Instructions to Head Housekeeper to ready the Mansion for the Huntingtons: (1914-SMR)

In the Gilded Age, wealthy people had large households of servant staff. In 1910, Mr. Henry Huntington did not, when he moved into the Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch, he had a staff of 5 people. He added more staff as the Head Housekeeper, Nora and he needed. In 1914, the Huntingtons welcomed many more in-house servants at the San Marino Ranch.

by Nancy Armitage

I was in the Huntington Library Reading room & did I find a interesting letter about Huntington Mansion at the Ranch! It is a letter (dated December of 1913) from the new bride of Mr. Henry E. Huntington (Arabella). This letter & other papers attached, with massive instructions, changed everything for this Huntington residence.

It is written by Mrs. Arabella Huntington’s social secretary, Miss Campbell. Sometimes, Arabella wrote her own letters; but other times Mrs. Huntington had her social secretary, Miss Caroline M. Campbell write letters for her.

One of the entrances to the Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch, CA. When Mr. H.E. Huntington (a divorced man from 1st wife Mary Alice) moved into the mansion (April 1910) he had a small staff. This Huntington servant staff was composed of about 4-5 people in 1910.. By 1914, The Huntingtons servant staff of servants and employee becomes much larger. They are welcoming, Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington to the Huntington Mansion at their San Marino Ranch on January 10, 1914. The Huntingtons are arriving from a week long railroad journey from New York City to the Ranch in Southern California. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

The letter is written from the Huntington’s New York City mansion affectionally known as “No. 2”. The fold-over notecard mansion stationary was simply engraved in black ink, at the top of the page : “2 East Fifty Seventh Street, New York”. Early in 1913. Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington had gotten married. In the summertime of that year, they had enjoy their 5-month “Grand Tour” Honeymoon in France. For a wedding gift, “Edwards” HEH wanted to buy his wife the Chateau de Beauregard by Sevres & Paris. The owner would not sell the Chateau, but he would let them lease Chateau de Beauregard Le Celle St. Cloud, Paris from 1913-1923. Then “Edwards & Belle” sailed home in Autumn, and celebrating Thanksgiving & Christmas at “No. 2”.

Often, the Huntingtons were “front page news” in the LA Herald, San Francisco Call, or New York Herald Newspapers in the early 1900’s. Many of the newspapers across America would also carry the same news stories about the Huntingtons. Document: San Francisco Call Newspaper July 17,1913.

Back in 1910, Miss Nora Larsen was hired as the 1st a Cook/ then Head Housekeeper at the Ranch. She also was in charge of “putting up” or preserving all fruits, vegetables, & berries. She made sweets like orange marmalade, brandied peaches, raspberry, & loganberry jams, & grape jelly. She also preserved cucumbers in bread & butter pickles, & pickled okra, etc. The Huntingtons loved her preserving & would give these little treasures away as gifts. One year all staff & friends received jars of San Marino Ranch honey (orange blossom) that was highly prized.

Miss Nora Larsen, Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington Head Housekeeper and Cook. Original photo in the Nora Larsen papers at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

Nora was hired by Mr. Henry E. Huntington, a single divorced man. She was a very loyal employee (17 yrs.) to him from 1910-until he died in 1927. Nora went on to open a tea house on the San Marino Ranch (in the Bowling Alley Building) for the readers/Scholars at the Huntington Library Building.

Nora Larsen’s Cottage on the San Marino Ranch. She was the Head Housekeeper/ Cook of the Huntingtons. She lived with her brother, Ludwig Larsen (a night watchman) & maybe her sister, Julie Larsen, ( a cook) at the Ranch, also. After Mr. Huntington died in 1927, Nora was able to live in her cozy cottage for the rest of her life. It looks like her cottage might have had 2-3 bedrooms, a sitting room, & Kitchen . She also had a nice porch with 2 chairs; she could enjoy the gorgeous gardens & the birds. Original photo in Nora Larsen Papers Mss HM 83753-83772 Box 1 & Box 2, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

In the beginning Miss Nora Larsen lived inside the Huntington Mansion. Later, Mr. Huntington had built Nora Larsen a cottage (where the Shakespeare garden is now). Nora lived there in her cottage for years, her address was 1151 Oxford Rd. San Marino, CA until she died. I also think she had something to do with the San Marino Preserving Factory that started in South Pasadena & then moved to Lakewood, CA. The Huntington Library has a delicious orange marmalade made for them; they sell at the store. In memory of Mr. & Mrs. Huntington & their beloved San Marino Ranch & their orange groves.

