Tea & Whiskey in the Billiards Room/Bowling Alley

The H. E. Huntington’s San Marino Ranch, Southern California

What did Mr. H. E. Huntington’s Billards Room /Bowling Alley actually look like? It did have animal trophies like this one, & a fireplace, maybe wood paneling. But we do know that the Huntington’s Billard Room/Bowling Alley had more of a Spanish Hacienda Decor.

Huntington Mansion on San Marino Ranch, CA

by Nancy Armitage

Beautiful Spanish type architecture with carved wooden door & hand-painted beamed ceiling. This is actually the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara, CA at Christmas time. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

On the Huntington’s Estate, San Marino Ranch, there once was a Bowling Alley with a Billiard’s Room with Billiards Table & a pool table. This was a large long structure seen on old maps (1927 San Marino Ranch “Demolition map”). The building was long & narrow building running north & south. It was located just west of the Huntington Mansion through the fragrant Rose Pergola & the large Bird Aviary. This structure is where the Huntington Library “Tea House” is now. In a aerial photograph of the San Marino property, the Billiards/Bowling Alley went from the front of the existing teahouse to the very back of the existing “Herb Garden”. The Herb Garden used to be Mrs. Arabella Huntington’s fragrant cutting flower garden. On a 1921 map for City of San Marino (Made at Cal Tech by engineers, it shows us what shape this building was). It was a long rectangle shape with another rectangle protruding in the middle to the left (shaped like a sideways “T”). Document: maps housed at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA shown to me by HEH Collection curators.

Spanish Rancho architecture & ceiling echoes what the Huntington Billard’sRoom/Bowling Alley might have looked like. Decorated in lovely autumnal colors this is actually the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara, CA Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Gentlemen’s Retreat

The Billard Room/Bowling Alley was decorated like a Gentlemen’s Hunting Lodge with taxidermy birds & Spanish-Style décor. It had lovely Autumnal colors of red, yellow, & terra cotta. In the winter mornings or afternoons, the Huntington’s footmen or parlor maid could have lit a nice fire in the fireplace with the brass andirons. They had a pair of iron & brass andirons at the fireplace. Maybe a whiskey, a sherry, or a hot toddy to warm up their house guests.

One of Mr. Huntington & his Huntington Land & Improvement Co. Orange crate label. Another Spanish type building was actually the Old Mill, on the San Marino Ranch. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage at a Huntington Library exhibition.

Spanish Hacienda Decor

I found a Huntington mansion/buildings inventory book in the Huntington’s archives. It gives us clues what the rooms of the Bowling Alley/Billiards Rooms actually looked like in the 1920’s. This retreat with a inspired Spanish influence, the description sounds like it looked like a elegant Hacienda-styled rooms. They had one Mahogany Spanish Cupboard with 2 doors- elaborately carved 52″ x 26″;There was an inlaid wood Spanish Table, made of rosewood & ivory 31″ x 22″ of the Redezne Collection. Also, a rectangular table with brass mounts & 2 drawers, 2 carved mahogany Spanish armchairs with terra cotta color & red silk brocade seats & one Mahogany Spanish armchair with red silk seat. There was 6 carved dark walnut Spanish straight back chairs & wood seats with 3 low Spanish armchairs with leather seats & backs. Along the Billiard & pool tables, were 3 carved Spanish benches two with arms, 7′ x 8′ long, respectively.

This is a example of a 1920’s elegant Billiards Room. At the San Marino Ranch, there was a fireplace & most likely curtains on the windows & maybe a Tiffany lamp overhead the Billiard Table & Pool Table. Maybe wood paneling like the Huntington’s large Library, I’m not sure.

Mrs. Huntington & Sir Joseph Duveen’s decorated a lot of the rooms at the Huntington Mansion. Most likely, he might have helped her with a theme for the Billiards Room/ Bowling Alley was Rancho Spanish style. They had a China Cuspidor, one pair of gilt mirrors with rosettes, one pair of carved Spanish cupboards with 2 doors, & semi-circle mahogany console table with 4 drawers & 4 feet high high of the Redezne Collection, one old Spanish Chest with folding legs with gilt, & one Chinese Bookcase (7 doors & 3 shelves 50″ high), & one mahogany Spanish Chest 16″ x 13″x 7″ with brass finishes. All these items went to the estate of Mr. H.E. Huntington (his daughters).

