The History of the Southern Hotel and Mr. and Mrs. Bernasconi 455 South "D" Street
The Southern Hotel was built by Mr. and Mrs. Bernasconi in 1886.
- SOUTHERN HOTEL Dedicated to the National Registrar of Historic Places on March 24, 1993
- The oldest (still standing) commercial structure in downtown Perris
- Gutted by two back to back fires in 1987
Bernardo Bernasconi came to California from Switzerland, sailing around the Horn in a windjammer. He settled in 1879, on land along the San Jacinto River near what is now called Lakeview and Bernasconi Pass.
In 1883 he made a trip to San Francisco, where he met Marcellina, who was working as a governess. It was a whirlwind courtship and the two were married on first of September.
Marcellina Bernasconi was born in Tessin, Switzerland, one of a large family of eight brothers and eight sisters. Her mother died when she was only ten. In 1877 at the age of 18 she immigrated to New York. After remaining there for a year and a half, she came to the Pacific Coast where she met Bernardo a few years later.
Three weeks after their marriage Marcellina moved to Bernardo's ranch near Perris where he was devoted at the time to raising cattle and sheep. It was Marcellina, who gave birth to seven children, that planned and urged her husband to purchase the site in the forming community of Perris.
The Bernasconi's purchased the land and built the 24 room hotel with marble-topped washstands, ironstone pitchers and towering rosewood or brass beds. Over the next hundred years the hotel would be a saloon, restaurant, real estate office, ice cream parlor as well as the personal residence of the Bernasconi's.
Growing tired of life on their ranch, Marcellina moved her family into the Hotel. The hotel sign was removed then and wouldn't be restored until restoration began in 1988. She lived to be nearly 100 years old and when she passed the Hotel operation was turned over to her daughter Matilda (Tilly).
The hotel ceased operations sometime in the 1950's or 60's and remained Tilly's private residence until her death 1982 at the age of 97. At that time the hotel was abandoned. During the last few decades of Tilly's life the hotel began to deteriorate to an almost unsalvageable state.
In the mid 1980's the City of Perris hatched a plan to restore the downtown area. The hotel was a cornerstone structure in the redevelopment. There was much debate as to whether the hotel was worth saving. Many felt that city funds could be put to better use -- even though no city funds were currently allocated in the restoration plan for the hotel or any downtown structure. Calmer and wiser minds won out and the hotel was slated for major restoration.
The Perris Redevelopment Agency acquired the property in 1986 for $27,000. The funds came from a $50,000 federal entitlement administered by Riverside County. The balance of the funds combined with a grant from the State Department of Parks and private funds were to be used to begin the overhaul of the Southern Hotel.
But before work could begin two back to back fires nearly destroyed the hotel. The first blaze, which broke out about 11 am on 5/29/87, was believed to have been caused by transients. Most of the damage was confined to the rear of the original structure consisting of a wine cellar and an add-on kitchen. The second fire, thought to have been deliberately set, broke out in the front of the 3,800-square foot structure about 8 pm on 5/30/87. It spread quickly into the corners and the balcony overlooking "D" Street. Fire officials said that in the second blaze the front door had been breached and the fire deliberately set. Suspicion fell upon the leaders of the opposition of the structure's restoration, but no arrest were ever made.
The hotel was restored, complete with a new sign across the top and in 1993 it was dedicated to the National Registrar of Historic Places.