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A Cultural Oasis in the Desert

By Lydia Kremer

Most of the world knows Palm Springs is a sublime Southern California desert oasis where towering majestic mountains and palm trees come together in dramatic fashion offering stunning vistas.  But many don’t know the Palm Springs cultural oasis and rich heritage this village holds.

Its past history and current social life are inextricably woven which gives visitors much to celebrate!

It may come as a surprise to know that much of Palm Springs lies within an Indian reservation. The area has been inhabited by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians for centuries. The City of Palm Springs was so named by the native tribe for the city’s healing hot springs and palm oases.

Palm Canyon
Palm Canyon

Healing Ancestral Waters

The Agua Caliente’s ancestral springs are actually located in the heart of downtown where the famous Spa Hotel once stood since the mid-1950s. The site included a hotel and a 30,000-square-foot spa and bathhouse where the original hot springs still flow today.

A new cultural center is set to open on that original 5.8 acre site in 2022 which will include a new Agua Caliente Spa and Bathhouse. The Spa includes approximately 40,000 square feet for the public to luxuriate in the ancient healing waters. The new Spa will feature treatments rooms, men and women’s bathhouses, a tranquility garden, a salon, fitness center and outdoor hot mineral pools.

Palm Springs Hot Springs

The water from the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Springs is estimated to be at least 12,000 years old and contains mineral properties that are unique in the world. Keeping its tradition for giving to the community, the Tribe has shared the healing water with visitors for more than 100 years.  This new Spa will be the fifth bathhouse or spa at the site, with the first one operating in the late 1880s.

Also the new Cultural Center will include a new Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, a Gathering Plaza, gardens and an “Oasis Trail.”  The new Agua Caliente Cultural Museum will celebrate and educate the public on the history and traditions of the Agua Caliente people. The new Museum will include approximately 48,000-square-feet of space to exhibit collections in a main gallery, a changing gallery and an art gallery.  The new Museum, a repository for cultural artifacts, stories and history, will also include an education center and garden.

Palm Springs Cultural Outdoor Oasis 

You’ll also experience a variety of Palm Springs cultural oasis outdoor recreation in Palm Springs to round out your visit. A few minutes from downtown on another part of the Agua Caliente tribal reservation is one of the historical and recreational gems in the desert – Indian Canyons. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Indian Canyons are comprised of four distinct canyons. While they are a culturally sensitive environment, the canyons are open to the public for wonderful outdoor recreation.

Andreas Canyon
Andreas Canyon

Indian Canyons

Don’t pass up a chance to discover Indian Canyons – they include Murray Canyon, Andreas Canyon, Tahquitz Canyon with a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, and Palm Canyon, the world’s largest fan palm oasis – all of which offer a myriad of hiking trails to explore. At Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center you can watch a short film before you set out on your hike. At Palm Canyon, the Trading Post offers refreshments, maps, as well as books, pottery and jewelry.

The Indian Canyons are sacred land for the Agua Caliente people and have valuable historical significance for them. Visitors are cautioned to walk lightly on the land and respect the sensitive nature of the environment that contains ancient rock art and grinding stones.

Andreas Canyons
Andreas Canyon

Palm Springs Cultural Oasis Arts

Palm Springs’ multi-dimensional cultural offerings extend to the arts and live performances. The Palm Springs Art Museum may be another surprise. Visitors are often astonished to discover our small town has a world-class museum!

Founded in 1938, the same year that the City of Palm Springs was incorporated, the Palm Springs Art Museum has 150,000 square-feet of exhibition space, two outdoor sculpture gardens, and a café.

The Museum features a sophisticated collection of art that rivals many urban metropolitan museums, and includes works from Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Judd, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Robert Rauschenberg, Antony Gormley and Ansel Adams. Spread over the 150,000 square feet, the museum boasts major collections of modern and contemporary art, glass, photography, architecture and design and Native American and Western art.

Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs Art Museum

The downtown location of the Palm Springs Art Museum is the umbrella for two other museum facilities — the Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion located on Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs which features exhibitions and programming that explore the rich topics of architecture and design.

The surprise doesn’t end there! The Palm Springs Art Museum also boasts the state-of-the-art Annenberg Theater, a 430-seat theatre designed by the pre-eminent Arthur Elrod and has Walter and Leonore Annenberg as its namesake.