These are beatuiful colorful Mexican tiles, I photographed in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Billards Room/Bowling Alley Paintings:

There was 7 oil paintings that graced the walls of these rooms: “The Apple Gatherers”, Portrait Sunset of Ruth”, “Portrait of Woman’s Head”, “Landscape: Courtyard with Various Figures”, a early French interior by Navier & “Model Bathing” by Richomme, & a portrait paintings of H. E. Huntington. They also had a framed photo of C. P. Huntington: who was HEH’s uncle & Arabella Huntington’s deceased husband. These paintings all went to the library after Mr. Huntington died & the portrait painting of H. E. Huntington went to Estate (his family).

Roses in Autumnal Hues are in bloom almost 9 months of the year in Southern California. Lovely bouquets of roses and fragrant flowers were often put out to decorate the rooms at the Huntington Mansion on the Ranch. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

There must have been 2 or 3 rooms to this building because of the huge amount of furniture in it. There was a carved-oak Billiard Table & a Pool Table made of oak with carved legs with cues, balls, & markers. Then, there was a 2-lane wooden Bowling Alley, most likely 2 lanes because they had 2 Bowling Sets of pins & bowling balls.

Mr. Henry E. Huntington loved to read & really enjoyed his books. He wanted to share them with the world which he did with the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA

A Petit Library:

On warm sunny days at the San Marino Ranch, these rooms & the veranda was used for afternoon reading, afternoon tea, or get-togethers at sunset. They had 2 round Vienna Bentwood tables & 2 Bentwood armchairs. Mr. Huntington loved to sit and read a book, maybe share in a piece of poetry he found interesting. For the Huntingtons & their houseguests they had 4 bookcases; (3 sections) filled with 85 modern books [1927] in the bookcases on the west side; 116 modern books in cases on the east side. It is highly likely that some of the Huntington’s book located in the Billard Room/Bowling Alley were some of Mrs. Huntington’s garden books. She had a huge collections of books on famous gardens & gardeners, books on every kind of flower. Those botanical books are now in the Botanical Section of the Huntington Library. Mrs. Arabella Huntington was a avid reader of modern books at the time. When her eyesight got bad, her secretary or friends would read to her. On sunny afternoons (or rainy), one could have a cup of tea, with a great book, smell roses in the air, & hear the sweet sounds of chirping birds in the Bird Aviary close by or the grand peacocks walking by.

The Huntington large Aviary was in close proximity to the Billards Room/Bowling Alley. One of my favorite birds that the Huntingtons owned was the “Victoria crowned pigeon”. With his fancy crown of feathers like a fancy bird hat; the Huntingtons had a pair of these elegant birds. Photo credit & illustration: Nancy Armitage

Gentlemen’s Hunting Lodge – Bird Museum

To add to the Gentlemen’s Hunting Lodge vibe of this retreat, Mr. H.E. Huntington had a mini bird museum. In the Huntington’s time at the San Marino Ranch, there were many wild animals. In the early 1900’s, the men would hunt for food on the land. In the Huntington’s case some of these taxidermy birds their were family pets. With the pet already deceased, they had them stuffed. They had a pair of stuffed Toucan birds, & one stuffed white peacock. Also, in the Billiard’s Room, there were 6 other wild animals – 6 stuffed animals “trophies”: foxes, wildcats, one pair deer heads with antlers, & one stuffed elk head with antlers. .

Peacocks at the San Marino Ranch

Mr. Huntington loved the exotic Toucan birds. He used the toucan bird as his orange crate Logo on for San Marino Ranch “H. E. Huntington’s oranges”. Mr. Hertrich states in his book Huntington Botanical Gardens that peacocks (white & blue peacocks) roamed freely on the San Marino Ranch.

