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Preservation as Part of the Process

The Town and Country Plaza-Taking Sides
Image Gallery

The Town and Country Plaza:
Taking Sides

Without designated historic districts and enforceable preservation codes, it is hard to determine exactly which Palm Springs properties may be at risk. Special attention is being paid to commercial properties near downtown. Over 70 shops sat vacant in downtown Palm Springs in 2009. The city is working with a developer to rework portions of the downtown area. The city and the developer agree that the $650 million vision to create a lifestyle center with hotels, retail, condos and a connection from the Palm Springs Art Museum to the Palm Springs Convention Center is key to the revitalization of downtown. The dispute is over the value of the historic resources in the way.

The Town and Country Plaza in its Heyday
town and country vintage ext

One property that will be affected by this vision of renewal has spurred a fight over preservation. The Town and Country Center was designed and built in 1948 by A. Quincy Jones and Paul R. Williams as one of the first mixed-use complexes, with retail on the ground floor and residences above. The center was the pinnacle of the Palm Springs shopping experience off Palm Canyon Drive. The elegant Town and Country restaurant featured Eames furniture and looked out on a lushly landscaped courtyard. So successful when it opened, it spurred development of the surrounding Palm Springs downtown area. A 2004 historical survey listed the property as being in fair condition, countering the argument by some that the center is need of removal. The survey lists the property as among the most historically significant structures in Palm Springs and states:

‘...the complex is “a rare and excellent example of the late Moderne style” and that “the structure retains a good degree of integrity; the location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association appear to remain unchanged since the building was constructed…because of the building’s visual quality, history, intact setting, and fair to high integrity, and as an outstanding example of commercial architecture in the late Moderne style, the building represents the overall commercial development of downtown Palm Springs during the post-war era and contributes to the mid-century Modernist character so strongly identified with Palm Springs"

The Town and Country Center 2000's
town and country 2000s

Despite this recognition, the center is threatened by at least partial demolition to make way for a high-rise development containing nearly 1000 residential units, 600 hotel rooms, and a road link to a casino and revived Desert Fashion Plaza. The Palm Springs Modern Committee has worked closely with the Friends of the Town and Country Center on preservation of that site. Their work has focused on providing an alternative to the destruction of the center that still meets most of the goals and objectives desired by the developer. The Wessman Development Corporation, involved in the effort to re-develop the site, declared the alternative plan unworkable and publicly lobbied to demolish at least part of the center. The developer has stated that the cross street permitted by the destruction of the center is critical to the project, and in a swipe to preservationists, a development representative stated that if the building is declared historic, his firm ‘will not invest a dime’ to fix it up.'(Desert Sun, 4/24/09) The developer scaled back original plans to include a smaller scale redo, but still sees the demolition of the Town and Country Plaza as essential to the success of the project. The future of the Town and Country Center hangs in the balance.

Other noted properties at risk include the Santa Fe Savings and Loan building, designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1960 and currently under threat of redevelopment by an adjacent residential lofts project that would intrude upon the space next to the building. The fate is in the hands of the Palm Springs City Council. The Palm Springs Preservation Foundation is also working on the protection of the 1934 Kocher-Samson building from design additions that would further harm the character of this historically significant Albert Frey building.

Town and Country Center Interior - 1950's
town country restaurant interior 1950's
Despite the absence to date of preservation laws with teeth, there is reason for hope that Modernist structures can be preserved and the Modernist aesthetic will grow. The dialogue has changed and presumptions have shifted. No longer are the Modernist architectural treasures razed without question or outcry. Collectors and investors are attracted to the iconic homes, which list on Sotheby’s in the millions, when they list at all. Money will be the great protector of those properties. In 2006, contractor MaxxLivingstone Homes began building replicas of Alexander Steel Homes with modern conveniences and energy capabilities to sell to the public. In 2005, designer Marmol Radziner built a The Desert House, a prototype for prefabricated desert homes near Palm Springs. Public architecture is a great point of civic pride and will serve to highlight the signature style of the region to visitors and citizens alike. Most at risk, it seems, are the commercial projects—banks, restaurants, office buildings, shops and stores that characterized how people lived, ate and socialized for generations. In some cases, preservation efforts will be too late. In others, they may not make sense when compared to economic benefits of development projects. In all cases, work done by concerned citizens has changed the way Palm Springs looks at itself and provided the resources to protect a national treasure.
Preservation as Part of the Process