Palm Springs

The History of Palm Springs
"50 Golden Years"

Excerpts from the book "PALM SPRINGS First Hundred Years"
by Former Palm Springs Mayor Frank M. Bogert

As Palm Springs grew, it soon became apparent that the village needed zoning restrictions and other types of controls. In November, 1936, a committee to study incorporation was formed, with Frank Bennett as temporary chairman. On the 30-man committee were Earl Coffman, Fred Markham, Warren Pinney, Alvah Hicks, Ralph Bellamy, Phil Boyd, Culver Nichols, and Jack Williams.

Harold Hicks, selected as the permanent committee chairman, called a meeting on August 14, 1937, to finalize city boundaries, divide the area into seven wards, and draw up an incorporation petition to be signed by property owners. After a number of discussions with the county, the incorporation matter came to a vote on April 1, 1938. Not all of the town's 910 registered voters turned out; the final tally was 442 in favor of incorporation, 211 against.

A very vocal opposition attempted to petition against incorporation, but to no avail. Seven councilmen, one from each ward, were elected: Austin G. McManus, John W. Williams, Frank Shannon, Philip L. Boyd, Alvah Hicks, Robert Murray, and Dr. Bacon Clifton. Boyd was selected as the city's first mayor. Other city officials were Guy Pinney (Warren's brother), City Clerk; Ray Colgate, City Attorney; Frank lngraham, City Treasurer; Lloyd Boiler, Chief of Police; and Bill Leonesio, Fire Chief.

Under the guidance of Mayor Boyd, a very capable businessman, the new city began with a solid financial foundation. A 1939 census numbered 5,336 year-round residents with a seasonal jump to over 8,000 people.

The city's four large hotels (El Mirador, Desert Inn, Del Tahquitz, and Oasis) and the Deep Well Guest Ranch were packed during the season, encouraging the construction of many smaller hostelries. Irwin Schuman's Chi Chi Club became a full-scale nightclub, attracting nationally known performers. Among the other leading restaurants were Vic Sudaha's popular Palm House, the Foldesy family's Polynesian restaurant in the Palm Springs Hotel, and George and Ethel Strebe's Doll House. Trav Rogers started a Western nightspot appropriately called "The Mink and Manure Club."

Hollywood's film colony and tourists from all parts of the country discovered the desert playground. Palm Springs was in its heyday.

Among the wealth of outdoor activities were nine stables, Tom O'Donnell's golf course, and several tennis courts including Charlie Farrell's prestigious Racquet Club. The city boasted more swimming pools than any other place in the country. Bicycle rentals were available at every hotel and a bowling alley opened in the center of town. Everyone went to Cathedral City to gamble at AI Wertheimer's Dunes Club, Earl Sausser's 139 Club, or Frank Portnoy's Cove Club.

Palm Canyon, with more than 2,000 palms is the largest of the canyons owned by the Agua Caliente Indians. Riding and hiking trails extend for miles into the canyon's upper reaches.

On December 7, 1941, people crowded around the Mashie Course at The Desert Inn for the Annual Dog Show heard John Miller announce that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. After the declaration of war, a few people left town in a panic; those who stayed prospered.

Palm Springs was filled with soldiers and visiting families. Torney General Hospital and Ferry Command turned the village into a year-round resort. Though food rationing was a handicap to many hotels and restaurants, customers were satisfied. Night life, however, was a bit limited because of the blackout. (A little known, but interesting, piece of history: Torney General Hospital housed a large number of Italian war prisoners who worked as orderlies and at other jobs around the facility. A happy lot, they had been taken prisoners in the Libya campaign and were thoroughly adjusted to the desert climate.)

When peace was declared, tourists returned in even greater numbers; the village was back to normal. Though the need for additional housing was immediately recognized, it took two years for building materials to become readily available. The first new housing was started in the Veterans Tract, east of El Cielo. Two million board feet of scarce timber caught fire on the site, causing the largest fire in the city's history. Though Bill Leonesio and his small staff did a grand job in trying to control the fire, Frank Broes was the hero of the day when he brought in a bulldozer and cut a firebreak. Half of the precious lumber was saved, but the project was delayed for six months.

