Architectural Review of the Mission Inn in Riverside, California

I visited the charming Mission Inn in downtown Riverside. It is a historic landmark hotel and a beautiful combination of colorful landscaping and late 1800’s stone architecture. The hotel has a history which is distinctly of a southern California flair and encompasses quite a variety of architectural elements. The Mission Inn began as a 12-room adobe boarding house in 1876 and has since grown to its current scale consisting of 239 guest rooms.

According to the Mission Inn’s historical guide, the late 1800’s revealed Riverside to be the richest city per capita in the United States. Riverside became a favorite destination spot of travelling wealthy easterners and Europeans in search of a warmer winter climate as well as the desire to invest in the area’s commerce. The commerce was due in fact that Southern California was rich in citrus groves which was a blossoming and increasingly profitable industry. Riverside also has many widely distributed stone and granite quarries, which offered up an abundance of building materials for rapid city growth.

In 1876, the Mission Inn had first been built and opened by Christopher Columbus Miller as a 12-room adobe boarding house. By 1902 his son, Frank Miller, recognized the necessity to increase the accommodations, due to the growing influx of wealthy visitors. He continued work on the Inn until his death in 1935. During those years, the Inn was built upon, modified, and enlarged through use of numerous architectural elements and inspirations.

The Inn is primarily considered influenced and built in the Mission Revival style. The revival was construction made in the spirit of Spanish Missions which were established in the southern California during the 1700’s and 1800’s. The primary construction method was walls built of stone and adobe bricks anchored in with central wood posts. The adobe bricks themselves were composed of a mixture of clay, straw, manure, and water. The roofs of the Inn are sheathed in tiles and that, with an adherence to the wide porches, lends to the portrayal of the spirit of the California mission.

The Inn also has stylistic influences from a variety of other architectural elements. There is a rotunda which is five stories high and reminiscent of medieval Europe. There are flying buttresses which historically are seen in Gothic and Romanesque buildings, such as the Notre Dame cathedral. There are numerous details and influence as seen in the Mediterranean revival movement. These include the use of balconies and domes and the incorporation of wrought iron.

Stained glass windows also adorn the Mission Inn, “invoking the romance of the Mission era”, according to Frank Miller himself. Images through the stained glass and through paintings abound in the Inn of the California missions’ founder, Father Junipero Serra.

As the construction of the Inn was such an ongoing project over the span of several decades, it was able to utilize a plethora of knowledge from a surplus of builders, designers, craftsmen, and advocates. Different perspectives infuse a wild array of inspirations. The hotel had on-site workshops for artisans to create handmade sculptures, reliefs, furniture, and other items of artistic sentiment from material such as iron, wood, glass, and paper. Frank Miller was also an avid collector of “Americana” and houses many collections of painting and found objects of curiosity.

Today, the Mission Inn continues to be a destination spot for tourists and visitors. Docents offer guided tours along the tree-lined walkways and the Inn serves as a point of cultural heritage. The Inn has been the backdrop for movies, television, and sung about in music. It is still a stopping point for politicians as well as a rallying center for protests. Amongst all that, guests dine in the luxury restaurants, sleep in the numerous rooms, and regularly wed in any of the several chapels.