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.