12-30-2016 Visiting the Float Barns and the Huntington Library

Current Location: Pomona Fairgrounds Exposition Park

At the moment, it is just after 3 AM.  I woke with the thoughts of what we have seen crammed into my head, fighting for supremacy.  Staying on top of my thoughts is almost as hard as staying on top of the blog.  I have learned over the years that the only way to do that is get them out, write them down, and then they give me a little peace.  A little.

In the dark, I went outside to open the black water and then the gray water tanks.  With the sewer fully hooked up and ready to go, it is easy to forget that those tanks should be monitored a bit.  I think one was pretty close to full, the one you don’t want to be full. 

The air smelled murky, and thinking maybe it was just stinky LA air, I then detected a note of skunk.  I guess LA really doesn’t smell like skunk, so I can’t blame the stink on the excessive population. Our camping sites are on pavement, and as I walk across the wet grass, that is turning into a bit of a muddy mess, I am glad for the pavement.  The big lights that are right over the RV’s are obnoxious, but at least they go off sometime during the night.  I had to use a flashlight to see the levers. It hasn’t been particularly uncomfortable to be in such close quarters.  Not much of a view, but then we aren’t here that much either.  Lucky for us, our neighbors on the dining room window side are Nickie and Jimmy, insulating us from some of the less compatible participants on this tour.  Our direct neighbors on the other side are in a very big rig, with their door on the far side.  We never see or hear them, in spite of their slide being feet from our door.

The MoHo looks very small lined up with all these 40 plus footers.  Jimmy and Nickie are only a foot longer than we are, but they are taller and have one of those big front windows that grace a Class A.  In spite of all the rain, and yes it has been raining a lot in between the sun here and there, the MoHo is still shiny and clean.  Hopefully as we travel east she will at least stay a little bit sparkly.  Our route to Desert Hot Springs is a short 90 minute drive.  I am ready, very ready, to hang loose, have no schedule except the pools and a hike when I feel like it.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  I am doing that rambling thing that I do when I start writing at three AM.  It is how I get going, I guess.  It is a lot easier to ramble on in the moment than to attempt to return mentally to three days in the past.  But let me try.

Waking to pouring rain, it was an uhoh moment, but knowing that we were going to be touring inside venues on this day I wasn’t worried.  I donned my Bogs rain boots and our Adventure Caravans water resistant burgundy jacket thinking I had it covered.  Taking the umbrella seemed a bit silly for a bus ride and inside tours.  Wrong.  We arrived at the float barns adjacent to the Rose Bowl early enough to get a great parking spot for the bus.

Searching the internet, it seems that there are several locations throughout greater Los Angeles where volunteers decorate the floats.  I also discovered that the Phoenix Float Builders, a commercial company, are responsible for many of the floats.  That explains the signs we saw touting “self built float” at some of the locations. 

The tour of the barns was rather disjointed, nothing to do with our tour company, who secured tickets and parking and managed to get us there.  Once there however, the Rose Parade guys in white coats were less than helpful, routing us around the entire perimeter of the barns in the pouring rain before returning to the main entrance where we originally arrived.  Once in the Brookside Pavilion, there was no indication of where to go or what we were seeing.  We wandered around a bit, and enjoyed watching the volunteers arrive, and seeing the bare bones floats before many of the flowers were added.

Best of all, in my opinion, was the CalPoly self built float, with some incredible animation and creativity.

We walked through more rain to another barn, The Rosemont Pavilion.  Here we enjoyed a catwalk above all the activity, and a chance to see the flowers all staged for adding to the floats at the last minute.  The volunteers work all night before the parade adding the most delicate flowers at the end.  Maybe it was the cooler temperatures and rain that kept the fragrance from being what I remembered, who knows, maybe my smeller just isn’t what it used to be.

After the short and wet tour, we dried out a bit on the bus before continuing to the Huntington Library.  The Huntington has venues and restaurants for eating, and didn’t want us bringing our own food, but as our wagonmaster Hex said, they are not inexpensive choices.  Someone working with Hex at the Huntington worked out a plan for us to bring our own lunches and eat at the tables near the entrance.  There was a plan to set up a sandwich table with fixin’s and extras but with the predicted rain, Hex decided that making the sandwiches in the tent before we left camp was the smarter idea.  Lunch was a tight affair as we ate our sandwiches on the bus as we watched the rain outside. 

Since Mo and I had decided to leave our umbrella home for the day, we were grateful for the nice umbrellas provided by the Huntington for our 45 minute outdoor docent tour.  Outdoor being the important word.  The skies remained gray and a bit drippy, enough to make a rainbow for Nickie which I completely missed, but at least the hard rains held off for the time that we explored this magnificent treasure.

There is more at the Huntington than could possibly be seen in the time we had, even though 3 hours seemed like it would be a long time.  I had heard of the Huntington throughout my childhood, and many people went there, but again, for no reason I can imagine, I never visited.  I was a repeat visitor to the amazing LA County Arboretum in Arcadia, but the gardens at the Huntington rivaled anything I remember from the Arboretum.

