El Molino Viejo (Old Mill) & the Huntingtons

by Nancy Armitage

In the 1700’s, El Molino Viejo (the Old Mill) in San Marino, California was a grist mill (to grind wheat & corn). It was built by Father Zalvidea, a Franciscan priest, for the San Gabriel Archangel Mission in San Gabriel, CA. He worked with Father Serra, the founder of all the Missions of California. Old Mill photo credit: Old-Mill.org

At the San Gabriel Mission, they had a huge community of local native American Indians called the “Tongva”; who came to be known as the “Gabrieleno” tribe. The Chumash Indians also lived in the Los Angeles area. The Indians were farmers (at the Mission) & fishermen (fishing in the Los Angeles River & Pacific Ocean).

The sunflower gives us 2 gifts: a gorgeous huge flowers and delicious seeds to eat.

For their food, they were also “hunter-gatherers”. In the San Gabriel Valley. There was a abundance of food in this great and beautiful valley. They would gather: Berries: Manzanita berries, wild blackberries, prickly pear berries, & rose hip fruit. Seeds: pinenuts, chia nut & seeds, sunflower seeds, acorns, Carrizo grass with leafy greens; Herbs like fennel (wild anise) & sage brush. The Gabrielenos hunted venison, ducks, rabbits, deer, & doves. The Mission San Gabriel had 1000’s grapevines, olive trees, with vegetable garden, citrus trees, & pomegranates.

It is hard to image that the El Molino Ranch & San Marino Ranches looked similar to this ranch in the early 1900’s. Gorgeous old California oak trees sprinkling the landscape.

Cream sherry & sweet sherry wines were California’s very first wines. This makes sense, because Mission San Gabriel church needed wine to consecrate the Host in the Catholic Holy Mass. The wine was also used for other sacraments, table wine, & to sell at profit. Most of the San Gabriel Valley was once grapevines, all owned by historic Mission San Gabriel.

It is amazing but the very first grapevine is still growing in “Grapevine Arbor”!! It is located just outside the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel. These grapes that grew there were called ‘Mission Grapes”; when ripen they are a beautiful purple-reddish color. The 1st cutting of this grapevine was probably from Spain (Old World). California grape experts think the 1st cutting was a hybrid of Castilian grapes & native grape indigenous to Parrus. Of all the 21 California missions, Mission San Gabriel had the highest production of wine. In the late 1700’s, they were selling millions of gallons of wine.

Claude Monet makes our mouths water with the bounty of his gardens,: grapes & apples.

In the 1860’s, Mr. L. J. Rose of Sunnyslope Vineyards in San Gabriel, CA, made most of California sherry wine & brandies. These sweet wines were sold under the Stern & Rose label. In the Victorian times, wealthy homes had a “Parlor” Room to welcome their guests. High society women of San Marino, Pasadena, & San Gabriel owned fine crystal carafes filled with California sherry.

A Parlor Room, would consist of a organ, paintings, books, parlor games, & lots of reception chairs. It would have a table in the middle to serve sherry, tea, & refreshments for teatime..

The crystal carafe would be located on a silver tray with several petit cordial glasses. At teas called “at homes”, guests would drink sherry, also enjoying tea, sandwiches, & conversation. Also, in the Gilded Age, at large multi-course dinners, oysters was always the first course. Almost every Gilded age menu I seen had Raw Oysters with Amontillado ( which is a Spanish sweet sherry) as a first course. In 1888, the State of California wine board gave glowing reports on sherry. It reported that California sherries could match any European sherries in excellence.

Here’s an example of a fine cut crystal (Waterford) sherry carafe with petit sherry glasses. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Another tea tradition started in Pasadena was the “Sherry Tea”. It is a delicious tea made with tea, sugar, spices, & sherry wine. It is not clear when this tradition started but they used to serve “Sherry Tea” at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, CA. At Christmas time, they also served “Sherry Tea” at Ports O’ Call in Pasadena while you shopped. I have both those recipes (below) but they are a little different.

Sherry Tea (Ports O’ Call, Pasadena)

Port O’ Call used to be in Pasadena, now they are in San Marino, CA. A wonderful store selling beautiful fine china & crystal. This is a old recipe of theirs circa 1930-40’s. Served very elegantly in a large “samovar” (tea urn with a spout). Usually served about Christmas time, it was delicious. Served in a festive punch bowl, & float orange & lemon slices, & cinnamon sticks.