Each season the Annenberg Theater brings audiences a dynamic combination of visual and performing arts by internationally-known performers and concert artists in music, dance, and theater as well as additional programming of lectures, music, community events, and symposia.

Palm Springs also offers a bounty of other live theater productions by several local theater groups who produce stellar theater productions throughout the season.

Palm Springs Art Museum
Palm Springs Art Museum

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A land of ever-present sunshine, blue skies and midcentury architecture galore, the area proved the quintessential backdrop for the storyline. The Storyline The Victory Corporation is building a city called Victory. It is meant to be a suburban utopia complete with sprawling greenbelts, a clubhouse, a sparkling pool and even an onsite boutique. Victory residents will want for nothing and have little reason to every leave. It is the one place to stay and be safe. The storyline follows Alice (portrayed by Florence Pugh) and Jack (played by Harry Styles), who are a married couple with a troublesome relationship. They just moved to Victory, a company town created by and paid for by Jack’s new employer, Frank (played by Chris Pine). While Jack and his colleagues go to work on the “Victory Project”, their wives are left to enjoy the beauty and luxury of their community. Here’s a look at some more specific Palm Springs filming locations in Don’t Worry Darling. The Kaufmann House The Kaufmann House was used was for the home of Victory Corporation founder, Frank, portrayed by Chris Pine. The home is fragile and extremely valuable, so much care had to be take to ensure nothing was damaged. This included bubble wrapping portions of the home and having docents in every room. Department store owner Edgar Kaufmann hired architect Richard Neutra to design a desert home for his family. A decade earlier, Frank Lloyd Wright had built Fallingwater for Mr. Kaufmann. But Kaufmann, having seen Taliesin West, thought that Wright didn’t understand desert design and chose Neutra instead. The home turned out so well, that when Wright saw it, he admitted to that is was beautiful (uncharacteristic of him). The building remains the most famous in Palm Springs in terms of international recognition. The flat roof, steel frame, and glass walls embody one prominent version of Modernism by using sharp, clean, lines and contrasting them to the rugged slopes of Mt. San Jacinto as a backdrop. When photographed by Julius Shulman, the Kaufmann House became an iconic image of modern architecture. The north wing is the guest’s quarters, separated from the rest of the house. The secluded west wing is the service wing. It would be purchased by Joseph and Nelda Linsk. She was the glamorous woman wearing yellow depicted in legendary photographer Slim Aaron’s iconic photograph highlighting the good life in Palm Springs, dubbed “Poolside Gossip.” In 1968, Eugene and Francis Klein, owners of the San Diego Chargers, purchased it. Then in 1973, Barry Manilow purchased the property and owned it until 1993. Beth and Brent Harris become the new owners and were eager to restore the property.They found a home once originally open and light-filled now dense and dark thanks to 2,200 square feet of additions that turned courtyards into interior spaces. The iconic upstairs room visible from the street, an open-air deck that really is one of the house's main features, had its views of mountains and palm trees blocked by air-conditioning compressors. Linsk addition, designed by William Cody, was compatible and relatively seamless, but removed the glass corridor to the master bedroom and drastically reduced the amount of light to the interior. Modernist furnishings selected by Neutra were replaced with those chosen by prominent Palm Springs interior designer Arthur Elrod. The Harris’s dismantled the crumbling fireplaces and numbering each stone for reassembly. To repair gashes in the walls of Utah sandstone, the firm convinced the original quarry in Utah to return to a long-closed portion of its site so the color and texture of the new stone would match that of the old. 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They made it their personal residence and lived in it until their premature death in a plane crash in 1965. The house later gained fame as the honeymoon home of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. The design of these quaint one-story duplex-style condominiums offered floor-to-ceiling windows, and characteristic Palm Springs geometric stonework. It included post-and-beam construction, open floor plans in which the living room, dining room and kitchen flow together. Built in six stages in the 1960s by developer Roy Fey, it has a utopian neighborhood feel, with a shared pool, spa and green space. It includes 180 units with attached carports. Can I Visit? Properties in Canyon View Estates are privately owned and few are available as a vacation rental. However, the neighborhood is not gated, so grab a cruiser bike and explore. Palm Springs City Hall The Palm Springs City Hall was shown briefly in the film. 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