Tis the Season OC!

Article Tab: january-20th-year-lightsRiverside becomes one of the greatest glow-in-the-dark spots in the world today when the Mission Inn switches on its Festival of Lights for the holiday season.

At dusk, 3.6 million lights will be switched on around the 109-year-old Mission Inn in downtown Riverside. That’s 100,000 more lights than last year. And the lights will stay up a week longer than usual, lasting through Jan. 5.

It’s the 20th anniversary of the festival that turns on every November to announce the coming of the holiday season. The grand hotel built during the early 20th century heyday of Easterners coming West to take the cure of fresh air and mild winters has made the day after Thanksgiving its most important event of the year.

Duane Roberts, the Laguna Beach millionaire who 20 years ago revived the moribund castle in the Inland Empire, will flip the switch on the millions of lights, which will illuminate the Southern California sky, along with the hotel’s rooftop angels, old cannons and bells, Asian statuary and Spanish/Moorish-style arches. Fireworks will launch from the hotel’s roof, bathing Riverside in the colors of Christmas. During the festival, the hotel offers horse-drawn carriage rides and ships in fresh snow on occasion. Carolers dressed in Victorian costumes will stroll the grounds. Others dressed in 16th century festive garb will be on hand. Santa Claus makes a visit to take down the wish lists of young and old.

It’s the most popular night of the year at the hotel, which sells out well in advance. But visitors can watch the event from outside. The area around the hotel becomes one big street party. After the initial night, it’s a bit easier to find a night – especially weekdays – for an overnight stay. You’ll have to draw the drapes tight to keep out the lights at bedtime.

The Mission Inn is one of the most storied hotels in California, with a guest list that includes several presidents (Richard Nixon was married in what is now the bar), along with everyone from scientist Albert Einstein to rocker Ozzy Osbourne.

The hotel was lovingly built over the decades by Frank Miller, an eccentric entrepreneur who built his hotel not far from the main train route between New York and Los Angeles. He enjoyed meeting his guests at the train station dressed as a Franciscan monk and then leading a procession up the avenue to the hotel. An avid traveler, Miller would return with ideas from Japan, China, Spain and North Africa to add to new wings of his hotel. He also enjoyed his role as a Republican kingmaker in the region. The hotel was a required stop for GOP candidates for nationwide or California office.

The open spaces, citrus orchards and clean air that drew visitors from the East began to disappear after World War II, and the hotel fell into disfavor and disrepair. It closed in 1985.

Roberts bought the hotel in 1992 and spent a small fortune resurrecting its style. His wife, Kelly, created a spa. His daughter, Casey, opened an award-winning gourmet cupcake shop that has since spun off sister shops in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.

The revival of the Mission Inn has led to a revival of all of downtown Riverside, which now has shops, restaurants and theaters that hum with activity, especially on weekends. It’s a fun stop from the heat of summer to the cold of February, but the special time of year is always the Festival of Lights.

Original article found at ocregister.com. To see post in its entirety, please click here. 


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