Intimate Tea in the Small Drawing Room at the San Marino Ranch

By Nancy Armitage

Mrs. Huntington’s favorite colors: pink & white, these multi-color roses are so beautiful. In a tall vase with several dozen of these roses, stunning!

One of my very first questions I asked the HEH Collections curator of the Huntington Library was “Why did the Huntington’s have 2 Drawing Rooms?” It didn’t make any sense to me that they would have two. The Asst. Curator, Jennifer Goldman found out for me & showed me the Blueprints of the H. E. Huntington Residence (San Marino Ranch) by architect, Myron Hunt. Guess what was on the 1908 blueprint of the H. E. Huntington House? The Small Drawing Room had a different identity. It’s original purpose was to be a “Breakfast Room”.

So it was decided (probably by Belle) that the Huntingtons would receive their meals in the Dining Room. The Huntington’s “Belle & Edwards” loved breakfast, Alfonso, the Head Butler used to make the Huntington’s homemade orange juice everyday. Of courses these fresh oranges came from the Huntington’s orange groves. They would wake up to the smell of freshly roasted French coffee. They were also served a variety of breakfast items. All kinds of different eggs dishes: steak & eggs, French omelettes, even Huevos Ranchos or a French crepe (savory or sweet). They had bacon, sausage links, or Canadian bacon with potatoes, They were served Tutti-Fruitti & Fruit Compotes & Brandied Peaches; served in pretty “Elite Haviland” footed “compote bowls”. The Haviland plates were white & gold some with pink roses. They had toast with Ranch Orange Marmalade from the oranges on the San Marino Ranch. In my opinion, the Huntingtons like their formal Dining Room, to have breakfast there made sense. So the corner room once the Breakfast Room became the “Small Drawing Room” for Mrs. Huntington’s lovely intimate teas.

A intimate tea illustrated in this painting; the tea consists of tea & cakes.

The Small Drawing Room was located at the southwest corner of the Huntington Mansion. Through the tall west window was a beautiful view of the grand Huntington rose gardens & the Statue, “Temple of Love”; through the south window a view of the terrace & the San Gabriel Valley.

The Huntington’s Terrace looking toward the Rose Garden & “Temple of Love”. Photo Credit Nancy Armitage

In the Huntington Mansion inventory (1927), we are able to know what each & every room of the Huntington Mansion looked like when the Huntingtons lived there. I find that really exciting! In this particular room “Small Drawing Room”, the Huntingtons paid tribute to Gainsborough, Reynolds, & Hoppner portrait paintings. The 3 paintings by Gainsborough were “Mrs. Mears,” Mrs. Henry Beaufoy”, & “Lady Petre”. The 2 paintings by Reynolds were “Frances, Marchioness of Camden” & “Countess Spencer & Viscount Althorp” [Princess Diana Spencer’s ancestors]. Also, “Mrs. Bedford & her son” was a John Hoppner portrait.

Mr. & Mrs. Henry Huntington’s Small Drawing Room. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

The Small Drawing Room would have been a room for intimate gatherings. There was a seating arrangement of 3 gold “reception” chairs with tapestry seats for intimate teas from 2-3 people. Often in the 1920’s, Mrs. Howard Huntington (Leslie) would join Mrs. Huntington (Arabella) for luncheon and later tea in the Drawing Room. Leslie Huntington stated in her affadivit that it was almost daily for the 3-4 months that the Huntington (Edwards and Arabella) were “In-residence” at the San Marino Ranch . The Small Drawing Room could have also been used for a morning cup of coffee. Mr. & Mrs. Huntington enjoyed morning coffee while they read the daily newspaper. They were avid reader of the news, especially the New York Herald & Los Angeles Herald Examiner (1903), or Los Angeles Daily Times (1881).

Intimate tea for 2-3 guests. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

One of the Huntington’s intimate teas was recorded in a letter, written to Mr. William Dunn (Mr. Huntington’s best friend) from Mr. H. E. Huntington on Saturday January 31, 1914. The letter is as follows:

“Dear Mr. Dunn, Mrs. Huntington would like to talk to Dr. Bryant & yourself about the dinner & would be very glad if you could come & see her Sunday afternoon & have tea. Very truly yours, HEH to Mr. W. E. Dunn, City.”

