In 1919 Henry E. and Arabella D. Huntington established a trust, leaving a portion of their estate--a vast library, art collections, and botanical gardens--for the benefit of the public. Now The Huntington is one of the nation's premier cultural, research, and educational centers, with holdings that include some of the most treasured artifacts of western civilization.
The emphasis of the collections established by Mr. Huntington remains in place today: Anglo-American civilization as represented in art, history, and literature, and plants from around the world. While the collections are now several times as large as they were when Mr. Huntington died in 1927, the items for which the institution is best known were acquired by him.
The Huntington is a private non-profit institution governed by a five member Board of Trustees, with assistance from a 60 member Board of Overseers. The staff of some 250 is assisted by over 600 volunteers. Set in a serene, parklike landscape, The Huntington is only 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
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.
Collis Huntington died in 1900. Two years later Henry moved his own business operations to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Huntington greatly expanded the existing railway lines, creating an extensive inter-urban system that provided 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 sixty corporate boards throughout the United States.
At the age of sixty 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 1910 the large Beaux Arts mansion (now the 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 Mr. and Mrs. Huntington signed an indenture which transferred their San Marino property and collections to a non-profit educational trust, creating the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, which today hosts over 500,000 visitors, 1,800 scholars, and 25,000 school children annually.