Thursday, June 24, 2010

No. 4 on the Most Endangered List

Actually, I'm a little late on this one....somebody had the bright idea to remove the historic Cypress Trees along the Welwood Murry Cemetery wall. The cemetery was established in 1894, and these trees likely date from then. Although I love Palm Trees as much as the next guy, in this installation they resemble nothing so much as telephone poles. This seems like an outrageous, unneccessary and misguided improvement. Although technically the trees are on public land, the Cemetery itself is a Class 1 Historic Site, changes to which require review by the Historic Site Preservation Board, a civic entity that has consistently had its head up its ass lately...but you'd think somebody might at least check in with them before changing another property associated with the pioneering Murray family (See endangered Building No. 1). Another example of the importance of historic landscape...lost.

And so I rant on......

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.

Friday, June 4, 2010

#2 on Palm Springs Most Endangered List

In the heyday of unbrideled real estate development that was Palm Springs before the golbal financial meltdown, this remarkable building complex was deemed expendable by local decision-makers. The site was "needed" to develop East Tahquitz Canyon Way into an upscale hotel zone, so arrangements were made to relocate the tenents of these buildings as a prelude to their demolition. Essentially "saved" by the bad market...they survive at least temporarily, until the economy revives.

In a town that loves Modernism, designs that show the influence of Pueblo Architecture are often discredited. Oddly, early modernists such as Irving Gill and Albert Frey paid homage to the style of this continent's oldest structures, but somehow, when Hugh Kaptur does the same thing, he gets no respect. Go figure...

So, while time allows, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to these singularly important and beautiful buildings. You'll thank me later...