Welcome to The Huntington, one of the world’s great cultural, research, and educational centers
A private, nonprofit institution, The Huntington was founded in 1919 by Henry E. Huntington, an exceptional businessman who built a financial empire that included railroad companies, utilities, and real estate holdings in Southern California.
Huntington was also a man of vision – with a special interest in books, art, and gardens. During his lifetime, he amassed the core of one of the finest research libraries in the world, established a splendid art collection, and created an array of botanical gardens with plants from a geographic range spanning the globe. These three distinct facets of The Huntington are linked by a devotion to research, education, and beauty.
The Library’s collection of rare books and manuscripts in the fields of British and American history and literature is nothing short of extraordinary. For qualified scholars, The Huntington is one of the largest and most complete research libraries in the United States in its fields of specialization. For the general public, the Library has on display some of the finest rare books and manuscripts of Anglo-American civilization. Altogether, there are about 6 million items.
Among the treasures for research and exhibition are the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a Gutenberg Bible on vellum, the double-elephant folio edition of Audubon’s Birds of America, and a world-class collection of the early editions of Shakespeare’s works.
The Huntington also is among the nation’s most important centers for the study of the American West, with an unsurpassed collection of materials that span the full range of American western settlement, including the overland pioneer experience, the Gold Rush, and the development of Southern California.
The Munger Research Center, the newest addition to the Library structure, adds 90,000 square feet of space for scholars and staff, preservation, conservation, and storage.
The Art Collections are distinguished by their specialized character and elegant settings in three separate galleries on the Huntington grounds. A fourth space, the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery, hosts changing exhibitions. The Huntington Art Gallery, originally the Huntington residence, contains one of the most comprehensive collections in this country of 18th- and 19th-century British and French art. It serves as home to Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Lawrence’s Pinkie. On display in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, The Huntington’s American art collection includes works from the 1690s to the 1950s, including important paintings such as Mary Cassatt’s Breakfast in Bed, Frederic Edwin Church’s Chimborazo, and Edward Hopper’s The Long Leg.
The Botanical Gardens are an ever-changing exhibition of color and a constant delight. Covering 120 acres, more than a dozen specialized gardens are arranged within a park-like landscape of rolling lawns. Among the most remarkable are the Desert Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Chinese garden. The camellia collection is one of the largest in the country. Other important botanical attractions include the Subtropical, Herb, Jungle, and Palm gardens.
To the north of the Scott Galleries sits the Botanical Education Center, featuring the Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden, the Teaching Greenhouse, and The Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science. The Conservatory provides children and families with exhibits designed to capture the imagination, engage the senses, and teach some of the fundamentals of botany. The Children’s Garden is most suitable for kids ages 2-7; the Conservatory is designed for middle-school-age students.
Scholars come from around the world every year to conduct advanced humanities research using The Huntington’s collections. Through a rigorous peer-review program, the institution awards 120-130 grants to scholars in the fields of history, literature, art, and the history of science. Through the Huntington Library Press, the institution produces the Huntington Library Quarterly and several books each year. Scholarly pursuits lead to best-selling books, Pulitzer Prizes, acclaimed documentary films, and many of the history and social studies textbooks that educate the nation’s school children. Research activities at The Huntington also include scholarly conferences and workshops, symposia, special lectures, and a multitude of collaborations.
Readers (as scholars at The Huntington are known) registered to use the collections have included Nobel Laureates (Richard Feynman), Oscar winners (Katharine Hepburn), Grammy winners (Ian Whitcomb), and Pulitzer Prize winners (some 20 Pulitzer Prize-winning historians and other major prize winners have used the collections). Their work has cut across many fields: literature (Wallace Stegner), history (James McPherson, Irving Stone, and Gordon Wood), film and television (George Cukor and Ken Burns), and astronomy (Edwin Hubble), among others.
The Huntington’s education programs serve a broad audience and provide enrichment for members of the institution, casual visitors, school teachers, children, and adults. Programs range from lively activities for preschoolers to intensive five-week institutes for K-12 classroom teachers.
On average, The Huntington’s school programs serve approximately 12,000 children and 750 teachers each year. Students from throughout Los Angeles, San Diego, Ventura, and San Bernardino counties participate in 11 different school field trip programs, free of charge. Lesson plans in science, art, and the humanities, developed by Huntington educators and scholars, and that feature The Huntington’s collections, are put to use in schools nationwide.
Henry & Arabella Huntington
Henry Edwards Huntington was born in 1850 in Oneonta, New York. In 1872 he went to work for his uncle, Collis P. Huntington, one of the owners of the Central Pacific Railroad. Twenty years later Huntington moved to San Francisco at his uncle’s request to share management of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Enroute to San Francisco he visited the J. DeBarth Shorb estate, “San Marino,” which he later purchased. Today the estate is home to his collections.
In 1902, Huntington moved his business operations to Los Angeles, where he greatly expanded the existing electric railway lines, creating an extensive inter-urban system providing the transportation necessary to encourage population growth. As a result of the railway linkages and the development of the property adjacent to the lines, the population of the region tripled between 1900 and 1910. Huntington’s business interests continued to grow particularly in the areas of water, power, and land development; at one time he served on as many as 60 corporate boards throughout the United States.
At the age of 60 he announced his decision to retire in order to devote time to his book and art collections and the landscaping of the 600-acre ranch. He operated the ranch as a commercial enterprise for several years, later selling more than half the acreage. In 1911 the large Beaux Arts mansion (now the Huntington Art Gallery), designed by architect Myron Hunt, was completed.
In 1913, Huntington married Arabella Duval Huntington, the widow of his uncle Collis. She was Henry’s age and shared his interests in collecting. As one of the most important art collectors of her generation, she was highly influential in the development of the art collection now displayed in the former mansion.
Huntington was one of the country’s most prominent collectors of rare books and manuscripts. In 1920 the library building was completed to house his outstanding collection.
In 1919, Henry and Arabella Huntington signed the indenture that transferred their San Marino property and collections to a nonprofit educational trust, creating The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, which hosts more than 500,000 visitors each year.
Henry E. Huntington died in 1927; Arabella predeceased him by three years. Both are buried in the mausoleum on the property, designed by John Russell Pope, who later designed the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.