GEORGE STANLEY WILSON
Riverside is noted for its beautiful buildings, a distinction largely achieved through the creative efforts of G. Stanley Wilson, an architect of high professional attainments. Born in Bournemouth, England, in 1879, he attended the schools of that town until he reached the age of sixteen, when he came to America with his father, mother, three brothers and three sisters, who established their home at Riverside in September, 1895, and here he has since resided.
In 1909 Mr. Wilson began his career as an architect, securing a desirable location at 646 Ninth Street, Riverside, where he remained until the summer of 1931, when he transferred his offices to the International Rotunda of the Mission Inn. This new addition to the world-famous inn, which he designed for it proprietor, Frank Miller, constitutes one of his outstanding achievements as an architect. In the creation of the structure he has produced a picturesque profusion of arches, towers, balconies and flying buttresses that blend harmoniously with the rest of the hostelry. In it he has visioned the romantic Spanish colonial traditions of California.
The September, 1931, issue of “California Arts & Architecture” contained an interesting article on the “California Mission Inn,” from which we quote the following: “The ‘International Rotunda’ and its accompanying addition to the Inn can be entered from the hotel or from the street, as many of its rooms are used for offices. Seated on a bench beside the goose boy fountain, one looks upward from the basement to the sky. The encircling stairway fascinates, the vision is intrigued with plaque and bas relief, the mind is full of startled thoughts as the details of structure and the mystery of concrete at its best is slowly grasped. A triumph for the architect, this hollow tower, confesses the rank outsider and the amateur; what joy to play with plastic rock and make it stand secure.
“All through the building one finds this playfulness which is the artist’s final show of mastery and the owner’s daring character personified. Truly our modern flair for mottoes is here justified. ‘Beauty pays’ and with the honest man also, ‘Religion is profitable’ when its philosophy encompasses the world. Such is the religion of Frank Miller expressed in the building of his Mission Inn; and such is the basic ideal of its varied architecture. As Mr. DeWitt Hutchings has said, “this rotunda eclipses in interest any of the special architectural and historical features previously built there.’
“This is true because the international impulse toward good-will is embodied in every feature of the 1931 building. Mr. Wilson, the architect, was given the space to fill, the great golden altar from a private chapel in Mexico and the stained glass windows and mosaics to incorporate as motifs, the ideas of good-will toward Mexico, Japan and the Orient beyond to express, a great project, extraordinarily fulfilled.
“The ‘International Rotunda’ addition to Mission Inn exemplifies the above philosophy, while at the same time it is exceptionally interesting architecturally as a whole as well as in the bewildering variety of its ornamentation in detail. The new building takes its name from the cylindrical court, thirty-three feet across and six stories high, encircled by its unusual recessed and overhanging stairway. As one enters the Rotunda from the street one feels transplanted to Medieval Europe. Here are rows of columns of varying sizes on the different levels. Some of the pediments are Ionic, with Renaissance elements added; some are Doric. The series of arches vary, some being pointed, others circular, others flat; the stairway breaks the intervals regularly. The delicate tracery of the hand-wrought railings offers another contrast with its bell motif and the names of Mission and Spanish explorers interwoven. Set into the walls are tile coats of arms of different countries, carrying out the international scheme. In niches are statues of patron saints of nations: St. George of England, St. James of Spain. On the lowest level a blithe Bavarian Gooseman fountain faces a figure of Joan of Arc. The Rotunda is uncovered, so overhead are the impartial stars and the friendly sky.
“Although the Rotunda gives its name to the whole new addition, there are also three other new courts equally as interesting and as important as the Rotunda, and each of these is a center from which radiates new feature divisions of the hotel. The Rotunda itself, since it is primarily an office building, is entered from the street. Two of the other courts, ‘The Court of the Orient’ and the ‘Atrio of St. Francis,’ are within the hotel proper and are entered from the second floor of the inner Spanish Dining Patio by means of the arcaded corridor on the opposite side from the Garden of the Bells. The third new court, the ‘Garden of the Stars,’ is on the sixth floor and is reached either through the Rotunda or from the Spanish wing, since it has a two-fold function; its therapeutic and sun-baths and its club rooms beneath the beautiful tile-covered ‘Amistad’ Dome (Dome of Friendship) will be used equally by the people of the community and the guests of the Inn; it’s lovely suites surrounding the Starlight Pool and commanding unobstructed views of the mountains, will be sought after by discriminating guests of the Inn.