Mr. Henry E. Huntington, owner of the San Marino Ranch in California dated 1907.There is also another photograph of HEH in this series of photos, where HEH is standing with right hand in hand in his suit pocket… In April /June of 1913, he married Mrs. Collis P. Huntington (Arabella). Original picture: HEH Collection photCL285 Box 1 (Standing photo) photographs at Huntington Library San Marino, CA

When Mr. Huntington moved into the Huntington Mansion in April of 1910; he had a small servant staff. From the San Marino Payroll from May 1910 to Dec. 1910: Mr. Henry E. Huntington had his Chauffeur (M. F. Shaffuer then Mr. J. M. Barnett ), a Housekeeper (Mrs. Delia L. Foley she was only temporary to help set up the Mansion.) Delia hired Miss Nora N. Larsen as Housekeeper, a Cook named Mr. Gee Lee, a Night-watchman (who was Nora’s brother. Mr. L. H. Larsen “Ludwig”, & a laundress named Mrs. M. Stringer. With Mr. Wm. Hertrich, he paid all employees, propagated & ordered plants, & he took care of the gardens & the Ranch. For the Huntington Mansion household, things changed drastically in 1913, when Henry E. Huntington married Mrs. Collis P. Huntington (Arabella).

Mrs. Henry E. Huntington (Arabella) Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

This letter illustrated a much bigger & grander Gilded Age life that the Huntingtons enjoyed at the Ranch. It also shows how the Huntingtons liked their daily life a certain way. It was stated by Alfonso Gomez (Huntington’s Head Butler) & Miss Nora Larsen (Head Housekeeper-Cook) that Mrs. Huntington “like things just so”. She liked flower arrangements (150-200 stems) filled with fragrant flowers & roses. She liked the Huntington staff to look presentable. To serve beautiful food from the ranch & vegetable gardens to the Huntingtons & their guests. The soup course had to be hot & the food & sweets delicious. Arabella was a Southern Belle & took really very good care of Mr. Huntington & her family.

Mrs. Huntington’s favorite flowers were roses, orchids, & lily or the valley, too. Her roses she liked in vibrant pink and white and variegated roses, also.

A unknown fact to the public is that…..Arabella had actually stayed at the Huntington Mansion in San Marino in April of 1913. (My former Huntington Library curator, Dan Lewis, told me this & showed me the documents). Mr. H. E. Huntington & Mrs. Collis P. Huntington (Arabella) actually got married (legally) in April of 1913 in downtown Los Angeles, CA. Then, they married again in the American Church in Paris in June of 1913.

In the Huntington Mansions -Main Hall in between the Large Library to the left & Large Drawing Room to the right. The double doors in the center look out to the grand terrace & the spectacular view of the whole San Gabriel Valley. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

After their stay at the Ranch in April of 1913, they took their private railroad cars “Oneonta I” & “Oneonta II” from San Marino Ranch to New York City. Then they sailed aboard on a ship & got married again in Paris at the American Church. So by this letter, it sounds like the Huntington Mansion at the San Marino Ranch was not quite up to Mrs. Arabella Huntington’s standards.

