The Lath House as a “Afternoon Tea Resort”

Mr. H. E. Huntington’s San Marino Ranch, CA

By Nancy Armitage

Exotic orchids in the Lath House. Mr. H.E. Huntington had many varieties of exotics orchids growing in his enormous Lath House (Hot house) on his California Ranch.

Many years ago, while I was in the Huntington Library reference library, I found a very interesting article about Mr. H. E. Huntington. It was in the California Garden Magazine (February 1910) about Mr. H. E. Huntington’s Lath House. The article was titled “Get a Lath House” (below). It refers to Mr. Huntington’s huge Lath House on his California ranch as being a “Afternoon Tea Resort”. In 1910, Mr. Huntington was single & a bachelor – divorced from his first wife, Mary Alice Huntington. He was just settling into his newly built Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch in Southern California.

What did the Huntington Lath House look like?

The Lath House was the largest built structure on the San Marino Ranch. It was very long with a large dome in the middle, running east & west. It must have been a gardener’s delight with ferns, palms, & thousands of flowering plants for the Huntington’s enjoyment. It was located directly north of the Library Building & the Huntington Greenhouses (one for roses, one for orchids and another one for propagating plants; the greenhouses were located just east of the Library building on a early map). Although the Library Building wasn’t built until 1919.

The Lath House was Ranch built- hand built by Hertrich & a crew of Mr. Huntington’s garden employees and ranch men. It was listed in the San Marino Ranch “Work Order” book as “Work Order #37 Lath House”. The structure was 300 ft. long & 50 ft. wide with a dome in the middle. The dome measure 100 ft. in diameter (composed 3 stepping layers). Date of construction is unknown; but about 1910. Document: HEH Coll. MS 6/1/2-14 uncat (San Marino Ranch Papers) If you visit the Huntington Library today, they have now recreated this beautiful Lath House. It is quite stunning with a view of the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. So many interesting plants and research inside too.

By 1910, Mr. H.E. Huntington’s lovely Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch was almost finished. With a few more finishing touches to be made. In May of that year, Mr. Huntington had hired a small servant staff that would be all live-in employees. He had a temporary cook named Mr. Gee Lee & cook-housekeeper, Mrs. Delia Foley. Mrs. Foley had worked for Mrs. Arabella Huntington in her mansion in San Francisco; in 1906 that mansion on California Street Nob Hill was leveled by the great EQ-Fire in April of 1906. Mrs. Foley agreed to just set the kitchen up with cook & help Mr. Huntington’s Kitchen staff get organized.

Autumn colors on the San Marino Ranch would have been stunning.

By the Autumn of 1910, Mr. Huntington had hired a larger staff: Cook-Housekeeper (Nora Larsen), Laundress (Mrs. Stringer), a Nightwatchman (Mr. L. H. Larson) & a chauffeur (Mr. Barnett).

Anything type of food Mr. Huntington asked for, the kitchen staff was happy to treat him to. A lovely afternoon tea would be perfect inside the Huntington’s Lath House. They could serve tea sandwiches, cream scones, Ranch strawberry jam, and Ranch orange marmalade,& teacake.

It would make sense that Mr. Huntington & his kitchen staff might have to set up tea or luncheons in his Lath House out of necessity in these early days. He still had painters & electricians running around to finish the grand mansion. The Huntington staff & decorators were hanging Mr. Huntington’s master paintings & such, also.

The Lath House is the beginning of a garden, with new baby plants being planted.

The Lath House was a lovely serene quiet place with lots of greenery & colorful plants; rather then hammers & noise, according to Mr. Huntington’s Valet & Head Butler, Alfonzo Gomez. So in 1910, Mr. Huntington especially enjoyed afternoon tea with visiting friends, neighbors like the Pattons, & his visiting family his mother, Mrs. Solon Huntington (Harriet) & his sister Carrie Huntington Holladay & her husband Burke & Mr. Huntington’s 3 daughters from San Francisco & his son, Howard & his new wife, Leslie Huntington.

