The Cloister Wing, originally called the Monastery, is the second of the four wings that make up the Mission Inn, crowned with the Inn's first dome—the Carmel Dome.🕌
Built between 1909 and 1911 by architect Arthur Benton, this addition to the hotel opened in July 1911 to great excitement. Instead of romanticizing the architecture of the California missions, as the Mission Wing of the Inn did, the Cloister Wing outright copied them. The supporting buttresses along Orange Street are copied from those at Mission San Gabriel, while the flying buttresses that arch over the sidewalk are patterned after ones from a mission in Texas.
In addition to adding some 45 guest rooms, the Cloister Wing contained the popular music room with St. Cecilia stained glass windows (see posting from February 29) and the camera obscura that resided on the interior of the Carmel Dome.
The facade of this addition, facing Sixth Street, is a stretched upwards copy of the chapel facade at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel. Completing the copy of the Carmel Mission facade is a replica of the signature dome that is iconic of the mission and the starburst window centered in the upper portion of the facade.
Folklore at the Inn states that Frank Miller sought to buy the dome from the Carmel Mission and when he was turned down, he returned to the Inn and had his artisans build a larger dome. While the story is not confirmed and the logistics of buying an adobe dome are questionable at best, it is stories like this that remain in the oral histories surrounding the Inn.
Known to architects as a hemispherical dome, the elongated rounded dome had four porthole openings created in each direction to allow for telescope viewing of the city. Something that was likely done specifically for Frank's sister, Alice Miller Richardson, who had a fondness for astronomy and star-gazing, the dome was open to guests looking for an astronomical experience. The Carmel Dome also served as an art studio for Mission Inn muralist Charles Tanner.
A June 6, 1909 article from the Los Angeles Times states that the ground floor corner of the Carmel Tower would house a smaller music room off of the stage of the Inn’s monumental Music Room. This small room, now used for storage, is referred to as the Carmel Room and served as an art studio for Armenian painter Hovsep Pushman during his time in Riverside with his family from 1916-1919. The article goes on to showcase a camera obscura within the Cloister Wing’s dome that would “reflect a wonderful panorama of mountains, foothills, and valleys”.
As the years went on at the Inn, the Cloister Wing proved to stand the test of time. With much credit given to the use of reinforced concrete for the construction of this and the later wings of the hotel, structural restoration of the addition was minimal.
Today, the Carmel Dome no longer serves as a functioning camera obscura or observation space but remains as one of the more popular images of the Inn with its vibrant orange color against the clear, blue Riverside sky.
(Excerpts from Riverside’s Mission Inn by Steve Lech & Mission Inn Foundation Archives.)