ALL OF PALM SPRINGS' SPLENDOUR
Film stars and modernist architecture shaped the past and future of this desert resort city. Welcome to Palm Springs – the mountainous paradise for the Hollywood set and over 1.6 million tourists
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: Taylor Simpson
?? April 2020
Mid-century architecture with modern design, recreational activities and wide cultural scene stand at the heart of Palm Springs, California. Located in the Sonoran Desert within the Coachella Valley, this resort city is home to around 45 thousand people including some of the Hollywood’s finest.
Palm Spring’s coverage of about 240 km2 (94 square miles) makes it the largest city in Riverside County by land area. The luxurious desert resort town is a modernist architectural heaven, surrounded by splendour mountains.
Palm Springs in the 20th century
The 1900s saw the city rising as a fashionable resort attracting a high number of health tourists. Yet, the first settlers in the area arrived 2,000 years ago. The Cahuilla Indians spent hundreds of years in isolation from other cultures prior to getting in contact with Europeans.
The desert resort’s hot climate welcomes over 300 days of sunshine a year. The heat caused a drop in the population numbers in summertime. That’s when wealthy businessmen started building oasis hotels and major art deco resorts. The luxurious hotels with modern design elements attracted major movie stars of the 1920s, who build their own summer homes and estates in the area.
Hollywood stars quickly adapted to the fine weather and the views of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains. Apart from the laid-back vibe, Palm Springs tempted celebrities by fitting the ‘two-hour-rule’ as it was in a close driving distance from Hollywood, allowing actors to comply with their contracts of staying nearby the studio when on call.
In the following decades, luxurious neighbourhoods in Palm Springs expanded and so did the resorts, tennis clubs, gambling venues, shopping centres and nightclubs. The 1925 Oasis Hotel adopted modernist design, followed by grand resorts such as El Mirador. The interest of tourists increased and the number of visitors in the area peaked. Yet, film stars were more interested in building homes with bold exteriors rather than allowing dominance of hotels, which is when the Movie Colony neighbourhoods were developed.
The post-war era retained the popularity of Palm Springs among Canadian tourists, retirees and the rich and famous of Hollywood. The housing capacity of the area was doubled, turning the summertime ghost town into the home of a year-round community of wealthy people with taste for modern design and glamorous architecture. Businesses and resorts would remain open all year long. Despite the effects of the 1973-1975 recession, the $50 million investment of Chicago mobsters into Palm Springs brought the desert city prosperity into the 21st century.
Palm Springs in the 21st century
Nowadays Palm springs welcomes over 1.6 million annual visitors turning tourism into a major factor of the city’s economy. The desert resort location hosts over 130 hotels and resorts, numerous bed and breakfasts, and over 100 dining venues. The Greater Palm Springs area is no longer attractive only to retirees.
A curious fact is that Palm Springs has the fifth-highest percentage of same-sex households in the United States. The city is also host to the annual Greater Palm Springs Pride Celebration held in November. The desert resort city also stands among America's first all-LGBTQ city governments.
Major national events, including the Coachella and Stagecoach Festivals, attract younger people in the Indio area. Modernist architectural masterpieces are the jewels of this mountain paradise for the Hollywood set and tourists alike. The desert setting in the area is full of scenic hike trials with steep patches, where travellers encounter joggers, dog-walkers, hikers and fellow sightseers.
If you plan on hiking the desert trials surrounding Palm Springs, we recommend you start at midday or early afternoon so that you catch the sunset illuminating the view from the top. You will be standing on top of a hill offering a sight over Indio, the cities of Palm Desert and the Santa Rosa Mountains.
Pro tip: Should you find yourself in the Palm Springs area, make sure to visit the nearby Joshua Tree national park.
Palm Spring hosts a variety of annual cultural events and festivals. Some of them include the following:
The Palm Springs International Film Festival welcomes movie stars in January.
The Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films "ShortFest" brings out the red carpet for Hollywood’s finest in June.
Modernism Week is held in February, when lectures, films and tours focus on mid-century modern architecture.
Black History Month is celebrated with a parade and town fair every February.
The Festival of Native Film & Culture is an annual event held at the Camelot Theatres in central Palm Springs.
‘The Dinah’ or the Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend is held every March and is known as the ‘Largest Girl Party in the World’.
Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week stretches over ten days in June where dining occurs in over 100 restaurants in the Coachella Valley.