Behind the Scenes at The Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center at The Huntington

 

Artist rendering of the entrance to the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, opening April 2015 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Architectural Resources Group and Office of Cheryl Barton, © Art Zendarski.
Artist rendering of the entrance to the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, opening April 2015 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Architectural Resources Group and Office of Cheryl Barton, © Art Zendarski.

The Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center at The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens opened the front portion of the new education and visitor center January 14, first to The Society of Fellows members and select members of the press, and later to the general public.  In addition to the $68 million raised for the project, which broke ground April 2013, an additional $10 million was raised in endowment to fund future maintenance.

The project was officially named in June 2014 in honor of Huntington President Steven S. Koblik,  and the architectural structures designed by Architectural Resources Group and the surrounding gardens and landscaping by the Office of Cheryl Barton. The scale of the project is large, and the challenge was to design a garden where buildings would feel like a natural part of the landscape.  Instead of building one larger building, several smaller buildings were built and interlaced with walkways and loggias. Located in San Marino, just north-east of downtown Los Angeles, the temperate Mediterranean-like climate allows for outdoor walkways year round.  As a matter of fact,  the day I strolled through the gardens it was a crisp 65 degrees with clear blue sky.

Map of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, The Huntington

Map of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, opening April 2015 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Architectural Resources Group and Office of Cheryl Barton, © Art Zendarski.
Map of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, opening April 2015 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Architectural Resources Group and Office of Cheryl Barton, © Art Zendarski.

The Front Portion of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center Opens to the Public

The front portion of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center at the Huntington Library opened January 14 at noon, and I happened to be there 2 hours prior to opening to attend a press preview of the just-completed front portion as well as a hard-hat tour of the construction site that will open later this spring.

The newly opened front portion of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center consists of an Entrance Façade, an Admissions and Membership building, a Coffee Shop, The Huntington Store, and the Avery and Andy Barth Family Grove.

The Entrance Façade

Entrance to the Huntington Library
New entrance at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo: Tim Street-Porter.

The Admissions and Membership Building and Coffee Shop

Huntington Library-Admissions Building and Coffee Shop
New admissions and membership building at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens; New coffee shop at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photos: Tim Street-Porter.

The Huntington Store

The Huntington Store boasts 5,000 square feet of retail space that caters to every visitor, young and old.  There is a vast and varied selection of books, stationery,  apparel, jewelry and home decor – all related to The Huntington’s extensive library, art, and botanical collections.

The Huntington Store-rendering
Artist rendering of the Huntington Store, in the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Architectural Resources Group and Office of Cheryl Barton, © Art Zendarski.

 

The vaulted sky-lit central area is bright and inviting, and brings the outdoors in. San Marino/Pasadena can be quite conservative and those who reside here tend to look to classical architecture and design for inspiration in their own homes.  Because of this I was pleased to see that although the simplified lines may seem somewhat contemporary,  the overall design is based on classical architecture and is in fact a modern interpretation of the Gothic cathedral.  Similar to the layout of the Gothic cathedral, The Huntington Store houses  a central nave, clerestory windows have been replaced with an overhead sky light, transepts (which in this case house each of the thematic rooms), and an ambulatory which showcases a collection of porcelain vases at the rear of the store.  Brilliant interpretation, I’d say!

Huntington Library Store
The Huntington Store shortly after opening to the public. Photo: Jeanne Chung
The Childrens Nook at The Huntington Store
The children’s nook in the Huntington Store at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo: Tim Street-Porter

The whimsical, carved wooden tree that extends from floor to ceiling in the center of the children’s nook and recalls “The Giving Tree”, a children’s classic by Shel Silverstein, and will be a sure hit with the youngest visitors at The Huntington.

The Avery and Andy Barth Family Grove

Huntington Library Courtyard
Steven S. Koblik, President of The Huntington Library, Collections, and Botanical Gardens, gives his opening remarks. Photo: Jeanne Chung; Avery and Andy Barth Family Grove. Photo: Tim Street-Porter.
The Family Courtyard at The Huntington
The Avery and Andy Barth Family Grove at The Huntington. Photo: Jeanne Chung

A central courtyard is framed by a U-shaped loggia and connects the three newly opened buildings, much like in the manner of Myron Hunt, the architect of the original Huntington Beaux Art estate completed in 1911, which currently houses The Huntington Art Gallery on the property.  I must say that I felt very at home in this courtyard, as it felt very familiar to me.  I attended a school in town where the buildings were designed by Myron Hunt in 1907, and much like The Avery and Andy Barth Family Grove, there was (and still is) a central courtyard surrounded by a series of buildings all connected by outdoor, covered walkways. This central courtyard was also a central gathering place where students ate lunch, graduations were held, and people sat around between classes to absorb the warmth of the Southern California sun.

The Gardens

According to landscape architect Cheryl Barton, the concept of the gardens was “choreographed at a micro and macro scale simultaneously and is designed to be intuitive and move with the landscape and topography”.

The Huntington Garden
Garden at The Huntington. Photo: Jeanne Chung
Garden at The Huntington
Garden at the Huntington. Photo: Jeanne Chung
Huntington Cafe View
View to The Huntington Art Gallery from the Dining Terrace. Photo: Jeanne Chung
The Huntington Cafe View
Artist rendering of the café terrace in the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, opening April 2015 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Architectural Resources Group and Office of Cheryl Barton, © Art Zendarski.

When construction is complete, the view to Henry Huntington’s home (now the Art Gallery) will resemble the rendering above. Water will run through the colorful contemporary perennial garden, named the Celebration Garden Steve Rogers in memory of his wife Janet Rogers, and will serve as a place to pause and reflect before transitioning  from the Education and Visitor Center at The Huntington to the different themed gardens and beyond to the historic core of the property.

