Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Discover all the ways you can make a difference.
Support Icon
The Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams are here to help.

The Hidden History of the Riverside's Center for Social Justice & Civil Liberties

Support Provided By

The Center for Social Justice & Civil Liberties in downtown Riverside is a happy accident. It came about in a serendipitous confluence of timing, buried treasure and an abiding respect for history. For the last fifty years, the building at 3855 Market Street in downtown Riverside had been a bland box of brick, a nondescript take on 1960s modern. It was slated for demolition in 2011, along with the former Hollyrood Hotel next door, to make way for Riverside Community College's sleek new culinary academy and district offices, part of the planned "Renaissance Block" that will also include a new school of the arts. RCC was aware that a 1920s building was hidden beneath the plain facade; when structural analysis showed that the original building was sound, they decided to see whether they could keep it in place to preserve the city's architectural heritage. No one, however, was prepared for what they found, or what it would mean for Riverside.

The city's Historic Preservation office expected the architecture to look like the White Park Building across the street -- which was also built in 1926 -- solid, sturdy, a bit of embellishment along the roofline. When they started to chip away the brick, however, they were met with a dramatic black curtain that had been put in place by architectural historian Carl Fowler along with beams to keep the original building protected. The curtains parted and a pale turquoise building in the Churrigueresque style -- just as ornately carved and baroque as the name suggests -- revealed itself. A building so lovely and elaborate, so stunning in its sudden, unexpected appearance, it caused many near-accidents on Market Street.

The building was designed by Stiles Oliver Clements, architect of some of the most famous, and gorgeous, theaters in Los Angeles, including the Wiltern, the Mayan and the El Capitan. It is his only known work in Riverside County. Originally constructed for the Riverside Finance Company, it became the Citrus Belt Savings and Loan Building in 1951 and was painted the sea-foamy shade found behind the curtain. An unearthed vintage postcard revealed the building's original color, and an historical preservation expert was called upon to find the perfect shade of white to match it in the restoration. That same white will be incorporated into the culinary academy building to bring cohesion between old and new.

RCC involved the Old Riverside Foundation every step of the way, sharing plans, offering salvage, asking for advice. "They did everything right," says David Leonard, President of the Foundation, calling the process "a perfect example of how to approach renovation activity." Leonard particularly appreciates how faithful RCC has been to the original intent of the building, painstakingly reconstructing the heads of Balboa and Cortez that had been sheared off the front, and using the bank vault as a climate controlled room for archival material.

RCC had planned to use the building for classroom space until they were told the structure isn't Field Act compliant and therefore can't be designated for student use. The college was stumped. What should they do with this beautiful building?

Unbeknownst to the planners at the time, the RCC Library had been looking for a site to display their Miné Okubo Collection, a vast repository of the Nisei artist's work that had been donated to RCC by Okubo's estate in 2008, seven years after her death.

Miné Okubo was born in Riverside in 1912 and attended Riverside Community College (then named Riverside Junior College) from 1930-1933. She went on to get her B.A. and M.F.A. from UC Berkeley, studied further in Europe, and began to work widely as an artist, creating murals for the Federal Art Project, the U.S. Army, and the W.P.A., where she collaborated with Diego Rivera. Then, in 1942, five months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Okubo and her brother were forcibly relocated to a Japanese internment camp. Okubo documented her time in internment -- first in Tanforan, later in the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah -- through her art, sketching her daily indignities. She later wrote a book about her experience, Citizen 13660, the first to explore the firsthand experience of living in a Japanese relocation camp. Okuba became an outspoken activist for human rights as well as a widely exhibited artist, showing her work in places such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The collection bequeathed to RCC contains over 2,000 paintings and sketches, many of which have never been publicly displayed.

When Orrin Williams, Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Planning and Development, learned of the collection, he told the library "You need a place to put this art; we need a use for this building" and The Center for Social Justice and Civil Liberties was born. "It just made sense," he says. "And it fits right in with Riverside calling itself 'The City of Arts and Innovation.'"

The Center for Social Justice and Civil Liberties, which will feature a museum on the second floor, a library on the first, will open its doors June 27, 2012 to celebrate what would be Miné Okubo's 100th birthday and give people a glimpse of the $5.1 million renovation before the Center opens permanently in the fall. The papers and memorabilia found in the Okubo collection will serve as the anchor archive of the Center, and act as a jumping off place for visitors to explore other crucial civil liberty and social justice issues.

Miné Okubo once said "To me, life and art are one and the same, for the key lies in one's knowledge of people and life. In art one is trying to express it in the simplest imaginative way, as in the art of past civilizations, for beauty and truth are the only two things which live timeless and ageless."

Beauty and truth live on in both Okubo's body of work and Stiles Clements' architecture. Through their careful preservation, we can remember where, and how, our human family has been so we can move toward a more just and beautiful future.

Dig this story? Sign up for our newsletter to get unique arts & culture stories and videos from across Southern California in your inbox. Also, follow Artbound on FacebookTwitter, and Youtube.

Top Image: Feature of Cortez. Courtesy of the Old Riverside Foundation.

Support Provided By
Read More
J. Sergio O'Cadiz Moctezuma wearing a black suit and tie, sitting on a fireplace mantle. His leg is crossed over the other and a writing surface is resting on his knee. He's looking down and appears to be writing something down. He's smiling.

Sergio O'Cadiz and the Forgotten Artists of Color in Orange County

The arc of arts leader Sergio O’Cadiz Moctezuma is a lesson on the dynamics of artists of color in the Orange County. Just like there’s a link between U.S. history and ethnic cleansing in history books, there exists a similar link between the acknowledgement of a culture’s experienced reality and its representation in the Orange County art scene.
A man in a suit with his hands behind his back looks on to a digital art piece on a large LED screen mounted on a black gallery wall. The digital art piece features a large red dot resembling a setting sun with floating white "icebergs" on a black water surface.

2022 L.A. Art Show Looks to the Future with NFTs and the Environment

Questions around the rise of NFT-backed art and the looming threat of climate change are big themes that permeate the 2022 L.A. Art Show which runs from Jan. 19 to Jan. 23.
Four members of Weapons of Mass Creation pose for a photo, lit in golden hues by a setting sun. The member on the far left is Enrique. He is wearing a navy blue cap with a skull on it. He is dark-skinned and has a beard. To Enrique's right is Josh who is wearing a woven brown and cream bucket hat over his dreads. He is also dark-skinned and has a beard. To Josh's right is Julia who has long black hair and is wearing a crushed velvet orange zip up hoodie. She is looking directly at the camera. To Julia's right is Moses who is wearing a black jacket and rose-colored sunglasses. His hand is up to his brow, shading his eyes from the sun.

How Anaheim-Born Hip Hop Group Weapons of Mass Creation Started the Revolution at Home

Born and raised in Anaheim, WOMC is a form of resistance among the mass-produced world of music. Their collective talent oozes originality and intent; their lyrics amplify the Anaheim communities they grew up in and tell stories of police brutality, generational trauma and misogyny.