Town & Country Center - 146-174 North Palm Canyon Drive
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
PSPF board member Gary Johns' mother and aunt visit the T&CC (circa 1970)
Courtesy Palm Springs Historical Society
|The Town & Country Center (1948) was designed by two internationally-famous architects, Paul R. Williams and A. Quincy Jones. The Town & Country Center is one of the best examples of the international-style of architecture in southern California and is an important early “mixed-use” development. It is also architecturally noteworthy for its pedestrian-friendly courtyard.
Paul R. Williams is historically important as the AIA’s first African-American architect (1923) and first African-American AIA Fellow (1957).
October 22, 2018 the city's Downtown Project Standing Subcommittee (composed of councilmembers Middleton and Roberts) hosted a presentation by the architectural firm of Marmol Radziner (representing Grit Development) which unveiled a "rehabilitation" plan for the Town & Country Center. The plan proposed demolishing a significant portion of the complex's historic fabric. As might be expected, the general public reaction to the proposal was highly skeptical. PSPF board member Steven Keylon made public comment on the plan reiterating many of the points made in his opinion piece published two days earlier.
On October 20, 2018 the Desert Sun newspaper published a "Your Turn" opinion piece by PSPF board member Steven Keylon entitled "Plan sacrifices too much of Town & Country Center of Palm Springs." Keylon characterized the Grit Development proposal as "not a responsible 'rehabilitation' plan," and further recommended that Grit Development "hire a qualified preservation architect…to help guide it through the master process."
On September 25, 2018 PSPF board members Gary Johns, Steven Keylon, Erik Rosenow and PSPF advisor Susan Secoy Jensen were briefed by the architectural firm of Marmol Radziner on Grit Development's proposed redevelopment "Master Plan" of the Town & Country Center. The verbal and power point briefing did not provide the PSPF attendees with any physical materials in the form of paper plans, renderings, etc. The general sense of the PSPF attendees was that a significant amount of the T&CC's historic fabric (as identified by the city in its Class 1 Historic Site designation) was being proposed for demolition.
On July 31, 2018 the city of Palm Springs effectively denied PSPF's Public Records Act request (aka Freedom of Information Act request) citing as rationale for withholding the requested documents as "attorney-client privileged information." The small handful of documents provided to PSPF (totaling 29 pages) consisted of non-city originated documents and documents already posted on the city's publicly accessible website.
On July 16, 2018 PSPF received an email from the city of Palm Springs regarding PSPF's eminent domain FOIA request that stated "...it is anticipated that the City will need an additional 7 days to review and produce the documents."
On May 18, 2018 PSPF responded to the city of Palm Springs with FOIA search terms in addition to "eminent domain" opining that, "While we recognize that staff resources are limited, responsiveness to FOIA requests are arguably one of the most tangible measures of a city government's commitment to transparency." To read the PSPF letter click here.
On May 15, 2018 the city of Palm Springs sent a letter to PSPF (in response to PSPF's eminent domain FOIA request) that reported the city had "identified…responsive records." Due to the potentially "voluminous" number of responsive documents, the city requested additional search terms and informed PSPF they would likely need "an additional 60 days to review and produce the documents." To read the entire city letter click here.
On May 8, 2018 the Palm Springs Historic Site Preservation Board continued the previous month's discussion regarding the re-painting of the T&CC. During the presentation the architectural firm of Marmol Radziner (representing the applicant Grit Development) presented a revised paint palette for the T&CC. Previous to the meeting, on May 4, 2018, PSPF board member Steven Keylon had sent a letter to the HSPB identifying a number of historical inaccuracies in the Marmol Radziner proposal. To read Keylon's letter, which provided detailed recommendations (based on vintage Kodachrome slides), click here. After the HSPB meeting, Keylon agreeably discussed his recommended changes with the applicant's representative and other interested parties. Of additional note, the city's Planning Director Flinn Fagg stated "…in doing some further discussion with the applicant, they are in the process of doing a structural study and so what I'm proposing as a condition of approval, to follow up on what you had recommended last month, is that by January of 2019 they [the applicant] submit the structural study to us [the HSPB]."
