cleaver home in the 1950s sitcom Leave It to Beaver.
  85. An entire Buddhist monastery was built in the lily pond for the 2003 Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson comedy Anger Management.
  86. The library created a Spotify Playlist for the 2018 exhibit Architects of a Golden Age. Artists include Bob Marley, Sia, and Weezer.
  87. The library holds more than 8,000 miniature books that are each about the size of a silver dollar.
  88. The vegan afternoon tea includes mushroom pate, edamame hummus, and James Beard’s onion and parsley sandwich.

    The Rose Garden Tea Room

    Courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

  89. Artisan Terry Eagan has spent nearly a decade restoring a vast collection of “faux bois” trellises, benches, and planters made of concrete to resemble wood. The pieces languished for years before his arrival because of the special skills required for the work. His tool kit includes pastry bags, combs, a baby fork, and a plastic hairbrush.
  90. The founding documents of San Marino prohibit bars and apartments.
  91. One of the museum’s most famous paintings, The Blue Boy, saw 100,000 visitors before it left England in 1922. It arrived on the transcontinental express, set up in a private Pullman drawing room with an armed guard.
  92. Dr. Arnold O. Beckman was a scientist who invented the pH meter, and launched the first transistor company. But back in the 1930s the library asked him to exterminate worms that were destroying books. After eight months of research, he blended carbon dioxide and ethylene oxide and invented an insecticide.
  93. The library contains a hand-written note from Abraham Lincoln to his bodyguard giving him the night off the evening he was shot.
  94. Conservation specialists repair books with Japanese paper made from mulberry fiber and paste made from refined wheat starch.
  95. Actress Gloria Stuart (Titanic) donated her collection of bonsai trees to the Huntington.
  96. Henry Huntington’s German-born garden superintendent William Hertrich oversaw the estate from 1905 to 1948.
  97. Henry Huntington ate an avocado in downtown Los Angeles, brought the pit back to his ranch, and launched California’s avocado industry.
  98. Arabella Huntington was once the world’s richest woman.
  99. A 1994 X-Ray of The Blue Boy revealed that he was originally painted with a Spaniel at his feet, but the pup was covered up with a mound of rocks.
  100. Henry Huntington died in a Philadelphia hospital May 23, 1927. His body was shipped back to California in his private rail car Alabama.

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