Friday, May 29, 2009

Time and Henry Huntington

By the beginning of the last century, Henry “Edward” Huntington was a very rich man. But how anticlimactic to hear the actual dollar figure. You know, historically speaking, $15 million was a lot back then, but now it just sounds like a bad stucco job on the wrong side of the Santa Monica boardwalk.

So let’s try visualization. It’s 1903. You own 11,000 acres of prime California real estate, 800 of which are contiguous acres in Pasadena. You find -- east, west, home is best – Pasadena has grabbed your heart. You tear down the existing ranch structures and hire Myron Hunt to build a new residence (some call it a palace), and a landscape architect to develop a series of exotic gardens, often purchasing full grown specimen plants.

Oh, you also have your own railroad that stops at your gate to deliver the plants as well as the statuary acquired from around the world. It will take the next seven years to complete everything to your satisfaction.

No rush. Seven years comes and goes, but life is long and the world is big and your fortune has quadrupled. You won’t actually take up residence in this particular location for yet another five years.

That’s Henry Huntington.

This is also Henry Huntington:

Imagine you love a beautiful and charismatic woman, but the woman is your uncle’s second wife. Good thing you know the value of patience. As was said re: another famous, vaguely incestuous incident almost a century later, the heart wants what the heart wants.

It’s 1900, and fifteen years into the marriage, the uncle dies. Thirteen years later, Arabella finally agrees to marry you. To the impartial eye, she has changed. Now in her mid-sixties, she might be described as obese. She's nearly blind. You will only ever see her in black, because Arabella has vowed to always wear mourning and always wear her late husband's wedding ring. Though she too has a great fortune, this fortune will not be merged with yours, and is intended as a legacy for her (some say illegitimate) son.

The heart still wants.

You add more gardens. Plants with large, perfumed blossoms that Arabella will be able to see, and if not see, smell. Redesign, change, improve, restructure, anything -- anything.

After the marriage you write your sister: "I can never tell you how very happy I am. Belle is so sweet. Good and kind … I am going to be very happy in our new life. In fact, I feel that I am just beginning to live.”

Belle has a green parrot that can imitate her perfectly. Often while you and Belle entertain, and that is usually limited to close friends and family, the parrot will call out “Edward, Edward, hurry up! Come up here! Come to bed!”

Even the very rich haven’t found a way to live forever. “Edward” and Belle are buried together. You can find where, it’s down a long, tree lined lane, just beyond the orange grove, with a good view of the San Gabriel Mountains.

I finally give my first Huntington tour next week. In preparation, I tried to further research the life of Huntington the man. There was only one book on Amazon. The reader review described Henry Huntington as dull and dour, and who, unlike WR Hearst, had nothing compelling happen in his personal life.


  1. This take on Huntington's life really appeals to me. I'd love to be part of your tour.

    Speaking of collecting (as you did the other day), the Huntingtons, particularly Belle, were the ultimate collectors, weren't they. Art, gardens, books. They sure didn't do anything halfway.

  2. This is such a great story. I gather from your earlier post that you don't think you write fiction, but this really is. All the best fiction is truer than non-fiction.

  3. How much is a good stucco job in Santa Monica?

  4. $1 trillion

    By the end of this last century H.E. Huntington was a very rich -and dead- man.

    KB, Good Luck on your 1st Tour Giving! The seven years of preparation & training have come & gone but should pay off handsomely. I visualize you'll be the most beautiful & charismatic tour giver at the Huntington.
    I just hope you'll still have some time for us on the blogosphere.

  5. They had 11 years together. Your fact checker is back from vacation.


  6. I finally found the monument/pavilion. It's the most beautiful part of the Huntington gardens, I think. I took a hundred pictures, none of them worthy of posting. Yours are lovely. I'll go back.

    Everyone has a heart. Even a rich man.

