Palm Springs is a desert resort city in Riverside County, California, within the Coachella Valley. It is located approximately east of San Bernardino, east of Los Angeles, northeast of San Diego, and west of Phoenix, Arizona. The population was 44,552 as of the 2010 census. Palm Springs covers approximately 94 square miles, making it the largest city in the county by land area.
Biking, golf, hiking, horseback riding, swimming, and tennis in the nearby desert and mountain areas are major forms of recreation in Palm Springs.
Native American settlement
Archaeological research has shown that the Cahuilla people have lived in the area for the past 350–500 years. The Cahuilla name for the area was "Se-Khi" (boiling water). When the Agua Caliente Reservation was established by the United States government in 1896, the reservation land was composed of alternating sections (640 acres) of land laid out across the desert in a checkerboard pattern. The alternating non-reservation sections were granted to the Southern Pacific Railroad as an incentive to bring rail lines through the open desert.
Presently the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is composed of several smaller bands who live in the modern day Coachella Valley and San Gorgonio Pass areas. The Agua Caliente Reservation occupies , of which lie within the city limits, making the Agua Caliente band the city's largest landowner. (Tribal enrollment is currently estimated at between 296 and 365 people.)
As of 1821 Mexico was independent of Spain and in March 1823 the Mexican Monarchy ended. That same year (in December) Mexican diarist José María Estudillo and Brevet Captain José Romero were sent to find a route from Sonora to Alta California; on their expedition they first recorded the existence of "Agua Caliente" at Palm Springs, California. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the region was ceded to the United States in 1848.
Later 19th century
Early names and European settlers
One possible origin of palm in the place name comes from early Spanish explorers who referred to the area as La Palma de la Mano de Dios or "The Palm of God's hand". The earliest use of the name "Palm Springs" is from United States Topographical Engineers who used the term in 1853 maps. According to William Bright, when the word "palm" appears in Californian place names, it usually refers to the native California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, which is abundant in the Palm Springs area. Other early names were "Palmetto Spring" and "Big Palm Springs".
The first European resident in Palm Springs itself was Jack Summers, who ran the stagecoach station in 1862. Fourteen years later (1876), the Southern Pacific railroad was laid 6 miles to the north, isolating the station. In 1880, local Indian Pedro Chino was selling parcels near the springs to William Van Slyke and Mathew Bryne in a series of questionable transactions; they in turn brought in W. R. Porter to help market their property through the "Palm City Land and Water Company". By 1885, when San Francisco attorney (later known as "Judge") John Guthrie McCallum began buying property in Palm Springs, the name was already in wide acceptance. The area was named "Palm Valley" when McCallum incorporated the "Palm Valley Land and Water Company" with partners O.C. Miller, H.C. Campbell, and James Adams, M.D.
Land development and drought
McCallum, who had brought his ill son to the dry climate for health, brought in irrigation advocate Dr. Oliver Wozencroft and engineer J. P. Lippincott to help construct a canal from the Whitewater River to fruit orchards on his property. He also asked Dr. Welwood Murray to establish a hotel across the street from his residence. Murray did so in 1886 (he later became a famous horticulturalist). The crops and irrigation systems suffered flooding in 1893 from record rainfall, and then an 11-year drought (1894–1905) caused further damage.
The city became a fashionable resort in the 1900s when health tourists arrived with conditions that required dry heat. In 1906 naturalist and travel writer George Wharton James' two volume The Wonders of the Colorado Desert described Palm Springs as having "great charms and attractiveness" and included an account of his stay at Murray's hotel. As James also described, Palm Springs was more comfortable in its microclimate because the area was covered in the shadow of Mount San Jacinto to the west and in the winter the mountains block cold winds from the San Gorgonio pass. Early illustrious visitors included John Muir and his daughters, U.S. Vice President Charles Fairbanks, and Fanny Stevenson, widow of Robert Louis Stevenson; still, Murray's hotel was closed in 1909 and torn down in 1954. Nellie N. Coffman and her physician husband Harry established The Desert Inn as a hotel and sanitarium in 1909; it was expanded as a modern hotel in 1927 and continued on until 1967.
James' Wonders of the Colorado Desert was followed in 1920 by J. Smeaton Chase's Our Araby: Palm Springs and the Garden of the Sun, which also served to promote the area. In 1924 Pearl McCallum (daughter of Judge McCallum) returned to Palm Springs and built the Oasis Hotel with her husband Austin G. McManus; the Modern/Art Deco resort was designed by Lloyd Wright and featured a 40-foot tower. The next major hotel was the El Mirador, a large and luxurious resort that attracted the biggest movie stars; opening in 1927, its prominent feature was a 68-foot tall Renaissance style tower. Silent film star Fritzi Ridgeway's 100-room Hotel del Tahquitz was built in 1929, next to the "Fool's Folly" mansion built by Chicago heiress Lois Kellogg. Golfing was available at the O'Donnell 9 hole course (1926) and the El Mirador (1929) course (see Golf below). Hollywood movie stars were attracted by the hot dry, sunny weather and seclusion – they built homes and estates in the Warm Sands, The Mesa, and Historic Tennis Club neighborhoods (see Neighborhoods below). About 20,000 visitors came to the area in 1922.
In the 1930s estate building expanded into the Movie Colony neighborhoods, Tahquitz River Estates, and Las Palmas neighborhoods. Actors Charles Farrell and Ralph Bellamy opened the Racquet Club in 1934 and Pearl McCallum opened the Tennis Club in 1937. Nightclubs were set up as well, with Al Wertheimer opening The Dunes outside of Palm Springs in 1934 and the Chi Chi nightclub opening in 1936. Southern California's first self-contained shopping center was established in Palm Springs as the Plaza Shopping Center in 1936.
