Holiday lights ablaze at Mission Inn

12:01 AM PST on Saturday, November 26, 2005

The annual ceremony features a "Laguna Beach" cast member.

Mission Inn Decorations

2.5 million lights

250 animated figures

12 to 15 artificial trees

2,000 feet of garland

As if there wasn't enough electricity flowing through Riverside's Mission Inn, the kickoff to the 13th annual Festival of Lights on Friday night was infused with extra power -- star power, that is.

Casey Reinhardt, 19-year-old cast member of MTV's popular teen series "Laguna Beach" and stepdaughter of Inn owner Duane Roberts, was on hand Friday to flip the switch.

Tracy Cardenas' young children were oblivious to the dazzling fireworks show and missed the flickering of the holiday ornaments as they yelled Casey's name from the front row of the stage area.

"They love the show," Cardenas' said, searching for a pen to give to her 9-year-old son, who got an autographed picture. "They are probably too young to watch it, but they do."

Catching a glimpse of the popular cast member was a strong lure to the many young fans who attended the holiday kickoff event.

"A lot of the kids are excited. It gives a little glitz and glamour," said hotel spokeswoman Kimberly Shepard of the actress, known as "The New Girl" on the show.

Ed Crisostomo / The Press-Enterprise
Jordan Hellon, 4, left, held by father Josh Hellon, has her back to the action during the opening ceremony for the Mission Inn's Festival of Lights in Riverside.

The lights display was mentioned in People magazine's holiday entertaining guide, next to the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas display in New York, Roberts said to the crowd.

Danette and Chris Avella, of Moreno Valley, have seen the lights festival grow from a hometown event to a national holiday attraction. The couple used to come out on dates and share a kiss once the lights came on. Now the pair navigates the large crowds with their two small children.

"It's a sign of how much Riverside is growing, but it still manages to have that home-like feeling," said Danette Avella, 30.

Overseeing the 2-½-month-long decorating process was Isabelle Kaminsky, a 58-year-old business owner and grandmother of seven, who lets no detail go unnoticed.

Less than a minute after stepping onto Orange Avenue during a break earlier this week, Kaminsky peered up and noticed something awry with one of the animated figures.

"Looks like his neck is broken!" she yelled at one of her 20 workers setting up decorations on a boom lift.

Kaminsky, owner of Tustin-based For All Seasons, has decorated shopping malls and corporate headquarters, but nothing is as involved as decorating the Mission Inn, she said.

Kaminsky, who worked 12-hour shifts to get it finished, started decorating the interior of the hotel six years ago. Then three years ago, it expanded to the outside.

As soon as she laid eyes on the hotel for the first time, her mind started to race.

"Oh my goodness, I look at it like a giant blank canvas. I want to do this here. I want this color here."

Each side of the Inn has a different theme. The Orange Avenue side, for instance, has a musical theme with carolers and instruments.

The Sixth Street side features children with candy canes and jack-in-the-box toys.

Kaminsky said she tried to use only "upscale, elegant" decorations to avoid creating a Coney Island amusement park atmosphere.

After years of decorating the Inn, decorating her own home must be a piece of cake, right?

She hasn't decorated her home since she started doing the Mission Inn. She's too exhausted, she says.

Not only that.

"I close my eyes and see twinkling lights," she said.

Reach Douglas Quan at (951) 368-9479 or

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