Riverside was founded in 1870 as a cooperative joint-stock venture by an abolitionist judge, John Wesley North, and a group of 25 reform-minded pioneers. After the Civil War, Southern California was figured to be the location of the next real estate boom, so North’s Colony set out to both invest wisely and to establish a community which would consciously avoid many of the social ills of cities on the East Coast. The original town site measured one square mile and is now commonly known as Downtown or Mile Square. The surveyors for the City laid out the pattern with a plaza occupying the center block, which became White Park. They also named the east to west streets in numerical order, from First to Fourteenth, and named the north south streets for trees.
The City of Riverside began in this one-mile square area and the original plan in still evident both in street design and building architecture. Downtown’s streets are laid out in a traditional grid, reflecting the neighborhood’s age and history. Nearly all of the neighborhood’s land area is developed and the design is a very compact one. Residential neighborhoods abut commercial development in an environment that was originally designed for pedestrians and has since been modified to accommodate the automobile. Downtown is the seat of city government and was once the primary site for commerce in the City of Riverside.
The downtown neighborhood exists as a kind of microcosm for the entire city. Land uses range from low-density residential to high-density apartments and from small commercial buildings to large industrial sites. About a quarter of this region is devoted to natural open space and Fairmount Park is a main attraction for picnicking and outdoor recreation. Lake Evans presents water recreation and its proximity to the heart of downtown make it unique in the cities of today.
Many of the downtown buildings maintain local and national historical significance and represent exemplary examples of a variety of historic architectural styles. The heart of Downtown, the Main Street pedestrian mall, presents dozens of unique shops and is anchored by the world famous Mission Inn. This hotel had humble beginnings, but has grown into a world-class vacation site and has played host to several presidents and entertainment personalities.
The Fox Theater marks the northwest corner of the Main Street mall and was once a premier movie house in the nation. It is a little know fact that the first showing of Gone With the Wind happened here and Riverside, for the middle years of this century, was one of the primary test markets for Hollywood feature films.
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