In 1922, the Cavanagh Adobe was built on 20 acres and was surrounded by date palms. Now it sits on one acre with just 20 of the original palm trees left.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK CIESLIKOWSKI
Adobe homes were abundant throughout the Coachella Valley in the early 20th century, but by the 1930s many had fallen into disrepair or collapsed from lack of maintenance. Following the Long Beach earthquake in 1933, many of the valley’s historic adobes were destroyed or torn down due to new earthquake retrofitting laws.
Few of those original adobes survived except for one of the valley’s oldest, the Cavanagh Adobe in Indian Wells, which celebrates its 100th year in 2022 with a special Modernism Week October event set for Oct. 14.
Adobe homes have played vital role in the valley’s development. Their suitability in the desert environment has aided both the Indigenous population as well as immigrants to the valley. Thick earthen walls retain both heat and cool, regulating yearly temperatures. The design of the roof overhang and windows protect the home from rain and contribute to cooling in the summer. Although the adobe now has air conditioning, the house still retains its environment mitigating effects due to this design.
The current owners, architects Michael Burch and Diane Wilk, have redecorated in the original adobe style. “It is probably a bit fancier than what one would find in a working ranch house, but it is period appropriate,” says Wilk. “We have furnished the home with our own collection, many of which date from the period the house was constructed. We have tried to preserve as much of the original fabric of the house as we possibly can.” Many of the period pieces in the house are original to the valley, one in particular with a fascinating journey back home.
“I have a painting of Mt. San Gorgonio that was gifted to my mother by a famous muralist, decades ago, back when she was still living in Michigan,” Wilk recalls. “It was painted here in the Coachella Valley in 1936. She had kept it all these years and now I have it hanging in the little office.”
Maintaining an adobe house does take effort. “It is a constant battle with the elements and makes one realize how we are all really a part of nature,” Wilk says.
The effort has meant preserving a piece of history. The Cavanagh Adobe has historical significance because of the role it played in the restoration of the date palm industry in the Middle East.
Disease began decimating date palms throughout the region near the turn of the century and the Cavanagh brothers sent Deglet Noor Date Palm stock to help re-establish the population there.
Wilk and Burch will be part of a Modernism Week October event to commemorate the home’s 100th birthday. The day starts at Indian Wells City Hall with a special presentation by city officials to recognize the home’s importance to Coachella Valley history, followed by a presentation by Burch and Wilk entitled “Midcentury Modern Meets Sanish Revival.” A tour of the property follows with lunch included at Don Diego’s of Indian Wells ( across the street from the home). Each guest will receive a commemorative booklet.