Explore Palm Springs: 1938 Flood

Deluge left city without a way in or out

Floods washed out the Palm Springs bridge over Tahquitz wash on Palm Canyon Drive.

Photo Courtesy of Palm Springs Historical Society


A temporary end to the drought is possible with rain forecasted over the next few days.

But nothing on the scale of what came 76 years ago.

On March 2, 1938, a desert storm hit with all its might pouring inches upon inches of water into the canyons above the village of Palm Springs and onto the desert floor.

The washes flooded and asphalt and concrete were broken loose and carried by the swift water, cutting its way from Palm Springs to Indio.

The newly incorporated city of Palm Springs sprang into action calling in Bill Leonesio, the first fire chief and the newly organized Palm Springs Fire Department. The rain pummeled the city for two days, and when it was over Palm Springs was completely isolated without any way in or out of the city.

For three days, residents and visitors were left to pull their cars out of the flood channels and wave to their friends and neighbors, who had been caught on the other side of the bridge when it collapsed.

The concrete from the destroyed bridge tumbled down the Tahquitz wash and was swept all of the way down to Indio by the raging river.

With many of the streets destroyed by the torrent, horses became the most reliable form of transportation. Horses and riders were able to access places where cars were unable to maneuver.

There is a multitude of ways to learn more about Palm Springs, which turned 75 in 2013. One of the more intriguing methods is by exploring the city’s history.

The Palm Springs Historical Society will share a weekly story whose time and place corresponds with today.

The Palm Springs Historical is located at 221 S. Palm Canyon Drive. For more information, visit www.pshistoricalsociety.org

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