“The ‘Court of the Orient’ continues the Oriental theme of the present Oriental rooms out into the open and forms the approach to new Oriental rooms beyond. There are terraces, broad steps, stone railings, lanterns, shrines, fountains, bronzes, shrubs, bells and a rock water-course as in a Japanese garden. The supports of overhanging stories are like those of a temple. Opening from the Court of the Orient on all sides are rooms of the Oriental section of the Inn’s famous Cloister Art Shop. A colossal carved and lacquered temple Buddha presides serenely, seeming to offer peaceful greeting at this cross-roads of the East and West.
“Architecturally the Atrio of St. Francis will be considered the piece de resistance of Mission Inn. It might be the plaza of a small city of Mexico or Spain. The floor is of marble. An ancient tile shrine of the style of Della Robbia in soft colors enriches one wall. A noted statue, ‘St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio,’ by Ruth Sherwood, is in a niche beyond. A bronze fountain is in the center. The St. Joseph Arcade with twisted columns, once belonging to Stanford White, skirts one side, forming a covered passage from the Spanish Art Gallery to the St. Francis Chapel. Above, corridors and columns, arches and balconies with hand-wrought railings grace the upper levels where the Spanish wing ends and where it connects with the new Rotunda addition. The Atrio forms the entrance court for the two most important rooms of the new construction, the St. Francis Chapel and the Galeria, or new Art Gallery. The latter is a room one hundred sixteen feet long by twenty-five feet wide and thirty feet high, with decorated beamed ceilings, its windows all on the north side, its walls for paintings; the room to be used for banquets and dances. The facade of the Chapel of St. Francis is the chief architectural feature of the Atrio. Facing it from the entrance, one feels as if standing in front of a cathedral in a quiet plaza of Old Mexico. The Churrigueresque rich ornamentations, the rose windows, the coats of arms, the figures of saints in their niches—all are beautiful and all seem as if they must be of some bygone age. The proportions of facade and doorway and rose window are splendid. Huge sixteen-foot mahogany doors give entrance. The interior, dimly lighted, reveals its richness slowly to one entering from the brilliant sunlight of the Atrio. At the far end is the famous gold altar from Mexico which was formerly in the Spanish Art Gallery. Its surface and columns and figures have lost none of the lustre which they had two hundred years ago when the altar was made for the chapel of Marquis de Rayas at Guanajuato. Carved oak stalls of Renaissance design with medallions from an ancient monastery in Belgium occupy the sides of the chapel from the entrance to the chancel and above them, glowing and sparkling in all their color, are the Tiffany windows and mosaics, three on each side. These were made by Louis Tiffany from designs by Stanford White and for many years were in Dr. Parkhurst’s Church, Madison Square, New York. After the church was demolished to make way for the Metropolitan Life Building, Mr. Miller secured the windows through Mr. Tiffany.”
Mr. Wilson designed, built and owns the beautiful La Casa de Anza Hotel and Apartments on Market at Fourth Street, near the center of the city. This picturesque, ornate structure was named for Captain Don Juan Bautista de Anza, the first white man to enter California. Leaving Tubac, Mexico, in January, 1774, he passed through the Santa Ana river valley, where Riverside is now located, and arrived in San Gabriel, May 22. He founded the Presidio at Monterey; explored the San Francisco Bay region, and selected the site for the Mission Delores. He was one of the most romantic figures in the early history of California. Among the numerous school buildings designed by Mr. Wilson are the Magnolia Avenue School, the Lowell and Liberty schools, and the Hemet and Corona high schools. He drew the plans for the Loring Opera House, the Hellman Bank, the Crossley Garage and other large and imposing buildings in Riverside, and among the residences which he designed are those of Judge Densmore, C. O. Evans, S. C. Evans, and Allan Pinkerton of New York.
In 1906 Mr. Wilson was married to Miss Mildred Scott, a daughter of Dr. D. H. Scott of Riverside, and three children were born to them: Maybl, Harry and Ernest. Mr. Wilson belongs to the Kiwanis Club, the Sons of St. George, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. In recognition of his endowments and achievements his professional colleagues have honored him with the vice presidency of the California Association of Architects, which office he is now filling, and is also a member of the American Institute of Architects.
Transcribed by V. Gerald Iaquinta.
Source: California of the South Vol. IV, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 499-504, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. 1933.
© 2012 V. Gerald Iaquinta.