An elaborate, intertwining tapestry of countries and cultures, the architecture of the Mission Inn captures the imagination of all who enter its famed grounds. All the vision of one man—Frank Augustus Miller—it was the winding staircases, maze of hallways and conjoining additions of the Mission Inn that consumed nearly fifty years of Miller’s life. Miller and his architects, Arthur Benton, Myron Hunt, and G. Stanley Wilson created an international destination where every niche is both divergently opposed and harmoniously cohesive.
Come the turn of the 20th century, Riverside is the wealthiest city in the nation per person due to the prosperous navel orange industry. As wealth grew in Riverside and across California, the desire arose in the West for a unique identify that was not the Victorian and Neo-Classical styles of the Midwest and East Coast. In the late 19th century, artist Henry Chapman Ford travelled the California coast and painted the century-old California missions in their states of disrepair—collapsing roofs, crumbling adobe walls, blighted grounds. The missions had become more than the Catholic church could manage and thus neglected them. Ford’s 38 scenes of the 21 California missions went on to be displayed in the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 where thought leaders from California saw his work and concocted the plan that California should embrace its early Spanish history as its own identify. For the last 110 years the Henry Chapman Ford mission paintings have been displayed at the Inn. This identify would go on to be reflected in tourism marketing materials, literature, film, and architecture. The Mission Revival style of architecture became the style of choice by builders, architects, and wealthy eastern tourists. This revival spurred Frank Miller and architect Arthur Benton in 1903 to design the Mission Wing of the Mission Inn—the U-shaped structure facing Mission Inn Avenue, home to the hotel lobby, the Inn’s largest concentration of guest rooms, and guarded by the iconic front arcade of arches.
The 1903 Mission Wing kickstarted the next three decades of explosive growth for the hotel. In 1907, Frank and Isabella Miller traveled for the first time through Europe and were inspired by the grand halls in European castles and the buttressed exteriors of monasteries. The desire was then to build a second wing of the hotel—the Cloister Wing—to resemble a compilation of a European monastery, the San Gabriel Mission, and the Carmel Mission in Monterrey. This wing of the hotel is designed by architect Arthur Benton and is where the largest event room is found, the historic Music Room, named for its 2,500-pipe Kimball organ.
Despite offering new rooms for the booming hotel, come the completion of the Cloister Wing in 1911, the need for addition rooms remained. In 1913, construction began on a third wing of the hotel—the Spanish Wing—designed by famed Spanish Colonial Revival architect Myron Hunt whose works not only include a wing at the Mission Inn but also the Rose Bowl, Hollywood Bowl, and Huntington Library. The large, linear Spanish Art Gallery is at the core of the Spanish Wing and quickly became a popular location for opulent dinner parties or viewing the Spanish, Italian, Mexican, and Russian art that adorn the walls.
Over the next fifteen years, smaller additions were made to the Inn, predominantly under the direction of local architect G. Stanley Wilson, whose office was located footsteps away from the Inn at Sixth and Main Streets. In 1921, a third floor was added to the Spanish Wing for an additional ten suites with liberal usage of vibrant tile on the floors and walls of each suite’s conservatory-style rear sunroom. In 1923, the tennis court on the rooftop of the Cloister Wing was replaced by suites for Frank Miller, his sister Alice Richardson, and the luxurious Alhambra Suite with adjourning Alhambra Court. The Alhambra Suite remains one of the most popular at the Inn with a history of political figures having stayed within its walls—Richard and Pat Nixon, Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The Moorish style of this addition introduced another motif to the Inn’s already international design portfolio.
Frank Miller continued his desire for the hotel to be ever-changing and expanding with the popular Author’s Row addition in 1928. Author’s Row is a fourth floor stretch of suites in the Spanish Wing, each dedicated to a writer of 1920s acclaim. Local architect G. Stanly Wilson designed this addition with terracotta corrugated brick, flying buttresses and Gothic-style features such as concrete pointed finials, heavy wooden doors, and extensive usage of leaded glass.
Despite the financial crash of 1929 that plummeted the United States into The Great Depression, Frank Miller sought to complete his hotel as he neared the end of his life with one final wing—the International Rotunda Wing. G. Stanley Wilson led the team who created this final piece to the complex puzzle that had become the Mission Inn. In this wing, some of the hotel’s most recognizable spaces were created—the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel, Atrio, Court of the Orient, and the namesake International Rotunda.
The Atrio, with the Bacchus Fountain at its center, is bookended by the Inn’s two chapels. The St. Cecilia Chapel’s velvet crimson-draped walls and gilded 17th and 18th century artifacts engulf all who enter its intimate space. The St. Francis of Assisi Chapel has welcomed thousands of couples through its medieval-style, 12-foot Mexican mahogany doors to marry before the 18th century gilded, 25-foot altar screen. Guests are seemingly transported to a 300-year-old European chapel when surrounded by the golden altar screen and the seven Louis Comfort Tiffany windows of colorful glass, tile, and stone.
With the completion of the International Rotunda Wing in late 1931, Frank Miller realized his dream with a completed hotel boasting 238 guest rooms, chapels, art galleries, and objects from every corner of the globe. One of Riverside’s greatest visionaries, Frank Augustus Miller, died in June 1935.
Spanning 2.5 acres—one entire city block—there is no location at the Mission Inn that sees a stranger. Every culture and country Frank Miller encountered found a forever home within the hotel’s majestic walls. Today, visitors and locals alike still marvel at the craftsmanship and history of the jewel of Inland Southern California—the national Historic Landmark Mission Inn Hotel & Spa.