The last post dealt with the mechanics (and electricals) of getting to and from our weekend in Riverside without going into a lot of the details of perhaps its biggest question: why the heck would you ever spend a getaway weekend in Riverside?
If you’re not a Californian, Riverside sits near the eastern edge of the Inland Empire – the giant sprawl of towns and suburbs east of Los Angeles. There’s a lot of concrete. And houses. And highways. And airborne particulates. Pretty romantic, right?
Of all the places in California that I’ve been to, Riverside most reminds me of the Rust Belt in the northeastern US. A once-great area that has lost its influence because of shifts in the national and global economies in the 20th century. And like those places, you could see the remnants of it in the gorgeous buildings and arcades of downtown.
One of those great landmarks is The Mission Inn, which I learned is the centerpiece of the Mission Revival Architectural Movement at the end of the 19th century. And really, even without anything else, The Mission Inn is a good enough reason to make Riverside a stop. It’s a gorgeous property that’s a lot like an MC Escher painting: Lots of hidden courtyards, stairways, and balconies that all seem to intersect one another in surprising ways.
We spent a good part of our first afternoon just exploring it. Dinner in one of the courtyard restaurants didn’t have a bad view, either.
But when did Riverside enjoy its moment in the sun? (Actually with only 10 inches or rain per year, most of its moments are in the sun, but you know what I mean…) You might be as surprised as I was to find out that in the 1890s, Riverside had the highest per capita income of any city in the nation. And the engine behind those riches? Oranges.
In the 1870s, Eliza Tibbets received the first navel orange plants and within a decade, the area became covered with acres and acres of citrus groves. Citrus remained a vital force in the area until the end of WWII when suburbanization made houses more valuable than trees.
And while the groves are nearly completely gone, the State Parks system has its own testament to it: California Citrus State Historic Park. The park has nearly 400 acres and over 75 different kinds of trees for you to walk around in. Besides, how can you not go into a park that has a giant orange as its gateway? We managed to go there on a day the museum and shop were closed, but it was still a great place to walk around and get a little sense of the boom-times a century before.
And a good excuse to go back some time.