The tea Mr. H.E. Huntington wrote about could have taken place either on Sunday, February 1st or February 8th, 1914. At the Huntington Mansion with the Huntingtons & their friends, Dr. Ernest Bryant (H. E. Huntington’s doctor & dear friend) & Mr. “Billy”Dunn (dear friend, lawyer, & partner in many Huntington business ventures) . The “dinner” mentioned in the letter is probably the large banquet dinner set for Monday, February 23, 1914. It was given in honor of Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington “Edwards & Belle” at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles, CA with 100 people in attendance.

The Huntington tea could have been cream scones or Southern beaten biscuits with Raspberry jam, or Orange Marmalade, a variety of tea sandwiches, & lovely tea cakes.

We know that the Huntingtons did use the term, “Small Drawing Room”. In a letter from Sir Joseph Duveen (art & antique dealer, & Mrs. Huntington’s interior decorator), Duveen suggests to Mr. Huntington to buy a new oriental rug. Duveen recently had purchased it from Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont; writes to Mr. H.E. Huntington & states that it would “look perfect in the “Small Drawing Room”.

The Huntington’s Small Drawing Room. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage at the Huntington Library San Marino, CA

The Small Drawing Room could have also been used as a “Reading room” for Mrs. Huntington per Leslie Huntington (Mrs. Howard Huntington). Mrs. Huntington was an avid reader of many contemporary books (early 1900’s) & popular magazines, & botanical books. In the Huntington’s (NY bills 1919) she bought books from Putnams & Brentanos bookstores. Mrs. Arabella Huntington was very well-read, each monthly invoice would have 25 or more classic & interesting books purchased at one time. Books written by Wharton, Tarkington, Bacon, Clemenceau, Burland, O’Henry, Chekhov, Thurston, Walpole, Wells, & Kipling. Tea & Conversations must have been fascinating in the Huntington’s household! Mrs. Huntington purchased every kind of contemporary magazine, too like Vogue, Life, Harpers Monthly, Connoisseur, Country Life, Atlantic Monthly, Country Life (English) Burlington, Current History, Fortnightly, & Nineteeth Century. Mr. Huntington favored his dear rare books & would often recite a poem or a passage from his books, sometimes at dinner.

Mrs. Arabella Huntington had poor eyesight, so it would have been easier for her to read in a bright lite room. When her sight got worse, she was read to by her secretary, Miss Carrie M. Campbell, also, Mrs. Arabella Schwerin, or by Mrs. E. H. Warnken. Alfonso, the Huntington’s Butler & Valet, stated that Mrs. Schwerin, a railroad official’s wife came to read to Mrs. Huntington twice a week; Mrs. Huntington especially loved her voice.

“Buster” the Green Amazon Parrot, Mrs. Huntington pet bird.

It was also recorded by the Head Butler, Alfonso Gomez, that Mrs. Huntington had a favorite pet bird! His name was “Buster”, a bright green Amazon parrot. Oddly, the parrot had the same name as Mrs. Huntington’s pet Belgium Griffon dog. This chatty little parrot spoke about 100 words in his vocabulary & would sit on Mrs. Huntington shoulders while she read. Per Mr. Hertrich, the Head Gardener on the San Marino Ranch estate, said the parrot was very smart & spoke nautical phrases too, like “Ships ahoy!”. The spectacular thing “Buster” did also was mimic Mrs. Huntington’s voice exactly! The parrot would call, “Edward, Edward” & Mr. Huntington would come into the room to find only the bird. Mr. Huntington found much humor in this as did the servant staff. The parrot loved Mrs. Huntington & disliked everyone else – including Mr. Huntington & the butler, trying to bite them when they drew near.

Mr. H.E. Huntington’s Calling Cards, the bottom one is a mourning calling card to show respect after Mrs. Huntington died in 1924. I took this photo at the Nineteen Nineteen show; originals at the Huntington Library, San Marino; Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The Small Drawing Room could have been used as a “Waiting Room” of sorts for guests. In the early 1900’s, Edwardian etiquette was very formal. When a guest arrived at the mansion, he or she would hand their “Calling Card” to the Butler. The butler would lead the guest into the Small Drawing Room to wait for the Huntingtons. The butler would then take the guest’s “Calling Card”, (placed properly on a Gorham silver round “card tray”) & then take the tray to Mr. or Mrs. Huntington. The Huntingtons then would instruct the butler where to bring the guest to the large Drawing Room or to the Large Library.

This Drawing Room was decorated with a combination of the loves of both the Huntingtons. Mrs. Huntington adored elegant French Louis XIV furniture & Mr. Huntington loved his collection of English portraits. The colors of the room were gold with grey satin curtains. There were 2 large windows; a stunning south view of the San Gabriel Valley & west view of the rose garden, maybe a peek at a exotic white peacock.

