Quick History – Riverside, CA

By Philip Falcone |

The City of Riverside is known for its history. Established in 1870 by John W. North and a group of easterners, this land on the side of the Santa Ana River was home to native peoples for centuries prior to the Spanish settlement and the later settlement of North and others. The common history of Riverside dates to its founding as an official city in 1870. North and dozens of other families sought to move west during the time of great American expansion on the western frontier. The group had shared values as they were abolitionists, religious people, and put in high esteem the importance of education and culture. Soon after, Riverside skyrocketed to fame and wealth when early resident Eliza Tibbets received two navel orange saplings from Bahia, Brazil by way of Washington, D.C. These two orange trees became known as the Parent Navel Orange trees and sparked the “second California goldrush” making Riverside the wealthiest city in the nation per capita come 1895. This proliferation of orange groves across the city made Riverside an international icon for citrus—particularly the navel orange because of its seedless nature, thick peel, and sweet, juicy flavor.

The rise of citrus-caused wealth aided in the rise of the iconic Mission Inn Hotel in the heart of Riverside’s downtown core. This hotel became a critical “hang out” for presidents, celebrities, and millionaires of the time such as President Teddy Roosevelt and President Kennedy along with celebrities like Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Paul Newman, and wealthy investors like Andrew Carnegie. As Los Angeles and Palm Springs raised in notoriety, Riverside became a common middle point between the two destinations. In the early 1990s, the Mission Inn—under new ownership—introduced the annual Festival of Lights event which displays over 5 million lights on and around the historic hotel between late November and early January. The switch-on ceremony welcomes an audience of 50,000 guests. The event attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to downtown Riverside each holiday season—maintaining the tradition of Riverside being a hub of inland Southern California.