Palm Springs Preservation Foundation
 

Palm Springs High School Administration Building - 2248 East Ramon Road

On August 18, 2012 heavy equipment commenced the demolition of the PSHS Administration Building. Despite this sad result, PSPF’s strong advocacy effort resulted in some positive developments. Firstly, the school board embraced PSPF’s recommendation to conduct a long overdue professional inventory and assessment of the historic resources under their stewardship. Secondly, PSPF raised awareness about the inherent economic sensibility of adaptively reusing older buildings by providing an alternative plan that showed how easily the PSHS Administration Building could have been reused to address the programmatic needs of the school’s performing arts program. Finally, this preservation advocacy served to educate many in the community to see that “being green” also includes the recycling of buildings and not just aluminum cans.

On August 2, 2012 the Desert Sun published a Valley Voice column by PSPF board member Gary Johns entitled “Tearing Down Historic Buildings Sends a Bad Message to Students.” In the column, Johns opines that the demolition of the PSHS Administration Building will be the “first willful demolition…in recent memory.” Johns also laments the poor lessons being taught the high school students. To read the Op-Ed piece click here.

Click hereOn June 24, 2012 PSPF sent a letter to the PSUSD informing the superintendent that PSPF had reviewed “in detail” the Historic Resources Assessment Report prepared by Pamela Daly of Daly & Associates on the PSHS Administration Building (Wexler & Harrison, 1957) and had found the report “incomplete and rife with errors.” Along with the letter, PSPF attached a revised Primary Record (DPR 523A) prepared by PSPF board member Patrick McGrew. McGrew (who meets the professional qualification standards for evaluating historic resources as defined in 36 CFR Part 61) started a peer review of the assessment but found the task to be “prohibitively time-consuming due to the Daly report’s numerous errors.”

On June 19, 2012 PSPF received a June 11, 2012 letter from the California State Allocation Board (SAB) that stated that while the SAB “understands your concern regarding the District’s intention to demolish the Administration Building that is of historical significance…the SAB is unable…to withhold funding,” and further that the “decision to proceed with the project was a local decision.” The SAB did not respond to PSPF’s view that the demolition was a waste of taxpayer money. To read the SAB letter click here.

Palm Springs High School Administration Building
 
Palm Springs High School Administration Building

Palm Springs High School Administration Building

At the June 12, 2012 Board of Education meeting, the PSUSD released a “Historic Resources Assessment” prepared by Daly & Associates, an outside paid consultant, which asserts that the PSHS Administration Building does not meet the criterion for historic designation. During public comment PSPF president Ron Marshall told the school board that the report was written “to give this board of education cover for their mistake...the mistake of not knowing what they were demolishing.” Marshall further asserted that this report was “a tactic typically relegated to developers who trot in paid "experts" to rationalize destroying something of importance to the community,” and not worthy of an elected school board responsible to the public. To read the entire consultant’s assessment click here.

On May 26, 2012 local radio station KPTR (1450 AM) aired “Progressive Talk with Elle K,” a far-ranging discussion about the scheduled demolition of the PSHS Administration Building. In the 45-minute interview, PSPF president Ron Marshall asserted that there had been “a collective evasion of responsibility” on the part of the school district staff and board of education and that financial calculations had failed to consider the intrinsic value of the historic Wexler-Harrison building.

On May 20, 2012 PSPF sent a letter to each of the nine members of the California State Allocation Board (which includes several state senators and state assembly members) asserting that “the demolition of the historic Administration Building is unnecessary, wasteful and deprives the city of Palm Springs of a valuable cultural resource.” The letter further stated that PSPF was confident “that not funding this project [in the amount of $874,416] will delay the project long enough to allow the school district time to pursue the adaptive reuse of the historic PSHS Administration Building.” To read the PSPF cover letter click here.

On May 16, 2012 the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians sent a letter to the superintendent of the school district asking that “a comprehensive analysis be completed prior to demolition [of the PSHS Administration Building] to weigh the cost and benefits of using the existing building vs. demolishing the structure to make room for an entirely new building.” To read the tribe’s letter click here.