Makes 1 gallon of Sherry Tea:

2 heaping T. loose tea

1 gallon hot water

2 sticks cinnamon

1/4 t. whole cloves

1/8 t. whole allspice

2 c. or less sugar

2 oranges, juice

juice of 2 lemons

2 c. [California] sherry

[1 large Samovar or large punch bowl]

Make a spice bag by adding spices to cheesecloth bag. Add spice bag to Samovar or punch bowl, add boiling water carefully. Boil lemon & orange juice with the sugar. add to samovar. Add sherry & serve. Document: a index card recipe for Sherry Tea from Port O’ Call, Pasadena CA. Nancy Note: Just FYI this is a very little amount of tea, if you have 1 gallon: there should be 16 c. tea in a gallon, so it should be 16 t. loose tea bag, or season to taste.

Use the juice of the orange for the Sherry tea and cut orange slices for the punch bowl.

In the early 1900’s, Mr. H. E. Huntington & his company, the Huntington Land & Improvement Co. (HLIC) bought the El Molino Ranch. This property included the Wentworth Hotel in Pasadena,CA which became the Hotel Huntington & all the land surrounding the hotel. Also, the El Molino Viejo (the Old Mill) was included in that property sale. On January 4, 1914, the Hotel Huntington open to the public with much fanfare. The hotel hosted 3 main events that month, a luncheon tea reception, a dinner, & a formal ball. The Huntington Hotel used the Old Mill as another venue on the property.

Sherry Tea (Junior League of Pasadena) at Huntington Sheraton Hotel, Pasadena)

1 heaping t. Orange Pekoe Tea

1 pt. cold water

1 stick cinnamon

1 qt. boiling water

6 large lemons

1 c. sugar

2-3 c. [California] sherry

Let tea steep in boiling water for 15 mins. Extract juice from lemons. Place juice, lemon shells, cold water & cinnamon stick in pan, & let simmer until lemon shells are tender. Strain & add sugar. Strain tea & combine mixtures. Add sherry just before serving. Serve hot. Serve 10-12 Book: Pasadena Prefers Cookbook, Junior League of Pasadena, Inc. Huntington Sheraton Hotel Pasadena, CA 91109 ( Revised Edition 1970) p.42 Submitted by Mrs. C. Ackert Banks. Nancy Note: This is a much smaller quantity then the Ports O Call recipe & not as spicy.

Between 1913-1918 and maybe longer, the El Molino Viejo property had a 8 – hole golf course for the visitors of the Hotel Huntington in Pasadena, CA. The Old Mill was their golf course clubhouse at the “Huntington Golf Course”. The golf course ran from the Old Mill east to Virginia Rd. & further (in San Marino) which was all Mr. Huntington’s San Marino Ranch at the time .

Sherry Wine cake is delicious with a cup of tea. Remember to garnish with lemon thyme sprig or a orange slice. This pretty fine china (Above) is Limoges -Theodore Haviland made in France. We know many of Mrs. Huntington’s Haviland plates were gold & white with pink roses.

In 1918, Mr. H. E. Huntington & H.L & I Co. sold the Huntington Hotel. H. E. Huntington’s wife, Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington decided to buy the historic El Molino Viejo – Old Mill. The Huntington’s Head Butler, Alfonso Gomez stated that Mrs. Huntington respected the Old Mill’s rich history as being part of the heritage of California. Her dream was to make the Old Mill a art colony of some sort. That she could pass it on to her son. Her son, Archer Huntington was very involved in Spanish history & artifacts; she thought he might appreciate that. In 1904, Archer Huntington had opened up his Hispanic Society of America – a Museum in NYC.

Sherry Wine Cake

This is a delicious moist sherry cake with many different possibilities. You could add either baby lemon thyme leaves, poppy seeds, or chocolate morsels to the batter.

1 pkg. Betty Crocker pound cake mix

2 eggs

2/3 c. liquid measure equal part of each of this:

(1/3 Christian Bros. Sherry, 1/3 water, & 1/3 safflower oil)

1 t. freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 t. mace

In a glass measuring cup, add the liquids together. In a big batter bowl, add all ingredients & stir. Pour into greased & floured bundt pan or 5 4″ heart-shaped pans. Fill pan(s) 1/2 full with batter. Bake 325@ for 30-40 minutes. Check for doneness: with a wooden skewer. Garnish with lemon thyme leaves or baby roses in the middle of the bundt cake. The sherry wine cake is done when skewer comes out clean. Document: a great recipe handed down to me by my fellow members of the Herb Society of American- Southern California Unit in the 1980’s.

