Steve Nichols recalls that his father, Culver Nichols, was on the first or second car on the tramway’s opening day.
Gov. Edmund Brown cutting the ribbon; also shown in photo are his wife Bernice and June Lockhart
Photography courtesy Palm Springs Historical Society and Palm Springs Life archives
“My brothers and I hiked up from Idyllwild, and we were already at the top when the first tramcar showed up,” he says. “There were people decked out in Tyrolean/alpine wear and lots of music. It was very festive.”
About 400 dignitaries attended the festivities, and 30 business magnates paid $1,000 for the privilege of being inaugural riders. Gov. Edmund Brown’s wife, Bernice, broke a bottle of California sparkling wine over the side of the tramcar. The governor cut the ribbon. The Third Marine Aircraft Wing from El Toro Marine Base made two sweeps in a crisscross pattern.
Celebrities present included Dinah Shore, Art Linkletter, June Lockhart, Fabian, Beverly Garland, and Howard Duff (whose new Jaguar was among a half-dozen cars that boiled over on the way up the steep grade to the valley station). And according to one newspaper article, “Pulchritude was added by two young actresses from the TV show The Lively Ones: Gloria Neil, a former Palm Springs girl, who was attired as Miss Desert Canyon; and Quinn O’Hara, Miss Mountaintop.”
Linkletter reportedly quipped, “Is this the new ride to Disneyland?” while the governor gripped the railing and revealed, “I don’t like heights.”
Absent from the festivities was the person everyone would most expect to be there: Francis Crocker.
“In the spring of 1963, progress on the construction was going along at a faster pace than they expected, and there might have been the possibility that they could have opened the tram in July, but they had already made arrangements with Gov. Brown to come to Palm Springs on Sept. 12,” Kitty Kieley Hayes says. “Francis Crocker became adamant that we had bonds and we should get it open as soon as we could so we would generate revenue to pay off the bondholders. The rest of the [winter park] authority said, ‘No, Gov. Brown has been our friend. He was so instrumental in getting this legislation going through, … we want him to cut the ribbon and ride on the first car.’ They argued about this for several weeks.
“Crocker got so mad that he quit, and my grandfather felt devastated: ‘How could he go off and leave us when we are so close to the end?’ Francis came around on his own. I don’t think it was in the first year, but I don’t think it was too much later,” Kieley Hayes says. “Eventually, he bought a year-round pass.”
No doubt, the man who envisioned the tramway and helped bring it to fruition could have ridden the tram at no charge. But, Kieley Hayes says, “Every time he went up, he bought a ticket too.”
“Francis would come on Sundays, and he would go up in the early afternoon, around 1 p.m.,” Linda Vivian recalls. “He would take the microphone away from the [tramcar] operator and give the story. It was so cool. He did it from his heart and from living it. He was really a neat guy.”
As for missing the opening, Vivian says, “He never said he regretted it. He was extremely pleased, of course, that it was built. He was pleased through the years when he came up and saw the changes and things that were done. I think the last anniversary he came to was the 25th. We did his 90-something birthday up there shortly before he died.” (Crocker died in 1990 at the age of 92.)