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A peek at Huntington Library's new visitor complex and gardens

Huntington adds a visitor center, restaurant and education complex which will open Saturday.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens on Saturday will open a new education and visitor center, restaurant and more than 6 acres of newly landscaped gardens.

The complex also provides a new entrance to the landmark San Marino site that will take visitors through to the historic Desert Garden, and it couldn't come at a better time.

Many cactus and succulents are in bloom right now. It's a garden in which some of the golden barrel cactus are 100 years old.

The Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center overlooks the Desert Garden. It's a $68 million project that began in 2013 and includes classrooms, meeting spaces and underground storage space for collections too.

I took a walk-through Saturday night during a members' preview. Here are some of the highlights:

--A 36-foot-high glass dome atop a garden court that leads to Rothenberg Hall. Inside are six tapestries created by Alexander Calder in 1975 for the U.S. bicentennial and a 400-seat auditorium for lectures, movies and staged events.

--A long line of olive trees frame a garden landscaped with California native and other plants. The Brody California Garden, as it's named, leads down slope to a Celebration Garden with a little river-like flow in the center. It's this path visitors will follow directly into the upper Desert Garden.

--A new restaurant with a wrap-around terrace that provides wide views of the garden and grounds below. It seats 300 people, inside and outside, and will serve pizzas, salads, soups as well as specials each day.

--A visitor center that tells the story of the home and gardens that belonged to railroad magnate and rare book collector Henry Huntington. There's a map of the original garden design for the property as well as pictures that show the gardens in 1915 and present day.

And there's a model of a Red Car, the popular trolleys that were part of Huntington's Pacific Electric Railway in Southern California.

The Huntington's new store, coffee shop and admission offices leading to the new complex opened in January.

Tickets cost $23 weekdays and $25 weekends for adults; $19 and $21 respectively for students 12 to 18 years old; and $10 for children 4 to 11 years old. The Huntington is closed Tuesdays.

Info: Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino; (626) 405-2100

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