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Listen to Your Heart

The Mission Inn sets a backdrop for our picturesque wedding


The procession entered, two at a time.  My bridesmaids paraded into the St. Francis Assisi chapel wearing cobalt blue Vera Wang empire-waist gowns. They delicately held their bouquets of light green cymbidium orchids and Privé pink and plum-colored roses as they stepped into the hushed chapel. My matron of honor entered last and behind her, the ornately carved Mexican mahogany large wooden doors closed shut. My father and I stood outside; waiting to make our entrance. From inside the chapel, the loud brass wails of a royal trumpet grabbed our attention. Then the entire front wall opened.

A flood of light illuminated the hall to reveal us standing outside on the white stone courtway. I leaned on my father, our arms linked, as we started walking down the red carpet towards the altar. The conductor cued the orchestra. Pachelbel’s Canon in D echoed through the chapel walls. I felt the rustling of the tulle slip beneath my lace keyhole gown. As we walked down the aisle, I concentrated on each step. “Don’t fall,” was the mantra I kept repeating in my head. I looked up and smiled. Waiting down the aisle was Daniel, my groom. He was taking deep breaths, too. While I concentrated on being graceful, he was trying not to tear up. 

There we were at the magnificent Mission Inn. I never considered myself a girly girl. Nor did  I ever dream of a big wedding. So how did we get here?

Our wedding marked our 10 years together as a couple. Daniel and I met as undergraduate students at UC Irvine, dated for a while, then spent five glorious years in New York. Living on the East Coast changed me. I perfected the cold, hard stare of a true New Yorker. Cooking at a Michelin-star award-winning restaurant, I learned that perfection takes work. I became such a jaded urbanite that I was easily bored. When it came time to plan a wedding, I realized it’s difficult when you’re blasé about everything.

Our initial plans involved a tiny upscale restaurant. We would  invite immediate family and very close friends. But, my mother-in-law had other ideas. “You must have a big wedding,” she insisted. “We waited 10 years.” That’s when I realized, that although it may be my – the bride’s – big day, there are many other expectations we must consider. So Daniel and I toured the usual wedding haunts – SLS Beverly Hills, the Montage, a few boutique resorts. Nothing fit.

Then the Mission Inn captured my imagination. We had stayed there years before. It was an unexpected venue that held a special spot in our memories – the Mission Revival architecture, the story of how the original owner Frank Miller kept adding  wings to his inn a la the Winchester Mystery House. Although it was a big resort and in Riverside, there was no denying the property’s inherent charm.

 The lore of the Mission Inn is that when it opened in the early 1900s a mysterious load of wooden crates addressed to Miller came by train. The delivery was so massive that the staff unloaded the contents on an adjacent street. Inside were pieces of a priceless 18th-century, 18-karat gold leaf Rayas altar. The story goes that Miller built the Franciscan-style St. Francis of Assisi Chapel solely to house it. The chapel still stands surrounded by miniature palms, Catholic-inspired murals, white stone walkways and inside, seven Tiffany-designed stained-glass windows.

The towering blue panels were in fact a gift from designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, who’d once vacationed at the Mission Inn. The artist was somewhat of a collector and as with many of his wealthy peers, price was no object. Tiffany grew enamored of  an excavated Nanking temple bell displayed at the inn; he assumed that he could purchase it. So he wrote Miller a blank check but the innkeeper refused, saying  the bell, just like all the other artifacts at the resort, was not for purchase. That struck a chord with Tiffany. It was unheard of for someone to refuse him. When he died, the stained-glass master left Miller the seven expansive windows. Tiffany knew that since Miller was a true collector, the pieces would never wind up in a vault. Over the years, the collection has brought inquisitive visitors to the Mission Inn – not to mention a handful of U.S. presidents and old Hollywood celebrities. Once we heard the Tiffany story, Daniel and I made up our minds: We’d get married here.

One of the best and worst parts of having a groom so heavily involved in the planning process is that he’s aware of all the upgrades. This brings me to the chocolate fountain. My husband has a sweet tooth. During our planning meetings with our wedding coordinator, Daniel double-checked all of the details regarding the chocolate fountain at our reception. “It’s only dark chocolate.” Check. “Will there be marshmallows and fruits for us to dip?” Definitely. Then, as every married couple experiences, our wedding day flew by. Daniel was so busy greeting our guests that he forgot to even sample his molten chocolate tower. It still remains a sore spot for him and a funny anecdote for me to share with stressed out brides-to-be.

One thing I definitely suggest: make your first anniversary just as special as your wedding day.

A year later, Daniel and I returned to the Mission Inn. The plan was to celebrate our first anniversary as husband and wife. Instead of saving the top tier of our cake, I called our baker, Michelle’s, and ordered a smaller version of our lemon-flavored wedding cake with Parisian butter cream. As a joke, I found a miniature chocolate fountain just for Daniel. Even though only a year had passed, a lot had changed. Rather than visiting the resort as happy newlyweds, we came back with a stowaway: our three-month-old son.

The morning of our anniversary, Daniel walked outside our room to a nearby balcony. It was a cloudy morning, but the sun slowly poked its way through. A few insistent rays created a spotlight. In its focus was the St. Francis Assisi chapel. “That’s where your daddy married mommy,” Daniel said to our wide-eyed infant.

With our little prince in tow, we once again shared a special moment at the Mission Inn. The three of us stood there admiring the view. The birds started singing, a warm Southland breeze wafted scents of lavender and rosemary from the rooftop herb garden. I smiled, reminiscing about our wedding day.

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