Friday, December 05, 2008

Preserving Palm Springs

There was a public party in Palm Springs' historic tennis district on Saturday, celebrating the designation of the Casa Cody Inn as a "Class 1 Historical Site" by the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation (click here).

The neighborhood covers approximately six square blocks between downtown and the San Jacinto Mountains, and is host to about a dozen small hotels.

The Casa Cody is a conglomeration of historic houses, one of which belonged to the opera singer Lawrence Tibbett. The small stage where he indulged in theatricals with his friend Charlie Chaplin is still there. (Click here for the hotel's website.)

Palm Springs is currently in an interesting moment of transition. Most of the wealthy in Palm Springs have moved southeast in the Coachella Valley over the last 30 years to towns like Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert and La Quinta.

These places tend to be more Republican and strictly divided between a small group of rich white people on the hills and canyons and country clubs who are serviced by large adjacent towns populated by Mexican labor.

Over the last ten years, particularly since the AIDS drugs arrived and more gay men have been living into old age, Palm Springs has become the destination for gay retirees from all over the world. It's not organized in any fashion but seems to be happening of its own accord, which reminds me a bit of San Francisco in the late 1970s.

This influx has arrived just in time because the town needs saving from a number of developers. These include the Agua Caliente Indian tribe who have proposed transforming the town into a mini Las Vegas, to John Wessman, a developer who wants to turn the place into an Orange County multi-storied mall.

As Ginny Foat, the controversial Palm Springs lesbian councilwoman (click here for the story) once put it: “What gays and lesbians discover when they come here is a city that needs fixing up – with a little fairy dust."

Foat was at the party to give an official proclamation to Therese Hayes and Frank Tysen, the owners of Casa Cody, who have created the inn as a labor of love, and who have fought for preserving the beauty of greater Palm Springs.

In a recent online article on Palm Springs architecture (click here), there was a marvelous quote: "When he started buying the buildings in 1986, owner Frank Tysen recalled, people would say, 'Palm Springs is dying. Why are you investing in these?' Small inns have helped revive Palm Springs. We were lucky that progress passed us by, but the challenge is not to lose the ambiance. What we're saving is a time warp. That's why people want to be here."

The vacant lot next to Casa Cody is under the control of John Wessman who wants to build a "hip, boutique" hotel that is five stories tall, and blocks everybody's view of the mountains. Hopefully, the financial meltdown will stop some of the worst of these plans, along with the dedicated advocacy of the people at Casa Cody's open house.


affinity said...

I was raised in Palm Springs and loved reading this post. Thanks so much for blogging.

sfmike said...

Deaf affinity: And thanks so much for the kind words. Knowing I got some of it right from a raised-in-Palm-Springs person is nice. The place really has become interesting and I love that its real soul/social center is the huge public high school smack in the center of town.

janinsanfran said...

This is fascinating! Please keep telling us about how Palm Springs plays out.

Cari said...

Rich white people pay people to landscape and clean for them, it works for both sides. Why you hate them for that? They are good customers. My company caters to these customers. I provide jobs to many Mexican workers who are happy to do the work and have the opportunity to work in nice homes and nice neighborhoods. My husband is Mexican and he has no problem with it at all. He feels he is helping other Mexicans earn a living. White people landscape and clean too by the way. The Mexicans just happen to be there for us to employ. Watch what you say. It's racist and hateful.

sfmike said...

Dear Cari: I never wrote that I hate rich white people, though it's true they are not my favorite group to hang out with. The observation that the racial/cultural divide in the Coachella Valley is more pronounced the further southeast you go towards La Quinta from Palm Springs is also a fairly neutral statement, not "racist and hateful." And if it's any consolation, I happen to love Mexico and am sympathetic to Latino culture in the United States.