The Huntington nurtures botanical havens, showcases rare artifacts


Tiffany Chang

A metal ring statue stands in the Rose Garden at the Huntington. The garden was initially created in 1908 for the private use of Henry and Arabella Huntington and later opened to the public in 1928.

Harker Aquila visited The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens on Wednesday before attending the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention that began Thursday.

LOS ANGELES – Amidst a long row of magnificent white arches, tiny pink flowers creep up the sides of poles, filling the air with a sweet fragrance. Outside the archway along the shaded path, the first signs of spring blossom in bright flowers and the serenity of surrounding flora and fauna. Just a few walkways down, the next garden features traditional Japanese architecture, stone ponds and blooming cherry blossom trees – an isolated cultural haven found right in Los Angeles.

The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, located in San Marino, Calif., is a collection of libraries and museums surrounded by 16 themed gardens, including the Rose Garden and the Shakespeare Garden. Founded by Henry and Arabella Huntington in 1919, the 55,000-square-foot Art Gallery previously served as the pair’s home. Both Huntingtons shared a passion for collecting all sorts of items — art, books and plants in particular. As their collection grew, so did the establishment.

Following the couple’s deaths in 1924 and 1927, individuals sponsored the addition of botanical centers, art galleries and research centers. Now, the property spans 207 acres, 130 of which are open to visitors. In 2015, The Huntington added a 52,000-square-foot visitor center with cafes, gift shop and educational classrooms.

Viola, a waitress who began working at the 1919 Cafe in the visitor center in November 2021, appreciated how The Huntington offered her the unique opportunity to experience multiple cultures in a unified location. In particular, she enjoyed learning from The Huntington’s non-Western exhibits, including the Chinese and Japanese gardens. 

“I like being at The Huntington in general, and I was looking for a job,” Viola said. “I thought it would be nice because I can go through different environments from around the world in a day. I really love the Japanese Garden — it’s such a beautiful thing.”

The Huntington Visitor Center also includes The Huntington Store, a gift shop that consists of eight themed rooms with books, decor and more – all related to Huntington’s library, art and botanical experiences. Welcoming over 800,000 visitors every year, the gift store proves to be one of Huntington’s most popular attractions. Masha Mesherya, who visited The Huntington Store on Wednesday, noted that the multitude of diverse gardens convinced her to visit for the second time.

“I visited in January and it was just the most beautiful I’d seen in a long time, so I decided to bring my mom for a visit,” Masha said. “Everything is really beautiful — the museums are pretty, there’s a lot of walking to do and a lot to see. Each garden has its own thing, but my favorite is probably the Japanese garden.”

In January 2022, Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence delivered a public statement on Huntington’s official website regarding COVID-19 pandemic updates. After facing significant challenges due to the pandemic, such as having to postpone their “Made in L.A. 2020: a version” exhibition, which was in collaboration with the Hammer Museum, by 10 months.

“There was much promise for vaccines [in 2021], yet uncertainty as to when they would become widely available,” Lawrence said. “Nevertheless, we persevered. As we were greeted by countless individuals thanking us for keeping the gardens open, we realized that we are a critical respite for many during a very challenging time. Together, even in the face of daunting times, we’re not only making it through—we’re thriving!”