Henry Huntington, builder of Los Angeles

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Hear the name Henry Huntington and you may think of the glorious Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, founded 100 years ago.

But Huntington’s imprint on LA was even bigger than that.

“Mr. Huntington's imprint upon the vast expansion of the Los Angeles basin made him by default probably the most important urban planner L.A. has ever had,” said Bill Deverell, director of the Huntington USC Institute on California and the West. 

He joins DnA to talk about the man who made a fortune on railroads and real estate, married his uncle’s widow Arabella and then, in 1919, established the vast collection of books, art, plants and other acquisitions at their San Marino ranch 12 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Deverell talks about Henry Huntington, his belief in the future of Los Angeles and how he shaped it through land development; the complexities of a man who fought labor while contributing to the cultural heritage of the Southland; and how the Huntington legacy is being revived through a renewed commitment to mass transit.

African-American servicemen in the First World War, among images illustrating “1919” at the Huntington.

1919 in 275 Objects

The year 1919 was full of optimism for Los Angeles. Henry and Arabella Huntington founded the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. 

That same year the Hollywood eatery Musso and Franks opened; UCLA and the LA Philharmonic were born, as was United Artists studio. Meanwhile the chewing gum magnate William Wrigley purchased Santa Catalina Island Company.

But life was not so easy for everyone following the devastating First World War.  

Crowd outside Bullocks Department Store for August Clearance Sale, 1919.

The challenges and the promise of 1919 are explored in ‘1919’, an exhibition about that year, told through 275 objects dating to 1919 that are drawn from the Huntington's vast storehouse of some 11 million items. 

The task of choosing them fell to two curators, James Glisson and Jennifer Watts. They talk to DnA about digging through the collections to find their story; about the verbs that gave it shape -- “fight, return, map, move and build” -- and the objects on show that make a visit to the exhibition very worthwhile.

These include poignant photographs of African-American soldiers jubilantly returning from the war (to meet hostility on their return); women marching for their voting rights; sepia-tinted images of early airships and other mobility concepts from a century ago; and a 37-foot long map of one of Henry Huntington’s streetcar lines, illustrating at vast scale his dominance of the Southland.



  • William Deverell - Author and professor of History, University of Southern California
  • James Glisson - Interim Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art & Bradford and Christine Mishler Associate Curator of American Art, Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Garden
  • Jennifer A. Watts - Curator of Photography and Visual Culture, Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Garden