Saturday, September 19, 2009

"So Goes the Mission Inn,

. . .so goes the city of Riverside" (CA) was an all-too-accurate saying of the original owner, Frank Miller.

To explain, as we headed to the entrance of the Mission Inn, we passed one of the bells in the collection of the Miller family. Some 400 of the total that once exceeded 800 can be seen strewn throughout the grounds of the hotel.

Two of the bells with interesting stories attached are shown here. The Nanking temple bell was one of the first items to leave China after the Boxer Rebellion in 1912 and Louis Comfort Tiffany once wrote Frank Miller a blank check (after several offers had been refused) in an attempt to purchase this bell. Frank ultimately declined this offer as well.

Just inside the hotel's lobby is the oldest dated bell in Christendom, A.D. 1247. On a trip to England, Mr. Miller purchased this bell and two others for around twenty-five dollars. When he returned to pick up the bells that he’d purchased, the shopkeeper only brought out two. The shopkeeper realized his mistake and told Frank that the bell wasn’t for sale. Frank objected with a written receipt of purchase and returned proudly to the Mission Inn with the oldest dated bell in the world now showcased right outside the Mission Inn Restaurant.

The courtyard, or Spanish patio, is also just off the lobby.

Across the Spanish patio is Authors' Row. These rooms have been named for five authors who visited the Inn between 1928 and the 1940s. The Miller Family Suite is on the far right.

At the left end of Authors Row is the Anton Clock. Every hour, five figures rotate through the viewing area of the clock. They are: a bear, an Americn Indian, Juan Bautista (the Spanish explorer who camped at what is now Riverside), St. Francis of Assisi, and Fr. Junipero Serra (founder of the California missions). The face of the clock is a reproduction.

The original is made of wood and is on display in the Mission Museum.

We were only able to take photographs following our tour of the Inn, but even then we were unable to photograph the Rotunda (here photographed through a restaurant window), seven Tiffany stain glass windows, and the magnificent St. Francis of Assisi Chapel with its 25 x 16 foot altar carved from cedar and completely covered in 18-karat-gold leaf. The altar dates back to the mid-eighteenth century and was commissioned for a family home in Guanajuato, Mexico.

The Rotunda Wing featured a travertine flagstone courtyard known as the Atrio. The chapel and atrio were dedicated as the International Shrine of Aviators on December 15, 1932. The Shrine was used to recognize notable aviators, and today, 151 fliers or groups of fliers are honored by having their signatures etched onto ten-inch wide copper wings attached to the wall.

In the middle of the lobby sits a rather unique chair made especially for President Taft who weighed roughly 350lbs. and stood six-foot-five. Frank Miller heard the rumors of President Taft getting stuck in the White House bathtub, so he had a special chair commissioned for this very prestigious and rotund guest for the banquet that was to be held in his honor. A prime example of arts and craft style furniture, the Taft chair has been a spacious photo spot. (While sitting in this chair, I felt as though I had actually lost weight since beginning our travels.)

While we walk through the lobby photographically, I want to go back to Frank Miller's saying that introduced this entry. On our travels, we have seen how a restored movie theater, hotel, or other structure has revived a city.

Writing for Riverside's The Press-Enterprise in November, 2003, Michael Coronado noted: "When the Inn faltered--as it did in the mid-1980s, when it was shuttered for seven years--so did the city's image, its downtown economy, and civic pride.

But when it flourishes--as it does now (2003)--the historic hotel bolsters the city's pocketbook, attracts new business, and reinvigorates a sense of pride in its residents, according to civic boosters.

Riverside's future is squarely anchored to the Mission Inn's success and its theme of Spanish and Italian Motifs.

From the Inn's re-opening in 1992 to 2003, sales tax revenue in the downtown area increased nearly 70 percent--significant because few new retailers or anchor stores have moved into Riverside's center."

Riverside knows the importance of establishing its identity--not only for tourists (and their dollars) but also for the psyche of its residents.

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