The Huntingtons had stunning white peacocks & blue peacock strolling thru their gardens.

The Huntingtons had a great affection for horses. Mrs. Huntington raced her horses on the East Coast. The fireplace of the Small Drawing Room located on the north side of the room featured 2 bronze Dore andirons in the shape of mounted horses. On the mantle, sat a Louis XIV gold Dore porcelain mounted calendar clock (by Sotain worth $28,000.00 in the 1920’s). It had a handsome pair of “Louis XIV bronze figures of prancing horses (16” high with an applied ormolu saddle cloth, strap work & rosettes, mounted on sarcophagus-shaped pedestals mark of Boreas). These were bought by Mr. Partridge for Mr. Huntington on December 26, 1913, shortly after the Huntingtons married; maybe a Christmas present. On cold winter morning, the parlor maid would have made a nice fire. On sunny afternoons, the Small Drawing Room would have been warmed by the sun. Later in the day, the Huntington’s could enjoy the sunset streaming through the window past the rose garden.

[Horse & rose motif] One of a pair, Manufactured by Royal Porcelain Co. Worcester, England (no other information). This beautiful vessel is located upstairs in what was the Huntington Mansion. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Decorated in the Louis XIV French style, they had a Savonnerie Louis XIV rug (16′ x 26′) graced the floor. A Louis XIV commode with high marble top was decorated with Wedgewood plaques – Epoch du Directoir, Wedgewood in intense blue & white.

Louis XIV Commode marble-top with intense blue plaques. It could be the one described above; that once was located in the Small Drawing Room. Now, its located in the Large Drawing Room at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

A collection of 3 dainty glass Louis XIV miniature stand cases were on display. They held Mrs. Arabella Huntington’s collection of 98 little miniatures by Plymer, Cosway & other English miniature painters.

“A” for Arabella Photo credit: Nancy Armitage’s illustration

There was large Louis XIV writing table & 2 Louis XIV console tables made of wood & gilt with white marble tops were located in the room. These tables would have been useful for Miss Campbell (Mrs. Huntington’s social secretary) to compose fancy dinner menus or a letter for Mrs. Huntington. Mrs. Huntington didn’t like to write letters; she found her handwriting to be messy & was embarrassed. She asked her friends & family to throw her letters away after they read them. In Edwardian writing etiquette, cross-outs were not allowed.

Small tea party with cream scones with little pots with sweet butter & strawberry or loganberry jams or orange marmalade.

Heart-shaped Cream Scones (Best Recipe)

Try these! They melt in your mouth they are so good! This is one of my best recipes. Have little pots of Orange marmalade (add a little ginger), Chantilly cream, Lemon Curd or Lemon yogurt with ginger, or raspberry jam. Heaven! I asked my baker, “why are my scones turning out like hockey pucks?” She asked me, “Are you using milk or heavy cream?” I said, “milk, that is what the English recipe called for”. She told me use heavy cream…she informed me that in England. especially on the farms their milk is heavy cream – rises to the top & all.

2 c. flour

2 t. sugar

1 t. salt

1 T. baking powder

1 c. heavy cream

Preheat oven 425@. In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add the cream slowly to make a soft dough, use your hands to mix when it reaches a ball. On a floured board, knead gently to retain the air needed to let scones rise. Roll out to 1/2″ thick. Cut with heart shaped cookie cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. leaving 1/2″ space between scones. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. To serve: put a napkin in a silver bowl, add hot out of the oven scones & cover. Serve with jam & “Chantilly cream” (whipped cream with vanilla powder added). Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Mrs. Huntington’s Whieldenware “Pheasant” or Pink Pheasant” the pink ones are tea plates Mrs. Huntington might have used for tea. Photo Credit & Illustration: Nancy Armitage


HEH Coll. MS 12572 Correspondence Box 131 (HEH’s letter to Mr. Dunn for tea); HEH Coll. MS 38/6 uncat (affidavits & inventory book); HEH Coll. MS 38/11 (NY bills from Huntington Mansion No. 2 E. 57th St. NYC); HEH Coll. MS Box 181 Correspondence (Duveen to H. E. Huntington); HEH Coll. HEH Box 199 (Mr. H. E. Huntington Calling Cards); HEH Coll. MS 19/ 1-18 (Alfonso Gomez’s interview about the parrot) at the Huntington Library San Marino, CA Mr. Wm. Hertrichs Book: Huntington Library Botanical Gardens Reflections

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