While in Pomona last weekend for the Heart concert at the Fairplex (see related blog post), and following a few wine tastings, I merrily agreed to take the advice of a fellow traveler and head on down the road for a Riverside adventure! Upon arriving into the historic downtown district, my eyes became transfixed on a massive Mission style hotel occupying one entire city block . The Mission Inn, now a National Historic Landmark, was built by founder Christopher Columbus Miller in 1876 as a 12-room adobe boarding house. Currently resembling a grand Spanish castle, this exceptional masterpiece is comprised of several distinct architectural styles. You can actually see where one style ends and the next one begins if you stand in the courtyard and look up. Imagine a European castle, lush gardens, secluded patios, a giant rotunda, flying buttresses, domes, and elegant wrought-iron staircases. What a glorious sight!
I lucked out and wound up engaged in a wonderfully educational chat with the very knowledgeable volunteer working in the museum/gift shop who filled me in on some of the rich and quirky history, inspiring me to share what I learned about this fascinating landmark. In 1902, Miller’s son Frank (later known as “Master of the Inn,”) took over and began furiously adding to the structure, for a total of 238 rooms, employing several different top architectural designers, until his death in 1935. Thanks to Frank, guests get to experience the wonders of the St. Cecilia Chapel, and the Cloister, Spanish and International Rotunda Wings. Interestingly, during this time, Frank collected an enormous amount of treasures amidst his world travels, including bells (his collection topped out at over 800!), crosses, dolls and art paintings which are still stored underneath the building for safe keeping. He was known for giving away or selling items to guests who would tell him how much they liked something that was in their room.
Oddly, the name Mission Inn has nothing to do with the California Missions whatsoever, yet Frank believed if he tied it to them for marketing purposes, he would get more tourist traffic. After his death, Frank’s daughter and son-in-law took over until her passing in 1956, and thus began a long string of unsuccessful ownerships and the increasing deterioration of the Mission Inn. At one time it was an apartment complex and even fell to a point where homeless people were squatting there for a place to live. In 1985, it was purchased by the Carley Group and a grand opening was planned for 1988. Just two weeks before the opening, after running in to many delays and financial troubles, the project came to an abrupt halt and once again, the majestic Mission Inn sat empty. Thankfully it was eventually scooped up by local businessman Duane Roberts (aka “the frozen burrito king”,) who grew up in Riverside and felt a strong sentimental pull toward the living breathing entity that is the Mission Inn. Sitting vacant for several years after the previous renovation efforts, the Mission Inn officially reopened within a few days after the deal closed in December 1992.
The ivy, plants, flowers, trees, fountains, and bell tower are all absolutely spectacular. The two parrots in the large cage near the entry are succcessors to the original pair Josephine and Napolean who were cherished and very well known to all visitors. The hidden pool with private lounging villas, Kelly’s Spa, six phenomenal dining options, including my lunch choice of the Spanish garden-patio style restaurant Las Campanas which was simply scrumptious!! I felt like I was visiting some exotic locale far far away from the likes of Riverside California!
Unfortunately, the mysterious underground catacombs have been closed off to the public for good after retrofitting for earthquakes brought attention to the fire hazards with only one point of entry and exit. Take a walk inside the glamorous lobby with brilliant chandeliers reflecting off the spotless floors and continue through to the courtyard where you can see people dining as well as catching a glimpse of the intricate architectural styles. Hopefully they can get the giant cuckoo-style clock working again soon! Famous guests have included: The Nixons, The Reagans, John F Kennedy, Gerald Ford, George W. Bush, Harry Houdini, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Barbra Streisand and even Merle Haggard are among the long list of celebrities, Presidents and Royalty and that have played and stayed here! My plan…to visit during the Festival of Lights during the Christmas Holiday season and stay for the night. It sounds like a truly marvelous spectacle!
Most definitely worth a visit, whether just for the day or for a few nights. This downtown area also includes a pedestrian mall, antique shoppes, cafes, museums, a library, beautiful churches, Town Hall and the historic Fox theater, all within an easy stroll from the hotel. You can even take a short drive to visit some unique local California wineries. Long live the Mission Inn! “…the Mission Inn is not just a building; it’s not just bricks and mortar. This place is a living thing and people love it.” Well so do we Duane Roberts. Thank you for granting this beauty a new lease on life for all to admire and enjoy!