I have been blessed to live in one of the most beautiful places in Los Angeles County, the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Besides being beautiful, the area offers an outstanding quality of life which makes you forget that the ground beneath your feet runs parallel with the San Andreas fault. It is a scary thought, but most of us here in California live in denial. One of the first places we visited when we moved into the area in 1989 was the beautiful Huntington Botanical Gardens and Library located next door to us, in Pasadena.
The garden was founded as a private, nonprofit research and educational institution in 1919 by Henry E. Hungtington, a railroad and real estate magnate. Henry was the nephew of Collins P. Huntington, one of The Big Four businessmen who built the Central Pacific Railroad as part of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad. Besides being a shrewd businessman, Huntington was also a visionary with special interest for books, art and botanics. During his lifetime he assembled one of the finest selection of books and manuscripts and established a great art collection. His collections are displayed in two very beautiful buildings on the grounds of what is known today as the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens.
The Beaux-Arts mansion (now the Huntington Art Gallery) designed by architect Myron Hunt in 1911, was once the house of Henry E. Huntington and his wife Arabella. The couple lived here for several years and were eventually buried together on the estate grounds, in the Mausolelum overlooking the gardens.
When initially built, the vila was intended to be a country house with ample, functional spaces to accommodate guests. But the elegance and the grandeur of the great entrance hall, the large library, dining room, and the wide terrace overlooking the valley resemble more an European palace rather than a country house. The mansion opened as an Art Gallery in 1928, after Huntington’s death, displaying one of the greatest collections of 18th-century British art in the country, including the famous Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough and Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence.The Library building was also designed by architect Myron Hunt and is one of the largest and most complete research libraries in the United States. The Library has a vast collection of rare books, prints, photographs, maps and rare manuscripts, like the manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible on vellum.
Over the 25 years we’ve lived in Southern California we visited the Garden countless times, and it is always with great pleasure that I enter its spectacular grounds. It’s a peaceful world of beauty and color that makes you forget the busy and tumultuous life outside its gates. The Garden covers a huge area (207 acres) and displays more than 14,000 varieties of plants, many of which rare and exotic. The area is organized in over a dozen smaller gardens, like the Rose Garden, Desert Garden, Herb Garden, Japanese Garden, Jungle Garden, each with a very unique atmosphere and color. The best time to visit it is in spring and summer when the flowers are in bloom and there is an ever-changing display of color and scents.
During the Summer Festival, the Huntington Library offers open-air concerts featuring classical music. Patrons and visitors alike can enjoy the performance either in the loggia sitting or on the lawn. Festival passes are offered at a 30% discount over single ticket prices.
And if you feel your stomach growling after a long day of walking, the Rose Garden Tea Room and Café will come to your rescue with a variety of food options. From a traditional English tea served with finger sandwiches, cheeses, and fresh fruit, to satisfying lunches and snacks, you will have plenty of choices. While the Tea Room requires reservations, the Café is a little more casual, with open sitting in the patio. After many years of absence, we revisited the Gardens and the Tea Room this winter, as our Christmas gift from Andy. It was lovely to remember the good old times when our four year old boy wanted to catch all the fish in the pond . . .
The admission fee for the Huntington Gardens evolved from a $5/person suggested donation to a whopping $23/person today for adults and 18/person for seniors, but even so over 600,000 people visit the gardens each year. The price may be a little steep if you have a big family, but it is well worth. If you ever visited the Huntington Gardens, what most impressed you the most?