When Riverside was founded in the early 1870s, its leaders expressed
a community goal which seemed to embody some of what we would call
today “cultural diversity” and a desire for all to work together
harmoniously. One of these leaders was community founder Judge John W.
North who saw his new area:
made up of educated, enterprising, progressive people; where neighbor is a companion and a friend; where each will vie with the other in building the school house, the church, the lyceum, the library, and the reading room; and where the views of all would harmonize in an onward march toward all that is pure, and beautiful and good (Lech, 2004, p. 172).
Attracted to this fledgling region, was a civil engineer interested in helping to develop the canal system intended to irrigate the soon to be planted citrus crop. His name was C.C. Miller. After working on one canal, he gave up his engineering goals for a few years to build and operate a boarding house in what is now the center of Riverside. By 1880, Mr. Miller sold the business to his 22-year old son Frank, whose legacy affects us to this day. Frank Miller ran it as the Glenwood Inn and later developed the Mission Inn on the same site. He operated the hotel until his death in 1935. Right from the start Frank Miller exhibited an interest in developing relationships with people who were different from himself.
Miller hired Chinese workers that lived in a nearby Chinatown and who served the community in many ways, from helping to build the canals, performing many odd jobs including gardening, as well as operating laundries. It is believed that very few local businesses were willing to hire the Chinese due to the 1882 Congressional Chinese Exclusion Act. Apparently, the law did not intimidate Frank Miller. Despite the federal act, we know that much of the success of Riverside’s citrus industry can be attributed to the Chinese who emigrated from Southern China.
Miller’s worldview might have also been influenced by his exposure to leading thinkers and activists of this time. For example, beginning in the 1880s Frank Miller entertained Wilson Crewdson, the curator of the Japanese collection at the British Museum in London (Gale, 1938). A long-term relationship was sparked which apparently introduced Mr. Miller to Japanese artifacts and culture that continues to be a significant part of the Mission Inn to this day.
Behind the scenes, Miller did what he could to promote a more equitable society. Early in the 20 th century a Japanese businessman, Jukichi Harada, wanted to purchase a home in Riverside for his family but was denied the opportunity as a result of the 1913 California Alien Land Law forbidding immigrants from purchasing property. (Klotz, 1982). He proceeded with the purchase and placed the ownership in his children’s names who were United States citizens because they were born here. Frank Miller quietly helped support the Harada Family, and helped to pay for Jukichi Harada’s legal costs as he fought for his family’s right to own their home. A landmark decision by the California Attorney General ruled in favor of the Harada’s. This case was observed by Japanese around the world and the decision was welcomed.
During the mid-1920s Frank Miller traveled to Japan and was greeted as a dignitary and unofficial ambassador of peace, good will, and friendship. Miller was honored by the Japanese government, both in Japan and at the Mission Inn. A display of 58 large dolls was sent to Riverside as a token of friendship by school children from Japan which later traveled to various American cities.
The Riverside area has played an important role with respect to the Koreans who came to this area to work. It was not easy for them because they were treated unfairly by many. Today, an impressive statue and memorial honoring Dosan Ahn Chang Ho stands on the downtown Riverside pedestrian mall. He arrived in 1904 to help the small but eager group of immigrant Koreans find work in the citrus orchards. Through his effort and with the support of many, including the Millers, local Koreans were able to work. About 10 years later a handful of Koreans from Los Angeles were hired to pick fruit near Hemet. Unfortunately, when they arrived they were run out of town and the picking was not accomplished. J. R.Gabbert, proprietor and editor of the Riverside Enterprise wrote an editorial supporting the Koreans.
The architecture of the Mission Inn, with its unique blend of Asian, Italian, and Arts and Craft influences, pays homage to a diverse worldview. The predominant architectural motif, though, is the Mission Revival style, used in buildings throughout Southern California including Riverside. Thus began what was later to be known as the Mission Inn. Many still think that the hotel was once one of the twenty-one California missions converted to a hotel. It was never a mission nor was it a religious institution; rather it was a facility designed to remind everyone of the importance of missions in California’s history. Although there is a lot of Catholic imagery, including the exterior of the wedding chapel, throughout the hotel it was selected to enhance the mission theme and not for religious reasons.
The 19th century was a difficult time for American Indias, who were forced to assimilate with the rest of America. In one attempt, the Bureau of Indian Affairs created resident schools for children, often a long way from their families. One such school was created in Perris south of Riverside. Its facilities were modest, causing Frank Miller to seek federal support to move the facility to Riverside. He appealed to James Schoolcraft Sherman, a member of Congress and head of the Committee on Indian Affairs. Congress voted favorably and the school was moved and named for Congressman Sherman who later became the Vice President of the United States serving under William Howard Taft. Frank Miller was instrumental in establishing a trolley service between the Mission Inn and the Indian School a few miles south on Magnolia Avenue (Patterson). This allowed Miller and the Mission Inn to hire many of the students to work and to entertain guests staying at the hotel. Today, the Sherman High School continues to offer educational services to as many as six hundred students representing a broad spectrum of Native Americans from over one hundred tribes.
Miller also felt that, by introducing a variety of artifacts and architectural designs that represented many cultures and religions, his hotel business would improve. Apparently, it worked because the hotel was successful during the Frank Miller years. As the Spanish speaking population increased in the area, the Mission Inn did not hesitate to hire them to work in the hotel and in many cases to entertain the guests. Not only was it a good source of employees but it also contributed to the Mission Revival theme.
Frank Miller paralleled President Theodore Roosevelt by inviting the pioneering black educator Booker T. Washington to stay at his hotel. A few years earlier the president invited Mr. Washington to sleep and eat in the White House, resulting in Mr. Roosevelt to be strongly criticized by the press for entertaining a Negro (Morris). On the other hand, Frank Miller was honored for having Washington as a guest. Both Washington and Miller became friends. The visit was a very important time for Riverside and for the Mission Inn. A bust of Booker T. Washington, near the front entrance of the hotel, commemorates the historic visit. It was unveiled in 2004 and created by local artist Bernard Edmonds.
Frank Miller was also dedicated to promoting peace amongst the different peoples of the world. Early in the 20 th century and continuing to the present peace conferences have been held in the hotel. Many famous people have attended these sessions such as U.S. Vice President Charles Fairbanks, author and naturalist John Muir, journalist Ida Tarbell, and even young student John F. Kennedy. Today, the World Affairs Council meets regularly at the Mission Inn and is a continuation of Miller’s desire to seek and promote good will. It was also a way to insure a continuous flow of business to his unique and interesting hotel. Local citizens honored Frank Miller in 1925 by creating a peace tower on Mt Rubidoux overlooking downtown Riverside. It was a way to recognize the extreme effort he made to spread the concept of peace around the world. The final wing of the Mission Inn was completed in 1931 and included “The Rotunda International,”designed to recognize and honor people and nations for helping to make his hotel successful while also spotlighting the diversity of the people who had walked through the doors of his unique hotel.
Author: Dr. Jerry Gordon
Gale, Zona. (1938). Frank Miller of Mission Inn. NewYork: D. Appleton-Century Company.
Lech, Steven. (2004). Along the Old Roads. Riverside, CA: Steve Lech.
Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001.
Patterson, Tom. (1971). A Colony for California Riverside’s First 100 Years. RiversidePress Enterprise Company.