  7. I think I heard this in a lecture by William Deverell...that Huntington at one time considered taking his art collection to the east coast but George Ellerly Hale convinced him that Pasadena was attracting the brightest in the sciences. That he ought to stick around and put down his cultural roots here.

    Didn't Arabella hold the keys to high society? I think she kept Mrs. Busch (of Anheuser fame) on the sidelines. A couple of nouveau riche southern Germans. Maybe Arabella had her reasons after Mrs Busche lined the arroyo with knomes.

    I like the orange grove despite being infested with med fly traps.

  8. You had me sobbing for the wretched tycoon - (what am I thinking?) Wonderful bit of investigative work.
    When is the tour? I'm coming if it's not on 6-13 (another graduation).

  9. "Good things come to those who wait". I"m banking on that one.

    BTW, your photos are gorgeous. Take a big ole bow sistah!


  10. I want to go on your tour.

    This is marvelous. Gatsby-esque, even.

  11. Back for a visit, hopefully adding some intrigue:.

    Arabella Huntington was the second wife of Henry Edward Huntington. Arabella was once known as the richest woman in America, and the force behind the art collection at the Huntington Library.

    I may have this second part confused/mixed up but if I remember right Archer Huntington is somehow related to Arabella (the son perhaps?)

    Archer Huntington was married to a very successful sculptor named Anna Hyatt (Huntington.) Together they created a beautiful garden known as Brookgreen Gardens near Charleston, South Carolina. An amazing place that rivals the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena/San Marino and also functions as a sculpture garden.

    Mid-Town G

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  13. I'd love to take you guys on a tour. Give me a month so I get good at this. Can even arrange a tour or two just for you blogger friendsw, if you'd like.

    PA, I find that highly unlikely. HH wanted to stay in Pasadena as much as possible, and never liked being separated from his collection. And, tho he intended to turn it over to the public after his death, while he was alive he invited scholars but not the press.

    MTG: You always add intrigue. Yes, Arabella may have been the richest woman in the world. Archer was her son, and she left her fortune to him. By all accounts HH & Archer had a very good relationship, and there's a statue by Anne Hyatt on the premises. Now, I'm off to check out Brookgreen.

  14. I love the first shot. such details. I really enjoy this place.

  15. If you give your talk the way you've written about Henry and Arabella, anyone lucky enough to have you as their docent will be enchanted. You're clearly in love with The Huntington. Wonderful, atmospheric photographs too, especially the first one.

  16. I hadn't been to the Huntington since I was 13 years old. Jon, Little Bit and I had a great time there a few weekends ago, and just had to become members. I was enchanted by all of the sculpture and that immense painting collection where Pinky and Blue Boy are. Little Bit loved the children's garden. We all wanted to know more about the place.

    I agree with PJ. Karin, they are lucky to have you there! I'd love to be part of one of your tours, whenever you are ready to let me.

    I had to reread this piece again. Watch out -- someone will make this into a movie before you know it!

  17. What a wonderful way to introduce the Huntington. I must have spent hundreds of hours there since I became a member over a decade ago, and I never came close to learning even snippets of the story you just told. Your tourees are so lucky to have you as their tour guide.

  18. I admit it is romantic. With maybe just a little connecting the dots on my part. Laurie, you know who could play him? Your relative, Gary Cooper. Sigh.

  19. I want to hear more about that romance with Belle. I always thought he married her to combine the family wealth. I am glad that I was wrong. But do you really think I was wrong?

  20. Ohhhhh oooooo ohhhh( hand pumping the air) Ms. Hiker, I have a question, "Can I take your tour? Huh , huh huh??? Oh and I have something I want to add!!!......ooooo and another thing.....

    Ya worst nightmare.

  21. KB, do we need to compare pickled beets? I think you might just be doing it wrong.

  22. Sign me up for the tour, KB. Lead us down any path you want!

  23. Virg: How much is a good stucco job in B-ham? I'm sure you know what a stucco job is...

  24. *ahem* Every party needs a pooper that's why you invited me.