Letter to Nora Larsen (Huntingtons Cook & Head Housekeeper) from MIss Carrie M. Campbell (Mrs. Huntington’s Social secretary). With elaborate instructions to get the Huntington Mansion in order before the Huntingtons arrived at the Ranch. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

The letter is as followed:

“Dec. 8th 1913, 2 East Fifty Seventh Street New York,

Miss Larsen,

Mrs. Huntington requested me to say that she will want certain things done in the house [SMR] before her arrival, she is writing so that you will have time to attend to them. Mrs. Huntington would like you to have certain of the bedrooms in order, ready to occupy. The following rooms are all that are necessary to open until after Mrs. Huntington’s arrival. Mr. & Mrs. Huntington Bedroom, Dressing Room, Sitting Room, & Hanging Room, Miss Campbell’s Room, & Bath & one Bedroom, next to the Hanging room & Bath for Mr. Huntington’s Secretary [Mr. Varnum]. The rest of that floor can remain covered unless you receive further orders on regard to them. All the servants room[s] in the house are to be in order. Have one of the beds & bureaus removed from the Butlers Room (where there are two beds) to one of the rooms in the [car] garage. All the rooms, on the first [1st] floor are to be put in order before Mrs. Huntington’s arrival. All linen, & blankets must be sunned & aired several days… mattresses & pillows raised up from the beds to be aired thoroughly. All copper kitchen utensils to be gotten ready for use. Mr. & Mrs. Huntington expect to be in California about January 10th [1914]. When the furniture is uncovered the rooms must not be left open so that the sun will get on the furniture, carpets, & curtains. Mrs. Huntington is bringing out with her several servants: Butler, & two (2) Footmen, First [1st] Cook, First [1st] Laundress, Parlor Maid, & Chambermaid. Mrs. Huntington says you had better engage: a second 2nd Cook & 2nd Laundress as they will be necessary. If any other servants are to be engaged they can be gotten after the family arrive. Miss Campbell”

Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington’s Dining Room & looking into the Small Drawing Room too. The Huntington usually entertained at luncheon & dinners guests; with 6-12 people. Mrs. Huntington really enjoyed having 12 people at her dining table. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Wow! When Miss Larsen received this letter it might have been quite a shock & quite overwhelming. Nora Larsen started working for Mr. Huntington in 1910. For 4 years, Mr. Huntington had a small servant staff with Mr. William Hertrich as the boss (he paid all in-house staff & all the San Marino Ranch staff).

Mrs. Huntington loved a beautiful tablescape. I recently discovered in her New York City mansion papers that she had Majolica dishes like these green plates. Mrs. Huntington would have owned “Majolica Aesthetic Movement” vintage 1870’s, plates with leaves, berries, ivy, or flowers . Document: Andersen Galleries selling contents #2 57th St. NYC [Mrs. Arabella Huntington’s NYC mansion) 1926 – catalog). Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Let’s review & see what this news meant to Miss Nora Larsen: The Huntingtons were bringing 7 more servants with them & 2 more employees: Miss Campbell & Mr. Varnum (HEH’s social secretary) & maybe Mrs. Varnum. Mrs. Catherine Varnum sometimes traveled abroad to Europe with the Huntingtons. Then, Miss Campbell informs Miss Larsen to hire 2 more servants; so the total is up to 11 more people living in the Huntington Mansion & eating 3 meals a day. So 11 people for sure – maybe 12 extra people in the Huntington Mansion everyday. Nora as Cook/Preserver of fruit & veggies had to connect with Mr. Hertrich on a weekly/Daily basis. To see what was in season to cook & preserve. Nora as Head Housekeeper had to plan and figuring out daily menus for the Huntingtons, always with Mrs. Huntington’s approval. But now it would be for more houseguests & all this new staff. Nora Larsen and the cook deciding menus for the Huntington’s entertainments. Or Mrs. Huntington & Miss Campbell picking themes and instructing the kitchen staff. But this was the Arabella Standard for all of her mansions. She had a range of 16-30 servants at all her Huntington Mansions. Sometimes, more in-house servants with the “traveling servants” the Huntingtons traveled with. Mrs. Arabella Huntington was going to show them all how it was done in the most elegant way.