Peacocks (blue & white varieties) used to roam free at the San Marino Ranch. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Gentlemen’s Smoking Retreat

The Billiard Room & Bowling Alley could have been used as a Gentlemen’s Smoking Room also. Mr. Huntington loved smoking cigars; Mrs. Huntington didn’t like smoke in the Huntington Mansion. The Bowling Alley as a gentlemen’s retreat solved that problem. In the Edwardian years (1910-1920’s): Gentlemen after “Dining” on a multi-course dinner usually retired to the Drawing Room or Billiards Room. Mr. Huntington & his male guests most likely took a walk outside to the Bowling Alley/Billiards Room. To enjoy their fancy cigars & glass of brandy or whiskey. Mr. Huntington was not a big drinker, but he was very hospitable to his guests, if they wanted to partake.

This is Theodore Roosevelt’s trophy room. With a large stag with many antlers & a buffalo too. He had a fireplace with coffee table books and paintings on the walls.

Whiskey, Sherry, a Brandy, or Tea

Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington (Belle & Edwards) could have hosted a tea, or enjoyed a glass of sherry. The Billards Room/Bowling Alley could hosted cocktails in the evening. They had numerous guests & house guests to the Ranch in the Winter & Springtime. In Mr. H. E. Huntington’s correspondence, an invitation to the Huntington Mansion was usually requested for 2:30 or 3:00 pm. The Huntington gardens are particularly lovely during that time of day, which Mr. Huntington mentioned in a letter. The Huntingtons or their guests could have also used this resort building for playing cards, bridge, & game of hearts were their favorites! At the Ranch, the kitchen made their own ice cream. At a “Sunday at the Ranch”, on a hot day they might have served some hot fudge sundaes or root beer floats as a treat. The Huntington kitchen made their own homemade vanilla ice cream.

Another example of a 1920’s Billiards Room with overhead Billiard’s lamps with Fireplace and comfy chairs.

Chocolate Sauce, Van Nuys (1922)

Mr. Huntington before he built the Huntington Mansion, stayed at the elegant Hotel Van Nuys in downtown Los Angeles. He often put up his mother, Mrs. Solon Huntington (Harriet) & his sister, Carrie Huntington Holliday and her family at the Hotel Van Nuys. Maybe this recipe is from the Hotel Van Nuys.

1 lb. Sweet chocolate

2 c. Powdered sugar

2 oz. Butter

1 c. Water [or Heavy cream or Half & half]

Put in a double boiler & place on fire. Cook until smooth, stirring occasionally. Do not let it boil, as to do so makes it sticky and destroys the smoothness. From: Thomas Cooney, Chef Book: Castelar Creche Cookbook, Los Angeles, CA 1922 [For a Hot Fudge Sundae: In a milk shake type glass: Scoop out some vanilla ice cream or chocolate chip ice cream. Drizzle this tasty chocolate sauce, & sprinkle some chopped some Virginia large peanuts & place a maraschino cherry on top.]

There was a veranda attached to the Bowling Alley/Billiards Room. A lovely place to enjoy the sunshine & afternoon fresh air, amongst the fragrant Huntington rose gardens. In Southern California, the roses bloom (in 6 or 7 flushes) about 9 months of the year. The Veranda had two large porch swings with leather cushions; appraised $1,000.00 each (1927). This Veranda area must have been quite large, it was recorded they had 17 wicker chairs [I’m guessing white] with 3 Philippine tables “in -nest”. These nesting tables would have been perfect for afternoon tea or sherry, for guests to put tea cup or plates of tea sandwiches down. They also had 2 large Peacock Havana chairs, & 8 reed chairs for many guests.

In the early 1900’s, this is the view of the San Gabriel Mountains and Mt. Wilson, which the Huntingtons could see beautifully from their San Marino Ranch in Southern California. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage


HEH Coll. MS 38/6 uncat [Huntington Mansion Inventory Book -Brown 8 1/2″ x 11″] page 133-134;

Map: Map of San Marino Ranch 1927 Demo Map;

Map of San Marino Ranch 1921 Cal Tech map for map of a portion of the City of San Marino

Book: Wm. Hertrich’s book Huntington Botanical Garden

Book: Castelar Creche Cookbook Los Angeles, CA(HEHs book copy); this cookbook also has a lot of Mrs. Howard Huntington’s (Leslie) recipes in it.

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