Christmas at the San Marino Ranch with the Huntingtons

By Nancy Armitage

Christmas at the Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington’s (Arabella) Mansion. They were called “Edwards & Belle” to their family & friends. San Marino Ranch in Southern California was a magical time. Perfect sunny weather instead of cold, snowy & rainy in New York. We know of 5 years that the Huntington’s actually celebrated Christmas at the Ranch: 1922, & 1923. After Mrs. Huntington died in 1924, Mr. H. E. Huntington was at the Ranch at Christmas in the years 1924, 1925, & 1926.

Mrs. Huntington loved Christmas & enjoyed have the Huntington Mansion looking festive for the holidays. The Huntington Mansion was dressed up beautifully for Christmas with 100’s of bright red poinsettias from Mexico, a Large Christmas Tree (maybe 2,) one in the foyer for sure & I think another Christmas tree might have been in the Large Library). The Huntington mansion having fragrant Christmas wreaths on all the double doors and I assume a Nativity scene or Christmas creche. The loggia & the main hall & other rooms decorated with amazing grand red rose & white flower arrangements with 150-200 flowers in each.

Huntington’s Nativity Scene

Did they have one? I’m not sure. She was such a collector, she probably had several. Mrs. Huntington had a great affection for the “Madonna & Child”. As shown by her grand collection of Madonna & Child paintings, she collected she the called “the Primitives”. A Christmas creche (Nativity Scene ) or several creches would have graced the Huntington Mansion.

Beautiful fragrant “Della Robbia” Christmas Wreaths, a tradition in San Marino & Pasadena was to buy of Christmas Wreath from the Boy’s Republic in Chico, CA; an orphanage for boys started back in the 1920’s. Did the Huntingtons buy these wreaths? or did the Ranch make their own wreaths?? Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

On Christmas Day, the Huntingtons had a special reception celebration. They invited all the employees & household servant staff that lived on the San Marino Ranch to a lovely Christmas tea reception. They gave their employees their bonus, sometimes gold coins and treats says the Head Butler: Mr. Alfonso Gomez. Mrs. Arabella Huntington loved to buy little presents and treats for everyone, even the employee’s children.

Christmas at the Huntington Mansion would have been very elegant with Mrs. Huntington best damask napkins with their initials “HEH”, gold & white porcelain plates, & crystal glasses & Gorham silver flatware.. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

As one walked up to enter the Huntington Mansion on the Ranch, a lovely red surprise. At Christmas time, there were 100’s maybe 1000’s of bright red poinsettia. A showy red long petaled plant from Mexico; surrounding the whole loggia area. (The Huntington Library guards have told me this was the tradition of the Huntingtons). On the Loggia, a enormous Christmas Flower arrangement atop the marble top table.

This picture is actually the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara, CA. But it gives us the idea of what the Huntington’s Loggia might have looked like with 100’s of poinsettia flower pots. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

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 ordered 100 or 250 of General MacArthur roses at a time. also White Irish “Killarney” Roses. They bought 100-200 rose plants at one time where ordered at the ranch by William Hertrich. Also, “American Beauty” red roses were also a Huntington favorite for their entertainments. In the 1890’s, this special rose was were ordered often by the Huntington family. They would decorate the Huntington Mansion on Nob Hill with gorgeous bright red “American Beauty” roses for fancy 16-course banquet dinners: Southern Pacific Co. annual banquets, & other entertainments like Christmas time, etc. At the San Marino Ranch they just grow their own red roses.

100’s of bright red roses in the foyer of the Miramar Hotel, Santa Barbara, CA. The red roses could be “Veteran’s Honor”, “Mr. Lincoln” or “Christian Dior” or the florist red rose called this red rose “Freedom”. It gives us an idea of the Huntington Mansion’s Loggia & household flower arrangements with 200- 300 or more flowers in each. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

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.

The Huntington’s Christmas Tree at the Ranch was always placed under the grand double staircase. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage taken in the foyer at the Huntington Library, San Marino, 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 Huntington’s tree was huge at the time. It was filled with the most ornate glass German Christmas bulbs: the smallest ornaments at the top & Christmas ornaments “as big as grapefruits” at the bottom of the tree. Arabella probably had a amazing collection of Christmas ornaments from her travels (Italy, Germany and France). Especially Parisian ornate ornaments or German glass sparkly ornaments with thick red French ribbons.

These are some hanging Christmas ornaments at the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara, CA. See the different size ornaments “some as big as grapefruits” & the French hot air balloons!! Did Arabella Huntington have a French themed Christmas tree in all her mansions?? Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Christmas Tea at the San Marino Ranch (for all staff and their families)

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) all 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 Head Butler stated); Mrs. Huntington spoiled all the little children with wonderful gifts, treats, chocolates, & candy! Probably Santa Claus was invited to come to sit in a grand chair & have the children meet him; and give out candy canes. Christmas music would be playing from his 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. A interesting fact that came to be known in the Burke Journals and Carrie Huntington Journals was that Mrs. Arabella Huntington was quite a excellent singer.

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 with cinnamon and allspice and orange peel. (Mrs. Huntington’s favorite). 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 Huntington’s Head Butler, Alfonso Gomez would have helped the guests. Also, Christmas Hot Cocoa with peppermint stick could have been served to the little children.

A much larger version of this tea urn would have been used to serve 60-80 guests. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

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 or Sheffield 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 butler 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 EnglishCream scones” or Southern Beaten Biscuits with San Marino Ranch honey . These light scones served with English clotted cream or French “Chantilly Cream (powdered vanilla added) & Ranch-made Orange Marmalade & Raspberry Jam.

A funny story about Mr. Huntington & Mr. Hertrich going for their daily walks around the Ranch. Mr. Huntington look up at a water tower & saw a leak on the top. The next day, Mr. Hertrich investigated & realized the leak was pounds of honey (orange blossom) oozing out of the water tower. The ranch bees thought it was a perfect place to have a bee hive. Hertrich & his crew of men filled every container they could get their hands. They transported it to Miss Nora Larsen, who bottled the orange blossom honey up. The Huntington’s gave that delicious honey to all the employees as present with their bonus. The San Marino Ranch was supplied with the delicious honey for several years.

At the Christmas Tea: they would have had bowls of Jordan Almonds & Virginia Peanuts (favorites of Arabellas). 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

4 eggs

2 c. flour

1/4 t. salt

1 lb. raisins

1 lb. currants

1/4 lb. citron [or dried apricots or San Marino Ranch orange peel ]

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.

Christmas at the Glenwood Mission Inn

One year, in 1924 (the year Belle died, Mr. Huntington must have been quite sad). So the Huntington’s enjoy an early Christmas Breakfast at the Ranch and then went off on a vacation. 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.

Historical Note: The 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

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