Thursday, June 24, 2010

Palm Springs Most Endangered Buildings, No 3


Many people have tired of hearing about The Center - a.k.a. Town & Country Center, (1947, A. Quincy Jones and Paul R. Williams). A few months ago this historically significant building wound its way through the city designation process, with protection as a Class 1 site ultimately spite of being eminently qualified. Such are politics in a small town. Recently Zeldaz dance club, the Center’s last major tenant, gave up the ghost after 30 years and relocated to the Sun Center (1965, Richard Harrison) on South Palm Canyon. This is interesting for a number of reasons.

If the owner of The Center had maintained the building, Zeldaz, and any number of other tenants might still occupy this and other downtown buildings. Instead, Zeldaz became just another tenant who felt the need to abandon the downtown area surrounding the vacant and moribund Desert Fashion Plaza.

On the other hand, sensing the deterioration of the central downtown core, the owners of the Sun Center recently invested in the rehabilitation of their property which now appears to be flourishing. Can’t help but think the same thing might have happened to The Center, if its owner were not so interested in its demolition. As most preservationists know, there’s almost nothing worse that can happen to historic buildings than for them to sit empty for long periods of time. Their systems begin to fail, and the restoration costs begin to climb. Unsympathetic property owners of historic buildings are well aware of this phenomenon, and the choice to neglect and vacate these buildings is often a prelude to demolition, hence the term “Demolition By Neglect”

There is a touch of irony in the Zeldaz relocation. In the past, when “straight” neighborhoods or clubs get rundown, urban myths would have it that they are rediscovered by gay men who polish their tatty charms with sweat equity and recreate them as gay neighborhoods (Christopher Street and the Castro, to name but two) or clubs. In this case, the irony is that Zeldaz took over the space of a gay night club and seems to be making a go of it. Good for them. I can’t help but wonder if its time for a gay entrepreneur to take over the old Zeldaz space and make it into something fabulous, like maybe recreating the original Town & Country Restaurant!

Interesting footnote: In 1970, when Max Palevsky was building his great Craig Ellwood-designed desert home, he stayed in one of the very high-styled apartments at The Center.

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