On April 10, 2018 the city of Palm Springs' Historic Site Preservation Board met to discuss an application for a Certificate of Approval (Case #3.1780) by Grit Development (represented by the firm of Marmol Radziner) to paint and make "minor exterior repairs" to the Town & Country Center (T&CC). Leo Marmol characterized the repaint and removal of selected non-historic elements as an effort "to improve the current appearance of the existing buildings…so we are not here to present a rehabilitation project." In an April 9, 2018 letter to the HSPB, PSPF board member Steven Keylon opined that "the paint colors proposed [by the applicant] are from a later repaint and are not the original paint scheme." The applicant indicated that just a day prior to the HSPB hearing an undisturbed area of the T&CC (as revealed under a piece of vintage signage) confirmed Keylon's opinion, thereby preventing an historic "mis-paint." To read Keylon's letter click here. Several HSPB members expressed their frustration with the slow pace of progress regarding the repair and rehabilitation of the T&CC. In response, Marmol told the HSPB that "this process will not be a fast process." HSPB member Bill LaVoie stated that the repaint was "premature" and that the T&CC "needs to be stabilized, not repaired…so that it doesn't continue to fall apart in the next five years." LaVoie further opined "basically we're putting make-up on something that needs a facelift, we're just spackling it and we're hiding the mistakes rather than making an honest effort in the eventual restoration of this building." HSPB Chair Gary Johns pointed out that Grit Development's recent announcement of delays to the progress of the downtown development (specifically the delayed construction of the Virgin Hotel) could possibly push out the rehabilitation of the T&CC another two years. The Certificate of Approval was granted with a number of conditions.
On April 4, 2018 PSPF sent a California Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the city of Palm Springs for all documents regarding "eminent domain" dating back to January 1, 2008. The FOIA request intends to document the city's previously aggressive pursuit of eminent domain for the Wessman downtown parcel and address the city council's recent "amnesia" about the merit of such a course of action for the Town & Country Center.
On February 16, 2018 PSPF president Erik Rosenow spoke during the Palm Springs Walk of Stars dedication of architect Paul R. Williams' commemorative star. In his comments, which were enthusiastically received, Rosenow emphasized the importance of a proper and sensitive rehabilitation of the T&CC and encouraged the city of Palm Springs to pursue their right of eminent domain of the historic property.
PSPF and Modernism Week partnered to produce and display an oversized storyboard chronicling the history of PSPF's advocacy for the T&CC. The display at "CAMP" was seen by thousands of Modernism Week 2018 attendees.
On August 1, 2017 PSPF's Quarterly 2-2017 newsletter (item #1) stated "As our members know, the Town & Country Center (T&CC) has languished under the current owner for more than 15 years. Last year, during the T&CC's Class 1 Historic Site designation proceedings, the owner proposed an unsympathetic plan to demolish historic fabric to accommodate a hotel on the site. It is now PSPF's view that the city of Palm Springs should pursue its right of 'eminent domain' over the historic property. In such a scenario, the city would be required to pay for the property. Fortunately, should recent corruption allegations prove true, it opens the door for the city to 'claw back' monies paid to the developer to facilitate the scandal-plagued downtown development. While the current city leadership seems conflicted about such a course of action we expect this idea, and the opportunities it presents, to gain momentum."
In a July 26, 2017 letter to the city of Palm Springs, the PSPF attorney stated that PSPF "formally requests that the City exercise its constitutional power of eminent domain to acquire the property [i.e., the Town & Country Center] and begin its rehabilitation." To read the entire three-page legal opinion click here.
On March 20, 2017 the Desert Sun newspaper ran an opinion piece entitled "Town & Country Center a Vital Bridge to Future Downtown." The editorial, written by PSPF vice president Gary Johns, explained how a restored Town & Country Center would "connect the downtown and the tribe's burgeoning projects; not with a street, but with heart and soul." To read the Op-Ed piece click here.
On March 15, 2017 PSPF board members Steven Keylon and Steven Price made public comment before the Palm Springs city council. Both Keylon and Price encouraged the council to consider pursuing the eminent domain process for the Town & Country Center. Mayor Moon queried the city attorney about the possibility of eminent domain. Unfortunately, the city attorney gave an ambiguous answer implying it was not a possibility for the T&CC (even though the city had previously pursued eminent domain for the entire downtown parcel).
On March 12, 2017 the Desert Sun newspaper ran an opinion piece entitled "What PS Council Should Do About Town & Country." The editorial, written by PSPF board member Barbara Marshall, eloquently expounded on the next steps that should be taken by the Palm Springs city council. Among Marshall's suggestions were, (1) that the city council pursue eminent domain proceedings, (2) that the city council direct the city staff to start enforcing the Vacant Building ordinance (contained in Chapter 8.80 of the Palm Springs municipal code), and (3) that individual councilmembers use their influence to push Wessman Development to sell the T&CC to a developer with preservation experience. To read the Op-Ed piece click here.
