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

Like what you're reading? Then "Like" us on Facebook and "follow" us on Twitter.

Add your comment:
Edit Module
Desert Guide
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Explore Palm Springs: Ronald Reagan

The Republican Governors’ Association gathering in Palm Springs in December 1968 brought plenty of political firepower, including then Govenor Ronald Reagan, Congressman Gerald Ford, Pat Buchanan, and the President-elect, Richard Nixon.

Explore Palm Springs: Elvis Presley Meets Richard Nixon

Just before Christmas in 1970, Elvis Presley left the phone number to his Palm Springs home in a letter to then President Richard Nixon asking to become a federal agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

Explore Palm Springs: Section 14 Land

In December of 1956, a three-part plan to improve communication between the Palm Springs City Council and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Tribal Council was implemented.

Explore Palm Springs: Thanksgiving by the Pool

While other cities across the nation fight freezing temperatures, Palm Springs celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday poolside.

Explore Palm Springs: City of Swimming Pools

By the mid-1960s, Palm Springs could claim the highest per capita pool rate, one for every six residents or a staggering 2,000 pools.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions + Contests

Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Fashionista Friends

Fashionista Friends

Experience the glitz and glamour of Fashion Week El Paseo 2015.
2014/15 Best of the Best

2014/15 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
Edit ModuleShow Tags