by Nancy Armitage
or “Dining with the Romneys” I could have called this article…..It has always interested me what the Huntington’s Formal Dining Room looked like. Especially, when the Huntingtons lived in the Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch. Even when I was a child, my mother & I would visit the Huntington Library, in San Marino, CA; I always wondered where the kitchen was. I did find out about the Huntington Dining Room in a Mansion Inventory book located in the Huntington archives. While the Huntingtons lived at the San Marino Ranch, they “Dined with all the Romneys”. All of their George Romney portrait paintings (English) graced the Dining Room walls. Investigating some black & white photographs of the Huntington Dining Room; we know that Romney’s “Mrs. Burton” (Catherine Halhead Burton, 1789) hung above the Huntington’s fireplace. We also can see the 2 formal dining room Chippendale chairs that sat on each side of the fireplace. The other Romney oil paintings were “Mr. Jeremiah Mills”, “Mrs. Jeremiah Mills”, “Lady Beauchamp-Procter”, Mrs. Penelope Lee Acton”, “Susan E. Beckford- Duchess of Hamilton & her sister”, “Mrs. General Orde”, Lady Hamilton, & “Mrs. Ralph Willet”. Several of the paintings are full length portraits & very large with elaborate gold frames. These paintings reached down all the way to the side buffet tables. After Mr. Huntington died (1927), all these choice master portraits were moved from the Huntington’s Dining Room to the large newly added Huntington Art Gallery (1931). Document: HEH Coll. MS 38/6 uncat [Huntington Mansion Inventory Brown Book]; Huntington.org website photo of Romney’s Mrs. Burton- Call number: HEH Coll photCl 107 Vol.13 (19) 1930 photo
Symbols of Celebration
In the formal Dining Room, an ornate carved fireplace is located on the east wall. There are several symbols of celebration decorating the fireplace: grapes, grape leaves, the bust of Bacchus (the god of wine & celebration), wheat to symbolize bread, half moon, artist’s palette, wine vessels, & fruit. On each side of the grand fireplace stood 2 bronze andirons figures, child, & flames. These pieces were bought in Paris, in June of 1913 when Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington (Arabella) got married. “From Seligman No. 3659, 2 firedogs little children coming out of the scrollwork, guaranteed of time: Louis XVI model by Clodion.”
In Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington (Arabella) Dining Room was used by numerous Tea Receptions, Luncheons for 12, Tea buffets, & Formal dinners from 4 to 24 people. At their Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch most of their luncheons were intimate with 6 to 12 guests. Luncheons in the 1920’s, in wealthy society were usually a formal sit-down 4-5 course meal. Luncheon would start with a seafood or fruit cocktail, a soup, and/or a salad, an entrée with rice/ potato & vegetables, ending in a light dessert & ice cream. This afternoon meal was served “Service a la Russe” (Russian style) meaning one course at a time according to a menu. Was there a formal menu on the table, it is very possible. Mrs. Huntington ordered dozens of menu cards for dining. Some menu cards were from Tiffany & Co. (with watercolors included) & other fine stationary places. Used for her formal dining in the Huntington mansions at the New York Mansion & the San Marino Ranch. A menu card can add excitement sometimes with a theme to a meal of what’s to come. Mrs. Huntington’s personal secretary had pretty handwriting & could easily write them out. also.
The color theme for the Huntington’s dining room was green. The room had subdued surrounding of white walls & three large French windows/doors draped with green satin curtains. The white “King’s white” walls was a brilliant idea to make the English portrait paintings stand out & look exquisite. Outside the Dining Room windows the Huntington could see the garden sculpture “Temple of Love” & the Formal Rose Gardens; a maybe a peacock or two walking by.
Staging Area for Huntington’s Footmen
There was a impressive Louis XIV style 6-panel needlepoint savonry screen; with carved wood gilded frame. The room had another circular 6 ft. table with 6 carved legs. This could have been used for staging a formal dinner for the footmen and butlers or for breakfast, or for grandchildren to sit & eat. This table had a green velvet table cover, 9’2″. They had 3 marble top “buffet” side tables; one side table, brown mottled marble top (under picture), 2 side tables 30″ x 69″ (under picture), green marble tops with carved sides & legs, with beautiful hand carving of women [I think I have seen that large table upstairs on the north side of the stair case.] A 2-panel screen of green felt with 6 ft. high with oak serving stand. The under picture is a reference from Mr. H. E. Huntington’s last will. Which states that every table under a “picture” (painting) went to the Huntington Library instead of Mr. Huntington’s estate. So these beautiful ornate French tables are still at the Huntington Library & Art Gallery for visitors to enjoy.