On February 28, 2017 the Desert Sun newspaper published an above the fold article entitled "Preservationists to Developer Wessman: Sell Shopping Mall." In the article, both PSPF advisor Susan Secoy Jensen and PSPF board member Ron Marshall were quoted extensively. Marshall told the newspaper, "The best case scenario would be that the Town & Country Center will be sold to another developer, hopefully one that specializes in historic preservation." To read the entire article click here.
On February 27, 2017 the Palm Springs city council held a "Study Session to Discuss Moving Forward Palm Springs Development Projects, Including the Downtown Revitalization." Many individuals spoke in support of a restored Town & Country Center.
On April 20, 2016 PSPF's Class 1 Historic Site nomination for the Town & Country Center (T&CC) was approved (4-1) by the Palm Springs city council. Speaking on behalf of the designation were PSPF board members Erik Rosenow, Ron Marshall, Steven Price, Barbara Marshall, Tracy Beckmann (who read comments submitted by preservationist Beth Edwards Harris) and PSPF advisor Susan Secoy-Jensen. PSModCom representatives Chris Menrad and Jade Nelson also spoke in support of the nomination. In an email to the membership, PSPF stated, "Although many hurdles still remain until the ultimate rehabilitation of the T&CC, the PSPF membership should be strongly encouraged by this major preservation success."
On April 9, 2016 PSPF sent a letter to the city of Palm Springs' Director of Planning Services amending the Town & Country Center Class 1 Historic Site nomination to include the landscape architecture (a suggestion made by the HSPB on March 8) and other minor items. To read the PSPF letter click here.
On March 8, 2016 the Palm Springs Historic Site Preservation Board met to consider the Class 1 Historic Site nomination prepared by PSPF. Making public comment in support of the nomination was PSPF board member Ron Marshall and PSPF advisor Susan Secoy Jensen. Commenting on the nomination, Marshall said that Secoy-Jensen, "has authored an extraordinary nomination which recognizes the Town & Country Center as a 'campus' of important buildings." The HSPB approved the Class 1 nomination unanimously with minor conditions.
On January 30, 2016 the Desert Sun newspaper featured an article entitled, "Wessman offers to save, restore Town & Country Center." In the article, Michael Braun (senior vice president of Wessman Development) is quoted as saying, "In the spirit of working with the community and the council, we are now exploring options with the goal to preserve most of the architecturally significant buildings… It also has become apparent that the majority of the current council is in favor of an adaptive reuse of the Town Country versus demolition." PSPF board member Ron Marshall is quoted in the article as saying, "We [PSPF] remain skeptical that Wessman has the in-house expertise to do a first-rate rehabilitation of the T&CC," and further that, "We believe that the brightest future for the T&CC is to attract a developer that specializes in historic preservation projects."
On January 12, 2016 PSPF informed the city of Palm Springs' Historic Site Preservation Board that the Town & Country Center nomination had been submitted. The HSPB asked to place discussion of the nomination
on their February agenda.
On January 11, 2016 PSPF re-submitted the Class 1 Historic Site nomination for the Town & Country Center to the city of Palm Springs. The 34-page nomination was ably prepared by architect and PSPF advisor Susan Secoy Jensen. The PSPF board of directors made the decision to resubmit the T&CC nomination after the newly-elected Palm Springs city council indicated it might be receptive to supporting such an action.
On January 6, 2016 the Palm Springs city council conducted a study session on the Downtown Specific Plan. PSPF board member Ron Marshall made public comment appealing to the city council to remove the Town & Country Center (Block K) from the plan and move to acquire the property by eminent domain. Marshall also informed the city council of PSPF's plan to soon resubmit the Town & Country Center's Class 1 Historic Site nomination to the city's Historic Site Preservation Board. In closing, Marshall stated "Let's move forward to return the Town & Country Center to the community."
On December 12, 2015 PSPF sent a letter to Palm Springs Mayor Moon which forwarded the PSPF letter of November 7, 2015 to the Planning Commission. Importantly, the PSPF cover letter stated that "the foundation will soon re-submit the Class 1 Historic Site nomination for the T&CC to the city's Historic Site Preservation Board for subsequent hearing by the city council. This will afford the current city council the opportunity to finally remedy the leadership failures of previous city councils." To read the cover letter click here.
