By Nancy Armitage
Christmas at the H . E. & Arabella Huntington’s Mansion “Edwards & Belle” on the San Marino Ranch was a magical time. We know of 5 years that the Huntington’s celebrated Christmas there: 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, & 1926. The Huntington Mansion was dressed up beautifully for Christmas with 100’s of bright red poinsettias, a Large Christmas Tree (maybe 2, one in the foyer & I think another Christmas tree might have been in the Large Library), fragrant Christmas wreaths, & grand red rose & white flower arrangements.
On Christmas Day, the Huntingtons invited all the employees & household servant staff to a lovely Christmas tea reception.
As one walked up to enter the Huntington Mansion a lovely red surprise. At Christmas time, there were 100’s maybe 1000’s of bright red poinsettia plants surrounded the area, (guards have told me this was the tradition of the Huntingtons). On the Loggia, a enormous Christmas Flower arrangement atop the marble top table. Mrs. Huntington had a great affection for the “Madonna & Child” . As shown by her grand collection of Madonna and Child paintings she collected she the called “the Primitives”. A Christmas creche (Nativity scene ) or several creches would have graced the Huntington Mansion.
The flowers on the Loggia Table & in the Huntington Mansion were most-likely bright red & white “Winter Roses”. Winter Roses are huge in Southern California; big as oranges) with Christmas greenery, & red berries. Mr. Huntington had 3 hot houses on the ranch; one of them was just devoted to roses. Usually, the Huntington’s flower arrangement had 150-200 flowers, like a gigantic fancy hotel foyer flower arrangements. The stunning red rose plants that were ordered most often at the Ranch were called “General MacArthur” Roses (similar to Mr. Lincoln red roses). They order 100 or 250 of General MacArthur roses at a time. also White Irish “Killarney” Roses. 100-200 rose plants at one time where ordered at the ranch by Hertrich. Also, “American Beauty” red roses were also Huntington favorites. In the 1890’s, this special rose was were ordered by the Huntington family. They would decorate the Huntington Mansion on Nob Hill with American Beauty roses for fancy 16-course banquet dinners: Southern Pacific Co. annual banquets, and other entertainments like Christmas time, etc.
We know of 5 years that the Huntington’s celebrated Christmas at the Ranch. Edwards & Belle enjoyed Thanksgiving & Christmas there in 1922 & 1923. After Belle’s death, Mr. H. E. “Edwards” Huntington himself had Christmas at his beloved San Marino Ranch in 1924, 1925, & 1926. Sometimes, his daughters or son’s Howard & Leslie Huntington’s family would join him & houseguests, also. Howard had passed away in 1922, but the family still remained close. One year, in 1924 (the year Belle died), the Huntington’s enjoy an early Christmas Breakfast at the Ranch. Then Mr. Huntington & his daughter, Marian Huntington were joined by his sister, Carrie Holladay & his brother-in-law, “Burke” Holladay ‘motoring” to Riverside, CA. They took Mr. Huntington’s limousines for a couple of days; guests of Frank Miller at the Glenwood Mission Inn in Riverside, CA.
The Huntington’s grand Christmas tree was decorated in the middle of the foyer between the 2 grand staircases. The Huntington Library guards have told me that the Huntingtons tree was huge at the time. It was filled with the most ornate glass German Christmas bulbs: the smallest at the top & Christmas ornaments “as big as grapefruits” at the bottom of the tree. Arabella probably had a amazing collection of Christmas aornaments from her travels. Especially Parisian ornate ornaments or German glass sparkly ornaments with thick red French ribbons.
The Huntingtons loved Christmas & were very generous people. The daughter of the Mr. Huntington’s gardener once told a story. On Christmas Day at the ranch: Mr. & Mrs. Huntington would host a large Christmas tea reception. Everyone that lived on the Ranch (household servants, ranch employees, & their families) were invited. The number of guests could have been up to 60-80 or more people. Mr. Huntington gave out Christmas bonuses & gold coins (Alfonso, the Butler stated); Mrs. Huntington spoiled all the little children with wonderful gifts, treats, chocolates, & candy! Probably Santa Claus was invited to come to sit & have the children meet him & give out candy canes. Christmas music would be playing his from Mr. Huntington’s music box “Electric Victrola” in the “Coat Room”. Or maybe Mr. Huntington’s sister, Carrie Huntington Holladay or his daughter-in-law Leslie Huntington (Howard’s wife), played Christmas carols on the Steinway Grand Piano in the Large Library.
