A Touch of Class: The Langham Huntington is Pasadena’s ‘jewel’

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Nestled at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Langham Huntington, Pasadena, is an oasis among lush landscaping.

Kindness and beauty exude from the Spanish Mission Revival-style resort. Attendants readily share facts about the resort, which is peppered with Pasadena’s trademark roses.

Wedding parties rush around the Langham Huntington, as brides and grooms are photographed among the gardens.

“We have a lot of brides who like to do their photo shoots here,” says Leslie Marks of the Langham Huntington, Pasadena. “Even if their wedding is later in the year, they’ll take their engagement photos here.”

Even Marks, a Pasadena native, has fond memories of the resort.

“I remember coming here to have tea when I was little,” Marks says.

Staying at the Langham Huntington is a peek into the history of Pasadena.

Langham history

Afternoon tea is just one of the traditions built into the Langham Huntington.

Constructed by Civil War veteran Gen. Marshall C. Wentworth and designed by Charles Frederick Whittlesey in the Spanish Mission Revival style, the hotel opened in February 1907 as the Hotel Wentworth.

“The roof was only partially finished and only built up to the fourth floor,” Marks says.

“They had heavy rains that first season, so guests stayed pretty much at other resort areas. They didn’t come to Pasadena. On top of that, we lost a lot of construction workers to the 1906 earthquake who were rebuilding San Francisco.”

As a result, The Wentworth closed in July 1907. Four years later, it was purchased by railroad tycoon and art collector Henry E. Huntington and reopened in 1914 as the Huntington Hotel after a facelift by architect Myron Hunt, who also designed the Huntington Library. He added two floors and the belvedere tower.

“The hotel had great success — so much so that it went from being a winter resort to, in the ’20s, finally opening year-round,” she says.

“Because of that, in 1926, an Olympic-sized pool was built. It was the first one in California.”

The 20-acre hotel stayed under his purview until 1918. Within the next eight years, 27 bungalows were built to accommodate long-term guests.

A subsequent owner, Stephen W. Royce, sold the hotel to Sheraton, and it took on a new moniker, the Huntington-Sheraton Hotel, in 1954. Designers covered most of the hotel’s interior detailing and artwork.

“They plastered over all the windows and stained-glass windows,” she says.

“In the ’50s, I guess, aesthetics wasn’t a thing any longer. They plastered over the gold-gilded ceiling as well. It was a Sheraton for many years in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.”

Marks says, in 1986, seismic testing showed the building was not up to code.

“It was like a fourth of what it should be, in terms of ability,” she says.

The neighbors voted on May 19, 1987, to tear down the hotel and build it up again to its original footprint, Marks says. “It was during the construction that a construction worker put his hammer through plaster and 10 stained-glass windows appeared.”

They were covered by Sheraton when the Georgian Ballroom was converted to a dining room.

It reopened on March 18, 1991, with 383 rooms as the Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel, which is similar to the original but with modern facilities, Marks says. The hotel was sold to Great Eagle Holdings for $170 million and renamed the Langham Huntington, Pasadena, on January 8, 2008.

“We’re on 23 acres, but you wouldn’t know it from just driving up,” Marks says.

Celebrity guests

Equipped with a spa, steakhouse, poolside dining and afternoon tea, the hotel welcomes visitors from around the world, including U.S. presidents and the Dalai Lama. The 27 cottages surrounding the property have been converted to private residents on the loop road.

“We still retain eight of them, one of them being Ford Cottage, which is named after President Ford. It was where he liked to stay when he came here.

“I’ve been told Prince Philip came here at some point.”

The Langham Huntington is the home to the Television Critics Association’s upfronts.

Don’t miss

The Picture Bridge is a must-see at the Langham Huntington.

In 1932, the hotel hired a local artist, English immigrant Frank Montague Moore, to paint 41 murals for the hotel.

“The painter was paid $10 a painting, and he and his wife were told they could eat at the hotel while the was working on them,” Marks says. “It was during the Depression, so I’m sure he said, ‘OK, done.’

“They were up for decades and weathered,” Marks says. “They were so faded that it’s hard to tell the subject matter  So, in 2013, they were taken down and put in a climate-controlled art facility, where they still are. They’re too delicate to put back on display. We had replicas made that are just brighter, cleaner versions of them.”

The Picture Bridge is the Langham Huntington’s jewel.

“It’s the only covered picture bridge in America, and the only other one that I know of is in Switzerland,” Marks says. “That inspired it. It’s a nice little stroll.”

With the help of Pasadena Heritage, a historic preservation organization, and architects who specialize in those buildings, the resort reinstalled the artwork and reinforced the bridge.

“They put steel beams and reinforced the wood,” Marks says. “It’s a mix now of the original wood and new, stronger wood. It has descriptions of all the paintings.”

The pool has since been shortened because guests jumped off the Picture Bridge into the pool.

“I think the hotel was like, no, no, no,” she says with a laugh. “I have guests come in and say, ‘My dad used to jump off that bridge.’ I say, ‘I’m glad we don’t have that anymore.’”   

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