On November 12, 2015 the Planning Commission met for over six hours addressing a host of issues concerning the downtown Specific Plan. Public concerns centered around sidewalk widths, view corridors, building heights, etc., with members of the public generally expressing dissatisfaction with the emerging project. PSPF board member Steven Price made public comment concerning the historic preservation of the T&CC.
On November 7, 2015 PSPF sent a letter to the Palm Springs Planning Commission in anticipation of their November 12, 2015 meeting to discuss changes to the "Museum Market Plaza Specific Plan." In the letter PSPF opined, "It is our view that the developer, who owns the historic Town & Country Center, has already been accommodated to excess and at the expense of significant public funds. Hence, a compelling argument can be made that the historic preservation of the T&CC is an overdue and reasonable quid pro quo for those concessions previously granted to the developer. Granting yet additional major concessions to the developer (especially those regarding height) is a political decision that should be made independent of the fate of the T&CC." To read the entire PSPF letter
On October 13, 2015 the Palm Springs Historic Site Preservation Board (HSPB) recommended that the city council amend the Specific Plan to retain the Town & Country Center. The HSPB rationalized their request by pointing out that the Town & Country Center had recently been determined eligible for both the state and national registers.
On Friday, August 7, 2015 the National Register nomination for the Town & Country Center (T&CC) was heard by the California State Historical Resources Commission in Sacramento. The commission voted unanimously to make the T&CC "eligible" for listing on both state and national registers. Notably, the T&CC nomination received 13 letters of support (including the Paul R. Williams Project, the Palm Springs Modern Committee, Modernism Week, the California Preservation Foundation and many prominent individuals). The Sacramento hearing was attended by three PSPF board members, including the nomination's author Susan Secoy Jensen, Jim Harlan and Tracy Beckmann. In her public comment before the commission Beckmann explained, "In recent years we [PSPF] have concluded that it is absolutely critical to our advocacy efforts to separate the T&CC from the drama of local politics and short-sighted development schemes. Hence, the foundation's application before you has a very simple but important purpose…to finally have the historic and architectural significance of the T&CC reviewed authoritatively and objectively. Your approval of our submission will go far in convincing the public that the T&CC is not just the passion of a few individuals, but rather a unique and irreplaceable historic resource that should be preserved for generations to come." To read the Paul R. Williams Project letter click here.
On December 31, 2014 PSPF asked that the California State Historic Preservation Office consider adding the Town & Country Center to the California State Register (and by extension the National Register) of Historic Places. Accompanying the request was a scholarly 59-page application authored by PSPF board member and architect Susan Secoy-Jensen. Although owner (i.e., Wessman Development Company) support is required for addition to these registers, even if the owner doesn't support the designation, the property can still receive a "determination of eligibility." This allows the current (or future) owner the ability to endorse the designation sometime in the future and immediately place it on the California and National Registers of Historic Places. The PSPF board considered "determination of eligibility" status for the T&CC significant for several reasons. Most importantly, such status will make the T&CC more attractive to outside (or partnering) developers, especially those who specialize in the rehabilitation of historic properties. (Note: The full 59-page submission to the California SHPO has been edited to 35 pages for brevity).
On February 5, 2014 the Palm Springs city council approved 4-1 (with Pougnet, Hutcheson, Foat and Lewin supporting) an amendment to the city's historic preservation ordinance expanding the definition of a “Class 3” Historic Site from pre-1945 buildings to all buildings built before 1969. This amendment now extends Class 3 protection to the city's 1945 to 1968 building stock (including the 1948 Town & Country Center) and requires that any requests for a demolition permit be reviewed by the city's Historic Site Preservation Board. The passage of the amendment was assumed to be a perfunctory legislative matter until a “minor addition” to the amendment was proposed by a council member. The proposed addition specifically excluded already approved projects, like the approved city plan to run a “road to nowhere” through the Town & Country Center, and was an undisguised attempt to invalidate the protection that would be afforded to the T&CC as a Class 3 building. The ensuing spirited and lengthy debate ultimately rebuffed the attempt to exclude the T&CC from the Class 3 category. In a February 6, 2014 email to the membership PSPF opined, “This minor victory is significant insofar as there is increasing momentum for the rehabilitation of the T&CC in many community circles. While the appreciation for the architectural importance of the T&CC has been building for years, more and more individuals, and groups, are coming to the realization that the success of the downtown revitalization may be in jeopardy if it depends solely on a new hotel and a handful of shopping mall tenants. In short, an architectural "attraction," like the T&CC, could provide the added diversity essential to the success of the downtown revitalization.” Previously, on December 2, 2013 PSPF sent a letter to the city enthusiastically endorsing the expansion of the Class 3 site definition. To read the PSPF letter click here.
