According to legend, when amateur golfer and course architect Johnny Dawson told his friend, future Hall of Famer Ben Hogan, that he was developing the Coachella Valley’s first 18-hole golf course, Hogan was incredulous. “No one’s going to drive to the middle of the desert to play golf,” he reportedly said. But Dawson ignored his friend’s prediction and followed his inner innovator; in 1951, the course at Thunderbird Country Club opened to much success. And the valley has since blossomed with golf courses, which today number more than 120.
For more than a century, innovators have been coming to Greater Palm Springs to realize their visions. Whether drawing tourists from around the world, taking them up the side of a mountain, or striving to protect hospital patients from infection, the Coachella Valley has from the very beginning been a hub of ideas that become staples of the culture.
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If You Build It, They Will Come
Nellie Coffman, the “mother of Palm Springs,” is credited with transforming a tiny desert village into a world-famous tourist destination. Arriving in the Coachella Valley with her husband, Dr. Harry Coffman, and her two sons early in 1909, Nellie purchased a two-acre plot of land on the corner of what is now Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way. At the time, respiratory diseases were rampant, and the dry, hot climate provided a healing respite. The Coffmans opened a sanitorium they called The Desert Inn.
Nellie, whose father had once managed the St. James Hotel in Santa Monica, was no stranger to hospitality. While her husband provided medical care, Nellie made patients feel like welcome guests by pampering them with delicious homemade food and top-notch service. Soon, word started to spread about this magical place in the desert with its healing properties and luxurious treatment.
After reaching an impasse over what to do with the property — the good doctor wanted to continue helping sick people, and Nellie fancied herself a hotelier — the Coffmans divorced in 1914. Harry moved down valley and continued his work, while Nellie ended The Desert Inn’s relationship with the infirmed and continued to expand the hotel, eventually transforming it into world-class resort that remained open until after her death in 1950.
Nellie Coffman’s Desert Inn drew visitors to the Coachella Valley.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice to Be Up There on the Mountain Right Now?”
Francis Crocker had a dream. Manager of the local office of California Electric Power, Crocker had been driving along Highway 111 with his friend, Carl Barkow, publisher of The Desert Sun, in 1932 when Barkow expressed his desire to quickly escape the heat of the desert floor in favor of far cooler temperatures near the top of the San Jacinto Peak. Crocker, an electrical engineer by trade, began exploring — along with O. Earl Coffman (son of Nellie) — the idea of constructing a tramway up the side of the mountain. It took them three decades of legal hurdles and other obstacles (World War II and the Korean conflict caused delays), but the Palm Springs Ariel Tramway finally took its first ride in 1963. Today, it is one of the greatest year-round attractions in Greater Palm Springs and boasts the world’s largest rotating tram car.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The tram made its first trip in 1963 and was later designated an engineering landmark.
The Father of Desert Modernism
If the Tramway station in Palm Springs (“The Valley Station”) looks familiar, that’s probably because it was co-designed by Albert Frey, whose architectural stamp can be seen all over the city. Considered one of the founders of desert modernism — he was certainly one of the first great architects to bring international style to the Coachella Valley — the Swiss-born and Le Corbusier–educated Frey discovered the desert in 1934. In 1939, following the completion of his work on the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he moved here full time and opened an architectural firm in Palm Springs with John Porter Clark. For almost two decades, the two contributed iconic architecture to the area, including the Palm Springs City Hall building.
Before designing his second Palm Springs home, known as Frey House II, the detail-oriented architect reportedly spent five years selecting the site and a year studying the sun’s various angles and how they impacted its mountainside topography. The city thought the house’s design was crazy but nonetheless approved the plans, which resulted in a home with stunning views and a one-of-a-kind connection to the environment. Today, Frey House II is considered one of the area’s most significant structures.
Now rightfully recognized as one of the trailblazers of the Coachella Valley’s remarkable architectural legacy, Frey had a career that lasted more than 60 years and produced various residential, commercial, institutional, and civic buildings that are considered landmarks today.
PHOTOGRABY ©J. PAUL GETTY TRUST USED WITH PERMISSION / JULIUS SHUMAN PHOTOGRAPHYARCHIVE RESEARCH LIBRARY AT THE GETTY RESEARCH INSTITUTE / 2004.R.10
Frey House II on the hillside at the west end of Tahquitz Canyon.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PALM SPRINGS LIFE ARCHIVES
Keeping It Simple
When industrial designer Raymond Loewy famously said, “I can claim to have made the daily life of the 20th century more beautiful,” he wasn’t exaggerating. In a career that spanned more than 60 years, Loewy consulted for more than 200 companies, designing everything from refrigerators and cars to postage stamps and logos, including one for Shell Oil that proved so recognizable the company was able to drop their name from its advertising. At one point, he worked as a consultant to NASA and was even featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1949.
Among his noted works is the famous Loewy House in Palm Springs that he designed in conjunction with Albert Frey in 1946. Originally conceived as a streamlined bachelor pad, the home was later expanded when Loewy took a wife. Taking the concept of outdoor living to new levels, the home featured a swimming pool that dramatically extended inside into the living room and provided terrific views of the desert and mountains.
Loewy has been called the “father of streamlining” for his concept of creating “beauty through function and simplification.” He sought to innovate and improve our quality of life through better, yet simplified, designs. While many accounts say he was not a fan of his principles later being repackaged as “modernism,” he nonetheless helped usher in the aesthetic for which midcentury modern living is now known.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY PALM SPRINGS LIFE ARCHIVES
Albert Frey collaborated on the streamlined Loewy House.