So there with other papers with this letter to Nora from Miss Campbell. One titled “General work for 2nd Chambermaid” The script writing looks familiar to me, but it is not Miss Campbells, or Mrs. Arabella Huntingtons or Miss Larsens (because in the text, the writer talks about Miss Larsen. I think it might have been Miss Kate McGillvary’s writing; she was the Huntington’s Head Housekeeper at No. 2 in NYC. Miss McGillvary would have been knowledgable about the tasks for a 2nd Chambermaid.

Define “Chambermaid”: A women who is employed to clean & tidy the bedrooms & bathrooms of a fashionable hotel or mansion. Also to do general cleaning.

This sheet of paper below is a very lengthy explanation of what a “2nd Chambermaid” does in the Huntington Mansion at the San Marino Ranch. Miss Nora Larsen had to hire the 2nd Chambermaid, so she would have needed to know what was expected of that in-house servant.

General work for the 2nd Chambermaid: Separate milk 6:30 AM =5PM. Brush & thorough dust – House office [Mr. H. E. Huntington Small Library]. Brushing screen & window sills using dustless floor mop. Empty waist [waste] paper basket & remove finger marks. Breakfast 7:30 AM Attend chamber work in men’s quarters & rooms outside. Jeannes [Jeanne Reifer – Mrs. Huntington’s Ladies Maid] & Miss Larsens room to air until 9-50? 9:30AM. Attend chamberwork on 2nd Floor, excepting Parlor Maid’s room. Brush down 3rd floor stairs, sweep 2nd floor halls & Trunk room [Luggage room with large ship trunks]. Brush off screens where windows are open. Thorough dust & use dustless mop for floors. Attend rooms on 3rd floor. Kindly give particular attention to work in all rooms which includes Brushing screens & window sills. Dusting. Wiping wash bowls & bath tubs, empty waist [waste] paper basket. Keeping toilets clean & suppling with [toilet] paper. Use dustless floor mop. Keep maids closet neat- dusters & floor mops clean. Thorough Cleaning Days: Thursday: 3rd floor [Servants rooms] Fridays: men’s quarters Saturdays 2nd floors. } Wipe &? spray. Change Linens, cover beds? Sweep carpets [carpet sweep Oriental rugs]. Wash up around the carpets. Brush off screens & windows sills outside.” Document: Nora Larsen Papers Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

Men’s Quarters Outside: probably meant [the Billiard’s Room & Bowling Alley & there were also men’s servant quarters were attached to the “Carriage House”,’ they called their Car Garage]. Car Garage is now the Boone Gallery at the Huntington Library San Marino, CA

By 1914, many of the Huntington’s gardens were in place. But there were still acres of ranch lands & veggie gardens were on the Ranch. The Huntingtons had a dairy with cows, 8-10 horses, & lots of chickens and guinea hens and turkeys. They had tractors & horses kicking us dust on a daily basis. So until they put in double-paned windows, the dust at the Huntington Mansion on San Marino Ranch was a problem.

The Huntington’s Large Drawing Room at the Ranch. Often, a Music Room after a formal dinner with friends or a lovely room to have cup of tea in the afternoon. Often, Mrs. Howard E. Huntington (Leslie) Leslie would join Mrs. Huntignton for lunch daily and tea about 2:30. Leslie was Mr. Huntington’s daughter in daughter. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The other sheet of paper by Miss Campbell’s/Nora Larsens letter was full page detailing the jobs for a “Houseman”(they used this term on the San Marino Ranch Payroll).

