“Come for Tea at No. 2″ – Huntington’s White Drawing-Room (NYC)

“Cupid” painting by French painter: William Adolphe Bouguereau. Tea was served in Mrs. Huntington’s favorite room – White Drawing-Room or Salon was filled with angels & cupids. She had quite a affection for angels. Mrs. Huntington also owned a painting documented as the “Boy” by Bouguereau, also. Could this be the painting?

By Nancy Armitage

“Come to tea at No. 2″…. Mrs. Collis P. Huntington (Arabella) would often write this phrase in her letters. Writing to her niece: Miss Carrie D. Huntington later Holladay. Carrie lived bi-coastally in San Francisco, CA & in Oneonta, NY. Mrs. Huntington would urge Carrie to come for a visit to her residence at No. 2 East 57th in New York City. A French Tea would have been a delight in the Huntington’s elegant “White Salon” – or “Drawing Room”. The grand tea would be served in a elaborate fashion on a large silver tray with a very large silver tea set. The Huntington tea would be served by the Head Butler named Angus McGillvary, when he retired there was Mr. Alfonso Gomez (a former steward on a Cunard ship).


The year was 1903, when the magazine Architectural Record took this picture (above). Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington was a widower, her husband Collis P. Huntington had died in 1900. Mrs. Collis Huntington later married Mr. Henry E. Huntington in 1913. Notice how they refer to the “Drawing-Room” with a dash. I notice this spelling in a Gilded age book & that is how a found this photograph & information in the archives.

Between 1890 & 1920’s, Mrs. Collis. P. Huntington (Arabella) had one of the finest French Drawing- Rooms in New York City. If you can imagine Marie Antoinette’s Drawing Room; you can picture Arabella’s palatial angel-themed white & gold Drawing Room or “Salon”. This room was Arabella’s favorite room in the New York Mansion. The famous artist-painter, Edwin H. Blashfield painted the “White Drawing-Room” for the Huntingtons with angel faces on the walls. With many other angel motifs decorating this elegant room, also.

Arabella adored afternoon tea & “At-Homes” tea gatherings. She was the hostess to her family, houseguests, & intimate friends. In Mrs. Charles. B. “Harriet” Alexander’s affidavit stated that she was invited to tea by Mrs. Arabella Huntington many times. In fact, while the Alexanders and Huntingtons were “in-residence” in New York City & also in Paris; Harriet was Charles Crocker’s daughter, Charles Crocker was a partner to Collis P. Huntington in the Central Pacific Railroad (the Big 4). They (Huntington & Crocker) formed the “1st Transcontinental Railroad” with Stanford & Hopkins across the United States of America.

For Arabella tea parties, in the Huntington’s No. 2 57th Street & 5th Ave. Mansion…They had a “reception room” (larger gatherings) & a “drawing-room salon” (for intimate gatherings). The tall, intimate Drawing-Room called the “White Drawing Room” or “Louis XVI Salon” was decorated in the elegant French style. Mrs. Huntington’s intimate tea room was decorated with the finest of French Louis XVI antiques & French furniture. Such a lovely place to enjoy tea with a white, gold, & blue color scheme. 

Gold Angel playing a flute. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

So how did Mrs. Huntington like to serve her tea. The colors of the Drawing-Room (Blue, Gold, & White) matched her favorite porcelain tea sets. She had English Copeland & Garrett “Best”(gold & white), English Coalport (blue, white & gold), & French Haviland, & Limoges (gold & white). The ceiling & walls were decorated with angels & cherubs (a favorite motif of Arabella’s) by some of the finest painters of the day like Vedder painted the museum-like murals. There was a white marble fireplace with fancy brass andirons, with lattice & angels embossed in the marble in the base of the fireplace.  

In the Huntington’s 5-story, New York City mansion located at #2 East 57th Street in NY. Which the family affectionately called “No. 2”. In this elegant mansion, there were all the modern luxuries at the time. In the Drawing Room: the mood was set in a romantic and Parisian fashion with several 3-candle or gilded gaslight sconces for lovely soft tea lighting. Above the fireplace, was large French gilded mirror & gilded molding with angel faces. In the middle of the mantle sat a fancy French gilded clock with 2 large French Serves-looking vessels at each end. 

Always ready for a tea party at any time. There were several elegant buffets, desk tables, & tea tables with gold reception chairs & Louis XVI armed chairs. It was a most elegant room, but a cozy place to take tea by the warm roaring fireplace. Especially on a cold day in New York City, with tea candles & a fire lit. 

The Collis Huntingtons were living in one of the richest neighborhoods in the New York City. Collis Huntington & Arabella Worsham were married in 1884; at first living at 65 Park Ave. NYC. In 1895, with the encouragement of Arabella, they built their stately New York City mansion at “No. 2” on 57th St. This new residence just across the street from the Vanderbilt castle. The Huntington residence location after is was sold, became Tiffany and Co. jewelry store.  

