When one considers exploring the vast offerings of spas and resorts that dot the Southwest U.S., the city of Riverside generally isn’t one of the first locales that come to mind. Yet, this quiet California town founded in 1870 and situated 60 miles inland from Los Angeles boasts a rich history, retirement-friendly climate, tempting selection of sprawling antique stores, University of California campus and a plentiful supply of homegrown citrus. It also houses one of the most beloved resort hotels operating today in the U.S. today: The Mission Inn, founded in 1903.
Like many Angelenos, I’d ogled the stunning images of this unpretentious Spanish-style property on the internet a number of times. I’d even heard a few locals mention visiting The Mission Inn during the winter holidays to experience its well-publicized festival of lights. But somehow it took a direct invitation from the property’s famously hands-on owners, Duane and Kelly Roberts, for me to pack up the car and head out to Riverside for the weekend. As DAYSPA editor, my mission was to check out Kelly’s Spa, which was built into the Inn in 2004. Specifically, I had to find out how spa proprietor Kelly Roberts managed to meld her 7,000-square-feet add-on into this century-plus-old American landmark.
The Mission Inn grew from what began as a 12-room personal residence for the Miller family of 1875. It was ultimately purchased by elder son Frank Miller and expanded into the 75-room Glenwood Hotel in 1886. But it wasn’t until its 1902 expansion to 200 rooms—and a redubbing as the Glenwood Mission Inn—that the hotel became a popular stopover for luminaries from every walk of life. In the early years, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft; industrialists Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford; naturalist John Muir; educator and author Booker T. Washington; famed French actress Sarah Bernhardt; and even princes and princesses of Sweden and Japan graced the hotel’s halls. (Portraits hanging throughout The Mission Inn’s Presidential Lounge still pay homage to some of these lauded guests.)
Meanwhile, Frank Miller proved himself a true renaissance man, traveling around the world to collect works of art and artifacts for display at the hotel, creating a multi-denominational chapel, art galleries and music room for the facility, and co-founding the Institute of World Affairs (IWA) to help build greater communication and understanding among nations—and give the organization a grand location in which to meet. After Miller died in 1935, his heirs continued to run the Inn. John F. Kennedy attended an IWA event there; future president Richard Nixon married Patricia Ryan there; and Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s wedding night took place there as well.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, The Mission Inn changed hands several times. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977, but despite numerous expansions and renovations, without a consistent and attentive owner, it began to suffer from lack of care, heart and spirit.
Then Duane and Kelly Roberts came into the picture. “Growing up in Riverside, Duane often visited The Mission Inn with his mother, and had always held it close to his heart,” Kelly Roberts explains. “When the hotel fell into despair, Duane felt compelled to save the property. To him, along with many residents of Riverside, the Inn is more than just a piece of real estate: it’s fond memories, an architectural wonder, a piece of history, a beloved landmark and a part of our family.”
The Roberts purchased The Mission Inn in 1992, and set about restoring it to its original grandeur, renovating all 238 guest rooms and preserving the architectural elements and art collection that make it one of a kind. The goal, says Kelly, was to “maintain the property’s historic charm while incorporating modern-day luxuries.” To meet that goal, she knew, The Mission Inn was going to need a spa that would be deserving of its distinctive setting.
The concept behind Kelly’s Spa marries the elements of The Mission Inn’s bearing and tradition with today’s modern approach to the spa experience. “I was inspired by the rich history of the Inn to create a destination spa that would bridge the gap between the hotel’s grand Spanish mission architecture and the serene, sophisticated spaces of a Tuscan-inspired wellness oasis,” says Kelly. “Just as Frank Miller traveled the globe to bring his favorite treasures back to Riverside, I’ve been fortunate to travel around the world, which has enabled me to bring a fresh perspective on spa and wellness, in addition to the best treatments, products, techniques and ingredients to the guests of Kelly’s Spa. Our offerings range from results-oriented facials and luxurious wraps to creative spa packages.”
The symbiosis of inn and spa are particularly evident during an extended stay, and throughout my weekend visit, I noted numerous crossovers between the two entities, such as the beautifully displayed Kelly’s Spa amenities in my hotel suite’s bathroom. The spa also enjoys a healthy bridal business, thanks to The Mission Inn hosting a whopping average of 350 weddings a year. Kelly’s Spa’s comprehensive bridal menu is designed to address the bride’s, groom’s and wedding party’s every need. And then there are the many hotel/spa package deals featuring seasonal spa and culinary fare.
“We often align our seasonal spa treatments with room packages and specials at our award winning dining venues so that guests can indulge in a luxurious experience that will create lasting memories,” Kelly affirms. “For example, in April, the birthday month of Kelly’s Spa, we introduced citrus spa treatments including an Orange Blossom Body Polish and Mimosa Pedicure, which were complemented by Kelly’s Orange Blossom Cocktail which was served in the Presidential Lounge.”
There’s also an escape-like quality to the grounds of The Mission Inn. Once on the property, I experienced the same sensation I did as a child arriving at Disneyland. It’s clear from the plentiful smiles I immediately witnessed that folks come here for celebratory occasions.
The staff is truly happy to serve you and there’s an impressively knowledgeable and enthusiastic docent to conduct daily tours of the property. The spa picks up the “escape” theme seamlessly. “Our spa is a portal to the Tuscany of yesterday, with its castle-like architecture and luxurious décor,” explains Kelly. “Here, guests can escape from the stresses of the outside world to an Italian-themed spa with world-class service and therapists.”
A LIVING MENU
Despite its admirable symmetry with its surroundings, Kelly’s Spa doesn’t rely primarily on overnight Mission Inn guests for business—on the contrary. Kelly reports that about 80% of her business is locals and regulars. “Our typical client is female, between the ages of 35 and 50, and looking for a luxurious experience along with antiaging facial and body treatments and at-home regimens,” she says. “It’s the Riverside community and our guests, as well as our talented and dedicated staff, who make operating our spa a rewarding experience.”
Kelly says she loves the challenge of balancing the old with the new— modern-day treatments at the state-of the-art Kelly’s Spa with the history and ambiance of the hotel. “I make sure we offer only the very best body treatments and products at Kelly’s Spa that cater to our guests’ evolving needs, interests and preferences.”
–By Linda Kossoff