Did you know that the Huntington property was once home to the first commercial avocado orchard in Southern California? That in 1910, Henry Huntington’s network of trolley cars, the Pacific Electric “Red Cars,” stretched over 1,300 miles across Los Angeles? That in Huntington’s day, the temple bell in the Japanese Garden rang each afternoon to signal the arrival of the newspaper?
These intriguing tidbits, and many more, are awaiting you at the new Mapel Orientation Gallery, part of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center that is opening Saturday, April 4. The space is the brainchild of Karina White, senior gallery designer at The Huntington. White helped create the smart, engaging permanent exhibitions in The Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory, the Library Main Hall, and the Dibner Hall of the History of Science. And now she’s done it again!
In three sections occupying more than 2,000 square feet of former bookstore space, a series of displays welcome Huntington visitors. Here you can gain a quick sense of what there is to see and do; learn fascinating background on founder Henry Huntington, his family, and his times; and enjoy a delicious primer on The Huntington’s collections, and understand how they’re being used in research and education.
Walk through the doors, and it’s a veritable feast for the senses. Projected on either side of the doorway are silent, poetic films by Los Angeles–area artists Rick Bahto, Charlotte Pryce, and Steve Roden. Each took a camera in hand to explore objects from our collections and spaces that you can see during your visit. Their short films run in a loop—and the results are mesmerizing. Even if you think you know a good deal about Huntington history, take 10 minutes to watch our new movie on the subject; it’s a treasure trove of information and spectacular visuals, cooked up by talented, young L.A. filmmaker Cosmo Segurson.
Speaking of senses, don’t miss our “scent bar.” Pick up a wooden bowl and take a big whiff. Scents of wild sage, roses, or orange blossoms bring you back to the fragrances in the air a century ago.
And if you’ve never seen a Red Car, you’re in for a treat: we pulled out The Huntington’s very own model, asked our conservators to spiff it up, and put it on display. Those of us who contend with regular tie-ups on the freeways are likely to look on its demise with some regret.
On one wall of the gallery, we provide visitors with a glimpse into what our researchers, educators, conservators, and curators are doing. More than 400 people work at The Huntington, and you can hear their voices, too—in short audio pieces where staff members give their own take on this magical place.
If you’re wondering where to start your visit, then why not try one of our “quirky tours”? As in the “I Need to Chill Out” tour, or the “I Love the Macabre” tour, or “The Wanderlust” tour. They may lead you in very unexpected directions.
Before you leave, take a minute to read visitor recommendations on what to see and do, or jot down some of your own. And if you’re the kind of person who favors the visual, you’ll also find a rotating selection of visitors’ Instagram shots, curated by Huntington staff. So if you’re here, and you’re on Instagram, tag your best photo with #AtTheH for a chance to be featured on this wall. We love seeing what catches your eye!
Diana W. Thompson is senior writer for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.