For “Useful Man’s Work.” [during the week’s time]: For every day: Beginning at 6 AM Clean up bird’s cages*. Sweep & tide up the Piazzas (Porches) [the Loggia & the Terrace]. [the Servant’s ] Breakfast at 7:30 Am Sundays at 8:00 AM. Bring vegetables for the kitchen. Sweep the sidewalks. Clean up House-keepers Office, Help’s Dining Room. Sweep & dust off the stairways & Hall [Main Hall]. Keep clean the Help’s Sitting Room & Milk-House floor. Luncheon at 12 o’clock. Empty the Pantry & Kitchen cans. During the time of [Huntington] Family’s luncheon, sweep the Piazzas & East Balconies [Mrs. Huntington’s French garden over the Loggia]. Clean up the Kitchen floor. Supper at 5:30 PM Cover up the Piazzas cushions, empty pantry and kitchen cans [trash?] Take out the dog food. [Mrs. Huntington had Belgium griffon dog named “Buster”]. During [Huntington’s] Family’s dinner, see [to] the fireplace. Monday : Ventilate Guest Cottage. Tuesdays: Wash windows. Wednesday: Wash Windows. Thursday: Bring up Laundry baskets at 4PM & take of the Milk-House. Friday: Clean bath-rooms floors on 2nd floor at 9:30 AM & Vacuum at 5AM. Saturday: Wash sidewalks, wash driveways?stairways, etc. Hoist up the [American] flag in the mornings & take it down evenings every day, except on rainy or windy days. Water the plants on East & South Balconies [next to Guest Sitting facing the Mt. Wilson & balconies over the terrace] – 4 times a week or everyday on hot days. Keep clean the balconies on 1st floor & 3rd floor. Sweep 3rd floor once a week. Off Duty: Every Wednesday and other Sunday PM.” Document: Nora Larsen Papers Huntington Library San Marino, CA

I had to laugh at “Vacuuming at 5 AM”, I bet that got changed real quick when Mrs. Huntington arrived. She seemed to have a later breakfast at 9:00am and Mr. Huntingtons was a early breakfast at 7:30 or 8:00AM. 5 AM vacuuming would be awfully early to be waking the whole Huntington Household.

[*a small bird cage was inside the Huntington Mansion was on the 2nd floor with mint tile floor. The bird cage housed 3 birds: Mrs. Huntington’s favorite green Amazon parrot named “Buster”, a white cockatoo, & Black Indian mynah with yellow bill. “Buster”, was a saucy green parrot & had a nautical 200-word vocabulary entertaining all guests and family too. Buster adapted Mrs. Huntington’s exact voice. Which created some funny stories about Mr. Huntington answering his wife call. Only to find out it was the bird calling him. Document: Personal Recollections by Wm. Hertrich & SMR papers, Alfonso Gomez interviews

Miss Campbell writing for Mrs. Huntington gives theses detailed instructions to Miss Nora Larsen to prepare the Huntington Mansion for the Huntingtons for Jan. of 1914.

In 1911, Mrs. Huntington hired Alfonso Gomez as a Butler on the spot at his job interview at No. 2. Alfonso’s former job was on a Cunard Steamship; he worked as a Steward & was very good at his job. Later in 1913, Alfonso was Mr. Henry E. Huntington’s Gentlemen’s Valet & a 2nd Butler at first in his service to the Huntingtons. Then Alfonso became the 1st Butler or Head Butler after McGillvary retired. Alfonso would have been excellent at keeping the Huntington’s household flowing & going the way Mrs. Huntington liked. He seemed like a happy, kind, & gentle soul; who would have been willing to teach a servant the right way to do a Butlers’ or Footmen’s task. For this 1914 trip to California, the Huntington’s 1st Butler: Mr. Angus McGillvary probably stayed at No. 2 in NYC. I assume that Alfonso acted as 1st Butler or Head Butler, when McGillvary wasn’t in attendance. But as the years went on, McGillvary was also a traveling servant to the Huntingtons to all their various mansions throughout the year.