This is actually the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara . It gives us a feel for Old World Rancho Spanish style: tile floor, door archways with paintings, rod iron sconces, & carved wood furniture. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Between 1918- 1920’s, Mrs. Arabella Huntington began to buy Spanish-style furniture to re-decorate the Old Mill. She even had plans to extend the buildings with mission-style arches to look like the San Gabriel Mission. In 1924, the year she died, Mrs. Huntington had plans to restore the building (per her Head butler, Alfonso Gomez) & make it a artist’s colony.

After Mrs. Huntington died, The Old Mill (El Molino Viejo) was inherited by her son, Archer M. Huntington. Archer was a writer about the history of Spain; he also built the Hispanic Society of American in NYC. He was a a New Yorker through & through. Archer has no desire to come to California. But there is a possibility that him & his 2nd wife, Ana Huntington (the famous sculptress) came to the ranch for Arabella’s funeral funeral & burial in December of 1924. Archer gave the Old Mill to Mrs. Leslie Huntington (Brehm) who was H. E. Huntington daughter-in-law married to Howard E. Huntington.

Later, Leslie Huntington Brehm’s daughter lived in the Old Mill. Her name was Harriet Huntington Doerr, (HEH’s granddaughter) lived there for 5 years. In 1962, The Old Mill was donated as a gift to the City of San Marino, CA as a historical monument. The Old Mill was owned by the Huntington family for 60 years.

The property of the Old Mill is very peaceful & serene. I have been there to plein air paint a couple of times. There is a fruit orchard of citrus trees, olive trees, & some lovely lemon eucalyptus trees towering over the property. There is many pomegranate bush-trees. I read in the San Marino Ranch papers that pomegranates bushes/trees run along the entire southern portion of the Ranch; the length of Euston Rd., leading to the Old Mill. A delicious jelly can be made by the juicy berries of the pomegranate.

El Molino Viejo Pomegranate Jelly

10 large pomegranates

1 3 oz. liquid pectin

2 T. Lemon juice

6 C. Sugar

To extract juice from pomegranate. cut crowns off pomegranates & score peel each in several places. Cut into sections & take out seeds. Immerse pomegranates in a bowl of cold water. Skim off floating peel & membrane; discard. Drain seeds. In 6 qt. kettle, on high heat, combine seeds & 1/2 c. or more of water. Cover & cook seeds until soft about 10 minutes. Set colander lined with cheesecloth in a bowl. Pour in seeds & liquid. Tie cloth closed, wearing rubber gloves, squeeze bag to extract remaining juice. Measure: you need exactly 4 cups.

If using liquid pectin: In a 8 qt. combine pomegranate juice, lemon juice & sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add liquid pectin & bring to a boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil, stirring, for exactly 1 minute. Ladle into 1 c. mason jars. Make about 7 cups.

In the season of Autumn, the pomegranates are harvested from the tree. A great time to make pomegranate jelly to give away as a Thanksgiving treat.

In the 1990’s, the local art group, California Art Club shows master paintings at the Old Mill once a month. So in my opinion, Mrs. Arabella Huntington got her wish of making the Old Mill, a art colony.

Beautiful Pink Hibiscus Flowers.

Old Mill Hibiscus Lemonade

Hibiscus flowers grew at the San Gabriel Mission & the Old Mill & still do today. Hibiscus Lemonade is a wonderful Mexican/Indian tradition & would have been a refreshing Rancho drink. It is delicious & tastes tart, lemony, & sweet all at the same time. Health food stores have the dried hibiscus pods.

1 qt. hot water

1 c. hibiscus flower pods, crushed coarsely with mortar & pestle

1 c. or more superfine sugar or orange blossom honey

In a 1 qt. measure cup, make a tea with the hot water & hibiscus pods. Let steep for 10-15 minutes. Add sugar & stir. Strain well thru cheesecloth. Add ice & drink. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Document: HEH Coll. MS 37/1-8 uncat (Arabella Huntington estate papers); HEH Coll. MS 1/f/3 uncat (Ledgers of Huntington Land & Improvement Co.) Huntington Library San Marino, CA; Information from book: El Molino Viejo by Cleland; Pamphet from The Old Mill Foundation, San Marino, CA ; article Wine in Southern California The Beginnings by Linda Mollno in San Marino Tribune (Mission San Gabriel, highest yield of all missions); The Wide World of Wine by Tom Hill “The Mission Grape”: A taste of History Nov. 16, 2006 ; Research Food eaten by Chumash Indians.; Report of Annual State Viticulture Convention (Board of State of California )1888;

  1. Nancy, Thank you so much for your informative, wonderful and colorful research and “BLOG”. We Angelenos just do not realize how much history surrounds us. You are bringing us all closer to our connections with our environ. Looking forward to each segment !!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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