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ANN CONWAY

The Mission's Secret: Simple Elegance, Minus Frills

July 04, 1994|ANN CONWAY

The minute you arrived at this party site, you were grateful for its simplicity. No electronic doors to dodge. No slick marble to navigate. Not one blinding chandelier.

Here, on the quiet grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano, arriving guests simply walked across dusty old tiles, stepped under a 200-year-old stone portal, and ended up in the sunlight.

"This a lot better than a smoke-filled hotel room, isn't it?" mission administrator Gerald Miller asked guests at the recent Mission Women's Guild membership tea. "And, we have very high ceilings, if you notice," he said, looking up at a turquoise sky.

Guests noticed. Everywhere they looked they saw beauty, from the moss-covered Evangelist Fountain--its four-sided pool honors the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--to the scarlet and pink rosebushes that surround it.

The good news: The spacious grounds are available for party-giving (sorry, no weddings or wedding receptions). In fact, organizations from the San Juan Capistrano area frequently use the site for special events, said guild president Helen Noon.

In addition to raising funds to preserve the mission, the goal of the Women's Guild is to help the mission become a focal point for cultural and educational activities for all of Orange County.

"The grounds are beautiful during the day," Miller said. "And they're every bit as beautiful at night. We light the trees, and it all becomes a fairyland."

Costs to rent the facility range from $1,500 to $5,000 per day. "The cost depends upon how many people you have at your event," Miller said.

When guild members and their guests weren't sipping iced tea and sampling scones and tarts, they were listening to serenades by 9-year-old harpist Brynn Camery-Hoggatt or touring the grounds, courtesy of Muriel Gustin, a mission docent.

"The buildings here are the oldest in continuous use in the state of California," said Gustin, who is also a guild member. "And our Father Serra Chapel is the only chapel remaining where Father Junipero Serra actually said Mass. Historically, that's our claim to fame."

When party guests looked up, they saw the ripe lavender blooms of jacaranda and African chestnut trees, the flame-colored petals of bougainvillea, the delicate white flowers that sprout on wisteria and giant cactus.

Also on the horizon: the basilicas of two magnificent churches--one, the 187-year-old Great Stone Church, the other, St. John's, the 10-year-old mission parish church.

At their feet, guests saw old cobblestone paths, rolling green lawns and zanja , the native-brick lined channels that once carried fresh water to the mission from nearby creeks.

Intermittently, guests heard the joyful peal of church bells and the nostalgic sound of a rushing Amtrak train.

Guild member Rosalyn Frost calls the mission and its environs "a haven."

"It's so peaceful, so calm here," she said. "It's another world--something out of the old days when there was not such a hectic pace."

Also among guests was the Women's Guild founding president Gloria Brendle. "We started this group just one year ago," she said. "A bunch of women who didn't really know each other came together and learned to work as a team. It has been a fabulous experience."

Elaine Biegle and Lydia Uhrik organized the tea party. "A lot of great events in history began with tea parties," Miller said, as he formally welcomed guests. "Anybody here from Boston?"

*

The Aldrins on the move: The 25th anniversary on July 16 of the Apollo 11 moonwalk has former astronaut Buzz Aldrin and his wife, Lois, zipping around the world like jet-setters. "The world is making such a big fuss about this," said Lois during a recent telephone interview from her Emerald Bay home.

There has been a palace visit with the king and queen of Spain and a gala hobnob with Prince Albert at the Metropole Hotel in Monaco. Today, the couple head for Cologne, Germany, and London and Paris, where Buzz Aldrin will do television guest spots.

And come July 16, the Aldrins will return from Europe to attend a gala the same day at the Beverly Hilton with Vice President Al Gore.

On July 18, the couple will fly to Washington for a round of celebrations that begin with a breakfast sponsored by the Forbes family and may include a lunch at the White House. "We're not sure yet what the President is doing (to celebrate) Apollo 11," Lois said. "But we're sure he must be planning something."

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