By Kamala Kirk

After decades of serving guests in its Rose Garden Tea Room, The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens will renovate and expand it.

Since the initial conversion of the building into a tearoom, there have been many alterations to the building over time, particularly to the kitchen areas. This is the first major rehabilitation.

“The idea started with a (pre-pandemic) assessment of both the building on the outside and the building and the kitchen on the inside,” said Randy Shulman, The Huntington’s vice president for advancement and external relations.

“The architectural details and overall condition of the original tea room have been in decline for many years and need work. Over the past six years, we have worked to stabilize the exterior architectural details as much as possible, but we knew that over the long term it had to be worked on.”

The $7.5 million project went into municipal review in January 2021 and The Huntington expects it to be completed in 2022. Developed by The Huntington with Architectural Resources Group (ARG), the project will restore the front of the original building, in addition to a new outdoor dining experience and improved functionality in service areas.

“The COVID-19 seating and service considerations helped to inspire the idea of an elegant but exterior fully ventilated structure in the garden for dining,” Shulman said.

“After the renovation is completed, the restaurant will be able to function with people seated more than 6 feet apart. Therefore, it would be a safer place for people to enjoy a meal as we emerge from the pandemic.”

The Rose Garden Tea Room’s food provider, Bon Appetit, also found the kitchen was inadequate for providing the level of service that it wanted to offer. The project will modernize the kitchen, upgrade the indoor dining space, develop new restrooms and ancillary areas, and create a pavilion on the building’s eastern side that opens onto the Shakespeare Garden for exterior dining service.

“The pavilion will be able to seat approximately 44 in COVID-spaced seating, approximately 68 in normally spaced seating,” added Steve Farneth, the project architect for The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tea Room renovation and founding partner of ARG.

“Overall, including interior and exterior seating, the new facility will seat approximately the same number as it does currently.”

The project plans to renovate the room on the west side of the building that opens to the Herb Garden. In addition to being used for the tearoom’s general service, it will be made available for private rentals.

“On the west side of the building, we will replace an existing wood frame dining room with a slightly larger, but much more open space overlooking the Herb Garden,” Farneth said. “Rolling doors along the south, west and north walls will open the room to the Herb Garden.”

The renovation comes on the heels of The Huntington’s Centennial Celebration, which kicked off on September 2019 and features a yearlong series of exhibitions, public programs and new initiatives. The tearoom is part of The Huntington’s historic core and will connect the building to the surrounding gardens’ visual and physical elements, making for a unique tea experience.

“The tearoom has been closed to the public since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shulman said. “However, when the tearoom reopens, we will be offering a high tea table service like we have in the past, including a vegan and gluten-free high tea, and expanding the add-on section of fresh salads, soups, cheese plates and charcuterie boards.”

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