World War II
When the United States entered World War II, Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley were important in the war effort. The original airfield near Palm Springs became a staging area for the Air Corps Ferrying Command's 21st Ferrying Group in November 1941 and a new airfield was built ½ mile from the old site. The new airfield, designated Palm Springs Army Airfield, was completed in early 1942. Personnel from the Air Transport Command 560th Army Air Forces Base Unit stayed at the La Paz Guest Ranch and training was conducted at the airfield was by the 72nd and 73rd Ferrying Squadrons. Later training was provided by the IV Fighter Command 459th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron.
Eight months before Pearl Harbor Day, the El Mirador Hotel was fully booked and adding new facilities. After the war started, the U.S. government bought the hotel from owner Warren Phinney for $750,000 and converted it into the Torney General Hospital, with Italian prisoners of war serving as kitchen help and orderlies in 1944 and 1945. Through the war it was staffed with 1,500 personnel and treated some 19,000 patients.
General Patton's Desert Training Center encompassed the entire region, with its headquarters in Camp Young at the Chiriaco Summit and an equipment depot maintained by the 66th Ordnance in present day Palm Desert.
Post World War II
Architectural modernists flourished with commissions from the stars, using the city to explore architectural innovations, new artistic venues, and an exotic back-to-the-land experiences. Inventive architects designed unique vacation houses, such as steel houses with prefabricated panels and folding roofs, a glass-and-steel house in a boulder-strewn landscape, and a carousel house that turned to avoid the sun's glare.
In 1946 Richard Neutra designed the Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann House. A modernist classic, this mostly glass residence incorporated the latest technological advances in building materials, using natural lighting and floating planes and flowing space for proportion and detail. In recent years an energetic preservation program has protected and enhanced many classic buildings.
Culver (2010) argues that Palm Springs architecture became the model for mass-produced suburban housing, especially in the Southwest. This "Desert Modern" style was a high-end architectural style featuring open-design plans, wall-to-wall carpeting, air-conditioning, swimming pools, and very large windows. As Culver concludes, "While environmentalists might condemn desert modern, the masses would not. Here, it seemed, were houses that fully merged inside and outside, providing spaces for that essential component of Californian—and indeed middle-class American—life: leisure. While not everyone could have a Neutra masterpiece, many families could adopt aspects of Palm Springs modern."
Hollywood values permeated the resort as it combined celebrity, health, new wealth, and sex. As Culver (2010) explains: "The bohemian sexual and marital mores already apparent in Hollywood intersected with the resort atmosphere of Palm Springs, and this new, more open sexuality would gradually appear elsewhere in national tourist culture." During this period, the city government, stimulated by real estate developers systematically removed and excluded poor people and Indians.
Palm Springs was pictured by the French photographer Robert Doisneau in November 1960 as part of an assignment for Fortune on the construction of golf courses in this particularly dry and hot area of the Colorado desert. Doisneau submitted around 300 slides following his ten-day stay depicting the lifestyle of wealthy retirees and Hollywood stars in the 1960s. At the time, Palm Springs counted just nineteen courses, whereas the city now has "One hundred and twenty-five golf courses, 2,250 holes, or rather continually thirsty pits, which soak up 1.2 million gallons of water just to survive."
Similar to the pre-war era, Palm Springs remained popular with the rich and famous of Hollywood, as well as retirees and Canadian tourists. Between 1947 and 1965, the Alexander Construction Company built some 2,200 houses in Palm Springs effectively doubling its housing capacity.
As the 1970s drew to a close, increasing numbers of retirees moved to the Coachella Valley. As a result, Palm Springs began to evolve from a virtual ghost town in the summer to a year-round community. Businesses and hotels that used to close for the months of July and August instead remained open all summer. As commerce grew, so too did the number of families with children.
The recession of 1973–1975 impacted Palm Springs as many of the wealthy residents had to cut back on their spending. Later in the 1970s numerous Chicago mobsters invested $50 million in the Palm Springs area, buying houses, land, and businesses. While Palm Springs faced competition from the desert cities to the east in the later 1980s, it has continued to prosper into the 21st century.
Since the early 1950s the city had been a popular spring break resort. Glamorized as a destination in the 1963 movie Palm Springs Weekend, the number of visitors grew and at times the gatherings had problems. In 1969 an estimated 15,000 people had gathered for a concert at the Palm Springs Angel Stadium and 300 were arrested for drunkenness or disturbing the peace. In the 1980s 10,000+ college students would visit the city and form crowds and parties – and another rampage occurred in 1986 when Palm Springs Police in riot gear had to put down the rowdy crowd. In 1990, due to complaints by residents, mayor Sonny Bono and the city council closed the city's Palm Canyon Drive to Spring Breakers and the downtown businesses lost money normally filled by the tourists.
Following the recession of the late 2000s/early 2010s, Palm Springs is revitalizing its Downtown or "the Village". Rebuilding started with the demolition of the Bank of America building in January 2012, with the Desert Fashion Plaza scheduled for demolition later in 2012.
The movement behind Mid-Century modern architecture (1950s/60s era) in Palm Springs is backed by architecture enthusiasts, artistic designers and local historians to preserve many of Central Palm Springs' buildings and houses of famous celebrities, businessmen and politicians.