Whereas there’s no scarcity of first women, influential feminine movers-and-shakers, businesswomen, and doyennes of all stripes related to Palm Springs—Dinah Shore, Mary Pickford, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, Gigi Guggenheim, the Gabor sisters, Pearl McCallum McManus, Ruth Hardy, and Barbara Foster Henderson, to call just some—there is just one mom: the inimitable Nellie Coffman.
Entrepreneur, promoter, philanthropist, and proprietress of fabled sanatorium-turned-celebrity-escape the Desert Inn, Coffman is credited with placing Palm Springs, then a lonely and far-flung outpost in California’s Sonoran Desert, on the map as a spot to be seen with the opening of the inn in 1909. Her formidable legacy has now come into renewed focus with the opening of a 1.5-acre public park on the web site of the long-gone Desert Inn.
Designed by Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary structure and design agency RIOS, town’s new Downtown Park debuted this previous October after breaking floor in 2019 and can take pleasure in a second main wave of consideration in the course of the 2022 version of Modernism Week, which kicks off on February 17. ( RIOS is internet hosting 4 sold-out strolling excursions of the park as a part of the annual celebration of Palm Spring’s wealthy midcentury trendy structure and design heritage.)
As Nate Cormier, managing director of the panorama structure follow at RIOS, defined to AN, Coffman, within the position of Palm Springs’ earliest and most emphatic booster, would stress the “4 S’s” when persuading individuals why they wanted to go to or put down roots within the metropolis: “House, stillness, solitude, and ease.”
“Throughout the early design levels, you begin out with a number of totally different concepts—it’s all the time an modifying course of […] and also you’ve bought to prioritize which concepts are actually true to the id of this place,” stated Cormier. “At an early level within the course of, we began utilizing her 4 “S’s” virtually like a litmus take a look at—which thought is area stillness, solitude, and ease? It turned a mantra.”
That includes a bench-lined native palm grove, an occasion stage with amphitheater-style seating, two spacious lawns, public unisex restrooms, police substation, and a grotto-like water function, the resultant Downtown Park pays homage to the therapeutic desert panorama that Coffman so tirelessly championed.
To that finish, the $7.6 million park’s design notably eschews riffing off midcentury design. “We made a acutely aware choice to attempt to faucet into this intrinsic panorama, one thing extra everlasting and timeless about Palm Springs,” stated Cormier. “We wished to present individuals a style of this place, like in wine tradition they name it terroir. In case you visited [Palm Springs] for only a transient time and went to this park, you get a bit of trace at another experiences that basically are distinctive on the earth.”
Dubbed the Spring and designed in partnership with Fluidity Design Consultants, the dramatic cascading water function, for instance, attracts direct inspiration from a 60-foot waterfall discovered at Tahquitz Canyon inside the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation. In the meantime, the park’s resident palms are actual California palms: the endemic Washingtonia filifera, bearded and irregular, and never non-native species just like the Mexican fan palm, which got here to dominate the Southern California panorama in the course of the Thirties. The distinctive geology noticed by the design workforce throughout subject excursions into the San Jacinto Mountains was replicated through a customized sedimentary end for the park’s vertical partitions and modular seat blocks.
Along with an “general vibe that immerses individuals within the native panorama,” Cormier famous that the park was “all the time supposed to be a catalyst for the remainder of downtown Palm Springs.” It serves a vital civic operate in a metropolis that, regardless of being a world-famous vacation spot for out of doors recreation and leisure actions, has till now lacked a correct commons—a multifaceted, open-air venue for residents and guests to assemble in its downtown core. (Positioned a block west of North Palm Canyon Drive, the park is bounded by Belardo Highway and North Museum Drive and reverse the Palm Springs Artwork Museum; towering over Museum Method to the south is the controversial, colossal Forever Marilyn.)
Whereas out of doors social interplay in and round Palm Springs tends to happen on the golf course and on the pool deck, the Downtown Park provides another: an inviting swath of open public area envisioned by Palm Springs Metropolis Council as “a central arts and tradition hub.” Importantly, the all-seasons park is accessible throughout even essentially the most blazing sizzling desert afternoons due to its extremely climate-responsive design that provides shade—and cooling mist from the Spring’s fog financial institution function—in abundance.
“It gives a spot for individuals to have an ice cream cone and stroll or have a cup of espresso, but in addition faucets into a couple of different bigger bioregional and cultural forces afoot within the Coachella Valley,” Cormier stated. And whereas the multigenerational Downtown Park provides what Cormier referred to as “a playful and dynamic environment” that’s family-friendly, design parts additionally particularly cater to Palm Springs residents, who skew homosexual and older. To raised accommodate older guests, for instance, the park’s benches, function beneficiant armrests designed in order that customers can extra simply assist themselves up after sitting. The armrests additionally deliver pops of shade, a signature of RIOS’s, into the park’s predominately pure tones.
Following the drawn-out demolition of the Desert Inn that started in 1966, a unique kind of gathering place—one very a lot of the period—rose to take its place: the Desert Inn Vogue Plaza, an enclosed shopping center designed by Charles Luckman and later anchored by a SOM-designed division retailer for high-end San Francisco retailer Joseph Magnin Co.
Coffman’s sons bought the inn to actress Marion Davies in 1955 a number of years after their mom’s demise, and a plan was hatched to redevelop the property right into a Las Vegas-style resort complicated designed by Victor Gruen and Associates. That plan was scrapped and Davies went on to promote the land to builders Samuel Firks and George Alexander in 1960 for $2.5 million. A subsequent redevelopment scheme fell by way of and the property was finally acquired by developer Joseph Okay. Eichenbaum. Debuting in 1967, the Desert Inn Vogue Plaza (rebranded because the Desert Vogue Plaza within the Nineteen Eighties following a serious overhaul) was a smash success. Within the many years that adopted, it persevered by way of a number of possession shifts and expansions each deliberate and realized earlier than getting into a interval of decline within the Nineties. The demolition of the vacant mall commenced in 2013 to make approach for a mixed-use redevelopment scheme that includes a Kimpton lodge, retail, and open public area. Conceptual plans for Downtown Park, which constitutes only a sliver of the previous Desert Inn web site, kicked off in 2015.
The Downtown Park celebrates the Palm Springs of Nellie Coffman by way of its embrace of the pure panorama and, fittingly, a bronze plaque on the park sponsored by the nonprofit Palm Spring Preservation Basis (PSPF) marks the historic significance of the positioning. The PSPF can be campaigning for town to call the brand new park in her honor.
“The town has a convention and lengthy historical past of naming its parks after feminine pioneers like Frances Stevens and Ruth Hardy,” wrote PSPF president Tracy Conrad in a December 2020 op-ed printed within the Desert Solar. “It’s only becoming that we bear in mind this historical past and title the brand new downtown park after Coffman, an important civic chief of the twentieth century, as it’s the very floor, the hallowed place, the place she walked and labored.”
As recounted by Cormier, PSPF members distributed “little Nellie heads” (technically “face followers”) on the October 21 grand opening festivities, which, in true Palm Springs trend, included a live performance by an ABBA tribute band and a canine parade. “I’d say we’re very supportive,” he stated. “I do assume it could be actually great to call the park after her.”