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[ STREET SCENES: RIVERSIDE ]

An Oasis

The town and its leaders have been forward thinking about their city center. And at the heart of it all is Mission Inn Avenue.

June 30, 2008|Deborah Schoch

Those who have never seen Riverside may picture it in the language of L.A. drive-time radio: Triple-digit heat. Foreclosures. Traffic. But unlike some cities on the coast, its 312,000 residents started long ago to transform their downtown rather than dismantle it.

Downtown's Mission Inn Avenue speaks to their powers of imagination. The gracious former YWCA, designed by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan, is now the Riverside Art Museum. There, artist Linda Harmon sets up her easel and watercolors in a gallery that, 60 years ago, housed the pool where she learned to swim.

The avenue's centerpiece, the Mission Inn, began as an adobe boarding house and survived a stint as a college dorm. Today, it rises like a mirage. It is a castle in the desert, an entire city block cast in the dreamy style of Spanish palaces and Gothic cathedrals. Its contents include Tiffany stained glass windows, a gold-leaf altar and a collection of 400 bells.

Around the corner, even the bland gray Greyhound station is awash in dreams. Marines from Twentynine Palms board buses to head home. Young lovers embrace at its doors just as newlyweds kiss on the Mission Inn's travertine floors.

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-- Deborah Schoch

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