“Cosmic Rays”, lecture: at the Huntington Mansion (SMR) in 1926

This pointillism-styled painting ended up being quite a mystery to me. I thought it was a lovely 1920 type painting for this article.. Then, I couldn’t find out who painted it. I asked my crew of art history buffs & they figured it out! It is called: L’ Air du Soir” or “The Evening Air” by Henri-Edmond Cross, created in 1893-1894, He entered it into Salon des Independents in 1894 & then he gave it to Signac. It is now located in Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Did the Huntingtons owe it? Not to my knowledge.

By Nancy Armitage

In Spring of 1926, Mr. Henry E. Huntington hosted a lecture/tea reception for 180 guests. Spring was such a lovely time to visit Mr. Huntington’s property called the “San Marino Ranch”. Now, the the Huntington’s ranch is called the Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA.

Mr. Henry E. Huntington’s Grand “Loggia” (a wonderful outdoor room; a covered patio with lovely breezes in the afternoon). Also, one of the entrances to the Large Library. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

On Tues. March 2nd or Tues. March 9th, 1926, was one of the largest Huntington “entertainments” held at the Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch, CA. The Huntington Ranch was located in Southern California, just south of Pasadena.

Mrs. Huntington’s Southern California Rose Garden would have been filled with fragrant roses by late March in 1926. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The historic event was called “Cosmic Rays”, a scholarly lecture with the California Associates of “Cal Tech” of Pasadena, CA. Dr. Robert Milliken (Noble Prize winner for Physics in 1923) & Dr. Robinson gave the lecture; at the time, Milliken was the chief executive officer of Cal Tech (California Institute of Technology) & both were friends of Mr. Henry “Edwards” Huntington’s. The California Associates were a club of men & women that supported California Institute of Technology.  The speakers that day were also: George Patton [Sr.] & Henry O’Melveny with a tea reception that followed.

The East side of Mr. H. E. Huntington’s Large Library in the Huntington Mansion. On the San Marino Ranch, this photograph is looking towards the Terrace. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Mr. H. E. Huntington was widowed at the time (his 2nd wife, Arabella sadly died in 1924).  In his generous way, he invited this club to his residence, 180 guests. Mr. Huntington had invited 100 members & their wives of the California Institute Associates of California Institute of Technology to his home at the San Marino Ranch & lovely gardens.

Mr. H .E. Huntington’s Large Library which was the largest room in the mansion. That room could have accommodated many people for the lecture of “Cosmic Rays” in 1926. Many more people could have fit with the double doors opened to the Terrace & seating out there, also. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Several days later….Henry “Edwards” Huntington wrote a letter to his favorite sister, Carrie Huntington Holladay who must have been out of town: “…..I wish you had been here for the reception of the California Technology Associates last Tuesday. About 180 were here & everything passed off very well. It did not seem best for me to go down [stairs].” [Mr. Huntington did not get to attend his own party, because he was upstairs recovering from surgery, wounds that would not heal]. Document: HEH Coll. MS 669 (Box 180 Correspondence) written on March 13, 1926

A large Gilded Age silver grand “tea service” used at large tea gatherings. The Huntingtons owned several of these ornate tea sets with silver trays. Traditionally, the tea would have been served by the Butlers because these silver tea services (with liquid) would have been so heavy. Tea was also served from a large samovar for bigger amounts of hot tea.

Mr. Huntington also treated his guests to a lovely “reception” tea after the lecture. The reception would have most likely been served “Service a la Françoise” (buffet style) in the Huntington Mansion Dining Room. For the huge amount of guests invited to this lecture, this style of serving food would have been the most practical.

The Huntington’s had a huge collection of Gorham Silver platters & trays. They would have been doily-lined & filled to the brim with lovely tea sandwiches of chicken, egg, cucumber, & ham. They would have served stacks of Cream Scones or Buttermilk Biscuits with Devonshire Cream & Orange Marmalade &Raspberry Jam. Mr. Huntington would have had the maids or footmen pass lovely salmon canapes or Roquefort puffs & pate on crackers . They would have served all sorts of dainty sweets like petit fours, chocolate frosted cakes, & Royal puddings. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

The Huntington guests were welcomed to tea savories & tea sandwiches with yummy sweet dainties. Mr. Huntington’s Head Cook & his special Dessert Chef (Mrs. Kley) & their kitchen staff would have made elegant fancy cakes & cookies served with tea & coffee. Grand displays of Mr. Huntington’s oranges, exotic fruits, berries & nuts from the Ranch. They would have showcased the ranch fruit in fruit tarts & pecan tarts (Southern “pecan tassies”). Of course, a large colorful flower arrangement in the middle of the table to showcase the Huntington’s Garden.

