The Langham Huntington unveils restored picture bridge
By Kamala Kirk

The Picture Bridge at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena is an iconic and historic landmark that overlooks the hotel swimming pool and Japanese Gardens, making it both a favorite spot among guests and a popular location for wedding photos and lifestyle shoots. The Picture Bridge connects The Langham, Huntington’s main building with the Royce Manor, four hotel cottages and the tennis courts. At night, the softly lit bridge is a favorite romantic place for couples with views of the San Gabriel Valley.

Recently, the hotel unveiled the newly restored and rehabilitated Picture Bridge, which underwent a multimillion-dollar structural upgrade amid the property’s temporary suspension of operations during the pandemic. The project two years from start to finish, including design elements. Built in 1913, the bridge earned its name in 1933 after Stephen W. Royce, the owner and manager of what was then The Huntington Hotel, commissioned resident landscape painter Frank M. Moore to paint a series of California landscapes on the bridge.

“In 1932, Mr. Royce was told by a guest that the bridge was strikingly similar to Switzerland’s Kapellbrücke Bridge, noted for the 16th and 17th century historical and religious paintings on its gables,” said Susan Williger, director of marketing services at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena.

“He became enchanted with the idea of creating pictures depicting California scenes for his bridge’s gables and began searching for an artist. Mr. Moore persuaded Mr. Royce to let him paint the scenes and received $10 for each of the 41 paintings and all the food he and his wife could eat, a valuable benefit during the Great Depression.”

The paintings took a year to complete after careful study of each scene, and in March 1933, the paintings were unveiled before a crowd of “admiring promenaders.” Donald Benson Blanding, poet laureate of Hawaii and Moore’s close friend, wrote verses to accompany each locale. Twenty California landscapes and iconic treasures are depicted in the paintings, among them Cathedral Spires in Yosemite, Catalina Island’s Avalon Bay and Mount Wilson’s Observatory. The paintings also capture the community’s rich history and traditions with local Pasadena sites such as The Huntington Library, the Old Mill, an orange grove, blooming jacaranda trees and the Picture Bridge.

The restoration project was done in collaboration with Pasadena Heritage, a local historic preservation nonprofit that acted as an adviser for the project, along with Chattel Inc., a consulting firm that served as a historic preservation consultant.

“This project was under discussion and debate for some years, and as we all exchanged ideas and concerns, the best solution emerged to save as much original fabric as possible, and construct the needed support system in a sympathetic and unobtrusive way,” said Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage.

The project’s centerpiece was the installation of replicas of Moore’s original paintings, which had been carefully removed from the bridge in 2013 after more than 80 years of exposure to the outdoor elements.

“All of the original oil paintings, which date back to 1933, were carefully removed from the bridge to halt their deterioration and have been stored in a climate-controlled art storage facility where they continue to reside,” Williger said.

Prior to the recently completed work, the 1913 heavy timber wood frame bridge that spans a natural ravine was in a state of deterioration. It was protected by temporary steel shoring for approximately five years. In addition to the mounting of the replica paintings, a steel reinforcement system designed to meet contemporary seismic code, while also preserving the look of the bridge’s original historic materials and elements, was installed.

“Rehabilitation of the Picture Bridge is an engineering marvel in that the structural intervention is entirely hidden and historic materials were retained in place or salvaged and reused,” said Robert Chattel, AIA, who helped guide the project.

Added Williger, “The rehabilitated bridge is a combination of original Douglas fir, new redwood and pressure-treated wood, and steel. During construction, the existing terra cotta-clad gable roof was shored in place while new wood and steel supports were installed. All of the steel reinforcement is hidden by wood in order to preserve the visual appearance and physical characteristics of the bridge’s historic character. Much of the bridge’s original lumber was salvaged and reused with the maximum amount of historic materials repurposed for use in the rehabilitation effort.”

Work was also done to the Picture Bridge in the late 1980s when the Huntington Hotel underwent a massive reconstruction. According to Williger, the paintings of San Francisco Bay and The Golden Gate were lost during the construction period, which reduced the number of paintings to 40. In July 1991, the bridge was also rededicated.

“Restoring the Picture Bridge has been a capital project of utmost importance to us,” said Paul Leclerc, managing director of The Langham Huntington, Pasadena. “As the heart of the community, it is our responsibility and our privilege to preserve this historical treasure for the generations to come. We are thrilled the restoration of the Picture Bridge is complete and it will create yet another season for our guests and local patrons to return to The Langham.”