Seating from 6-24 guests at the Huntington Dining Room
They had a beautiful Persian Oriental rug of Ispaham silk. It laid under the Marquetry oval Dining Table with Chippendale bear claw feet; often a drop leaf to enlarge the table. But this table actually had 5 leaves to extend the table for 24 or more guests. Which Mr. Huntington needed in 1926 at his “Royal Dinner with the King & Queen of Sweden. There were 16 Dining room chairs in the Dining Room & a total of 32 Chippendale Chairs in the main hallway & various other locations.
The formal rule of etiquette in the Victorian Era was to have a even number of person at one’s dinner table. Often, Miss Campbell or Mr. Hapgood (Mr. Huntington’s social secretary) were asked to fill in when a person get ill or couldn’t come to dinner. In the Dining Room, there was also a carved Chippendale settee with French ribbon pattern (a double Chippendale chair “Loveseat”, which 2 people could sit on.) Also, two large gold carved trochees (tall, free standing candelabras) decorating the large Dining Room.
“The Royal Dinner“
On Friday July 23, 1926, Mr. H. E. Huntington hosted his most elaborate dinner ever at the Huntington Mansion, the “Royal Dinner. He invited 24 dinner guest for a multi-course dinner in honor of the Crown Prince Gustavus Alophus & Princess Louise of Sweden. They stayed with Mr. Huntington for 4 days. For this white tie & tails event, he invited dear friends, some trustees, & their wives & his family to join them. Mr. Huntington’s favorite sister, Mrs. Caroline Holladay “Carrie” was his hostess; Mrs. Arabella Huntington had died in 1924. He entertained the Prince & Princess the whole weekend at the Huntington Mansion; with events at the Hotel Huntington with teas, lectures, luncheon events. A formal dinner at the Biltmore Hotel with LA Chamber of Commerce. A concert at the Hollywood Bowl & visits to Warner Brothers & several other studio tours.
Typical Huntington formal dinner
Huntington Formal Dinners with guests were very formal indeed with many courses from 8 to 10 courses. In the 1880’s, the Huntingtons entertained with grand Gilded Age dinners that were actually 14-16 courses. These dinners took several hours & many waiters serving them wine & champagne at each course.
A typical formal Huntington dinner could have been a starter like Oyster on the half shell to start, a soup course (Clear Bouillon), fish course (small Crab Cake with Lemon sauce), chicken course like Chicken Croquette with a Marsala or Truffle Sauce, Entrée Course with vegetables, Sorbet or Roman Punch, then for the 2nd half a Game Course (Duck a la Orange or Pheasant), Salad (served French style after the Entrée like refreshing Waldorf Salad or California Avocado & Orange Salad, Cheese course (Mrs. Huntington loved French cheese “Fromage course” best like Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, Desserts could be Pudding or Fancy Cakes & shaped Ice cream, Dried Ranch Fruit like Apricots & Cherries or fresh Mango & Peaches with Nuts to finish, with Bon Bons or Jordan Almonds ( French Chocolate Truffles served in the Large Drawing Room).
Formal Attire: Mandatory
The Huntington luncheons & dinners were formal. “Formal meant formal attire for men and women: men dressed in grey “morning coats” for lunch & white ties & tails or black tie for men at dinner. Women dressed in formal long gowns & long gloves for the ladies. The Huntingtons had four serving men (footmen) as waiters for their elegant 4-5 course Luncheons or 6-8 course dinners. Even when Mr. & Mrs. Huntington were alone, dinner was still formal. Formal meant four footmen in attendance; 4 fancy dressed male footmen in vests (Livery) & tails with gloves. Two footmen serving plates to each individual & two others footmen standing in attendance or to help the Huntingtons or their guests when needed to take away plates & help with wine, etc. Alfonzo Gomez, Head Butler in the 1920’s, always stood behind Mr. Huntington if he needed him.
The Huntington’s Butler & Footmen Call Buttons
In the Huntington Dining Room, both Mr. & Mrs. Huntington had servant call buttons on the floor at their feet to alert the footmen or butlers if needed. On the left side of the fireplace, they also had a small button on the wall. This was for the Head Butler to alert the staff without loudly calling out their names; or interrupting the Huntington’s dinner & their guests.