In the February 2014 issue of Desert Magazine, PSPF board advisor Tracy Conrad wrote an article entitled “Swanky Banks.” In her article, Conrad describes how the T&CC inspired the designers of other commercial buildings to reach new creative heights. To read the article click here.
In the January 2014 issue of Desert Magazine, PSPF board advisor Tracy Conrad wrote an article entitled “From Soulful to Sexy: How the Town & Country Center Helped Shape the Area's Modern Architecture Movement.” In her article, Conrad describes how the collaboration of T&CC architects Paul R. Williams and A. Quincy Jones dramatically influenced the course of desert modernism. To read the article click here.
On October 10, 2013 in response to Palm Springs Mayor Pougnet's request that the "preservation foundation" identify five endangered historic buildings, PSPF sent a letter that cautioned "oversimplifying" the issue of vacant historic buildings in the city. PSPF called for a "strategic, rather than reactive" approach to this complex issue. The letter stated that it was PSPF's view that the sheer number of historic buildings (over 200) coupled with the non-existent enforcement of the city's Vacant Building ordinance demanded a more thoughtful and longer-term solution. PSPF also pointed out that it had met with senior city staff a year ago to express concerns over the lack of enforcement of the Vacant Building ordinance. Finally, in response to the mayor's specific request, PSPF identified five endangered buildings with the Town & Country Center at the top of the list. To read the PSPF letter click here.
On October 2, 2013 PSPF President Erik Rosenow wrote a compelling "Valley Voice" column about the future of the Town & Country Center. In the column, Rosenow applauds the city's renewed interest in enforcing the Vacant Building ordinance and warns that unless pro-active measures are taken the Town & Country Center could fall victim to a suspicious fire like other Palm Springs landmarks. To read the Op-Ed piece click here.
On October 21, 2012 PSPF delivered a letter to the Palm Springs city manager which stated that, “For the past decade we have watched the historic Town & Country Center…slowly deteriorate through neglect under the current owner. We are now at the point where a decade of deferred maintenance is starting to take a serious physical toll on the structure.” The letter included 22 photographs documenting the poor condition of the building and asserted that the owner of the building was “in serious breach of both the letter and intent of the…ordinance.”
On October 18, 2012 PSPF board members (Messrs. Williams, Johns, McGrew and Marshall) met with city staff to discuss the city’s implementation of the Vacant Building ordinance.
On October 15, 2012 PSPF conducted a photographic survey of the Town & Country Center (limited to the exterior ground-level) to document what were believed to be numerous violations of the Vacant Building ordinance (Chapter 8.80 of the Palm Springs Municipal Code).
On September 9, 2012 PSPF sent a letter to the Palm Springs city manager reporting that transients had taken up residence in the historic Town & Country Center. The letter documented previous examples of the owner failing to secure the building and asked the city to “take more aggressive enforcement actions to remedy this problem.” To read the PSPF letter click here.
On June 26, 2011 PSPF board member Patrick McGrew wrote an insightful “Valley Voice” column about the future of the Desert Fashion Plaza and the Town & Country Center. To read the Op-Ed piece click here.
On June 17, 2011 the city of Palm Springs issued a news release that stated, in part, that “Wessman Development has agreed to remove the Town and Country Center from the Desert Fashion Plaza Revitalization Plan.”
At the June 15, 2011 Palm Springs city council meeting, PSPF board members and volunteers made public comment asking the council to remove the Town & Country Center from Wessman Development’s Desert Fashion Plaza Revitalization Plan. The PSPF speakers emphasized the compatibility of both revitalizing the Desert Fashion Plaza and restoring the Town & Country Center.
On June 12, 2011 PSPF board member Gary Johns wrote a “Valley Voice” column for the Desert Sun newspaper that addressed the benefits of historic preservation and how the rehabilitation of the Town & Country Center would benefit the community. To read the Op-Ed piece click here.
On June 9, 2011 PSPF delivered the Sustainability Assessment for the Preservation of the Town & Country Center prepared by Ecotype Consulting, Inc. In the cover letter to the mayor and city council PSPF wrote, “We’re sure you would agree that our common commitment to sustainability implicitly includes a commitment to green redevelopment. With the rehabilitation of the T&CC, the city of Palm Springs would become the leader in green development throughout the Coachella Valley.” To read the PSPF cover letter click here.