A Contemporary, Colorful Aesthetic
Housed in a 1961 Albert Frey–designed flat-roofed building whose generous helping of windows take great advantage of the natural light, Trina Turk’s flagship boutique (opened in 2002) not only introduced the Coachella Valley to an aesthetic that the designer calls California modernism, it also helped revive Palm Springs’ Uptown Design District, which at the time was not filled with the trendy restaurants and galleries it is today.
Known for creating bold prints and saturated hues that are a perfect match for the Coachella Valley’s laid-back, resort-style vibe, Turk has done more than simply change the way we dress. As a committed preservationist whose love of historic architecture inspires her designs, she also believes in giving back to the communities that house her boutiques (11 and counting). When the Palm Springs Art Museum sought to purchase an E. Stewart Williams building to house the new Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center, Turk and her late husband, Jonathan Skow (the visionary behind the Mr Turk menswear line), stepped up with a generous donation. She also gives to arts, education, and other preservation efforts.
Turk and Skow restored their own local landmark when they purchased the 1936 home known affectionately as Ship of the Desert. Located in the Mesa neighborhood of Palm Springs, the Streamline Moderne structure designed by Erle Webster and Adrian Wilson to look like a sea vessel also managed to work its magic on Turk, who said she started making textiles and pillows because she wanted to put them in her restored home.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY TRINA TURK
Trina Turk boutiques exude the bright, optimistic spirit of Palm Springs.
One would have a hard time naming someone more powerful on the music festival circuit than Paul Tollett, a lover of architecture and art whose concert promotion company Goldenvoice has been rocking Greater Palm Springs for 20 years with the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (aka Coachella). It was an inspired idea, to bring together two days of bands and fans at the Empire Polo Club in Indio. And though Coachella failed to make money its first few years, Tollett and his team persevered and ultimately ended up producing what is arguably the highest-profile, highest-grossing music festival in the world, all the while reinventing the area’s youth tourism market.
In addition to boosting the Coachella Valley economy with its massive festivals — this year’s Coachella and Stagecoach festivals garnered a combined $1.4 billion in profits, more than $800 million of which was expected to go back to the valley — and Splash House events, Goldenvoice also gives back to our east valley cities by re-siting gigantic festival artworks as public art, including the recent 54-foot-tall three-structure Etherea installation by Edoardo Tresoldi in downtown Coachella.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS MILLER/IMAGINE IMAGERY
PHOTOGRAPH BY LANCE GERBER
Eduoardo Tresoldi created Etherea for the 2018 Coachella festival
A New Kind of Marketing
To this day, innovators find themselves drawn to Greater Palm Springs, whether for its openness, acceptance, or small-town vibe. Among those are visionaries Greg Middleton and Clifton Cooper, whose idea for a different type of marketing agency was embraced by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), an organization devoted to inciting “vision-driven transformation” in Greater Palm Springs by helping innovators and entrepreneurs at every stage in the process.
Their invention, Pocial, is a one-of-a-kind organization that delivers campaigns with specially tailored content so that their clients understand who their customers are and everyone understands what’s needed, in order for the product — whatever it may be — to be delivered with efficiency and ease. And when they needed help getting off the ground, Palm Springs iHub, CVEP’s incubator for tech startups, was there to help.
Their invention, Pocial, is a one-of-a-kind organization that delivers campaigns with specially tailored content.
“The Palm Springs iHub is a stamp of credibility for a start-up business,” Middleton says. “With technology, one of the hardest things out of the gate, unless your brand is already a household name, is proving the traction to get started. Companies say, ‘I’d love to buy your product. Who have you worked with?’ And for us, iHub was the solution to that problem. It was our ability to say, ‘We’ve built this platform, and you can trust that it would fit two years from now, five years from now, eight years from now.’ It took us from that material concept of a business to an actual business with traction.”
Pocial uses polling and social media to create a data-driven experience.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NEIL HUSVAR
Clifton Cooper and Greg Middleton
Eyes on the Future
It all started with a lecture on infection control. Elizabeth Wong, who works as a certified registered nurse in Palm Springs, became aware of all the ways infection safety can be an issue in the operating room. “I discovered an area in which I could make an improvement,” she says of her invention, the Double-Lock, Sterile-Entry Intravenous Port and Syringe System. “After that, I contacted some companies, but didn’t get much response.”
Enter CVEP and the Palm Springs iHub, which believed in the product and paired Wong with a mechanical engineer, David Ceballos, who helped to bring her invention to life. The two worked together for almost two years developing prototypes, which they’re currently testing. After that, “[CVEP’s] Joe [Wallace] said he would help me get appointments with the CEOs of hospitals to see if this would be a product for which they’d write a letter of intent to purchase.” Once Wong has a bona fide customer, she’ll need an investor to help come up with funds so she can manufacture the product. It sounds like an intense process, but Wong insists CVEP has made it easy. “They have helped me — someone who has never done anything like this — to become an entrepreneur.””
“They have helped me — someone who has never done anything like this — to become an entrepreneur.”
And while she knows the process from invention to implementation is a long one, she has her eyes firmly focused on the future. “In the United States alone, 25 million people have surgery every year,” she says. “If and when the Double-Lock, Sterile-Entry Intravenous Port and Syringe System goes into widespread use, at least 25 million patients would benefit from its use. That really keeps you focused — the future vision of your invention in actual practice.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NEIL HUSVAR
The innovative Double-Lock, Sterile-Entry Intravenous Port and Syringe System