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Wasteland to Wonderland: Palm Desert Corporation and the Making of a Modern Desert City

Although mostly forgotten, Palm Desert is a desert city with deep roots in modern architecture. Historian Luke Leuschner presents an overview of the creation of the city with new and unseen material.

$15 (1 hr)

Category: Presentation, Talk, CAMP Theater

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Twelve miles down Highway 111 from Palm Springs, Palm Desert is not so much a city as it is the product of a few businessmen with a conviction for making money.

At its inception in 1946, the Palm Desert Corporation purchased 1500+ acres of raw desert land, hired some of California’s greatest modernists and town planners, and built an entire city from the sand. The vision for the “modern” desert city was the result of a struggle between two brothers: Clifford Henderson, a skillful businessman behind the Pan Pacific Auditorium and the National Air Races, and Randall Henderson, the editor of the famed Desert Magazine who had an endearing passion for the arid regions of the southwest.

Cliff wanted a resort city where his fellow members of the Los Angeles elite could frolic amongst his gleaming Shadow Mountain Club, and Randall wanted a year-round community for the year-round people who have historically given the Coachella Valley its charm.

This lecture presents this story and the history of Palm Desert told through its architecture, exhibiting designs in Palm Desert by architects such as Gordon Kauffmann, William Pereira, Cliff May, Herbert Burns, Walter S. White, A. Quincy Jones, Albert Frey, Rudolph Schindler, Harry Williams, and Tommy Tomson.

More than being the first comprehensive overview of Palm Desert’s architectural history, historian Luke Leuschner seeks to examine the larger social construction of the “desert” in the post-war period, and the transformation from the “wasteland” to the “wonderland.” It will feature almost entirely new and unseen material from the archives of the Historical Society of Palm Desert, presenting a chapter of Desert Modernism and California history that is scarcely known.


Things to Know
Ages 12 and older.

Modernism Week Theater is located at the south end of the hotel’s central atrium.
Ample free public parking is available.
Enter underground parking at Hyatt on Palm Canyon Drive or in the multi-level public garage across from the Palm Springs Art Museum.
Handicap parking is available.
This event is wheelchair accessible.
The organizer of this event is Modernism Week.

Event Check-in Location
Modernism Week Theater At CAMP

Hyatt Palm Springs
285 N. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA 92262
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Photo Credits:  Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Desert

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