    It sounds 'romantic' but he was obsessed with her. It didn't matter that she was old and had the sartorial taste of Queen Victoria. He was able to carry the ideal of her out of his brain and make it live in the 3-D world.

    It may have even been a kind of prison for her--but she was old, so she settled for it. One could do worse in one's dotage.

    Count me in on the tour!

  25. BTW, every time I step on that big patio on the south side of the main house, I long for dusk and a ball gown. The candles lit and the party guests have started to arrive. The musicians (live of course) will play, and my handsome beau and I will dance all night.

  26. oops "the candles are lit"

    or "the candles have been lighted"

    Why doesn't the Internet come with an editor?

  27. Kelly: You aren't the only party pooper. I also had the same thought - he was obsessed. But I guess it worked for him and he was able to maintain it throughout his life.

  28. Ginger Sugar,
    I'll bet I'm the only one who hears a drawl.
    Pamela (I forgot that nickname)

    wv bratsect

  29. I'm tripping over all these wet blankets. Somebody help me clean this place up.

  30. Thanks KB for cleaning up the dirty laundry. You know we dogs don't like to sleep in wet blankets - especially when caused by the homo sapien.

  31. We share the love of this story.

    Bell was only a year older than Hank/Eddie. So, it wasn't like she robbed the cradle. Her psychology is interesting when one considers her early beginnings and the experiences she had in San Francisco with Collis. And, of course, Collis COLLIS! Oh dear gods Collis.

    They were real people with some very real psychic pain that no amount of money could cure. Fortunately for us, one thing to bring them comfort was their ability to appreciate beauty, and to be wealthy enough to afford the best curator of art objects/advisors in the world.

    One mustn't utter his name aloud as it may bring bad luck.

    There is much more to this story and facts that have come to light in the personal parlors of Pasadena's old families that beg for some kind of validation. Oh, the cursed vet! The aural accounts have left my ears smoking, my dear.

    Smoking! "shish"

  32. PS. Metal lace of the gate photo made my heart skip a beat.

  33. Wealthy people are nuts. Henry and Belle remind me of the Mayflowers from Hudson Hawk, but with taste. I bet you're a fantastic docent. Fly that know-it-all flag, girl! We love it!

  34. "Wealthy people are nuts"
    "He was obsessed"
    "She was old"

    Poor people are this.
    All Italians are that.

    It's so easy to generalize. It's uncomfortable and requires effort to appreciate the individual.

    Why even be a person anymore? In the next 5,000 days of the internet, let's just be archetypes and stick within those narrow boundaries.


  35. Archer and Anna's Crash Pad:

    WV: protagonist (Lie)

  36. Farmgirl, no one has ever encouraged me to fly my knowitall flag before. I'll treasure this moment.

    Actually Ms H, They are, he was, and she was (and so was he). But we know, that's not the story at all. But you know that I know that you know a whole lot more of the story than I.

    Midtown, if you circle back here, what do you know about Anna? Anna and Archer seem to have as many layers as HH & B, but without the need for mystery. Or maybe I'm wrong about that...

  37. Diana the HuntressMay 31, 2009 at 1:43 PM

    Great idea Miss H, I'll just hunt, you just censor!

  38. Did someone say censor?

    Burn all the books!

    Run for the hills!

    No don't run for the hills. They have eyes. Just burn the books.

  39. MH: Censor?, burn, etc??
    No way MG, or even Diana de Hunted, would ever stand for that!

  40. Finally... our favorite Victorian showed up to defend our lady of the manor. Double check my take with Deverell if he's still around. Halle was on the first board of directors and was funded by Huntington.

    After this post I took the Wikapedia tour and discovered more questions. Where was Arabella for that thirteen years between marriages?

  41. Where indeed? So many questions...

  42. I like this different look. Good luck on your first tour. I want to be on one of your tours!