Riverside California’s Mission Inn has a long history and a tradition of doing things in grand style. It all started in 1909, when President William Howard Taft visited the inn and founder Frank Miller had an oversized chair built especially for the President’s hefty frame. The President was not initially pleased with the size of the chair, but Miller did not intend to offend, he just did everything in a big way.
The 239 room hotel has continued its grand tradition with the current owner, Duane Roberts, who now stages the hotels annual Festival of Lights. The holiday tradition boasts 3.5 million lights, along with thousands of poinsettias, toy soldiers, elves, and of course, Santa Claus. The festival is free to the public and runs through January 3.
The hotel has survived many years, and many trials. After Miller died in 1935, the hotel went into steady decline. Riverside talked of closing it and putting in a parking lot. It was closed for renovations for seven years. When Roberts bought the inn, he restored it, upgraded its restaurants and even brought in two macaws in memory of the birds that flew about there in the early 1900s.
Roberts has turned the hotel around, with rooms now ranging in price from $190 per night to $1400 per night. Business doubles during the holidays. Ten presidents have visited the hotel, and Richard Nixon was married there. Bette Davis also held her third wedding at the hotel. Today, the inn hosts about 300 weddings each year.
But, the inn’s real claim to fame seems to be its Festival of Lights. Roberts spends about $400,000 a year to put on the show, but locals come from far and wide in addition to the many guests who plan their stay at the hotel around the festival. It’s truly Riverside’s most historical holiday tradition.