Mrs. Arabella Huntington & her Belguim griffon dog “Buster”
Alfonzo Gomez, (Mr. Huntington’s personal valet-butler) tells a sweet story about Mrs. Huntington’s & her beloved dog “Buster”.
“& the dog, he had to have his dinner. He was very fierce, you remember? He laid on her dress, & that dog was so attached to Mrs. Huntington. He knew her every move. That dog met a terrible tragedy [he got killed by one of the Huntington’s guard dogs, at the ranch]. She was so fond of this dog that he laid on her dress eating lunch, but the instinct of the dog, he knew exactly when she was through. So before she made any move or got out of her chair he knew she ought to be through, so he got up and stayed in the center of the room waiting for her. ”
“In the evening, when she was playing cards – she played till 10:30 -the dog laid on her dress & he knew what time she got through playing cards & [sic] 15 minutes. Before she finished playing cards, that dog went upstairs & he laid on her bed waiting for her. So naturally, she loved him & that dog didn’t like anyone else.” Document: HEH Coll MS 19/1-18 uncat (Alfonso Gomez Tape B. p.11) Historical Note: Both the Huntington’s green Amazon parrot [who spoke exactly like Mrs. Huntington in a nautical fashion] & the Belguim Griffon dog both had the same name “Buster”. These pet animals adored & protected Mrs. Huntington and didn’t particularly like Mr. Huntington or the Butler. Buster, the dog, was buried in the Huntington rose garden.
I believe that when the Huntingtons were alone or with another couple like Mr. Huntington’s sister, Carrie & Burke Holliday dinners was greatly reduced. A elegant dinner like 5-6 courses depending on the season or French style with 3-4 course. The oysters might be a oyster soup or gumbo, a fish or a chicken course, a entrée or game course, with cheese served with salad course, fresh Ranch fruit & nuts served with small fancy cakes “petit fours” & ice cream.
Mrs. Huntington’s fine bone china & porcelain plates
From the Butlers Pantry was a large room, located just north of the Huntington’s Dining Room. It held all of Mrs. Huntington’s necessary porcelain & fine bone china plates that were used in the Dining Room. The Huntingtons had 40 cabinets of plates, bowls, & tea cups, with about most sets had 50-60 plates. For special occasions, Mrs. Huntington used her “Best Fine China” was a ornate gold & white plate made by Old Copeland & Garrett. A popular thing to do at the time was to have the family crest or family initial like “H” painted gold on plates. Bullocks, a department store in Pasadena, (which is now a Macys on Lake Ave.), used to have this service. The font for the family initial(s) was usually Old English or Gothic type in gold and very elegant. When Mrs. Huntington died in 1924, Archer Huntington would have inherited her “bric-a brac”. When Mr. Huntington died in 1927, his 3 daughters would have inherited all his treasures except for the master paintings.
At a formal dinner each “cover” (table setting) would have included a mass amount of elegant plates & bowls : a charger, oyster plates, bouillon or soup bowls, bread plates, finger bowls, entree & game plates, salad plates, cheese & fruit plates, dessert plates, ice cream bowls, tea or coffee or demitasse cups & saucers. The Huntington sterling silver was Gorham (the sterling silver at the US White House) with all the serving spoons & forks & serving trays for the footmen. Mrs. Huntington had 2 large boxes of Gorham silver flatware for a dinner parties would include oyster fork, fish or fruit fork, soup spoon, chicken fork, entrée & game fork, salad fork, cheese spoon, cake fork, ice cream spoon. The Huntington’s had Tiffany gold crystal glasses had water tumbler glass, champagne & white wine glass & red wine, Claret & Hock glasses, lemonade & ginger ale glasses. Many crystal ware used for cordial & liqueurs (Crème de menthe or Curacao) used in the Drawing Room they had Salvanti Venetian glasses, Tiffany gold, & etched crystal ware. Many of the Huntington pieces had “H” engraved or HEH engraved on them.
Mrs. Arabella Huntington had a enormous amount of fine bone china & porcelain plates, bowls & coffee and teacups. She loved French porcelains: Sevres (tea & dessert set in pink, gold, & white), Limoges, numerous sets of Havilland, & Old Paris chocolate pots. She had English fine bone china like Royal Crown Derby, English Whieldon “Pheasant”, Copeland & Garrett, Blue Delt, Worchester, Coalport (gold, white & blue), Dresden & so many more. The Huntingtons had a huge collection of Homer Laughlin called “Angelus” pattern, with white & gold with little pink roses on it.