Also, the guests were invited to tour the large library of Mr. Huntington’s rare books & the lovely Huntington botanical gardens. In Springtime, all the assorted theme gardens look just fantastic! In March, the Huntington roses & spring flowers are huge & stunning in the California sunshine. In fact, the “winter roses” in Southern California are huge, 3 times the size of normal roses.

Tea served in gold & white cups & saucers, Mrs. Huntington collected many sets of Havilland & Sevres – both French porcelain. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

The guest list of 180 people with the clubs members & their wives all came to this scholarly affaire. The impressive list of who who’s in Los Angeles (social & business leaders). In the Huntington archives, it gives us information about who was invited: Wm. H. Allen Jr., John Willis Baer (President of Occidental College), John E. Barber, (V-Pres. CalTech Assoc.) Russell H. Ballard (Pres. of Cal Tech Assoc.) Harry Bauer (Bauer Pottery), C. F. Braun (Engineer & Pres. of C.F. Braun & Co.), Harry Chandler (American Newspaper Publisher- LA Times), Geo. L. Cochran (Anthropologist & Author), John S. Cravens (Pres. Edison Electric Co.), Mrs. Jas. Culbertson, Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Dadney, Edward L. Doheny (miner, driller, oil), Robert N. Frick, Freeman A. Ford, John Gaffey, Chas. W. Gates, Geo. E. Hale (American astronomer/telescope), Irving H. Hellman (Hellman Commercial Trust & Saving Bank), W. I. Hollingworth, Francis W. Kellogg (U.S. Representative & Author), A. N. Kemp, H. H. Kerchhoff (Hipolito Screen & Sash Co.), Wm. Lacy Sr. (architect, innkeeper, banker, oil, gold miner, fireman, & owner of Lacy Manufacturers. Co. LA/Lacy Park), John Barnes Miller, (Pres. of Southern Calif Edison Co. LA, CA) Robert Andrews Milliken (Scholar & Nobel prize winner for Physics in 1923) & Ernest Milliken, Alan E. Morphy, R. H. Moulton, Seeley W. Mudd (Ray Consolidated Copper Co.), Daniel Murphy, Walter M. Murphy (Murphy Coach Builders Co.), Donald O’Melveny (Tres. of Caltech Assoc.) Henry & Stuart O’Melveny (Henry- founder of O’Melveny & Myers), Benjamin Page, Geo. S. Patton (Atty. & Mayor of the City of San Marino), Mr. & Mrs. Francis Prentiss (Cleveland Twist Drill Co. & Philanthropist & Pres. of St. Luke Hospital, Pas.), Dr. Louis P. Ricketts (Scientist & Banker), Dr. Henry M. Robinson, Mrs. George O. Robinson, M. H. Sherman (Pasadena Railway & Sherman Gardens), Thos. Warner, W. L. Valentine, & many others.

In her lifetime, Mrs. Arabella Huntington had collected a enormous collections of fancy French, English & American fine bone china & porcelain plates. She particularly loved French Haviland plates & teacups. She loved gold & white plates & cups, but she seemed delighted with gold , white, & pink roses plate ware when she entertained. (Haviland above). Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

A wonderful book called Henry E. Huntington – a Biography by James Thorpe states that even Albert Einstein was also in attendance. And that everyone was seated in the Large Drawing Room. Einstein yes, but everyone could not have fit in the Mr. Huntington’s Large Drawing Room, not 180 people. Most likely, they had the lecture in the Large Library, They probably had the double doors open leading to the Huntington Mansion terracotta-tiled “Terrace” outside. Then, they would have been able to fit all 180 people.

Mr. H. E. Huntington’s Dining Room at the Huntington Mansion. In 1926, his staff would have most likely removed the chairs from the dining table. Then added a white or pink damask tablecloth & filled the table with lovely tea treats. If 180 people was too much for the Huntington Kitchen staff to handle at this large tea; Mr. Huntington could have also had the tea reception catered by the Hotel Huntington in Pasadena, CA. Mr. Huntington owned the Hotel Huntington between at 1914-1918. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage.

Document: HEH Coll. MS 669 (Box 180 Correspondence) written on March 13, 1926 (HEH letter to sister Carrie Holladay about the event) HEH Coll.  (List of People invited) ; HEH Collection MS 8/9 uncat (San Marino Ranch papers & grocery lists) 

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