Community Church Fire Brings Architecture's Value to Forefront

Palm Springs IDs five most endangered vacant locations

The 1935 Community Church at the corner of Baristo and Cahuilla roads in Palm Springs suffered serious fire damage in September.



Last July, our online architectural journey took us to Palm Springs historic Community Church (1935) at Baristo and Cahuilla Roads.

Designed by architect William Charles Tanner, Palm Springs Historic Site No. 23 is a captivating illustration of the built environment’s influence on the identity of a community from 1800’s adobes through Post-WWII’s boom.

Today, the Coachella Valley has been a catalyst for innovative design, and continues to inspire contemporary architects from near and far.

Recently, fire severely damaged the Community Church. Unique concrete construction is a saving grace for a pristine restoration. Such events are reminders of the precarious nature of architectural assets and the impact of their alteration, damage, or loss.

Palm Springs 1936 Carnell Building comes to mind, and most readers will recall demolition last spring of Rancho Mirage’s Charthouse Restaurant, an iconic example of 1970’s organic architecture (architect, Kendrick Bangs Kellogg).

Protecting a community’s significant historical built environment always makes for a more successful future. Vacant and Abandoned Building Ordinances must be in place…and enforced. After the church fire, distressed Palm Springs City Council members brought the message of neglected buildings to the forefront.

Laudably, Mayor Steve Pougnet called for identification of the five most endangered vacant locations. See for the Palm Springs Modern Committee reply to the Mayor.

The most endangered, Town & Country Center (1947), is a stellar example of mid-century modern architecture and urban planning by two of California’s most accomplished architects, A. Quincy Jones (Sunnylands) and Paul Revere Williams (LAX Theme Building). (pictured right)

Relentlessly neglected, it has been a focus of controversy regarding downtown Palm Springs redevelopment. Threatened with bulldozing for pavement, the viable site appears forlorn.

But a moment’s walk through its open-air courtyards evokes the vibrant potential for shops and restaurants…an urban courtyard of music, food stalls, art and retail kiosks deserving of the exciting new downtown underway.

The list also includes architect E. Stewart Williams’ 1956 bank building at 383 S. Palm Canyon. Originally offering sumptuous views for customers and tellers, what’s your suggestion for the elevated, louvered building…fine dining, cultural center, and spacious microbrewery?

Underutilized residential units at La Plaza (1936; Harry Williams; Historic Site No. 22) are included. How terrific if one could live in our thriving town center.

Where pools and rambling gardens once defined The Orchid Tree Inn on Belardo (pictured below), a dreadfully abysmal image of former beauty stands today. And a glance at Palm Springs famed Racquet Club makes one wonder if Marilyn Monroe really was discovered there among Hollywood’s luminaries. She was!

Buildings make a difference. Architecture impacts a community. Once altered, damaged or gone…well, they are altered, damaged, or gone, usually forever.

As we travel the architectural desert roads together, join me here in keeping an eye out for those buildings that help define us.

Palm Springs resident Robert Imber is executive director of “Desert Utopia”, the documentary on Palm Springs modernism, a board member of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, and a trustee of The California Preservation Foundation, the state’s largest and oldest preservation organization. Imber operates Palm Springs Modern Tours, offering twice daily tours of Palm Springs mid-century modern architecture (

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