Henry Huntington must have loved the Fourth of July, because when it came to flag-waving he went to great lengths (and heights) to show his patriotic spirit. The grand old flagpole that he purchased in 1909 is 148 feet of solid Douglas fir, cut from a single tree. The metallic paint job is so convincing that most Huntington visitors have no idea the pole is made of wood. It stands near the Huntington Art Gallery, the original Huntington residence, 132 feet above ground with 16 feet anchored underground in a concrete base.
Getting the flagpole here was no easy task. It was shipped from Oregon via lumber schooner, and was then carted from Redondo Beach to San Marino by a stout team of horses. The pole extended well off the back of the wagon and had to be supported to prevent it from dragging. In his memoirs, William Hertrich, who was superintendent of the Huntington estate from 1905 until his retirement in 1948, recalls the somewhat harrowing road trip through the back roads of early Los Angeles. Turning tight corners was a real challenge.
“[W]e used secondary roads whenever possible to avoid traffic,” Hertrich writes. “We made good progress until at one point we reached a right-angle turn in the road. It could not be negotiated without passing over an alfalfa patch in front of a small farmhouse.” After an unsuccessful attempt to locate the owner to ask permission to cross his field, they had no choice but to proceed without it. “Imagine our surprise on starting across to look up and see the farmer marching out of his house with a shotgun in his hand.”
After hasty assurances from Hertrich that they would compensate the farmer for any damages—and after paying a $1 toll for the shortcut—the wagon team was allowed to continue on its way. The flagpole arrived safely in San Marino without any “fireworks” and has been standing tall ever since. Visitors can see the Stars and Stripes flying high above the gardens from almost every part of the grounds—just as Mr. Huntington envisioned.
Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.