Stunning painting of “Birth of Venus” by William.- Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)

“At-homes” tea parties or receptions were invented by the French in the early 1900’s. “At-homes” tea gatherings were designated for a day of the week. For friends & neighbors to come for a visit; to have a chat & cup of tea together. These tea receptions were “entertainments” that gentlemen were also invited with heartier fare served. “At homes” tea were usually scheduled from 4-6 pm or 5-7 pm. Many high-society women at the time would have “At Home” printed on their calling cards with the day of the week (at the bottom left corner) & their address on the bottom right) with their full name printed in the middle. The printed Calling Card was the invitation to be invited to tea.  

The tea cups & saucers are French Haviland fine porcelain some were gold & white with pink roses, a favorite of Mrs. Huntington’s. She also had many tea sets in gold & white. Mrs. Huntington probably had 20 different patterns of French Haviland fine porcelain china. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Mrs. Arabella Huntington often entertained her guests on her “At-Home” day. A Victorian tradition to visit friends for a tea & a chat. Her “At-Home” day of the week was Tuesdays at her New York City mansion on 57th & 5th Ave. The Huntingtons also entertained on other days of the week, also. Mrs. Arabella Huntington entertained often with dear friends, lots of family of Collis & Arabella’s, either in the “Reception room” ,”the East Salon”, or the white Drawing-Room”. Sometimes, they entertained for 24 guests at a formal sit-down dinner with multi-courses in the “East Salon”.

Mrs. Arabella Huntington “at-home” teas were on Tuesdays both at her New York City mansion & also at the Huntington’s San Francisco Nob Hill mansion, too. These formal teas embellished a elegant French flair & the elaborate Gilded Age. In the Huntington family archives, there were many Tilford & Co. Gourmet Market invoices located in New York City. A pattern I found looking through all Huntington invoices: many No. 2 mansion tea receipts & tea groceries were purchased, on Mondays & Tuesdays. The house servants at the Huntington’s No. 2 residence had 2 days to get ready for Mrs. Huntington’s “At-Home”. The maids would work busily to clean the house, & iron the damask tablecloths to make everything just perfect for Mrs. Huntington. While the butlers would rub down the sterling silver tea spoons & elaborate silver tea set with all accoutrements shining bright. It was said the servants worked very hard to make Arabella happy, she liked things just so. 

I found a Huntington receipt from a elegant French emporium of imported spirits & gourmet delights called Maison E. H. Glass, Inc..; located near the Huntington Mansion. The initials on the left side were the Butler & Head Housekeeper of the Huntington Mansion; K.M.S. was the Head Housekeeper named Kate McGillivary Smith. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

It was a tradition in the Gilded Age high society, that people like Andrew Carnegie had their own tea blend. Mrs. Huntington’s kitchen staff made a special “Blended tea”. The Huntington’s special tea blend was a mixture of India tea & Ceylon tea, when blended together makes a lovely fragrant Orange Pekoe tea. The Huntingtons favored this blended tea & also Lipton’s tea & Ridgeway Tea which were also “Orange Pekoe” tea, too. Did the Huntingtons serve alcohol at their “At-Homes” tea gatherings? They might have, Mrs. Huntington preferred French Champagne and Apricot Cordial; and we know that they served Champagne Punch & Roman Punch at that Huntington Mansion.

In a large book called, Wine Manual filled with Spirits & Champagne & recipes was published by Maison E. H. Glass, Inc. NYC. There are several interesting cocktail recipes in the book, maybe the Huntingtons tried one of them:

Chantre Frappe: 1 t. powdered sugar, one raw egg [omit], 2 jiggers of Brandy, 2 jiggers rum, cracked ice & shake well.

Alexander: 1/3 Brandy; 1/3 Cream de Cacao, & 1/3 Cream [Brandy Alexander]

Cafe de Paris: 1 white of egg, 3 dashes Anisette, 1 t. cream, & 1 drink of gin

Brooklyn: 1/2 Rye [Bourbon], 1/2 Italian Vermouth, 1 dash of American Picon, & 1 dash of Maraschino

Also, served at a “At-home” were Southern Beaten Biscuits; also English Cream Scones sometimes called “5 o’clocks” which were light & flaky. These scones or biscuits taste sublime when served with whipped cream or English Devonshire or Clotted Cream, orange marmalade, & raspberry jam in beautiful crystal bowls. Mrs. Huntington favored FrenchChantilly Cream” which was a whipped heavy cream with super fine sugar added or French vanilla sugar added. Mrs. Huntington’s head cook at the mansion on 57th Street was Kate McGillivray Smith, who was Scottish. The scones might have been served Scottish style, they are more of grilled scones then a baked English (heavy cream) or Irish scones (made with buttermilk). The Huntington’s servant staff made delicious homemade raspberry & strawberry jam that were prepared weeks in advance. 

