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Lawrence Crossley Makes Mark in Palm Springs

Palm Springs History

Lawrence Crossley (1899-1962) – Palm Springs’ First Black Entrepreneur

A housing subdivision, a water company, a tea and cosmetics business, a cafe, a laundromat – Crossley’s business expertise blossomed in Palm Springs.

By Barbara Beckley

Smart and ambitious – New Orleans trumpet player Lawrence Crossley saw opportunities in Palm Springs early on, relocating from The Big Easy in the 1920s with his wife and two daughters to take a position as chauffeur to Prescott Stevens, owner of the El Mirador Hotel.

El Mirador Hotel palm springs
Courtesy Palm Springs Historical Society

Recognizing Crossley’s business sense, Stevens quickly promoted him to assist in the development of the hotel and to design Palm Springs first 18-hole golf course, the El Mirador Golf Course. Crossley was said to be well known in New Orleans golf circles, so this was a natural. The hotel and course opened in 1928 attracting celebrities from near and far. Stevens also enlisted Crossley to manage his Whitewater Mutual Water Company.

Other prominent businessmen liked Crossley’s style. He became superintendent of grounds for the Palm Springs estate of wealthy New York attorney Samuel Untermyer, now The Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn. These and other corporate moguls encouraged Crossley to invest for himself, which he did — with stellar success.

willows palm springs

Crossley started his own water business, the Tramview Water Company; opened a small café and a laundromat.

As a well-established and respected mover and shaker, Crossley also worked closely with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and was active in civic affairs on behalf of school bond issues and the College of the Desert. In the early 1940s, Crossley created Palm Springs Desert Tea, using a unique tea made from a Native American recipe, which he sold across the country.   

Everything Crossley touched turned to gold – including real estate.

In the early 1930s, Crossley acquired some five acres, near East Ramon Road and South Sunrise Way, which he developed into Crossley Court, the first-known example of land ownership by an African American in Palm Springs. He also created Tramview Village and the Eagle Canyon Trailer Village. 

Lawrence Crossley palm springs
Courtesy Palm Springs Historical Society

Crossley purchased more land, this time a large tract which he subdivided in the late 1950s (in partnership with the Sun-Spa Development Corporation’s President Al Casey). Built to FHA standards, Crossley Tract, as his 77-parcel neighborhood was called, featured affordable three-bedroom, two-bath homes in a variety of floorplans targeted primarily to African American families. Amenities included paved streets, natural gas and school bus service.

Crossley Tract boomed. In late 1958, the first home was move-in ready. News reports show Crossley and his wife, Martha, moving into their new residence across from the model home. By 1961, 30 homes were built and bought.    

Unfortunately tragedy struck in 1962, when Crossley unexpectedly died of a heart attack, and Crossley Tract faltered.

We can only guess what future accomplishments Palm Springs first Black business visionary would have achieved had he lived longer. His ongoing success was respected and applauded by all. At the time of his death, Crossley was described as “a wealthy Palm Springs businessman and developer,” with an estate valued at $1.5 million. A substantial sum in 1962. 

Today his legacy lives on. You can pay your respects with a drive along Crossley Road, near East Ramon Road and East Palm Canyon Drive, which skirts the Lawrence Crossley Neighborhood, guided by its proudly active Lawrence Crossley Neighborhood Association.    

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