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    A certain trip to Huntington Library ended in a $40 million gift – and a new vision for its future
    • October 7, 2023

    It was about a year ago when a special visitor showed up at The Huntington.

    Amid the sprawling San Marino library, its museum and botanical gardens was finance giant Charlie Munger, getting a tour around the San Marino property led by the longtime institution’s president Karen R. Lawrence.

    Nothing like a nice tour of such a bountiful and historic site, and if you’ve got some pull a personalized one doesn’t hurt.

    There’s the art museum and its 45,000 pieces spanning centuries of art. There’s the library itself, with more than 11 million items spanning from the 11th century. There’s botanical gardens — all 130 acres — even its smelly corpse flower.

    It turns out, Munger — the storied onetime Berkshire Hathaway billionaire known for giving much of his fortune to causes he cares about — has a little pull.

    Make that a lot a lot of pull. But more on that later.

    While the 99-year-old, who lives not from from the library in Pasadena, was hanging out with Lawrence that day, something struck him. It wasn’t something he saw. It was a vision for the future of the library grounds.

    Charlie Munger (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, FileAssociated Press)

    Lawrence told him about a long-sought goal to provide more affordable housing for the more than two dozen scholars from around the country and the world who each year earn fellowships to study their field for several months based at The Huntington.

    There was only one problem, Munger learned.

    In an era when housing around San Marino and Pasadena is getting pricier and pricier, it’s harder and harder for these scholars — 30 each year all told — to take the fellowships.

    They often can’t afford to because it’s too expensive to live nearby. (By the way, average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Pasadena is $3,306, according to, and if you’re scholar looking for a home the median price of one in San Marino is $2.5 million. Thankfully, that’s down almost 4% from last year, according to Redfin. But you’d need to be a scholar with some dollars.)

    Many months after Munger’s visit, The Huntington this week got a robust share of Munger’s goodwill — 77 shares of it to be exact.

    Munger gave 77 Class A Berkshire Hathaway shares to the San Marino museum, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. At Thursday’s closing price of $523,545.06 a share, that made the gift worth more than $40.3 million, assuming they were cashed in immediately.

    And just like that, a vision that was more of a dream is in the pipeline to become reality.

    “This is like huge for us,” said Huntington spokeswoman Susan Turner-Lowe, reflecting on what is not the first time The Huntington has been the beneficiary of Munger family gifts. “None of this would be possible unless we received this gift. He saw the need.”

    A decade ago, Munger, who lived in Pasadena, gave the Huntington museum nearly $33 million worth of Berkshire stock to help pay for a new education and visitors center.

    Turner-Lowe said the tradition of giving to The Huntington is rooted with Munger’s late wife Nancy, a philanthropist born in Los Angeles and who served as a trustee of the Huntington Library, a legacy that continued with daughter Wendy Munger, who is among trustees emeriti there.

    “She was the most passionate of trustees and supporters of the place,” Turner-Lowe said. “She believed in what it was doing and its capacity to do more, and he began to feel similarly.”

    People walk throughThe Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino Friday, Oct 6, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    As an Associated Press story reporting the donation noted, once a billionaire, Munger’s fortune never rivaled his best friend Warren Buffett’s, who controls Berkshire Hathaway, the Omaha, Neb.-based conglomerate that owns dozens of companies, including BNSF railroad, Geico insurance and several utilities. There’s also the well-known brands such as See’s Candy and Dairy Queen.

    But Munger lost his billionaire status long ago as he steadily gave away his fortune, and roughly $1 billion of his stock went into a charitable trust in 2010 after his wife died, according to AP.

    After his latest donation, Munger still held 4,033 Class A Berkshire shares. But back in 2000 he held 15,911 shares, which would be worth more than $8.3 billion today if he’d hung onto it all.

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    Instead, much of that wealth has gone to an array of places, including UC Santa Barbara, the University of Michigan Law School, Standford University.

    As for the donation, it doesn’t hurt that Munger is a local resident, so taking in The Huntington that day many months ago was really about something right in his own backyard, the same region where some of his own children live.

    It also doesn’t hurt that such a financial force – who turns 100 years old in January — is looking at a world beyond him, and saw a glimpse of it in the scholars who each day use the library to research and write books, to study history and art. Already, the library is beginning the planning for what still will take at least a couple of years to come to fruition as The Huntington works out plans for the living quarters. Cost so far is expected to be somewhere in the ballpark of Munger’s gift.

    Turner-Lowe called his, his wife’s and the family’s philanthropy prescient.

    “We are so grateful to be on the receiving end of that,” she said.

    The Associated Press contributed to this story.


    ​ Orange County Register