For an afternoon tea party, Mrs. Huntington served dainty tea sandwiches made of chicken salad or ham salad, roast beef, & cheese sandwiches. The tea table was set up with all sort of lovely French treats. There were many sweets like Jordan Almonds & French Chocolate Bonbons [chocolate truffles].  They had French Imported Cheeses like French Roquefort, or Brie or Camembert served with water crackers. Of course, Tea sandwiches of Egg, Cucumber, Lobster, Chicken salad, Roast beef, or Ham were know to be served, too.  In one of Mr. Huntington’s rare books called The Book of Parties & Pastimes, there is some unusual tea sandwiches listed in 1912. There was Rose Petal & butter, Chicken & Butter, some with Ginger, Dates & Figs minced on Brown Bread.  

Mrs. Arabella Huntington was partial to lovely velvety Red Roses. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The Huntingtons served a varieties of Tea Biscuits or Cookies (some French, English, & some American) were purchased like “5 o’clocks” (a tea biscuit), Loone Doones cookies (a shortbread cookie) French “beurre blanc” (French butter cookies), & French macaroons. Fancy teacakes were prepared by the kitchen staff like French Petit fours, Chocolate Cake, Raisin Cake, & French Vanilla Cake were favorites (sometimes orders from bakery or gourmet markets. Sometimes, French Teacakes & Bonbons candies were ordered from Louis Sherry’s in New York City.  In November of 1919, they order mincemeat from Deans gourmet market; which could have been used in French Petit tarts for Mrs. Huntington’s afternoon tea.

Arabella “Belle” Huntington collected many kinds of fine bone chinas & porcelains. Some from Paris, London-England, & New York City. She had lovely sets of French porcelain plates:  pink & gold Sevres tea set, Limoges Service, Old Paris, & many different Haviland service (gold & white). The menus could have also extended to heavier items like Lobster Thermidor.

“Old Paris” fine china plates, actually called French Feuillet Porcelain plates. Photo & illustration credit: Nancy Armitage

For Tea in her White Drawing Room, Mrs. Huntington would have chosen her best French porcelain tea cup & saucers, the Limoges, or Sevres or Haviland patterns from France.      

In Victorian & Edwardian times, it was a tea custom to have the “lady of the house” usually poured tea. By researching the large Gorman silver teapots that the Huntingtons owned. It was recorded that Mrs. Huntington bought 2 large silver tea sets in the “Imperial Chrysanthemum” silver pattern, but it was huge & very heavy. By 1913, Mrs. Huntington probably had her Scottish butler, Angus McGillivray or Mr. Henry Huntington valet, Alfonso Gomez poured the tea. The Huntington’s 57th Street mansion was always filled with house guests or family visiting staying for 1 or 2 months at a time especially during the holidays of Thanksgiving & Christmas.  Many teas were enjoyed by the Huntington’s & their guests.

This beautiful set of stunning pink tea plates are French Sevres. They are in the Arabella Huntington Collection at the Huntington Library, San Marino. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage


HEH Coll MS 38/11 (1919 NYC City Mansion records (Huntington Library, San Marino, CA)

HEH Coll MS 38/6 uncat (CPH, ADH & HEH wills, papers, & Affidavits)

HEH Coll. HEH 11/1/(3) uncat (Folder 2) Huntington Library, San Marino (List of paintings in the C.P. Huntington located in the “Picture Gallery” and “The Library” in No. 2 57th St. NYC. A painting called “Boy” by Bouguereau & it was valued $1,000.00.

Article: Stone: An illustrated magazine, Volume 2 1889, “A novel Residence” (C.P. Huntington Fifth Ave & Fifty-seventh Street mansion in NYC) Article on page155, states that the mansion was 5 stories high, the location of the kitchen on the 4th floor, “3 stories above the dining room with which it will be connected by elevator”. 

One of 3 photos of the Huntington mansion: A black & white photo of “Mrs. C.P. Huntington drawing room” is featured in Architectural Record Magazine Volume 13 (American Institute of Architects) in 1903. You can view the Huntington NYC mansion by goggling “Mrs. C.P. Huntington state dining room on Google Books. The grand Huntington Drawing Room is on p.405 

San Marino Ranch records showing the Huntington family fine china and porcelains. HEH Coll. HEH 8/9 (SMR papers) Huntington Library San Marino, CA

Historical Note: 

Collis P. Huntington died in 1900. 13 years after his death, his widow, Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington married C. P. Huntington’s nephew, Henry “Edwards” Huntington. After they were married in 1913, Henry & Arabella lived in several different mansions besides the New York City Mansion, too. They also were “in-residence” at their Throggs Neck estate (Westchester Co. NY), Pine Knot Lodge at Adirondack Mts., Château Beauregard close to Paris, & St. Cloud, & San Marino Ranch in Southern California, just south of Pasadena, CA.

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