Structure Type: built works - social and civic buildings - libraries

Designers: Hunt, Myron, Architect (firm); Harold Coulson Chambers (architect); Myron Hubbard Hunt (architect); McNeal Swasey (architect)

Dates: constructed 1919

total floor area: 96,000 sq. ft.

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1151 Oxford Road
Huntington Library, San Marino, CA 91108

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Overview

Set on 207 acres, this facility was the former home and library of Henry Huntington, the owner of the Pacific Electric Railway Company, and an heir to half of the Central Pacific Railroad Company fortune. The residence was completed in 1919, and opened as a library and museum for the public in 1927. It has had five more alterations completed up to the present.

Building History

The Huntington Library and Museum opened to the public on a limited basis in 10/1927 about four months after the death of Henry Huntington (1850-1927). The Los Angeles Times art critic, Arthur Miller wrote of the museum's impending opening to the public: "The world-famous treasures of the Henry E. Huntington Art Gallery at San Marino will be accessible to the general public for the first time on history about October 1, next, according to the report filed with the trustees of the Huntington Library and Art Gallery by James F. McCabe, superintendent of the Chicago Art Institute. The Chicago authority on museums declared that the Huntington home will be the most beautiful and valubale museum in America when it is opened to the public. Mr. McCabe said that few changes will be necessary in the mansion on the ground floor and that the lighting arrangement is ideal for museum purposes. Alterations will be made on the second floor, and precautions will be taken to secure the pictures and other art objects in the house against theft or damage. The setting of both the house and the library, about 250 feet away, is ideal, he said, adding that it will be an advantage to have the two buildings separated. No arcade between them will be constructed. The only exhibition problem at the library will be to protect the rare manuscripts and documents against damage from handling. A large force of guards will be employed, inasmuch as the art gallery contains the finest collection of English paintings in the world, and the library is acknowledged to be second only to the British Museum in the importance of its rare books and letters. McCabe said that at first the art gallery will probably be opened to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays. Inasmuch as the pictures always hung in the residence of Mr. Huntington, it has been only his personal friends who have been privileged to see the collection up to this time." (See Arthur Miller, Art and Artists: Good Art Enhances Theater Decoration," Los Angeles Times, 09/04/1927, part III, p. 9.)

Henry Huntington married twice, the second time to VA-born Arabella Huntington (1851-1924) in 1913; she had been the wife of Collis P. Huntington (1821-1900), and was the heir to much of her husband's Central Pacific railroad fortune. Together, they reconstituted Collis's estate and combined with it what Henry had made on his own. This combination amounted to tremendous buying power, particularly at a time when European art and bibliographic masterworks were being sold en masse by their impoverished aristocratic owners on the continent.

The Huntington Library web site described the extent of Huntington's book, furnishings and art collecting interests: "He had been purchasing books for the library, thousands at a time. Aside from such icons as the Gutenberg Bible and the Ellesmere Chaucer, his purchases included important and expansive holdings on George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln, as well as rare books and manuscripts from England that dated back to Queen Elizabeth I, and before. The New York Times reported in May of 1917 that Huntington had spent today’s equivalent of $101 million over six years. Huntington, the reporter enthused, had the “distinction of possessing today the finest private library ever gathered together. For the mansion, he bought spectacular furnishings, including a set of Beauvais tapestries for the equivalent of $14 million today, more than he paid to build the house itself. Together, he and [his second wife] Arabella, with the able assistance of notoriously ambitious art dealer Joseph Duveen, assembled among the most important collections of European art in the United States west of the Mississippi, the most celebrated piece of which was Gainsborough’s Blue Boy—purchased for today’s equivalent of about $9 million. The painting’s shift from its native England to western America created an international sensation, making countless headlines." (See Huntington Library.org, "Press Release - A “Gilded Age” Family Saga: New Book Provides Fresh Insights on Huntington Family's Wealth, Collecting, and Philanthropy," published 01/31/2013, accessed 03/26/2018.)

Building Notes

Harold Coulson Chambers worked on the design of the Huntington Library as the Head Draftsman of the Hunt Office; the next year, Chambers became a Partner with Hunt.

In 2018, the Huntington Library grounds contained 12 different garden types, including a Conservatory and Children's Garden, Desert Garden, Garden of Flowering Fragrance (Ling Fang Yuan), Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, Australian Garden, Herb Garden, Jungle Garden, Palm Garden, Subtropical Garden and the Frances and Sidney Brody California Garden.

PCAD id: 5224