Exotic fruit like avocados, passionfruit, papayas, Crenshaw melon, were not easily available in the states in 1910 & 1920’s. Mr. Huntington wanted to introduce these amazing new exotic flavors to all of society. For presents for his family, (Mom, sister & daughters) he would often send them: 1 dozen pieces of fruit. Like avocados, lemons, grapefruits & oranges. Lovingly wrapped in tissue paper & wood hay like above.

Mr. Hertrich (Head gardener of the ranch) & Mr. Huntington had set the Lath House up as a laboratory of sorts to experiment with new varieties of plants. He had a collection of amazing exotic orchids, ferns, palms, a very showy stag horn fern, & lots of fruits. He grew unusual exotic fruits like avocados, mangos, pineapples, papayas, & juicy small kumquats. Anybody that has a garden or a hothouse knows what growth can happen in 7 years. Mr. Huntington had bought his beloved San Marino Ranch property in 1903.

A lovely slice of teacake (spice cake or carrot cake) with a cup of tea.

For tea or luncheons, all he needed was a table & several chairs. The Lath House in its poetic profusion of color & surprises of nature would have entertained all of the Huntington guests.

In the early 1900’s they actually had multi-color roses. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

“Get a Lath House” by A. D. Robinson

“The lath house is efficient, cheap, & adaptable, can cover acres or be squeezed into the backyard of a city lot, can raise salad to ferns for the table, or be a wind break and shade for the baby, & can be so arranged as to make a charming afternoon tea resort…. In fact, the most elaborate example in the states is on H. E. Huntington’s place in San Gabriel, and is circular with a dome like the Point Loma Homestead (S.D.)….”

“What are the advantages? in it will grow almost any kind of fern to perfection, including the delicate maiden hairs. Begonias delight in its shelter. Violets make immense blooms & stems & greatly prolong their blooming season therein. Lettuce can be raised in summer, cuttings rooted, and up the sides & pillars the more delicate vines will gladly climb.”

A lovely afternoon amongst ones flowers. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

“However, it is an an outdoor salon, the lath house scores most heavily. With sun & wind tempered to bare heads and light apparel, the hostess can dispense tea & cake surrounded by the delicate green tracery of ferns & the metallic shield like leaves of the Rex Begonias. “

A pink afternoon tea party for 2. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

“A lath house of a few years standing accumulates that soothing atmosphere of the woods, that faint earthy smell peculiar to ferns and things that love the forest shades. The growing things take on an indigenous charm. Tiny little seedlings sprout in odd places. Some dainty bird, likely a wren, with its natty brown dress & tilted tail will make of it a happy hunting ground.” Document: Magazine The California Garden page 9 San Diego, CA Feb. 1910 Article “Get a Lath House”

A simple “tea and cake” could have been served in the early days to Mr. Huntington in the Lath House. By the time Mrs. Arabella Huntington was living & entertaining on the Ranch (1913), I’m sure the fine china was much fancier by the time she arrived.

For afternoon garden parties, bridge parties, or Sundays at the Ranch entertainments, the Lath House would have been a must-see for Huntington guests! A lath house like a green house is the beginning of the glory of a garden. Baby seeds were growing into plants; newly arrived plants from nursery across USA or Europe would have gotten their start in the ranch’s lath house.

Mrs. Huntington way of entertaining was much more elegant with her French fine bone porcelain plates like Haviland, Sevres, & Limoges. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

A very exciting place to visit & a beautiful spot to experience. Mr. Huntington loved to take walks around the Ranch to see what was going on and see new things. His two favorite spots were the “Aviary” to see his collection of exotic Birds (like macaws, parrots, & toucans) & the Lath House to check on how things were growing especially the exotic fruits & avocados. BTW, Mr. Huntington was the first to grow avocadoes commercial in California (seeds he was given by the chef of Jonathan Club in Los Angeles). Fruits one couldn’t get in California at the time period. Even after he married Mrs. Collis Huntington (Arabella) in 1913, they still used the Lath House. Arabella loved afternoon tea, & orchids & fragrant flowers very much.

