Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Crown Jewel of Old Mesilla

On the Plaza of Historic Old Mesilla, New Mexico, is The Double Eagle Restuarant, the oldest structure on the plaza.

Construction on this modest structure (center in the photo below) began in the 1840s. From 1849 through the 1960s, the building was the residence of several prominent families. The building was abandoned for a time before becoming a cotton warehouse and then a series of small shops. Then Robert Anderson, president of Atlantic Richfield Co., bought the building in 1970 and turned it into a restaurant, naming it after the twenty dollar coin called the Double Eagle. In 1984, C.W. Ritter bought the business.

Passing through the post-Civil War, thousand-pound cast iron and gilded gates, we began to sense that this building was something special.

The short walk to the entrance just served to heighten the anticipation.

The modest exterior did not prepare us for the magnificent interior. Above us in the entryway (below) was a gilded, baccarat crystal chandelier hanging from the pressed tin ceiling. To the left of the entryway, the divider separating the entry from the Imperial Bar has two rolled glass panels etched with water lillies and cattails framed with oak turned columns and spindle fretwork.

Hanging above the bar are two additional classic French Baccarat crystal chandeliers, each measuring seven feet tall and three feet wide.

The 30-foot, hand-carved oak and walnut Eastlake style bar is framed with four Corinthian columns in gold leaf (three of these columns are shown in the photo, above).

The detail of the bar is illuminated by two Imperial French floral "coronas," each over 5 feet tall with 23 lighted brass flowers.

Stepping up to this bar and ordering a Miller Lite just would not be de rigueur.

There are eight other rooms in The Double Eagle that have some significance. Among those are the Maximilian Room, the Isabela Ballroom, and the Gadsden Room. Named after Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, Archduke of Austria, who Napoleon hoped would establish a French satellite in the Americas, this room features gold work.

Shown above is the music balcony with its 18 carat gold leafed, brass railing cast in the lyre pattern

The story goes that the interior designer specified that 24 carat gold should be applied to the ceiling without clearing this with owner. This action was discovered early in the project; the solution to the potential blow-up was to apply 18 carat gold to the rest of the ceiling. So, a small rectangle of 24 carat gold is surrounded by duller, darker 18 carat gold.

Lily Langtree, a well-known singer of the late 19th century, is portrayed in the panel over the double doors leading into the Isabella Room.

The Isabela Ballroom is named for Queen Isabela, who sold her jewels to finance Columbus' voyage to the New World in 1492. Originally the back porch of the home, the room became a ballroom in 1984.

The windows are actually a solid wall with the frames and draperies added for texture and depth.

This, circa 1830, oil painting of a young girl in red with a doll shows the child's face painted onto the doll's face, which was a common technique for itinerant artists of the era.

The mirror above the fireplace in the Gadsden Room shows the reflection of a portrait of James Gadsden who worked with Manuel Diaz de Bonillo to draft the Gadsden Purchase. A copy of the document is also on display.

The rose-colored light filling the room is due to the back lit glass ceiling surrounded by gilt tin ceiling tiles.

One of the rooms that we did not get a chance to see was the Beef Ageing Room. The "wet ageing" process is used, which involves reducing the temperature to that required to activaate the naturally occurring enzymes to tenderize the beef. The room is opened once a week to add or remove the beef.

The owners of The Double Eagle are proud enough to have produced a pamphlet that we referred to in describing the Crown Jewel of Old Mesilla.

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