In 1932 Frank Miller completed the fourth and last major wing of the Mission Inn, the Rotunda Wing. Included in this wing is the St. Francis Chapel. Later that year, Mrs. Frederick Payne, a friend of Allis Hutchings (Frank Miller’s daughter), suggested to Allis that the chapel be designated as a shrine to aviators and St. Francis as the patron saint of birdmen. Allis and her husband, DeWitt Hutchings, were avid fans of early aviation and frequent flyers. For years their collection of aviation memorabilia, which included letters, photographs, uniforms, parts of aircraft, and other insignia, was displayed in the Pilot’s Roost, a room above the St. Francis Atrio.
On December 15, 1932, a ceremony in the Atrio outside of the chapel dedicated the chapel as an aviator shrine. Riverside artist Thyrsis Field (son of Riverside photographer Avery Field) and Allis designed a special plaque on the wall outside the chapel. The copper plaque reads: “Francis of Assisi, Lover of Birds and Birdmen, Patron Saint.” Presiding over the ceremonies was Monsignor McCarthy, the one-time priest at St. Francis de Sales in Riverside. Colonel H. H. Arnold from March was present. “Hap” Arnold later became a general and during World War II, Commander-in-Chief of the Army Air Force. DeWitt Hutchings read a poem by Henry Longfellow entitled The Prayer of St. Francis.
Frank Miller was an eclectic collector, as seen by the many treasures in the collections of the Mission Inn. And his daughter, Allis, and son-in-law, DeWitt, followed in his footsteps as collectors. One of their favorite collections was the various aviation insignia and other related items. With this in mind, they inaugurated the famous Flyers’ Wall. The idea was a place or a shrine where famous aviators who visited the Inn could leave a visual record of their visit. A ceremony would mark the occasion.
To commemorate these historic visits Allis Hutchings and Thyrsis Field again collaborated in designing copper wings. The wings are about ten inches across with a propeller in the center. The aviator signed and dated a piece of tracing paper. This signature and date was then etched into the wing, with the name on the left wing and the date on the right wing. In the center propeller a design or insignia was etched. On the appointed the day the flyer hung his or her wings on the wall.
The first ceremony was on March 26, 1934, with the hanging of the wings for Major General B. D. Foulois, Lt. Colonel H. H. Arnold, Brig. General O. Westover and Lt Commander H. V. Wiley. Only Lt. Commander Wiley was present for this ceremony, the other three had visited the Mission Inn at various times the previous two years.
Over the years, 161 names of flyers with their signatures etched into a wing have been hung on the wall. DeWitt Hutchings officiated in 90 of these ceremonies when aviators hung their wings on the famous Flyers’ Wall. Some of those aviators include James Doolittle, Amelia Earhart, Mrs. U. G. “Queenie” McQueen, Jackie Cochran, John Northrup, Eddie Rickenbacker, John Glenn and Chuck Yeager. And the list goes on.
To learn more about this famous Flyers’ Wall, a shrine to aviation located in Riverside’s Mission Inn, visit the exhibit presently in the Mission Inn Museum (3696 Main St.). For even more information and details on the Flyers, pick up a copy of The Famous Fliers’ Wall of the Mission Inn by Walter P. Parks.