Monday, January 28, 2013

Pasadena's Huntington Hotel

A Southern California Treasure 

Once a year all of the shareholder's in my firm convene for a retreat. This year I suggested the Huntington in Pasadena. I knew it was quiet, had perfect spaces to sit and chat, and would be close enough for me to slip off for a tour of Greene and Greene's Arts and Crafts masterwork The Gamble House.

The Huntington proved to be a perfect hotel for us to gather, consider the future and just collect our thoughts. It is a one-of-a-kind property with an amazing pedigree.

In 1905 Henry E. Huntington, A. Kingsley Macomber, and William R. Staats began development of what would eventually become Pasadena's prestigious Oak Knoll Neighborhood. As it turns out the "knoll" was actually a 150' high ridge formed by the Raymond Fault. A year later San Francisco's disastrous earthquake and fire provoked the need to begin to understand California's delicate geology.

Henry E. Huntington
Henry E. Huntington is a story unto himself. Henry was the nephew of Colis P. Huntington. Colis, along with Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins, were the builder's of America's first transcontinental railroad.

Henry owned his own rail empire, the Pacific Electric Railway, which by 1910 offered comprehensive 24/7 streetcar service knitting together LA's patchwork of emerging neighborhood's and suburbs with 1300 miles of track. Huntington's name is found all over Southern California from the Huntington Library (where he is buried) to Huntington Beach.

When uncle Colis died in 1900 Henry took over Colis' shipyard and drydocks in Newport News VA. In 1913 he scandalized San Francisco society by marrying his uncle Colis' widow Arabella. Arabella became the richest woman in America. Arabella, with her son Archer, became legendary art collector's and benefactors.

The Hotel
In 1906 General Wentworth, a Civil War veteran, selected a prominent 23 acre site in Henry Huntington's emerging Oak Knoll neighborhood to construct a grand Spanish Mission Revival style winter resort which he unabashedly christened "The Wentworth". The hotel opened in February 1907, failed after one season, closed and was mothballed.

In 1911 Henry Huntington (perhaps weary of having the empty hotel as a neighbor?) purchased and began renovating the vacant Wentworth. In 1914 Huntington's posh redesigned Italianate style "Huntington" (again no ego...) hotel was opened. Four years later in 1918 Huntington (nearing 70) sold the hotel. He died in 1927.

The Huntington thrived throughout the 1920's in service to rich winter visitors. In 1926 it opened as a year-round resort complete with California's first olympic sized outdoor swimming pool.

The Pasadena Huntington Hotel

After many years under the ownership and direction of Stephen Royce, The Huntington was purchased in 1954 by the Sheraton Corporation. By 1985 the unreinforced concrete main hotel (sitting upon a fault) was deemed unsafe and closed. The original Huntington was demolished in 1988.

The Main Reception Lobby

The Ritz-Carlton Chain spent a little over 2 years constructing an earthquake-resistant replica of the original Huntington which it opened in 1991.

The Art Bridge Links the Hotel with Lanai Rooms, Pool and Tennis Courts 

In 2008 the Huntington was purchased by Langham Hotel's (China) becoming their first North American property.

The Langham's Japanese Gardens

The Royce Dining Room

The Pool and Lanai Rooms

Well Appointed Quiet Rooms

The Best Amenity Box Ever 

The Huntington features a great fitness center and spa. It offers full conference and ballroom facilities. Every room has a truly amazing amenity box, great stationary and a copy of Alice in Wonderland (with odd cover art.)

So lets sum it up. The hotel offers quiet, elegant rooms with perfect beds and large marble bathrooms. The hotel grounds and location are unmatched. Staff is friendly and efficient. Prices, by LA standards, are a bargain when compared to the breathtaking $600+ nightly rates now routinely charged by 5-star hotels in LA.

It is an easy zip downtown, yet the hotel is close to Pasadena's wonderful restaurants. The adjoining Oak Knoll neighborhood is perfect for walking or riding a bike.

Regrettably, the free internet is rubbish (real internet adds about $13 / night to your bill). Also, there is no self parking (add another $25 / night to your bill for the valet). Also, the hotel does show signs of wear. Lampshades are broken, chandelier crystals are missing, carpet seams in rooms and halls are frayed. In both of my recent visits the tub drain in each room left me standing in water.

I hate that.

Overall, though, I love the Huntington. It is a quiet, romantic and elegant address in Southern California.

As an aside, since taking over the Huntington, the Langham chain has opened the Langham Boston (the old Le Meridian) in Boston's old federal reserve bank.

Update: The Langham has also created the Langham Chicago by repurposing Mies Van Der Rohe's iconic 52-story 330 North Wabash building. 

Roadboy's Travels ©2013

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