Click to viewOn May 8, 2012 despite a compelling 20-minute presentation by PSPF board members Johns, Jensen, McGrew and Marshall and more than a dozen eloquent speakers making public comment (including PSPF board member Rosenow) in support of the preservation of the PSHS Administration Building (1957, Wexler & Harrison), the Palm Springs Unified School District Board of Education was unable to muster the political courage to abandon its plans for the demolition of the historic building. During the PSPF presentation an alternative floor plan, which adds a band room, practice rooms and stage to the existing PSHS Administration Building was unveiled. The adaptive reuse scheme, designed by o2 Architecture (principal, architect Lance O’Donnell) in consultation with architect Don Wexler, is a far superior design to the current proposal and better addresses the needs of the performing arts program. During their deliberations, Board of Education members failed to address PSPF assertions that they had collectively failed to supervise staff actions on the project and skirted the question of the “value” of the PSHS Administration Building. Ultimately, the members of the Board of Education were loath to admit that they had committed approximately $1.2 million of taxpayer money to a mediocre design that will replace an important piece of architecture. One positive result of PSPF's advocacy efforts has been the school district's commitment to undertake an historic resources survey of the resources under the stewardship of the school district within the next month.

Also on May 8, 2012 PSPF board member Patrick McGrew’s article for KCET’s Artbound series entitled Destructing Modernism: Will Palm Springs School District Tear Down a Wexler Building? was published on-line. To read the article click here.

Click to viewOn May 2, 2012 PSPF delivered an informational letter to the Board of Education (BoE) of the Palm Springs Unified School District in anticipation of the May 8 BoE meeting. The letter asserts that it is PSPF’s view “that the demolition of the PSHS Administration Building is unnecessary, wasteful and deprives the city of a valuable cultural resource,” and that PSPF believes “that there are numerous ways to address the programmatic needs of the performing arts program that do not require the demolition of the PSHS Administration Building.” The letter explains that the planned demolition is flawed on many levels, fails to comport with the city’s general plan values and priorities, and dramatically reveals the PSUSD’s strategic shortcomings with regard to historic resources and sustainability planning. The 7-page letter (with 6 attachments) is an excellent overview of the issues surrounding the PSHS Administration Building controversy.

Click to viewOn April 17, 2012 PSPF provided the local press with a news release which forwarded an “Architects’ Open Letter to the Palm Springs Unified School District.” The letter, signed by 22 local and California architects, asks school district officials to “abandon” their plans for the demolition of the Palm Springs High School Administration Building and also asks that they “pursue the adaptive reuse” of the building.

On April 14, 2012 PSPF received a letter from the Palm Springs Unified School District (PSUSD) superintendent stating that the issue of the scheduled demolition of the PSHS Administration Building could not be accommodated for the April 24, 2012 PSUSD Board meeting but had been approved for the May 8, 2012 meeting agenda.

On April 12, 2012 the Desert Sun published a Valley Voice column by PSPF board member Jim Harlan entitled “Historic Palm Springs school building should be restored – not demolished.” In the column, Harlan makes a compelling case for restoring the Palm Springs High School Administration Building and points out both the building’s architectural merits and the sustainability rationale for adaptively reusing the building. To read the Op-Ed piece click here.

On April 10, 2012 PSPF delivered a California Public Record Act request letter to the Palm Springs Unified School District. The letter asked for all documents related to “the proposed demolition of the PSHS Administration Building, the construction of the proposed Performing Arts Building… including site plan(s), floor plan(s), programmatic considerations and feasibility studies.”

On March 30, 2012 PSPF board members Johns, Harlan, Jensen, McGrew and Marshall, along with architect Don Wexler (and son Gary), met with PSUSD senior leadership to discuss concerns about the scheduled demolition of the PSHS Administration Building. While the meeting was cordial, PSUSD contended it has been duly diligent in pursuing the construction of a new Performing Arts building and is committed to a "timeline" which includes the demolition of the PSHS Administration Building. At the meeting PSPF asked for a copy of the 2008 analysis which is prominently referred to in a March 24, 2012 Desert Sun newspaper article. The analysis supposedly indicates that a "renovation" of the PSHS Administration Building is too costly. Incredibly, it was revealed that the analysis applied to the Music Building to the north of the PSHS Auditorium and that the conclusions of the 2008 analysis were being used to leap to similar conclusions about the PSHS Administration Building. In short, to date no specific analysis has been done on the economic feasibility of adaptively reusing the PSHS Administration Building. PSPF believes this might be readily accomplished by connecting a two-story addition to the north side of the PSHS Administration Building (PSUSD insists that a portion of the proposed Performing Arts building include a two-story volume). At the conclusion of the meeting, PSPF provided the Superintendent of PSUSD with a written request to place the demolition of the PSHS Administration Building on the Board of Education's April 24, 2012 meeting agenda.