For the Christmas Tea, Mrs. Arabella Huntington might have used one of her 11 different sets of Havilland dishes or Limoges (gold & white) dishes. Several of her beautiful Havilland & Limoges patterns dishes were gold & white; perfect for a elegant tea reception on the Dining Room Table as a Christmas buffet feast.
The Huntington’s Christmas Tea Blend would have been “Orange Pekoe“, a blend of Ceylon tea & India tea (Mrs. Huntington’s favorite). Sometimes at Christmas, cinnamon & orange peel is added. This was a wonderful tea they used to have at the Hotel Huntington in Pasadena, now the Langham-Huntington. The tea would have been placed in a large silver tea urn that the Huntingtons Head Butler, Alfonso Gomez would have helped the guests. Also, Christmas Hot Cocoa could have been served to the little children.
A Punch Bowl filled with festive Christmas Champagne Punch would have been festive for the adults. The Huntington Mansion’s inventory states that they had a cut-glass punch bowl with punch glasses & also a silver punch bowl (most-likely Gorham silver). Mrs. Huntington loved “Champagne Punch” which is a combination of champagne, rum, & fruit juices. A hot punch called Christmas “Sherry Tea” was a Pasadena tradition at the Hotel Huntington could have also been served.
A typical Huntington tea reception had doily-lined Gorham silver trays of dainty tea sandwiches of minced ham or roast beef, chicken, cucumber, or salmon. There were salmon, caviar, or French roquefort cheese canapes passed around on silver trays to the guests. They would have served sliced Virginia ham, on Southern Beaten Biscuits with French Dijon mustard. They could have have made lovely English “Cream scones”. These light scones served with English clotted cream or French “Chantilly Cream (powdered vanilla added) & Ranch-made Orange Marmalade & Raspberry Jam.
They would have had bowls of Jordan Almonds & Virginia Peanuts. For dessert, a team of dessert cooks would have made Christmas goodies like: Huntington Fruit Cake or a Christmas Pudding or Huntington Spice Cake. All sorts of Christmas Cookies, small Tartlettes of pecan & lemon curd, French Chocolate BonBons & Peppermint BonBons (truffles) & iced “Petit Fours” (French petit cakes). Mrs. Kley was a dessert cook for the Huntingtons. A granddaughter of Mrs. Kley (dessert cook for the Huntingtons) gave me 2 of her recipes: Huntington Mansion “Honey Spice Bars” (between a chocolate brownie & a truffle) & “Cinnamon Stars” (a almond based cookie with cinnamon) with Royal icing.
Recipe for Christmas “Fruit Cake” handwritten in one of Mr. H.E. Huntington rare books: Corona Club Cookbook, San Francisco (1911):
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. butter
2 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
1 lb. raisins
1 lb. currants
1/4 lb. citron [or dried apricots]
1/4 t. nutmeg
1 t. cloves
1 t. allspice
1/4 pt. brandy
1 t. baking powder
There were no directions on the pencil notation; in a middle size bowl add all ingredients. Bake in a slow oven 325 degrees for about 2 hours or more.
Historical Note: Background on Mr. Huntington & this little San Francisco cookbook. In 1910, he was single man/divorced from his 1st wife, Mary Alice; that year he moved into the Huntington Mansion on the ranch with a small servant staff . His 1st housekeeper at the San Marino Ranch was Mrs. Foley from San Francisco. Mrs. Foley was Mrs. Collis P. Huntington’s (Arabella) Head Housekeeper from her San Francisco Mansion on Nob Hill at 1020 California St. in SF, CA. I think Mrs. Foley helped Mr. H. E. Huntington to set up his large mansion kitchen, & maybe brought some cookbooks with her. Or Mr. Huntington bought the Corona Club Cookbook & gave it to his cook to use. This is the only cookbooks I found in the HEH’s personal collection labeled: HEH Collection with hand written notes in it. A couple months later after Mrs. Foley arrived; Mr. Huntington employed Nora Larsen as his loyal cook & head housekeeper (1911-1927). Edwards & Arabella Huntington got married in 1913, but Arabella & Sir Joseph Duveen was very involved with the setting up of this residence, paintings, & tapestries to be purchased, etc.
Document: HEH Coll. HEH 8/9 (San Marino Ranch Papers) Red roses & grocery & food lists of Huntington household SMR; HEH Coll. HEH 38/6 uncat [Huntington Mansion inventory book]; HEH Coll. MS 10968 (E. Burke Holladay Journals 1914-1924)- Mission Inn trip in 1924; Cookbook: Corona Club Cookbook, San Francisco (1911) in the HEH Collection of books. Huntington Library San Marino, CA