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Frances Allen’s Desert Roundup—Desert History Goes From Mud Huts To Hollywood Opulence

A quintessential Palm Springs mid-century modern home.

Posted Monday, October 15, 2018 - 2:39 pm

October is the “month before the storm” on the Desert’s social calendar, with the arrival of event announcements causing ladies to shop for new editions to their social wardrobe, and gentlemen—for whom last-year’s attire is more than sufficient—reaching  for their checkbooks to pay for the new discoveries. So, we decided to take a quick look at the 2,000-plus years that brought us from mud-huts to present-day borderline opulence.

The fist humans to settle in what is now known as the Coachella Valley were an isolated people who, migrating to the Indian canyons where they got some relief from the summers’ heat, returning to the valley-floor in the fall.

The Agua Caliente (Hot Water) Reservation was established in 1876 and consists of a major portion of downtown Palm Springs, making the Band one of the wealthiest in the state.

Fast-forward a couple of millennia to the early 1930s and Palm Spring was beginning to establish itself as the world-class destination it is today. Many of the first residents came because the dry, hot climate was beneficial to their health, particularly if the person was infected with tuberculosis.

Palm Springs, circa 1930s, became known as the number-one desert getaway for Hollywood stars, and it had nothing to do with health. A star’s life in the 1930s could easily be destroyed by gossip or scandal. America was much more puritanical in those days and every star lived under a constant veil of surveillance and paranoia. An extramarital affair or the revelation that a star was gay could take one from rags to riches – literally overnight.

Gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper wielded immense power with an insatiable readership of millions who devoured every one of their salacious stories; but, word soon got out that there was a beautiful desert sanctuary where one could be relatively safe from prying eyes.

There was another, monitary, reason that provided a boon for reporters of tinsel-town. For most of the 1930s, the country was in the economic throes of the Great Depression while Parsons, Hopper and their numerous publications had their spies feverishly trailing every Hollywood star for the next juicy scandal. These gossip reporters worked for pennies, but survived because they would be reimbursed for their travel expenses, but only up to a range of 100 miles. Palm Springs is 107 miles from Los Angeles.

Together, with the exception of Robert Wagner, all of the depression “A”-list players have wrapped their last features. But, their memories continue, and everywhere. Opps! Be careful, you have stepped on to the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.

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