Explore Palm Springs: John Jacob Raskob

The builder of what was once the tallest building in the world, the Empire State Building, was a frequent vistor of Palm Springs.

August 18, 2021
Story by Tracy Conrad
john jacob raskob

John Jacob Raskob (right) with Samuel Untermyer, one of the owners of the Willows in Palm Springs.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY

While no longer the tallest, arguably the most recognizable skyscraper in the world is the Empire State Building. That the iconic building exists at all is truly remarkable and is due to a quintessential New Yorker, John Jacob Raskob, who built it.

Raskob was a figure of impressive organizational skills and was considered a financial wizard, serving simultaneously as vice-president of finance for both DuPont de Nemours and Company and General Motors. In the latter capacity, Raskob created the innovative and groundbreaking General Motors Acceptance Corporation, the pioneer in automotive credit that for the first time allowed customers the opportunity to buy cars on installment directly from dealers.

From the time of his first visit to Palm Springs, Raskob fell under the spell of the desert. He had come originally to visit his friend and fellow New Yorker Samuel Untermyer at his home, The Willows. Soon he began returning regularly whenever his business allowed, generally traveling via his plush private rail car, the Skipaway.

The relaxing atmosphere of Palm Springs had a visible effect on the normally shy Raskob to such a degree he began making news, not by huge corporate or political dealings, but by his heretofore unknown skill at dancing contests at the El Mirador Hotel. The hotel’s tower was the tallest, most iconic, building in the desert for many years, and naturally appealed to Raskob.

Raskob continued to visit the village of Palm Springs. The Desert Sun was littered with mentions of his whereabouts and activities. “John Raskob, briskest of village walkers, quick-striding along the street and very natty sartorially in a brown outfit….” As most New Yorkers seem to rush about, the description was fitting of the most quintessential of New Yorkers and builder of the most iconic of New York skyscrapers.

There is a multitude of ways to learn more about Palm Springs, which turned 83 in 2021. One of the more intriguing methods is by exploring the city’s history.

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

For more information, visit their location at 221 S. Palm Canyon Drive.