Steven Cuevas / KPCC
Erected more than 50 years ago, the towering cross atop Riverside’s Mount Rubidoux was the target of a possible civil liberties lawsuit over separation of church and state. A private local group has bought the land in a bid to save the cross.
Fans of a cross that sits atop a peak in Mt. Rubidoux Park can have some peace of mind now that the group Totally Mt. Rubidoux has won the auction to buy the 0.43-acre site with a $10,500 bid.
The public auction Thursday morning took place outside Riverside City Hall and lasted about 30 seconds.
The coalition had only one other competitor — the owners of Riverside-based Accuturn Corp. They bid $10,000, which was the minimum bid the city had set, and they did not challenge Totally Mt. Rubidoux.
“We had a conversation with the other bidders,” said David St. Pierre, President of the Mission Inn Foundation and Museum, one of the three organizations in the winning effort, “and they understood what our process was and where we’d come from. And they had the same idea. And we tried to avoid a bidding war.”
Last year, a civil liberties group threatened to sue the city of Riverside if the cross remained in place. Americans United for Separation of Church and State argued that the cross' location in a public park violated the Constitution’s separation of church and state.
The city had four options : 1) Do nothing and ignore the group; 2) Go to court and fight for the cross to remain on the park; 3) Take it down; or 4) Sell the property.
As a reaction to the legal dilemma, three local nonprofit groups — The Friends of Mount Rubidoux, The Mission Inn Foundation and the Riverside Land Conservancy — teamed up as Totally Mt. Rubidoux.
Three months ago, the Riverside City Council voted to auction the property to the public after the coalition suggested the idea as a way to save the cross. St. Pierre said his coalition couldn’t have won the auction without community support.
“It truly came from $25 and $50 and $100 donations from over 500 people and other organizations that truly had a desire ... and they wanted it maintained like it is,” St Pierre explained. “And it was truly a community effort and we’re really proud of that.”
Alex Luchemitser, associate legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said his group will not take further action.
“We’re pleased that the matter has been resolved," Luchemitser said. “In the past when the cross was displayed on public property, the city’s display violated the separation of church and state.”
Totally Mt. Rubidoux will continue to raise funds to maintain and insure the property. The cross was placed there in 1907 when Mission Inn founder Frank Miller owned the property. The Miller Family donated the land to the city as a public park about 50 years later.