Everything is in full bloom at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Garden after one of the wettest winters in recent memory. As if timed to coincide perfectly with the warmer weather and springtime splendor, the Rose Garden Tea Room resumes afternoon tea service on Wednesday, May 24. The reopening follows a three-year closure and an extensive 18-month-long, $11.2 million restoration and renovation of the century-old building. The latest additions will propel the historic venue well into the future.
The Rose Garden Tea Room has served many uses since architect Myron Hunt built it on Henry E. Huntington’s 120-acre San Marino estate in 1911. While initially conceived as a billiard room and bowling alley for the railroad magnate, the building was converted into a commissary for visitors and staff when the grounds opened to the public after Huntington’s death in 1928. It wasn’t until the 1980s that English afternoon tea was served on the premises. The tradition continued in the years that followed, initiating generations of Angelenos to the joyful midday ritual.
While the Tea Room underwent incremental remodeling since the 1930s, a comprehensive revamp hadn’t ever taken place. The Huntington enlisted Architectural Resources Group to spearhead the massive undertaking, which most notably included bringing the building to 21st-century standards, overhauling the commercial kitchen, constructing a brand new patio (called the Shakespeare Pavilion) and indoor dining area (called the Herb Room), creating a lobby area, and repositioning the building’s entrance. The Tea Room now seats 164.
The project’s architects intentionally scaled the Shakespeare Pavilion and Herb Room proportionately to the original Tea Room and positioned both not to disrupt any optical appeal. “We didn’t want the new additions to overwhelm visually the original buildings, so whatever new building we made, we made it to the north of the Tea Room so that when you look at the Tea Room from the front or either side, it stands clear of the new work,” says Stephen Farneth, the lead architect on the project. The same historic palate of materials (stucco walls, clay tile roof, painted trims, and classical details) was employed to further harmonize old and new.
The Huntington tapped executive chef Jeff Thurston and pastry chef Luis Perez from Bon Appétit Management Co. to update the afternoon tea menu. Though the Tea Room offered a short-lived buffet-style service prior to Bon Appétit Management Co. taking the culinary reigns in 2016, Thurston and Perez adhered to a more traditional full-service afternoon tea experience for the latest iteration.
“My favorite thing to do is to walk the various gardens in the mornings,” says Thurston. “We’ve got just amazing things to spur your inspiration, from the herb gardens to the colors of the various flowers that are just going crazy at this time of year.” The Tea Room’s offerings include a “Traditional Tea” menu, along with dedicated vegan and gluten-free menus for $62. The $75 “Huntington Tea” menu consists of the “Traditional Tea” plus a lobster salad with shaved black truffles and a glass of sparkling wine. A kid-friendly menu is available for $28.
The Tea Room’s selection of savories and sweets served on tiered silver platters will change with the seasons and incorporate the garden’s bounty whenever possible. For the reopening, the scratch-made scones are served with marmalade made from fruit harvested from the 100-year-old groves outside the tea room’s doors. The chicken salad sandwich includes chives, tarragon, and parsley grown in the nearby herb garden.
While Thurston and Perez are mindful of balancing tradition with innovation, a few dishes color outside the lines, including a strawberry sandwich with black pepper, saba, and arugula. Thurston foresees tomatoes, figs, and corn on the menu as spring transitions into summer. Monterey Park-based tea purveyor Art of Tea provides over a dozen different varieties of tea for the service. The signature blend has jasmine, vanilla, and bergamot notes, while the rose blend promises a floral profile. (The full menus are below.)
Afternoon tea is served Monday through Friday (excluding Tuesday) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the Huntington is required for entry. (The price for a one-day admission pass varies by age, while annual memberships start at $159. The first Thursday of every month is Free Day with advance reservations.)
The Rose Garden Tea Room is located inside the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108. Afternoon tea reservations are available on Open Table.