A field of pink/purple flowers on a sunny day stand in front of a blurred background of similar purples/pinks and greenery.

Cherished Traditions: The Rose Garden Tea Room

The Rose Garden Tea Room has a special place in the hearts of countless Huntington visitors, who relish memories of celebrations there or the simple joy of capping a visit to the grounds with the tradition of English tea service. The beloved destination—built in 1911 and which originally served as Henry E. Huntington’s billiard room and bowling alley—recently underwent a major renovation.

couple under a rose pergola

Jennifer and Steve Rogers. Photo courtesy of the Rogers family.

couple at construction site holding safety hats

June and Merle Banta at The Huntington in 2014. Photo by Jamie Pham.

couple at a construction site

Terri and Jerry Kohl tour the renovation of the Rose Garden Tea Room. Photo by Jamie Pham.

couple standing in Rose Garden

Tony and Kim Cookson in the Rose Garden. Photo by Jamie Pham.

Aerial view of the renovation project shows the front entrance and the new pavilion opening onto the Shakespeare Garden. Photo: Architectural Resource Group (ARG)

Aerial rendering of The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tea Room shows the front entrance and the new pavilion opening onto the Shakespeare Garden. Photo: Architectural Resources Group (ARG).

Henry E. Huntington and his personal secretary, Robert Varnum

Henry E. Huntington (left) and his personal secretary, Robert Varnum, in front of the, at the time, billiard building (now the Tea Room) on the Huntington grounds, circa 1915. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

The $11.2 million upgrade also expanded the Tea Room’s footprint to 7,400 square feet and substantially increased seating capacity. A new pavilion on the east side of the building permits guests to enjoy an indoor-outdoor dining experience overlooking the colorful Shakespeare Garden. The project provides an updated and accessible space for future generations to make their own cherished memories at this historic site.

The project was embraced by donors at all levels. Local philanthropists and Huntington neighbors Terri and Jerry Kohl provided a pivotal gift of $3 million toward the effort. “We were delighted to take part in this project,” Jerry Kohl says. “The idea that countless visitors will be able to experience elegant fare, served in an incomparable setting, surrounded by thousands of roses, really spoke to us.”

The project inspired significant gifts from other Huntington donors, including the late Steve Rogers and his wife, Jennifer, who made the lead gift of $2.7 million for the project. “Steve always loved supporting Huntington projects,” Jennifer says, “and we both loved the experience of the Rose Garden Tea Room. Now it’s even more wonderful.” Other major donors include two of Henry E. Huntington’s great-granddaughters: Dorian Huntington Davis, who gave in memory of her grandmother Marian Prentice Huntington, and Claudia Huntington. June Banta and her late husband, Merle, chose the renovation for their capstone gift to The Huntington. “Merle loved The Huntington and took great pride in being the longest-serving member of the Board of Governors,” June Banta explains. “For us, the Tea Room is the perfect combination of The Huntington’s history and the vibrancy of the present.”

The renovation was also the perfect opportunity for long-standing Members, such as Tony and Kim Cookson, to support The Huntington. “For several years, we’ve considered making a major gift in my mother’s name,” Tony Cookson says. “So, when we were told about the Rose Garden Tea Room renovation project, it seemed like a perfect thing to do because my mother loved it so much.”

The couple first brought Tony’s mother to The Huntington in the mid-1990s. “She loved the gardens, and we started going to the Rose Garden Tea Room then,” Cookson says. “Growing up in England, my mom loved tea, so visiting The Huntington reminded her of her childhood. We would also share this important and treasured ritual with Kim’s parents when they visited us each spring.”

Huntington’s billiard room and bowling alley were converted to a tearoom in 1928. Food service was interrupted between 1943 and 1959, and then the facility served as an extension of the staff cafeteria in the 1960s and ’70s. Afternoon tea in the English style began to be offered in the 1980s and continued until March 2020, when the pandemic necessitated its closure—and provided an opportunity for rejuvenation and expansion.

“This renovation celebrates a beloved historic structure, acknowledging what has been one of the area’s most iconic dining destinations since it opened to the public many decades ago,” Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence says. “These innovative upgrades make for a unique tea experience. The Shakespeare Garden pavilion creates a beautifully fluid space between indoors and outdoors.”

The Rose Garden Tea Room renovation project recaptures this storied venue’s charm and reintegrates it with the surrounding gardens. In addition to restoring some of the building’s original features—including the front of the 1911 building and the balustrades at the parapet—the project remodeled service areas and made the facility fully accessible.

The indoor dining space has been enhanced, while the kitchen has been modernized. The renovation allows guests to enjoy views of the Shakespeare Garden on the east side of the Tea Room, the Herb Garden on the west, and the Rose Garden to the south. Visitors can access these rooms using a new main entrance (slightly to the east of the original one) or directly through the Herb Garden, making it an ideal space for private events.

Cookson summarizes the feeling of many when he says, “As we have become older, our appreciation for what The Huntington offers has grown, and we feel a sense of obligation to help enable others to enjoy it. This unique place needs to be cherished and cared for.”

For more information about the Rose Garden Tea Room, please contact Marina Kohler, director of donor engagement, at 626-405-3497 or mkohler@huntington.org.