Exotic fruits were started & grown in the Lath House: Pomegrantes, apricots, mangos, Mission grapes, papayas & Santa Rosa sweet plums.

By 1913, Mr. H.E. Huntington “Edwards” had married Arabella Huntington. She would have used the Lath House for intimate garden parties & ladies bridge parties. The Lath House was protected from wind & rain and it was cool place to be with the shade.

Mrs. Arabella Huntington owned a Victorian Conservatory (like this one above). It was located at her large property at Throggs Neck in New York City

Mrs. Arabella Huntington had a very large Victorian conservatory at her enormous property at “Huntington Homestead” Throggs Neck, Westchester Co., New York. The Lath House was the closest thing to a conservatory at the Huntington’s San Marino Ranch.

These stunning roses look like the delicate pink tipped white rose called “Eden rose”. Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington particularly loved pink & white flowers.

Mrs. Huntington might have given the Lath House a feminine touch. On a side table, she might have decorated with flowers like a hotel or private club. She loved exotic orchids, violets, geraniums, iris, & roses. She loved huge flower arrangements with big profusions of color. Mr. Hertrich & a team of house servants would make up these lovely arrangements filled with 150-200 flowers in her amazing collection fancy French Sevres vases. Think foyer flowers of any large hotel on a marble top fancy table.

The Huntingtons might have had sherry served in the Lath House; which was a tradition with tea and cake. Old Pasadena also had a spicy “Sherry tea” for Autumn & Christmas parties. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The Head Butler, Alfonso Gomez informs us that Mrs. Huntington would host large bridge parties & ladies luncheons for 8-20 ladies. They would have lunch, play bridge, & tour the gardens. Maybe the cook would set up “tea & cake” in the Lath House or card tables might have been set up right in the Lath House under the very large circular dome. Document: HEH Coll MS 19 1-18 Alfonso Gomez tapes; HEH Coll MS 1/F /17 uncat Huntington Land and Improvement Ledgers.

Colorful flowers in the Lath House. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The Huntington Lath House – Plant List

In the magazine, “The California Garden”, Mr. Alfred Robinson wrote this lovely article about Mr. Huntington Lath House. Mr. Robinson was a friend of Mr. Huntingtons & the President of the San Diego Floral Assn. & his article was a big hit with readers. But the golden nugget is that he really informs us of what the Huntington’s Lath House looked like during this time period & what they grew in it. They grew: Ferns (Nephrolepis Rostoniensis), Piersonii, Ferns (Nephrolepis Whitmani, Amerpohli, Holly Fern, Pteris tremula, Adiantums, Maidenhair Ferns, Our California Native Polypodium, Stag horn fern, Begonias, Few Rex, Argentea Guttata (silver-spotted), Mrs. Shepard’s tree, Violets (Double & Single), Asparagus (Sprengeri & Plumousus), Aspidistra, Marechal Nielrose (root planted outside branch trained inside) – Not a complete list, but ideas for beginners. This List is from Hertrich’s book.

Per Mr. Hertrich (Head Gardener of the San Marino Ranch), The Lath House was like a wonderful laboratory for him & Mr. Huntington. They experimented with baby plants & many varieties of palm trees or date palms. they also had hanging baskets of plants & flowers, wall pockets & cement walkways. They had wonderful fresh lettuces, baby vegetables & exotic fruits for the Huntington’s dining room table.

Thorpe wrote in his book H. E. Huntington a biography: “Edward [HEH] was especially interested in tropical fruits & wanted to carry on horticultural experiments on the Ranch to develop new products that could be introduced into the California fruit industry. Hertrich had built a nursery & lath house large enough to accommodate 15,000 plants.”