By 1947, Thunderbird Ranch, a new high school, and several other buildings were completed. Bullock's Wilshire opened their large store on Palm Canyon, and Paul Trousdale, in partnership with Pearl McManus, built over 200 homes in the Tahquitz River Estates. Almost $600,000 in building permits were issued during the year for projects within the city limits.

Other cities in the county also were prospering. Desert Hot Springs added a new spa, Cathedral City built new houses and a fire station, Ronald Button and John Culver started a new subdivision in Rancho Mirage, and Cliff Henderson's project across from the small community of Palm Village was the valley's biggest event.

Edgar Bergen, who had a ranch east of Thunderbird, talked Cliff and his brother Randall into developing the 1,600 acres used by General Patton's tank repair facility during the war. Cliff formed Palm Desert Corporation, with Bergen and Leonard Firestone listed among the directors. Fire Cliff Lodge and the Shadow Mountain Club, several office buildings, and a few homes were built. Thirty years later this area would become the city of Palm Desert.

The decade's other big event was the arrival of Avak the Healer who arrived in town to cure Krikor Arkelian's son. For weeks in May, 1947, the town was filled to capacity with invalids seeking a miracle. Every newspaper in the country covered the story, but no cures were reported.

The city's press coverage continued when Charlie Farrell was elected its fifth mayor and the first to serve a six-year term. Shortly after the election, the television series My Little Margie starring Charlie and Gail Storm, was aired, making Farrell the best-known mayor in the United States. To make sure that the city stayed in the news, Cliff Brown of McFadden and Eddie, a Los Angeles advertising firm, served as the city's public relations representative during the 1950s.

Brothers Irwin (who had operated the Chi Chi for many years) and Mark Schuman built the Riviera Hotel in 1952. With a large number of rooms and a big conference center, they created the city's first complete convention facility.

After many years of litigation, El Mirador Hotel reopened in the fall of 1952. Roy Fitzgerald, from Chicago, and 17 other investors formed the National Hotel Investors, Inc. and spent over $2 million remodeling the hotel. When it opened, it was even more glamorous than it had been before the war.

Though people had tried for many years to lease the hot springs from the Indians, it wasn't until 1957 that Sam Banowit convinced the Tribal Council that he could build a bathhouse that would return an investment to them. The agreement stipulated that he relocate the palm trees, sacred to the Indians, to another site on the property. Though he.originally anticipated investing $200,000 in the project, the final cost was $1,800,000.

After negotiating the first 99-year lease, Banowit built the adjoining fivestory Spa Hotel. The tribe was to receive all the income from the hot springs, which, together with their canyons and cemetery, were never allocated land. Thus, the historical mineral springs, from which the Indian tribe and the city derived their names, became a world-class spa.

The high school on Ramon Road was a great drawing card to lure families to the desert. After a hospital district was formed and a hospital built in 1952, Palm Springs had all the facilities it needed, except for an airport. One of the first accomplishments of the city council elected in 1958 was the purchase of the airport in Section 18 from the local Indians. The Ferry Command, who had built concrete runways capable of handling any plane of that era, had left all of their improvements when they closed the facility.

Celebrities began to build houses in the area. Lily Ports and Jolie Gabor and her beautiful daughters built their homes on the same hill. Kirk Douglas moved into the Las Palmas area and Frank Sinatra built a large house on Alejo. Bob Hope, a long-time resident, was appointed Honorary Mayor.

PaIm Springs' appellation as "Golf Capital of the World" considered the Thunderbird and Tamarisk country clubs as part of the city. Even Floyd Odlum's course in Indio was included in the count. Many of the day's tournaments were played on those courses.