On March 28, 2012 PSPF board members McGrew and Marshall along with architects Don Wexler and Lance O'Donnell, made a site visit of the PSHS Administration Building. During the visit, Don's son Gary briefed the PSHS principal and two Board of Education members on the architectural importance of the building. Don Wexler, O'Donnell and McGrew offered options for the adaptive reuse of the building.

On March 27, 2012 architect Don Wexler provided PSPF with important documentary information about the PSHS Administration Building from his personal archives. Included was an early architectural rendering of the building and vintage photographs.

On March 21, 2012 PSPF sent a letter to the superintendent of the Palm Springs Unified School District (PSUSD) reporting that additional research had revealed that the Palm Springs High School Administration Building (1957) had actually been designed by the firm of Wexler & Harrison. Discussions with various PSPF board members revealed that architect Wexler remembers the building “well” and that the misattribution was understandable given its similarity to the adjacent PSHS auditorium and the use of similar concrete block. To read the PSPF letter and more about this interesting architectural “detective story” click here.

On March 20, 2012 further PSPF research (underscoring the need for a systematic architectural survey of the campus) revealed that the PSHS Administration Building (1957) had actually been the design of the architectural firm of Wexler & Harrison. The building was originally misattributed due to its stylistic similarity to the adjacent auditorium by Williams, Williams & Williams and Clark, Frey & Chambers. According to architect Don Wexler the confusion is understandable as “similar block was used on buildings of that era throughout the campus including some Wexler & Harrison-designed buildings that have since been demolished.”

On March 19, 2012 PSPF sent out a preservation alert asking members to contact the Palm Springs Unified School District (at info@psusd.us) stating their objection to the proposed demolition of the PSHS Administration Building (1957). PSPF members were asked to copy PSPF (at info@pspreservationfoundation.org) on their emails to help track the progress of the advocacy effort. Within 24-hours of the alert, PSPF members had sent dozens of emails to PSUSD supporting preservation of the PSHS Administration Building.

Read letterOn March 13, 2012 PSPF sent a letter to the superintendent of the PSUSD objecting to the proposed summer 2012 demolition of the PSHS Administration Building (1957). Initially believed to be designed by the architectural firms of Williams, Williams & Williams and Clark, Frey & Chambers (though later confirmed to be designed by Wexler & Harrison) the highly-intact modernist building is located at 2248 East Ramon Road. The PSPF letter asserts that the PSUSD should “immediately consult with an architectural historian...to better understand this historic resource.” The PSPF letter also emphasizes the “greenness” of adaptively reusing the PSHS Administration Building and includes a site plan of the other historic resources on the PSHS campus created by PSPF board member Patrick McGrew.

The architectural firm of Williams, Williams & Williams was in charge of the master plan for the PSHS complex in the 1950s and even collaborated with the firm of Clark, Frey & Chambers in the design of the PSHS auditorium. The firm of Wexler & Harrison also designed other notable buildings on the campus. Over the years, the modernist architecture (which seamlessly complemented the original 1938 Mission Revival high school) was unfortunately supplemented in the 1980s with a banal "Mediterranean-style” design aesthetic which muddled the architectural clarity of the campus. Smaller, and more incremental, changes (like the stuccoing of modernist buildings on the campus) have occurred over the years. Fortunately, most of the changes to the PSHS Administration Building have been minor and could be easily reversed.

In the Media

Click on a title below to view.

  October 2012, Palm Springs Life Annual Progress Issue (“a lesson for the future”)
  August 21, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  August 20, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  August 7, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  July 2, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  June 16, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  June 10, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  June 5, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  May 9, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  May 6, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  April 25, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  April 19, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  March 29, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
  March 24, 2012, Desert Sun (Palm Springs High School Administration Building)
The PSHS 1957 “Chia” yearbook featured this photo
The PSHS 1957 “Chia” yearbook featured this photo of the board of education standing in front of the “newly constructed” administration building. From left to right are President Ray Sorum, Mr. Arnold Rumwell, Mrs. Helen Staley, Mr. Haig Harris, and Mr. Frank Muller. Courtesy Palm Springs Historical Society
 
Harry, Roger and E. Stewart Williams
Harry, Roger and E. Stewart Williams study an architectural model of the PSHS campus during the late 1950s. The firm of Williams, Williams & Williams was in charge of the master plan for the complex. Courtesy Palm Springs Historical Society
 

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