By Diana Castellanos.
Whenever that city's name comes up, what's the first thing that comes to mind?
That's right: the weatherman mentioning high temperatures, especially in summer, that reach over 100°F.
At least, that's what most of us think of, anyway.
Or maybe Coachella for us Millennials who love to sip on alcohol in the hot desert sun listening to Odeza.
But what if I told you that Palm Springs was deemed "The Playground of the Stars"? That it wasn't always the "mad desert vibes" we correlate with it today? That infamous celebrities such as Liberace, Bob Hope, and Sonny Bono used to live (or partied way too much) there, despite hot temperatures? There was a legacy and history about Palm Springs; one that began before Elvis and Priscilla took their honeymoon to the hot desert sand.
Originally, Palm Springs belonged to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Per the Palm Springs City website, the Cahuilla used to set their village where the current Spa and Resort for the Agua Caliente Casino stands today.
During the winter, the Cahuilla Indians would travel to the canyon cities as it was more comfortable in temperature, abandoning the sites behind. Cue the non-Indian family of Judge John Guthrie McCallum of San Fran, who became the first non-Indian settlers of the land.
The judge wasn't too feisty; as he had obtained help from the local Indians to build a ditch that provided the first known irrigation system in the area for the McCallums. This began the movement of utilizing other natural resources to provide energy and supply to the developing town of Palm Springs. Even today, one can find other methods of energy and irrigation, including the mesmerizing Palm Springs windmills located along Highway 111, as well as irrigation ducts for harvest developments to keep the town fed.
Moving into the 19th century, there was a lot of back and forth on the name of the land that had now been occupied with irrigation systems and freight lines. Some called it Agua Caliente in regard to the original band of Cahuilla Indians; while others called it Palm Valley. It wasn't until the United States Topographical Engineers at the time coined it "Palm Springs" due to the hoards of palm trees and the natural resource of the hot springs. Most people went about calling it what they wanted until Judge McCallum ended up using the term on his envelope address.
Over time, Palm Springs began to establish itself as a city, finding its first school in 1938, which was the same year it was incorporated. Thanks to the man with the mini-mustache, World War II allowed for the development of Palm Springs with residents and businesses. This is where we began to see the city of Palm Springs really start to replicate other towns with small shops and general stores. As the city continued developing, there were many debacles on whether or not Palm Springs was considered an economic town of small businesses or a town that preserved its rich Indian history with preservation of the hot springs and ultimately, Cahuilla use of the land. Generally, the latter ends up defeated; but through preservation and agreements with the settlers, Palm Springs actual economic provider was gambling, which in turn allowed both businesses to thrive, and Cahuilla to keep their land. One in those days can only imagine the prosperity of the resort today.
It still begs the question: how did celebrities wind up in such a town?
In the era of silent films, the desert ambiance of Palm Springs allowed for sets for Westerns we all know and love. This Western field inspired and permeated to some of the local residents in the area, ultimately leading Palm Springs to house Deep Well Ranch; where Fred Bennett held rodeos, calf-roping and other Western activities that were enjoyed by many. The Ranch also provisioned swimming pools and other scenic activities in the areas to those that came to visit.
Since celebrities were spending much of their time shooting films there, they began to fancy different luxury accommodations like El Mirador and The Desert Inn. Through more commonality of film shooting in the area, Hollywood began to dive into the rich culture that Palm Springs had to offer with its desert views, warm sun, and lavish and retro ambiance. There is actually quite a famous picture of Lucille Ball posed at El Mirador, where she would soon after begin filming for the show I Love Lucy. Well known Desi Arnaz's orchestra actually opened the Starlite Room of the Chi Chi Club, a Rat Pack style nightclub that housed many famous singers and jazz icons. Some of the most well-known celebrities began to flock to the desert sand to establish their hideaway homes including Frank Sinatra, President Gerald Ford, as well as the E=MC2 founder, Albert Einstein had homes to get away from the popularity and their celebrity title to relax with a cocktail in hand in the desert air.
Continuing into a more recent era, Sonny Bono, more commonly know for the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, initiated the start of the PSIFF, or the Palm Springs International Film Festival. This was the first festival in California of its kind to initiate the indicator of the performance of a film for the award seasons of the oscar and SAG awards. the PSIFF was not always successful, as the first one held in 1990 after the popularity of Palm Springs seemed to die out. It was an idea of Sonny's, who was a long-term mayor of the city. Bono felt that the way to catalyze Palm Springs is to have a film festival with the attendance of A-listers. However, the 1990 festival contained no A-Listers, until Cinema Paraiso won the highest honor at the fest, and ended up winning an Oscar for Best Foreign Film that year, continuing the festivals reign and continuance today.
If you were to drive down the I-10 today, take Exit 123 (Gene Autry Way- Palm Drive) to begin your journey with the history of Palm Springs in mind. Whether you like to experience amazingly retro architecture and homes that the movie stars used to live in or see the historical Indian land (that thankfully partially still belongs to the Cahuilla Indians), the Visit Palm Springs website gives some ideas and blasts from the past that you can still see and experience:
- Palm Springs has its own version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- As mentioned, Elvis and Priscilla Presley took their honeymoon there, and actually stayed for a few years. Lisa Marie was conceived at their estate in Palm Springs. There is a now a tour that you can take so you can walk through where The King of Rock and Roll once lived.
- Cary Grant, known movie starlet in films such as To Catch a Thief and Operation Petticoat, had a house that is now a restaurant called Copley's, which futures exquisite dishes such as basil ice cream.
- Various golf clubs, especially those golfed by Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, and many others. Both of these stars now have streets named after them that are crucial to getting around Palm Springs.
- Retro architecture lines the streets of Palm Springs, mimicking a Los Angeles type of feel to the desert oasis.
Overall, the feel of Palm Springs can be correlated with modern "desert vibes"; but it still maintains a very "Vintage Palm Springs" type of feel.