Polo, popular before the war, was revived, and several indoor tournaments were played at the field club. Tennis tournaments at the Racquet Club and Tennis Club brought the city worldwide acclaim.

Though Herbert Hoover had come to The Desert Inn in 1936 to visit his friend, George Lorimer and Franklin D. Roosevelt had stayed at La Quinta before the war, nothing equaled the furor of Dwight D. Eisenhower's arrival in February, 1954. Over 2,000 people were on hand to greet Ike and his wife Mamie.

The president arrived at 9:30 p.m. to be met by Governor Goodwin Knight, Paul Helms, Paul Hoffman, and Mayor Florian Boyd. Crowds lined the streets as the presidential procession proceeded to Smoke Tree Ranch. Paul Helms' house became the Western White House. By 8 a.m. the next morning, President Eisenhower, Ben Hogan, Paul Helms, and Paul Hoffman teed off at Tamarisk. The next day, at Thunderbird Country Club, he was joined by Hawthorne Dent, Paul Helms, Leonard Firestone, and John Dawson.

During his visit, El Mirador Hotel housed all the press and security people. The whole village turned out to entertain the press or anyone else connected with the presidential party. The seven days of President Eisenhower's visit brought more world recognition to Palm Springs than it had ever received before.

On the president's return to Washington D.C., he signed the Equalization Bill, which finalized the Agua Caliente Indians' land allotments. He made many return visits to Palm Springs and eventually retired to his home on the grounds of the El Dorado Country Club in 1961.

Harry Truman also spent considerable time in the village during this period, staying at the home of Phil Regan at Tamarisk.

By December 9, 1962, when John F. Kennedy came to town on the first of several trips, villagers considered themselves experienced presidential hosts. Again, thousands of people turned out to catch a glimpse of this very popular president.

On February 20, 1964, Palm Springs was the scene of a major international event. President Lyndon Johnson had chosen the city for a meeting with Mexico's President Adolfo Lopez Mateos to resolve a long-standing dispute over a piece of land in Texas called the Chamizal.

The entourage consisted of the president, his wife Lady Bird, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and his wife, and a contingent from the State Department. Lopez Mateos had a similar retinue from Mexico. The airport and the entire city were decorated with the flags of both countries. On hand to greet the presidents were 200 white-costumed Mexicali residents.

On a trip to London in 1966, Mayor Bogerr and Tony Owen induced Prince Philip to come to Palm Springs for a polo match. The Pathfinders, a local charity, were to share the proceeds of the match with Prince Philip's charity, "The Duke of Edinburgh Award for Young People." A crowd of several thousand attended the match between a Mexican team and a California team at El Dorado Polo Club. Montie Montana brought Prince Philip to the match in his four-up stagecoach and let him drive around the field so that everyone could see him.

The Louis Taubmans, who had loaned their home for President Johnson's visit, hosted Prince Philip and his entourage. A luncheon at their house was attended by 400 of southern California's most socially prominent people. Over 100 reporters and photographers waited outside; only one photographer, Nancy Holmes, was permitted to take photos, pictures which she shared with all of the media.

President Gerald Ford had visited Palm Springs during his term as Vice President. When his term of office as president expired in 1978, he returned to build a home next to Ambassador Leonard Firestone's house at Thunderbird. The Fords have been very active in all valley events, appearing at groundbreakings, hotel openings, and charitable balls. The president has played in all major golf tournaments. Mrs. Ford brings considerable recognition to the valley through her alcoholic and drug center in Rancho Mirage.

Walter Annenberg, former Ambassador to the Court of St. James, and his wife Lee, former Secretary of Protocol for President Reagan, built their beautiful estate in Rancho Mirage several years ago. Over the years the famous guests they have entertained would fill a book. For the past five years, President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan have spent the New Year's week at Sunny Lands, as the Annenbergs call their Estate. On February 27, 1983, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited the Amenbergs for several days; the following year Prince Charles paid a visit. The Annenbergs, like the Fords, are very involved in valley life. The Desert Museum, Eisenhower Hospital, Bob Hope Cultural Center, and United Way are but a few of the recipients of their charity. They have been honored by many organizations for their contributions to the valley's culture.

