MR. HUNTINGTON’S FLAG POLE
By Clair Martin
In the fall of 1909, while work was still underway on the Huntingtons’ home, Mr. Huntington and his Garden Superintendent, William Hertrich, discussed the possibility and placement of a flagpole on the ranch. Previously they had discussed the merits of steel over a wooden pole, however, the matter was settled when Mr. Huntington informed Hertrich that he had acquired a ‘very fine pole’ of a single piece of Oregon Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziessi) from friends in the Pacific Northwest. Huntington informed his superintendent that it was to be shipped on a lumber schooner to the Redondo Beach pier which meant that Hertrich would have to transport the 148-foot pole from Redondo Beach to the San Marino ranch and then hoist it into position.
Accordingly, Hertrich set about hiring a stout team of horses and wagon from the grading contractor, James Montgomery and they, together with several workers, set off for Redondo Beach. The length of the pole required a second wagon to stabilize the pole during the move and to keep the end from dragging. Using mainly secondary roads on the trip home to avoid Los Angeles traffic, they made a remarkably uneventful job of it until they arrived at a right-angle turn in the road. They immediately became acutely aware that they could not make the turn without driving the wagons over an alfalfa field. Locating the owner of the field proved impossible so after a confab they decided to prevent further delays and drive their team into the field and suffer the consequences. No sooner had the team set hoof to alfalfa did the irate farmer appeared with a shotgun in hand and headed directly for them, loudly threatening to shoot if they trespassed any further.
To avoid bloodshed and mayhem, an offering to pay damages was proffered. The farmer agreed to compensation, however, after considering the potential damage, to Hertrich’s amazement, the farmer requested a dollar for the privilege of driving over his field! Hertrich quickly paid up and proceeded on to deliver the pole to the ranch without further problems.
Obtaining and transporting the pole was one thing, but it was an entirely different matter to raise the 148-foot piece of heavy timber to an upright position off the northwest corner of the Huntington home, then under construction. Crews dug an eighteen-foot deep, sloping hole for the supporting base and, with the aid of a tall guide pole and a block and tackle, lifted the new flagpole into its permanent position. Then they fixed the pole in place with sixteen feet of concrete leaving a 132-foot flagpole for Mr. Huntington’s flag. Mr. Huntington later expressed his pleasure with the pole and placement. Hertrich was simply pleased to have it strongly secured within concrete!
Sometime in the 1970s dry rot was discovered at the base of the flagpole, where the wood joined the concrete base, and a triangular support base of steel, called a ‘dead-man’ was installed to prevent a catastrophic collapse.
Mr. Huntington’s flagpole from a distance may appear to be constructed from metal. In fact it is one of the tallest wooden flagpoles in the southern California region. Its outward metallic appearance is due to the aluminum paint with which it is painted periodically. From time-to-time a flagpole painter is hired to use a bosun’s chair and shimmy up the pole painting it from the top down, thus helping to preserve this Huntington landmark.
At times one cannot help but notice a scrub jay perched on the very top of the flagpole. How Henry Huntington would envy that bird’s avian-eyed view of his beloved ranch: A monument to our founder’s vision and Hertrich’s ingenuity, Mr. Huntington’s flagpole continues to stand out as an exclamation point in the Central Gardens.
Clair Martin, Ruth B. and E.L. Shannon Curator of the Rose and Perennial Gardens
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