Stranded In The Southland

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Huntington Library, Museum, Gardens, and Just General Show of Wealth

A hiking buddy clued me in to free Thursdays at the Huntington, the former estate of one of the four guys (along with Stanford) who controlled the railroads (and thus the state) of California around the turn of the century. He put his ill-gotten gains to good use, though, setting up vast and amazing gardens, an impressive library, and a collection of expensive art.

I wasn't quite willing to shell out $15 to see it, but for free? Sure! Unfortunately, plenty of folks had the same idea, both locals and tourists. The place was packed -- several of the docents said that they'd never seen it so crowded. Still, whenever a swarm of three-foot-tall kids in matching T-shirts would get in my way, I'd mutter, "Free, free, free," until the red mist passed from my eyes.

The gardens really rocked. The Japanese garden is bigger than the Japanese garden in Golden Gate Park. While it wasn't as fanatically cared for as some of the gardens I saw in Japan itself, it was still pretty impressive. The bonsai exhibit was especially cool (not that I know from bonsai, despite too much reading about them as a child).

The buildings were all kind of frumpy and not particularly interesting; that's too bad, considering the interesting architecture that was going on at the time. However, the contents are pretty impressive. It's mostly older stuff, which doesn't excite me as much as 20th century art, but it was still cool to see.

The Huntington has "The Blue Boy" and a bunch of other Gainesboroughs. The wonderful difference from so many other places is that they are actually explained -- there are all sorts of wonderful tidbits in the placards describing the paintings. I'm not all that wild about portraits of old English folks, but even I enjoyed it.

The library is similarly impressive, with one of the earliest manuscripts of Chaucer's work in the world. As M. works on Chaucer a bit, this was kind of cool to see. The rest of the holdings are interesting as well, with plenty of holographic bits from George Washington and similar famous Americans.

Finally, they have a display of Arts & Crafts furniture, where my hiking buddy was serving as docent. It was cool to see (although I think I like the furniture from maybe 10 or 15 years later a bit more).

All in all, this was definitely worth seeing, if only for the acres and acres of amazing gardens. Plus, 'free' is a really attractive word. :-)