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Restored Mission Inn Boasts Riverside’s Court of Past Resort

<i> Anne Michaud is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

The closets in the older rooms at Riverside’s Mission Inn hint at its early grandeur. They are cavernous, built to hold travel trunks and clothing enough for weeks-long visits.

From the turn of the century to World War II, the inn was a resort destination.

In its earliest days, it was a two- or three-day coach ride from Los Angeles. Having made that journey, people stayed a while.

The inn was worthy of visits by presidents (Theodore Roosevelt and Taft) and presidents-to-be (Nixon and Reagan).

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Lately, the inn has been quiet. For most of the 1980s, it was closed. And, to be truthful, it had been decaying for decades before that. At one time, the oldest of the hotel’s wings was used as a dormitory by UC Riverside students.

The Mission Inn has since undergone a $40-million restoration and reopened a little more than a year ago.

This eclectic inn, whose rooms rent for $85 to $180 per night, boasts of architectural styles ranging from Medieval European to mission-era California to the Orient. It is once again worth a special trip.

1:30 to 3: The Mission Inn Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of the inn and its artifacts, offers 90-minute tours every day but Monday. The tour begins in a tree-shaded courtyard surrounded on three sides by the U-shaped inn. This area was originally named Court of the Birds, and it was home to parrots and macaws.

The birds were so tame that they traveled on the shoulders of Frank Miller, the inn’s early owner, developer and host. Images of macaws are still found throughout the inn, in such unlikely places as shower stalls and stained-glass windows.

In his later years, Miller toured the world and sent artifacts back to the inn. Evidence of his travels are paneling from a 17th-Century Belgian convent, a Steinway Centennial piano, church pews from Westminster Abbey and a 5-by-18-foot wood carving titled “Mandarin’s Journey.”

Miller also modeled the inn’s later wings on the architecture he saw in Europe and Asia, as well as on California missions. Highlights are the Spanish Patio, the Ho-O-Kan Room and the St. Francis Chapel.

The tour finishes in a commercial section of the inn. It housed a barbershop at one time and now is home to the Mission Inn museum.

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If your tour guides forget, remind them to tell you about the escaped circus elephant.

3 to 3:45: From the inn’s museum, follow the pedestrian mall (Main Street) across 7th Street. On your left, you will find the California Museum of Photography.

This is a wonderful museum, vital and intriguing.

Exhibits on display, now through March 20, are of photos taken by homeless children in Washington, D.C., and in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

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The Washington project, titled “Shooting Back,” was organized by photographers and artists there. They taught children age 5 to 17 in shelters to use 35-millimeter cameras. (A 30-minute video on view at the museum tells the story of the project.)

The result is frank pictures of life in shelters--images that might have eluded an outsider. There are about 100 in the exhibit.

The local version of “Shooting Back,” called “Helping Hands in the Inland Empire,” seeks to show that there are impoverished families in places other than big cities such as Los Angeles.

3:45 to 4:30: After seeing the museum, stop for a beer, and maybe an early dinner, at the Riverside Brewing Co.

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This restaurant brews six of its own beers. You can buy a three-beer sampler for $3 or try all six for $5.

The menu is filled with sandwiches, salads and wood-oven-baked pizzas.

Prices run about $6 to $8 for an entree. The Riverside turkey sandwich ($5.95) is a treat.

To hear brief capsules of other “3-Hour Tours,” call TimesLink and press *7150

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1) Mission Inn

3649 7th St.

(909) 784-0300

Tours Tuesday through Friday, 10 and 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., starting every half hour.

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$6 per person. Tour reservations: (909) 781-8241 or (909) 784-0300, Ext. 5035

2) California Museum of Photography

3824 Main St.

(909) 784-3686

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Open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Admission is $2; students and seniors $1; UC Riverside students and children 12 and under, free. free admission to all on Wednesdays.

3) Riverside Brewing Co.

3397 7th St.

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(909) 784-2739. Open daily at 11:30 a.m.; closing times vary.

Parking: There is on-street parking for the Mission Inn and museum. The restaurant has a parking lot in back.


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