Henry E. Huntington
Source of Wealth: Railroads, real estate
Upon arriving in Los Angeles in the early 1900s, Huntington recognized the potential for real estate development in the San Gabriel Valley, so he set up the Huntington Land and Improvement Co.
Realizing that the success of his holdings would depend on access to jobs and water, Huntington, backed by San Francisco investors, organized the Pacific Electric Railway Co. in 1901, as well as the San Gabriel Valley Water Co.
Pacific Electric built an extensive network of inter-urban railroads throughout Los Angeles and Orange County, passing through Huntington’s holdings. As the population of Los Angeles swelled, Huntington subdivided his properties along the railway lines into suburban tracts, provided them with water, and marketed them to middle-class families.
By building railroads to connect his far-flung subdivisions, from Santa Monica to San Bernardino to Santa Ana, Huntington laid the infrastructure that gave Los Angeles its suburban-sprawl character.
Although Pacific Electric’s “Red Car” trolley system was mostly a money-losing venture, earnings from Huntington’s real estate ventures more than compensated for the losses.
Born in Oneonta, N.Y., Huntington was a nephew and heir of railroad tycoon Collis P. Huntington, one of California’s “Big Four,” who had built the Central and Southern Pacific railroads. He moved to San Francisco in 1892 to help his uncle manage Southern Pacific Co.
In 1902 Huntington moved to Los Angeles, leaving his family in San Francisco, and the following year he purchased the San Marino ranch where the Huntington Library now stands. The commercial ranch was transformed into a grand estate, with a mansion built by Los Angeles architects Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey in 1911.
In 1910, Huntington sold most of his interest in the Pacific Electric railway and devoted himself to his collection of rare books and art. He married his uncle’s widow, Arabella Huntington, one of the wealthiest women in America and a fervent art collector herself.
Huntington willed his San Marino property and collections to a non-profit trust to serve as a research institution for scholars. In 1928, the estate, collection and surrounding gardens were opened to the public.