The Huntingtons formal luncheons & dinners usually started with a 1st course of delicious Hot Soup or Oysters on the half shell. Cups of delicious soups were served by the Footmen & /or Butlers. These soup bowls were lidded to keep the soup hot. Clever idea of Mrs. Arabella Huntingtons, she bought Haviland fine bone china sugar bowls at Parmalee-Dohrmann in LA. These sugar bowl were nice & large holding 1-2 c. of hot soup & had 2 handles. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Oysters with Cocktail Sauce [Oysters on the half shell with a little lemon basket filled with Cocktail Sauce]

24 or more oysters (for 4 persons, 6 each)

3 T. Sunkist lemon juice

2 T. tomato catsup

1 T. finely chopped onion

12 drops Tabasco sauce

1/2 t. grated horseradish

salt to taste

4 Sunkist lemons [make a basket out of each]

Cut 2 sections from each Sunkist lemons; remove juice & pulp, leaving baskets with handles. Mix lemon juice with other seasonings, adding salt to taste. Put mixture in baskets, & place each one in centre of a deep plate with crushed ice. Arrange 6 raw oysters in their shells around each basket & serve for a 1st course. ” Recipe from Sunkist Recipes Oranges-Lemons p.13 by Alice Bradley CA (California Fruit Growers Exchange, Los Angeles, CA) @1916. One of Mr. H.E. Huntington’s Rare Book #357715 Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

Omelet Souffle

[A lovely kind of sweet warm pudding that the cook could whip up for the Huntington’s in a moment’s notice. They were probably very tired after their long journey on the train from No. 2 in NYC to the San Marino Ranch.]

“One cup of flour, one pint of milk, one spoonful of sugar, & a lump of butter – the size of a walnut. Scald the milk, flour, & butter together. After the batter is cold, stir in the yolks of 5 eggs. Stir in a quick oven; eat with sauce. [Maybe a sweet orange sauce with zest of orange] This is a special pudding. “Recipe: In one of Mr. H. E. Huntington’s rare books called Los Angeles Cookery p. 80 from Ladies Aid Society, Fort St. M. E. Church, Los Angeles @1881.”

Historical Notes:

“Opening up rooms” is a phrase used when people have several homes or a beach house. They would cover all the furniture with thin bed sheets, to avoid dust or sand on the chairs, couches, or furniture.

“Hanging room” is probably a closet room of sorts for Mrs. Huntington’s large collection of gowns & clothes; Mrs. Huntington “Dressed for Dinner” every night at the Ranch, she wore fancy long sequin gowns at her Dining Room Table.

Mrs. Arabella Huntington bought hundred of Haviland & Limoges oyster plates (Rose Variant Limoges with rose swag garland covered) which was pink, white, & gold with roses. In 1914, she bought 2 doz. EH (Elite Haviland) custard cups that were fancy-footed. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The Huntington’s Auto Garage (now the Boone Gallery at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA) housed some of the Huntingtons “Servant’s quarters”: for 2 of the Huntington’s chauffeurs: Mr. Barnett & Mr. Clarence Williams.

In 1914, over a 2 month period of time, Mrs. Huntington bought about 3,000 fine bone china plates. She bought Limoges, Elite Haviland, & Homer Laughlin “Angelus”. In 4 visits (January & February of 1914 to Parmalee -Dohrmann Co. in downtown Los Angeles, CA. She bought sugar bowls for soup bowls, tea cups & saucers, entrée & charger plates, tea plates, butter plates, dessert plates, & oysters plates. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Document: HEH Coll. Nora Larsen’s papers mss HM 83753-83772 Box 1 & Box 2 (Letter to Nora Larsen from Miss Campbell – dated: December 8th, 1913) Photo of Miss Nora Larsen, & Nora’s San Marino Ranch Cottage

Document: HEH Coll. MS 1/F/17 uncat (Huntington Land & Improvement Co. Ledger; HEH Coll. MS 4/1-10 uncat (Mr. H.E. Huntington Bill Record 1910 (names of Mr. Huntington’s In-House staff)

Document: HEH Coll. HEH 6/15 uncat (San Marino Ranch -small folder) -Huntington Mansion list of the in-house servants March 1919

Document: HEH Coll. MS 8/9 uncat (San Marino Ranch Papers)& HEH Coll MS 6 1-10 (Payroll of House staff & ranch staff of Mr. H. E. Huntington)

Document: HEH Coll. 19 1-18 uncat (Alfonso Gomez interviews/tapes)

Statue in the Huntington Mansion’s Main Hall on the 1st floor near the grand staircase. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage
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