Rather than repeat all the information about the gardens, I’ll let you take a peek here at the website.  In 1903, Henry Huntington purchased the San Marino Ranch, a working ranch with citrus groves, nut and fruit orchards, alfalfa crops, a small herd of cows, and poultry. There are now more than 12 gardens on 120 acres of the estate that are open to the public.

Our docent walked us through several of the gardens, pointing out the various buildings that now serve as world class art galleries, and regaled us with stories about Henry Huntington and his second wife Arabella, among the wealthiest people during that time period, who like the other “big four” gained their wealth mainly through railroads and real estate.  Once again, I’ll let you decide to read on your own (at this link) about “one of the world’s great cultural, research, and educational centers”. 

Henry was one of the country’s most prominent collectors of rare books and manuscripts. In 1920 the library building was completed to house his outstanding collection. Arabella was a collector of art and was the one responsible for most of the art now housed in the Georgian mansion that was once their home. In 1919, Henry and Arabella signed the indenture that transferred their San Marino property and collections to a nonprofit educational trust, creating The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

As we walked the estate, viewed the collections, gardens, and buildings, I thought that while we often visit the great houses and castles when traveling overseas, we don’t often make an effort to see some of these great houses right here in our own country.  Great wealth is interesting, and often overwhelming, whether it be in St Petersburg, San Simeon (home of the Hearst Castle), or Ashville, North Carolina.  We have yet to visit the great Biltmore estate, checking it out from afar and deciding that the $60 price tag was more than we wanted to pay on that day. I do know that the $25 weekend admission (the highest price) for the Huntington, would be money well spent.

Even in late December the gardens were filled with flowers, many in bloom, including many early blooming camellias and late blooming roses. The long grassy lawn with the San Gabriel mountain vista framed by trees and sculpture was lovely.

I loved the reflections in the Chinese Garden, the rock work and sculpture, and as we walked from the Chinese Garden to the Japanese Garden it was interesting to see the two kinds of gardens in such close proximity, and to notice the differences.  I have seen many Japanese gardens, but do not remember a Chinese garden.  The buildings were a bit more ornate, and the garden itself was my favorite. 

I took this photo from the Huntington website since I neglected to get one of the entire gallery of portraits.

Mo and I decided to spend our time in the galleries and first explored the European gallery in the mansion that was once a private home.  Room after room opened up, each with art, carpets, tapestries, and intricate furniture.  The rooms were sparsely furnished, and I found myself wondering what it looked like when someone actually lived there.  I couldn’t imagine, but images of Downton’s Abbey came to mind. 

The most well known room contains one of the most comprehensive collections in this country of 18th- and 19th-century British and French art. It serves as home to Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Lawrence’s Pinkie. I did want to see these two paintings, but was thrilled at the array of full length portraits throughout the room.  In our day of billions of photographs it is fascinating to look at each portrait, read about the subject, and how the artist attempted to depict personality traits in a single portrait.

I have no idea why the two images became so incredibly popular, but Blue Boy and Pinkie at one time seemed to be on every grandmother’s wall, big or small, in the obligatory gilt frame.  Experiencing these paintings up close was a treasure, and the old cardboard images faded away in view of the real thing.

Upstairs in the mansion was another gallery of French paintings, and without barriers, I was able to get very close to look at the detail of the painting, the lack of brush strokes in the oil.  So many times art must be viewed at a distance from behind a rope.  I could have touched these paintings if I had been so inclined, but of course I didn’t.  A favorite was one of a country scene with sunlight depicted so brilliantly the painting seemed lit from within.  Loved that!

We walked again through the gardens to the American gallery, where a display of old quilts caught my eye, and a wonderful yarn storage rack.  Finally, in the far reaches of the gallery, I found what I wanted, a small gallery dedicated to the Arts and Crafts era, with items from the famous Craftsman artists Greene and Greene, of Pasadena.

Although our new home to be built this year will have nods to the Craftsman era, it won’t be purely authentic, since the style is gorgeous, but too dark and heavy for us.  Still, the Craftsman bungalow style is a favorite, and Pasadena is the heartland for much of this work. There will be more to come on this subject in the next couple of weeks since we plan to visit the Pasadena Museum of History for the Batchelder (a pioneer Arts and Crafts tilemaker) exhibit, and to spend some time again wandering the streets of Pasadena’s Bungalow Heaven, a famous historic district.

As we returned to the bus for the trip east to Pomona, the rains that had held off a bit during our tour of the Huntington started once again.  Nickie and I had discussed sharing a meal when we got home that evening, but when the time came, we were all a bit overloaded and worn out and decided to save our shared meal for another day.  I can’t even remember if we ate a supper of any kind, but I know for sure that I didn’t cook!  A very full day.

Later:  Thank goodness for photos.  As I was searching about for photos for this post I found some images of our late afternoon Mexican hot dogs, with all the trimmings, which I had completely forgotten, provided by our hosts.  Here is a great photo of Adventure Caravans CEO, Tina, and Claudia, also a staff person for Adventure Caravans, who happen to be along on this rally.


Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

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