The Huntington's new education and visitor center opens Saturday

The Huntington opens shiny new education and visitor center

Guests at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens will encounter an enhanced experience Saturday with the grand opening of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center.

Named for the Huntington's outgoing president, the new facilities include the library's first California garden, four multi-use classrooms for visiting students and teachers, a 400-seat auditorium with a state-of-the-art sound system, a colorful orientation room, meeting and event spaces and a large cafe with indoor and outdoor seating and a pizza oven.

"The Huntington has never had the facilities to properly serve its key audiences," said Koblik during a recent news media preview at the library, referring to the 600,000 visitors a year composed of scholars from over 40 countries, teachers, public school children, 36,000 members and the general public. "What drove us was a dream for the past 20 years. It was not a new dream. It was a reoccurring dream--or nightmare, depending on how you look at it."

That dream is now fulfilled just in time for Koblik to step aside and Pitzer College’s president, Laura Skandera Trombley, to take the reins in July.

"I hate to go," said Koblik. "But I'm a firm believer that it's best to go when people think highly of you."

Having his name on the new facility is an honor beyond his wildest fantasies, he said.

"And I have a very active fantasy life," he added, guiding a group of visitors through the Brody California Garden, which he called the Huntington's newest "collection."

"We have never had a native garden collection," he said.

Vice president of operations, Laurie Sowd, who has overseen the $68-million project over its two-year timeline, also stressed the value of the new facilities.

"We wanted to elevate the amenities we offer to guests and scholars in a way that is befitting the elegance of the property," she said, showing of the series of six colorful Alexander Calder Bicentennial tapestries that hang outside the new auditorium called Rothenberg Hall. "The auditorium is one of the most transformative spaces for us since we have such a rich intellectual program."

Upcoming programs at the hall include a lecture by Susan Juster, professor of history at the University of Michigan, titled, "God's Wounds! Blasphemy in the Early Modern World," on April 8; and "A Look at America's First Sex Manual," a lecture about "Aristotle's Masterpiece" by Mary Fissell, professor of history and medicine at Johns Hopkins University, on April 22.

Beyond a lovely outdoor seating area under a glass dome and outfitted with rattan furniture for lounging, there is a board room outfitted with a unique Millard Sheets mural from 1934.

Across another courtyard guests will find the orientation gallery, which is particularly noteworthy since there has never been a place for visitors to sit down and plan their day's activities before. With bright green and white walls, the two-room facility includes pictures of Henry Huntington and his family as well as a historical primer on the genesis of the library and its gardens.

There are also maps of the property as well as a wall filled with postcards written by visitors sharing their favorite experiences on the property.

The new cafe looks out over the native garden and offers pizza to boot.

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