By Sal Maccarone
Always on the lookout for art oriented historic hotels to visit, I was very fortunate to stumble upon a real jewel. Completely lost in Riverside, Ca. on my way to somewhere else, I turned a corner and there it was. At first, it appeared to be one of the California missions, but the Padres didn’t build a mission in Riverside. It turned out that the astonishing Spanish Revival architecture had fooled my eye!
The story of the Mission Inn begins with the Miller family a hundred years after the first California Missions were built. During the 1870’s the Millers opened a small twelve room adobe boarding house in the middle of early Riverside. In 1880 Frank Miller became art inspired, and bought the property from his father. Working with architect Arthur Benton, and with financing from a railroad baron, Frank began to build. For the next 28 years, as each wing of the hotel was completed, Frank would fill it with art from around the world.
By 1931 the hotel had a total of four marvelous wings connected by gardens, circular stairways, cloisters, arches and towers. The complex takes up an entire city block! Mr. Miller traveled for nearly three decades searching for artifacts; accordingly, each wing of the hotel was influenced by a different architectural style. As a result, the Mission Inn is an eclectic wonderland made up of Mission Revival, Moorish Revival, Spanish Gothic and Spanish Colonial architecture.
All of the interior spaces are alive with art and sculpture throughout the property. The hotel lobby displays many of the original 19th century, Henry Chapman Ford, California Mission paintings that were responsible for the revival of the Mission style. The Spanish Art Gallery, located on the ground floor also displays paintings from around the world. The Spanish Gallery itself is a work of art with its re-purposed 300 year old woodwork, and elegant marble staircase that leads to a second floor courtyard.
After Frank Miller’s passing in 1935 the Mission Inn went through a series of ups and downs with a succession of owners. But, ultimately after many multi-million dollar restorations, the property has retained all of its original buildings, and most of the artifacts. Due to the efforts of many preservationists, the Mission Inn was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
The extraordinary history of the Mission Inn includes visits from ten past Presidents. Richard and Pat Nixon were married there in 1940. Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned there. Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir paid a visit on their way to explore Yosemite. John Kennedy stayed there twice. Frank Miller even had a special chair made for Howard Taft which is still on display near the gallery of Presidents. Many other notables have stayed at the hotel including: Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart and Helen Keller, just to name a few.
There is also a little haunted history that goes along with this enchanting 150 year old guest house, (MissionInn.com). Among other tales, it is said that both Frank and Alice Miller still reside at the hotel. They have been seen roaming the hallways late at night. Just in time for Halloween!