The Café

The Cafe will offer a variety of food options, including a salad station, pasta station, and a feature station which will have a daily theme related to different areas in the garden.  Think sushi, in reference to the Japanese Garden, or perhaps Southwestern cuisine, in reference to the Desert Garden.

Huntington Cafe
The Café at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo: Jeanne Chung

 The Stewart R. Smith Board Room

Huntington Library Board Room
Stewart R. Smith Board Room. Photo: Jeanne Chung

When completed, the Stewart R. Smith Board Room will seat 50 people around one central table. Two sources of daylight, via a wall of windows on one side and a skylight clerestory along the back wall,  will balance the amount of light in the room and will provide the perfect amount of illumination for the mural that will fit into the space (now occupied by plywood in the photo above) above the white oak wainscoting.  This mural, depicting a pastoral California landscape, was originally painted for the Fred H. and Bessie Ranke residence in the Hollywood Hills by celebrated California artist Millard Sheets in 1934, and is one of four major works of art donated to The Huntington that will be included in this project.

Below is the Millard Sheets mural shown in its original location before it was removed and restored.

Millard Sheets mural-Huntington Board Room
Millard Sheets, Mural for the Home of Fred H. and Bessie Ranke, 1934. Gift of Larry McFarland and M. Todd Williamson. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo: Tim Street-Porter © The Huntington

Rothenberg Hall

The lobby of Rothenberg Hall will be the new home to  Bicentennial Tapestries, a series of six tapestries  by Alexander Calder and part of an edition of 200 produced by the Aubusson factory in France in 1975 to celebrate America’s bicentennial.  Below is one of these six tapestries gifted to The Huntington by the Berman Bloch Family.

Calder Bicentennial Tapestries
Alexander Calder, Bicentennial Tapestries, 1975, wool, each 41 x 59 in. Gift of the Berman Bloch Family. Copyright © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
Huntington Library Theater-work in progress
Rothenberg Hall. Photo: Jeanne Chung

Rothenberg Hall is a state of the art auditorium and will host The Huntington’s program of lectures, conferences, and performances. The photo above shows the white oak panels which will line the walls of the 400-seat auditorium and is a subtle reference to the original white oak panels used in Henry Huntington’s residence and is also used in several other spaces throughout the visitor center.

Rothenberg Hall-Huntington Library
Artist rendering of Rothenberg Hall in the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, opening April 2015 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Architectural Resources Group and Office of Cheryl Barton, © Art Zendarski.

The Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court

The 36 foot glass dome structure acts as the focal point of the visitor center, and at the four supporting corners will be a collection of palms and tropical plantings.  This central area will act as an informal lobby for the lecture hall, multi-purpose room, and classrooms.  What you do not see in these photos, but is a major portion of the project is the 46,000 square feet of underground storage that was added to house the Huntington’s growing collections of original historical research materials.  This underground storage extends from the visitor center on the east and is connected to the Munger Research Center on the West via an underground tunnel. Waterproofing was of extreme importance because of the historical significance of the rare books, manuscripts, photographs and documents stored underground.   Extreme precautions were made to ensure the safety of these invaluable  treasures …and also to satisfy the insurers.

Glass Dome at The Huntington
The Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court. Photo: Jeanne Chung
Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court - in progress
Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court. Photo: Jeanne Chung
Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court rendering - Huntington Library
Artist rendering of the garden court and central garden in the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, opening April 2015 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Architectural Resources Group and Office of Cheryl Barton, © Art Zendarski

The June and Merle Banta Education Center

I didn’t quite catch a great shot of the courtyard which sits in the middle of the four educational classrooms, but I did catch everyone staring at something of great importance.  That something is currently a blank wall, but will soon be the home of the  Mutual Savings and Loan Mural, a ceramic mural measuring just over 8 by 12 feet that consists of thousands of hand-formed rectangles, all glazed in warm shades or red, by mid century, African-American ceramicist Doyle Lane.

Huntington Library-June and Merle Banta Education Center
The June and Merle Banta Education Center. Photo: Jeanne Chung

The acquisition of this work couldn’t come at a more opportune appropriate time, as lately I have been seeing a renewed interest in mid century ceramic works in the world of art and interior design.

Doyle Lane - Mutual Savings and Loan Mural
Doyle Lane, Mutual Savings and Loan Mural, 1964, clay, 18 × 18 ft, as installed at Reform Gallery, Los Angeles, 2014. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo: Joshua White. © The Huntington

The fourth major work of art to be displayed the The Huntington is Jerusalem Stabile, by Alexander Calder.  The bright, red metal sculpture, which measures 24 feet across, is on loan from the Calder Foundation, New York and will welcome visitors to The Huntington just to the west of the Admissions building beginning this spring.

Jerusalem Stabile, Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder, Jerusalem Stabile, 1976, sheet metal, bolts, and paint, 141 × 288 × 143 in., at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, in 2014. Calder Foundation, New York; gift of the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation to the Calder Foundation, 2005. Copyright © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center at The Huntington along with the four recently acquired  works of art marks a pivotal point for The Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Gardens.  I’ve always associated The Huntington  with 17th century Italian sculpture and portrait paintings dating well before WWII,  and most even earlier than that. Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie  are usually what come to mind, especially having attended several field trips to The Huntington as a child.  However, this is the first time that I have seen such a significant shift to more contemporary, post WWII art – and I’m liking it.  A lot.   A big kudos to The Huntington and those associated with the design of the Education and Visitor Center for bringing together the past with the present in a harmonious space for all to enjoy.

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