A Peek Behind The Palms (A Brief History of Palm Springs)

Get to know one of California’s best-kept vacation getaways: Palm Springs! Tucked away in the desert inland from Los Angeles and San Diego, Palm Springs offers a relaxing desert getaway with a rich history.

Palm Springs’ Beginnings

Long before movie stars and golf pros arrived, a peaceful tribe of Indians lived in the area that became Palm Springs. The ancestors of today’s Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians dwelled in an area of lush vegetation now known as Indian Canyons more than 2,000 years ago, which is just a few minutes outside downtown Palm Springs.

In 1853, the U.S. Government sent a survey party to Palm Springs and its natural hot springs to establish the first wagon route through the San Gorgonio Pass. More than 20 years later, in 1877, the government split the parcels of land between the Agua Caliente tribe and Southern Pacific Railroad to give Southern Pacific incentive to complete the railroad to the Pacific Coast.

In 1884, the first major settlement began when Judge John Guthrie McCallum relocated from San Francisco with his family hoping the dry climate would cure his son’s tuberculosis. McCallum purchased land from Southern Pacific Railroad and built an aqueduct to bring water to the Coachella Valley. Although Dr. Welwood Murray built the first hotel in 1886, it closed in 1909, the same year that the Coffman Family opened the Desert Inn as a health resort. The hotel was modernized in 1927 but closed in 1967, and a shopping complex was built on the site.

Palm Springs was incorporated as a city in 1938, long after it became a playground for movie stars in the 1920’s.

Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley played an important part in World War II. The desert became a training ground for General George S. Patton’s troops prior to the North Africa invasion. The El Mirador Hotel was purchased by the U.S. government and converted it into Torney General Hospital. Today it’s the location of the Desert Regional Medical Center.

The airfield near the city that was a staging area for the Air Corps Ferrying Command’s 21st Ferrying Group is now the location of the Palm Springs International Airport.

Hollywood’s Playground

The Hollywood studios had a “two-hour rule” that required actors under contract to be available within two hours from the studio for any last minute film shoots. Palm Springs is about an hour and 50-minute drive from Los Angeles, so the “two-hour rule” helped put Palm Springs on the map.

Famous residents with Palm Springs hideaways included: Albert Einstein, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Kirk Douglas and Cary Grant. Famous ladies that frequently visited, included Marilyn Monroe, Dinah Shore, Lily Tomlin and Elizabeth Taylor.

High-powered couples that rendezvoused here included Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Elvis and Priscilla, President Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, President Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Walter and Lee Annenberg.

Today, Hollywood A-Listers are often drawn to Palm Springs in January for the Palm Springs International Film Festival founded by Mayor Sonny Bono in 1989. Frequent visitors include Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Ron Howard, Halle Barry and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Many details from Palm Springs’ rich history still remain in the city, and make it a fascinating city to tour.

When you’re ready to explore Palm Springs’ history, golf courses, swimming pools and tennis courts, book online or speak with a ResorTime travel concierge at (877)477-7368.

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