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Behind the Gate

December 15, 2010


This week, Paul and I couldn’t help but notice that two buildings across the street from the Metrolink station were in the process of being demolished. Relatively new buildings, one had held what seemed to be a thriving commercial photo studio, and the other a restaurant. The restaurant had never been open from the time we arrived in Riverside almost 5 years ago; a victim of our harsh economic times, it never found a new taker. It was sad to see two such large buildings being erased. This type of erasure has not been uncommon in Riverside’s downtown area, and in fact many long-time businesses, and the historic buildings that contained them, have been shuttered and demolished. There used to be a number of antique shops downtown, but they’re all gone except for one large mall near the Mission Inn. An entire block next to the renovated Fox Theater has been razed except for an old-fashioned storefront façade that faces Market St.; I understand the space will be included into the Fox’s compound eventually. Another block nearby has been vacated, and we hear is slated for the wrecking ball. As with the recent re-do of the Mission Inn’s promenade, I fear these buildings will be replaced with something bland and generic: sad, really. I mention all of this because it fed my desire to go beyond the gate in the picture above. The portal to what looks like a vintage stucco apartment complex of singles, I’ve always been intrigued by what was behind it …

View right, left

The parkway in front of the gate has several large agaves, as well as other interesting plantings. But looking over and through the gate, I could see there were many more examples of succulents, cacti and other native plants, that appeared to thrive within. Paul had recently made contact with one of the occasional occupants of the complex, a Friend, or member of what is more commonly known as The Quakers, who meet in this complex. He learned from this Friend that the buildings might be in danger of removal since a hotel was due to be built on the lot next door. This was alarming news to me: could this sweet little remnant of Riverside’s past, this current meeting place for Friends, be endangered next?  Suddenly feeling a sense of urgency, I had to get inside. I had to see this place, these plants, and this building, for myself … after all, who knew when I would be walking along this part of Mission Inn Blvd. only to see bulldozers and wrecking equipment ready to take it all away?


Being very early in the morning, barely 7 a.m., there was no one around except a jogger who passed quickly. I tried the gate and to my surprise it was open; I went inside. The cool morning light made the succulents and cacti edging the walkways look their cool-colored best. Brugmansia and bougainvillea, clumps of native shrubs, including my favorite echium, Pride of Madeira, and purple sage, brought diverse foliage and floral interest to the mix. At the furthest end of  the inner courtyard, an enormous agave exploded with blue-gray energy … It was very quiet, and very beautiful … and I was horrified to think that it could all be gone …


As amazed as I was by the diversity of the plants inside the complex, I was even more amazed by two other tenants: The Sierra Club and The Riverside Land Conservancy! The former group is dedicated to protecting the environment, and the latter to protecting Riverside County’s landscape and open spaces, so it’s ironic that these guardians of preservation might fall victim to downtown’s commercial growth. The thought made my visions of impending demolition even more disturbing. Quaker Friends hold their quiet worship meetings here — and I can’t think of a better setting — and I would hope they could continue to do so. Letting myself quietly out of the gate and hearing it close behind me I wondered how much longer they had. I also couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to the plants inside if the wrecking crew showed up … more distressing than home-bereft Friends, conservationists and land lovers, was the thought of these plants being yanked unceremoniously out of the ground that has been their home for so long. If I knew this was to be their fate, I would happily come and dig them out myself and give them a new place to set down roots.

To learn more about the Friends, Sierra Club and the RLC, click the links below:

Inland Valley Friends (Quakers); 4061 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, 92501; (951) 682-5364

Riverside Land Conservancy; 4075 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, 92501; (951) 788-0670

Sierra Club, San Gorgonio Chapter; 4079 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, 92501; (951) 684-6203


6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2010 1:39 am

    That’s a very poignant story. It looks like a lovely place to have a home, instead of the rabbit-warren of more modern apartments. What about guerrilla gardeners…they are always looking for plants???

    Decades ago, living in an apartment surrounded by a garden was a major attraction of moving to California, and we are losing that.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      December 16, 2010 4:22 am

      I completely agree; the courtyard apartment evokes so many things in my mind … most prominently, a retreat for its urban residents. It’s a classic for a reason and as you say, very California. To own, and live, in one of these complexes would be a dream for me…

  2. December 16, 2010 4:09 am

    What a tragedy..I think the city -father dudes of Riverside need to get in the car and go on up to Santa Barbra to see some respect for old California. There was some really ill-advised demolition here in Napa in the 60’s , but I thought that by now most cities have come around to protecting their architectural heritage.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      December 16, 2010 4:24 am

      You would think that… sadly, the proven wisdom of other cities does not seem to be prevailing here.

  3. AlgaRythums permalink
    October 7, 2011 3:28 am

    Loved this post… Couldn’t wait to get behind that gate! And it was so worth it. Thanks for all your hard work photographing this. I loved every snap. I have NEVER seen an agave that big! Has anything been done with this property yet. Please tell me it is still there.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      October 7, 2011 3:35 am

      It’s still there, happily … but looking a bit worn … I’m keeping my eye on the place!

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