An exciting expansion and transformation of the Palm Springs Air Museum will include an updated façade that nods to the city’s proliferation of midcentury-modern design and new construction that comprises an education area, gift shop, and ticketing area.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY PALM SPRINGS AIR MUSEUM
Twenty-seven years ago this month, Palm Springs Air Museum opened with 14 World War II aircraft. Now featuring 75 aircraft — and in January of this year adding Walt Disney’s personal Grumman Gulfstream to its exhibitions, the museum has embarked upon a twofold transformation.
The first element extends the nonprofit’s longstanding mission to honor veterans and educate the public on the role air power has played in preserving American liberty.
“We are including more toward advanced education opportunities,” says Fred Bell, board of directors vice chairman and managing director. “It’s a natural evolution as our resources have grown.”
The museum has introduced and continues to develop programs for Coachella Valley youth. To that end, it hired Maria Wren as its director of education.
“She has a strong background in STEM, and we brought her in as our initiative gathers momentum,” Bell says, referring to a recognition of the nationwide need for aviation professionals. “We are working on a curriculum to get kids excited about the humanities, which includes history, but also the technical aspects of how you apply math and physics.”
Air Museum indoor rendering.
The museum offers First Flight Experience for students 12 to 17 years of age and advances aspiring commercial pilots to certification in the second-stage Fly Coachella Valley. It further established a Young Science Professionals Scholarship Fund for college students. To accommodate career orientation, the museum needs more than its classroom for 40 students. That leads to the second transition: a physical expansion forming the basis of a $2.5 million capital campaign.
“Attendance has grown to the point that the original entry isn’t practical,” Bell says. “It is aged.”
The project involves 8,500 square feet, almost half of which represents new construction. Changes include improved traffic flow with new ticketing and gift shop areas and a 200-seat general purpose/education room (the Auen Learning Center). Bell reassures that the museum will remain open during the remodel.
Reflecting Palm Springs’ emphasis on midcentury-modern design, the re-envisioned façade marks a dramatic aesthetic shift. Additionally, the new design “is more representative of the air museum’s collection, which goes from prop planes to jets,” Bell says. “It not only is more workable but also more indicative of our evolution.”
The museum relies on its annual gala (next held on Feb. 10, 2024) to raise the bulk of its funding but is reaching out independently to stress the importance of its expansion physically and educationally.
“I expect it will take us a few years to get the project finished,” Bell says. “And hopefully we can retire the debt then.”