Exotic Tropical Fruits in the Lath House

Mr. H. E. Huntington was especially excited about growing exotic fruits, unusual to California at the time. Here is a list of some of the unusual fruit they were growing inside the Lath House: Mango trees, Pineapples, Persimmons, Lemon Guava tree, Date Palm, Papaya Trees, Guava trees, Loquats trees, Kumquat trees, & baby Avocado trees. Book: The Huntington Botanical Garden by William Hertrich

Apollinaris Lemonade (1917)

In all the Huntington Mansions, Apollinaris Water (sparkling mineral water) was a staple. The Huntington’s cook could make gallons of this refreshing lemonade with fresh lemons from the ranch. I found on a San Marino Ranch map (1921) that Mr. Huntington had a lemon grove right at the south-east corner of the ranch. The ranch extended down to Huntington Drive and Sierra Madre Blvd. at the time. Appollinaris Water gives the lemonade a wonderful effervescent quality, that is delicious!

Shaved Ice

Juice of 4 Lemons

3 t. Powdered Sugar or granulated sugar

3 c. Apollinaris water or Soda water

In a Purex 1 qt. measuring cup add juice of 4 lemons. Stir in sugar until dissolved & add Apollinaris water or soda water. Add lots of ice to each glass and a iced tea spoon. Garnish with a sprig of spearmint. Make 1 qt. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Orange Honey – Ranch Lemonade

On a 1921 San Marino Ranch map, it indicates that they had a “apiary” (honey bees) shown just west of the Patton estate, Mr. Huntington’s friend & next door neighbor. The apiary was located at the northwest corner of Huntington Drive & Virginia Road; just below Wilson Lake (now Lacy Pack in San Marino). The honey bees would have produced pounds of local fragrant orange blossom honey. Mr. Huntington and Hertrich while doing there daily walk about spotted something on the top of a water tower. Next day Hertrich found a huge bee hive and gallons of honey he retrived for the Huntingtons and all the employees to enjoy. Try this organic way to make lemonade.

1/2 c – 1 c. orange blossom honey

3/4 c. lemon juice

1 c. hot water

8 c. cold water

In a large pitcher, add hot water & honey ; stir until dissolved. Add lemon juice & cold water, Add ice to tall glass and pour, add a sprig of Spearmint leaves. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Southern California “Date Shake

Medjool dates come from palm trees. Southern California is covered with palm trees. In the 1960’s -1980’s, little shake shacks were popular on the sand in Newport Beach & Laguna Beach. Here are some other ingredients you could add to this shake or smoothie: banana, kosher salt, almonds or walnuts, peanut or almond butter, or coffee.

4 ( 3 oz.) pitted Medjool dates, chopped

1/4 c. almond or oat milk or regular milk

sprinkle of cinnamon

1 1/4 c. Vanilla ice cream or Chocolate Chip ice cream

In a bowl, add all ingredients, use a Braun hand blender to blend. Drink!

Documents:

HEH Coll MS 19 1-18 uncat (Alfonso Gomez interview tapes)

HEH Coll MS 10968 Burke Journal (accounts of HEH’s life by his brother-in-law E. Burke Holladay)

HEH Coll. MS 1/F/ 17 uncat (Huntington Land & Improvement Ledgers)

HEH Coll. MS 6/15 uncat (San Marino Ranch Papers-Payroll)

Map: San Marino Ranch 1921 map “Cal Tech Corps of Engineers”

Thurst’s Pasadena Directory 1910-1920

Book: The Ideal Bartender cocktail recipe book by Thomas Bullocks (1917)

Book: The Huntington Botanical Gardens Personal Recollections by Wm. Hertrich [the Superintendent of the San Marino Ranch]

Document: Magazine The California Garden page 9, San Diego, CA Feb. 1910 Article “Get a Lath House”

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