The people who made Palm Springs world-famous, such as Einstein, Samuel Untermeyer, Mayor Jimmy Walker, and Jimmy Swinnerton, would hardly be noticed today in the valley. On any given day during the winter season, over 100 nationally known figures can be seen around the desert. On the Forbes 400 list of the country's most wealthy people, 28 have homes in the valley. Even the Hollywood movie colony is just as numerous as before; they will not, however, be seen walking down Palm Canyon as frequently as they were in Palm Springs' early days. nationally known figures can be seen around the desert. On the Forbes 400 list of the country's most wealthy people, 28 have homes in the valley. Even the Hollywood movie colony is just as numerous as before; they will not, however, be seen walking down Palm Canyon as frequently as they were in Palm Springs' early days.

The biggest growth in the history of Palm Springs began in the early 1960s hen Jack Meiselman built the first large tract of reasonably priced homes. Later, George Alexander and his son, Bob, built hundreds of homes in tracts all over the village. Sales were rapid; most tracts were sold out long before they were completed.

Dick Weis and his father, Jack, came to town in 1962 with some fresh ideas which completely revolutionized the second-home concept. Sy Simon had built a cooperative project, but nobody had perfected the idea of condominiums until the Weis family arrived. A new ordinance had to be written and many state laws modified before the idea was accepted. Today, over 12,000 condos in Palm Springs and 85 percent of all second homes in the valley fit into this category.

During the 1970s, an attitude of no-growth spread throughout the city. The Planning Commission, City Council, and most of the city's leaders were looking for ways to slow down development. A group of homeowners entitled "The Desert People United" exerted a strong influence and the council eventually declared a six-month building moratorium.

The council came up with a new general plan which down-zoned several city areas, increasing animosity between the Agua Caliente Indians and the city as to the city's right to control Indian land.

In October, 1977, the Under-Secretary of the Interior sent a memorandum to the city which stated that the city could not regulate zoning on Indian land. Mayor Russ Beirich and the City Council faced a tremendous problem, which was finally resolved by an agreement between the city and the tribe in which several parcels were restored to their former, less-restrictive zoning. The city was authorized to handle all zoning cases; however, if a controversy arose, the city could be overruled by the Tribal Council.

Mayor Beirich and his council had barely resolved this problem when an even bigger one arose. On June 6, 1978, the state's voters passed Proposition 13. The city, consequently, was faced with a $3,300,000 tax loss. By June 17, the new budget had cut 65 positions, closed two branch libraries, and made major cuts in every department.

By the 1980s an entirely new philosophy toward development was in evidence. The council elected in 1982 began an aggressive program. The Redevelopment Agency, which had been in operation for years, was activated and seven districts were put into position. The downtown area was the first priority. Within the first year, the Desert Fashion Plaza and Maxim's hotel were on the drawing board.

The agency condemned the entire block from Andreas to Amado and Palm Canyon to Belardo. Andreas Road was vacated to make room for Saks Fifth Avenue and the building which had been the Bunker Garage and Village Pharmacy was demolished. Other buildings razed included the Village Theater, Chi Chi Club, Palm Springs Hotel, and Nate's Delicatessen.

The beautiful Desert Fashion Plaza and Maxim's opened in 1986 with 1,400 underground parking spaces and a number of quality shops. The Marquis Hotel in Section 14 and Shilo Hotel opened shortly afterwards.

An agreement was made with Texas developer Trammel Crow to build the 400-room Wyndham Hotel and an adjoining convention center on Caballeros and Tahquitz. Construction for the two projects was started in 1986 and opened in November 1987.

PALM SPRINGS HERITAGE ASSOCIATES - PUBLISHER

An Indian Beginning 50 Golden Years The Valley Today

 


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