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(Text courtesy of Tom Patterson and the Friends of the Mission Inn)
The Mission Inn of Riverside is more than a hotel or a museum or an arts cnter or an historical landmark, although it is all of the these.
It evolved with its surrounding community reflecting the life around it in a special way. The major factors in it were the personality, cultural interests and business genius of Frank Augustus Miller, who became known as the Master of the Inn.
He was a serious minded youth of 17 when he came to Riverside with his family in 1874, his father being a surveyor for the entire colony. Young Miller quickly became independent.
The family built a two-story adobe home, but in keeping with the California outlook of the time, it wasn’t in Spanish style. Cash being scarce, the Millers took in paying guests and soon were adding hotel wings.
His father being primarily concerned with civil engineering, young Frank bought the home-hotel in 1880 – adding several wings and making a garden out of the grounds. He used an old Concord coach to meet guests at the first rail station, in Colton.
But the most interesting ingredient of the successful little hotel was young Miller himself. He regaled his guest with stories of Riverside’s early history. He was deeply religious, energetic and ambitious. He organized singing, primarily of traditional religious, patriotic and folk songs.
“Dramatize what you do,” he later advised a younger man. He himself did so at all times.
One distinguished guest in the 1880’s was Wilson Crewdson, distinguished British art expert. From him and from many others, Miller acquired and developed interest in art and many other fields – and what interested him he soon made of interest to his guests.
In 1902, after several years of effort, he arranged for the complete modernization of his hotel. By now, California had begun to recognize what it had long been neglecting – its early Spanish and Mexican heritage. Miller became an early factor in this movement, whose initiator was his good friend, Charles Fletcher Lummis. Arthur Benton, Lummis co-worker became the architect for the new structure – the present lobby and the two south wings. Now its name was changed from Glenwood Hotel to Glenwood Mission Inn. One interesting aspect of the new look was the remodeling of the original Anglo-appearing Miller adobe. Its gable was removed in favor of a flat roof and tile cornice. Now it became “the old adobe,” serving as an art gallery and reception room. Eventually the swimming pool replaced the adobe.
The Inn became one of Southern California’s famous winter resort hotels. Typical guests arrived by train at the Santa Fe, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific stations and stayed for a few weeks or a month or more. The automobile replaced the tally-ho in showing the guests the sights, including Riverside’s famous orange groves.
Miller and business associates, principally the famous Henry E. Huntington and Charles A. Loring, built the roads and shrines on Mt. Rubidoux and Miller initiated the annual Easter Sunrise Service, giving the town and hotel more worldwide recognition.
Miller and his family visited Spanish and other shrines in Europe and Asia collecting objects of interest within the hotel. Collections of bells and crosses became special favorites. Music recitals, art exhibits and other cultural manifestations proliferated. In 1910 a major addition, the Cloister Wing including the Music Room, was built. In 1914-15 the Spanish Art Gallery and Spanish Dining Room were built. Building additions and alterations were almost continuous, but in 1929-31 the International Rotunda and related features, including the St. Francis Chapel, became the last major addition.
Spanish and Mexican architecture was becoming popular in California now, but nowhere more so than in Riverside. The concentration of Hispanic style became particularly noticeable along Seventh Street, which was designated in a 1927 plan as the civic mall. One of the more imposing structures was First Congregational Church, which introduce the Spanish Renaissance theme into the movement. It was dedicated in January 1914.
In all his travels and worldwide contacts, Miller acquired art of all kinds, including Tiffany stained glass windows and the celebrated 18 th century gold leaf altar, around which the St. Francis Chapel was built as part of the last major addition – the International Rotunda in 1930-31.
Miller was interested not only in Hispanic but in Oriental culture – in part because he met poor immigrant representatives of those cultures in California and followed up by studying them on their home grounds and bringing home remarkable representative works. The collection of Oriental objects in the Inn is priceless, including temple dragons, a Buddha and a magnificent carving, “The Mandarin’s Journey.”
The garden atmosphere continued to prevail, not only on the ground but in small patios and unique points of interest at all levels.
Miller died in 1935. The great depression and the emergence of air travel greatly altered the tourist business. The Inn continued under the management of Miller’s daughter and son-in-law, Allis and DeWitt Hutchings, who died in 1952 and 1953.
Beginning in 1955, the Inn went through a series of ownerships, including for a time, that of the Riverside Redevelopment Agency. It even served for a term as a dormitory for UC Riverside Students. Later, its older rooms were converted to apartments. In 1985, it was acquired by the Carley Capital Group, which restored and modernized its hotel aspect and corrected newly discovered structural problems. The cost was higher than expected and a New York bank foreclosed on the loan. Finally, in December 1992, the Inn was sold to Duane R. Roberts, a Riverside businessman and lover of the Inn. He opened it in its renewed status on December 30, 1992.
The people of the United States as a whole and those of Riverside in particular, have come to realize that values of the cultural past can be a valued part of the active present. Along with professional historical preservationists, they recognize the Inn as genuinely meritorious.