On June 8, 2011 PSPF sent a letter to the Palm Springs mayor and city council detailing the PSPF concerns about the proposed Development Agreement with Wessman Development. The site plan associated with the Development Agreement includes the demolition of the T&CC. The letter was an expanded version of PSPF’s May 2011 letter delivered to the Planning Commission. To read the PSPF letter click here.
On May 25, 2011 in a well-considered and principled decision, the city’s Planning Commission voted 3-1 (with two recusals) to reject the proposed "Development Agreement" with Wessman Development. The decision sent a clear message that the commissioners viewed the Town & Country Center as an historic asset that should be rehabilitated. The commissioners voiced concerns about the associated Wessman site plan including lack of green space and poor traffic management. One commissioner characterized as "lop-sided" the lucrative benefits proposed for the developer under the Development Agreement. At the Planning Commission meeting yet another site plan (aka a “Revitalization Plan”) was presented. To see the Desert Sun’s graphic of that plan click here.
On May 19, 2011 PSPF delivered a letter to the city’s Planning Commission that asserted that it was PSPF’s view “that the inclusion of the Town & Country Center (T&CC) in the proposed [Wessman Development] plan and Development Agreement before you is flawed on many levels and fails to comport with the values and priorities of the city’s general plan, historic resources program and sustainability program.” The 8-page letter is an excellent overview of the issues surrounding the T&CC controversy. To read the PSPF letter click here.
On May 18, 2011 Mr. Sanford Garner, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, wrote a letter to the mayor regarding his recent trip to Palm Springs and his visit to the T&CC. In his letter president Garner expressed his concern that the city was pursuing a development plan that included the demolition of the T&CC and stated that the current Wessman Development plan was not consistent with the city’s “highly-publicized sustainability campaign.” President Garner also contended that “the historical importance of Paul R. Williams cannot be overstated.”
On May 11, 2011 PSPF board members Gary Johns and Ron Marshall (and PSModCom board member Chris Menrad) met with the museum’s executive leadership (Harold Matzner and Harold Meyerman) to voice concerns about the museum’s support for the current Wessman Development Desert Fashion Plaza Concept Plan which will demolish the historic Town & Country Center and the Wexler-designed E. F. Hutton Building.
On May 5, 2011 the board of the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation voted unanimously to accept a proposal from Ecotype Consulting to conduct a “Town & Country Center Sustainability Study.” Ecotype Consulting is a highly-regarded local firm from Redlands, California that has real-world experience coupled with academic credentials. The study should be completed by the end of June, in time to inform decisions about the fate of the historic Town & Country Center. The completed study will be distributed to the Palm Springs city council and other interested city boards and commissions.
On April 29 and 30, 2011 PSPF hosted an educational advocacy visit by Mr. Sanford Garner, the president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). On Saturday April 30 Mr. Garner (who has significant experience in the field of preservation architecture) toured the Town & Country Center with PSPF board members Patrick McGrew and Gary Johns. After the tour Mr. Garner commented that the Town & Country Center was “an historic resource that other cities would envy.”
On April 11, 2011 PSPF contacted the city manger to report that “squatters” had taken up residence on the first floor of the Town & Country Restaurant (most recently Zelda’s nightclub) in the historic Town & Country Center complex. PSPF expressed concern that this greatly increased the potential for damage and/or fire to the building and asked that the appropriate city departments take action.
On April 8, 2011 PSPF board members Patrick McGrew and Gary Johns accompanied architect Donald Wexler on a visit to the E. F. Hutton Building that, according to Johns, has been "hiding in plain sight" for years within the Town & Country Center. Designed by Wexler & Harrison in 1955, the building later housed the Palm Springs Club. The E. F. Hutton building will fall victim to demolition should the city council approve the owner/developer’s current plan for the Desert Fashion Plaza.
On April 5, 2011 PSPF board member Erik Rosenow wrote a “Valley Voice” column for the Desert Sun newspaper that addressed the Town & Country Center controversy. To read the Op-Ed piece click here.
On March 20, 2011 PSPF’s board of directors met with the board of directors of the Palm Springs Modern Committee to discuss the issue of the Town & Country Center. As a result, several joint PSPF/PSModCom subcommittees were formed to pursue various advocacy strategies.
On March 6, 2011 PSPF sent a letter to the Palm Springs Art Museum board of trustees asking for a meeting with the trustees to discuss the museum’s position on the Town & Country Center. To read the PSPF letter click here.
On March 2, 2011 the city council conducted a “public hearing/study session” ostensibly to “review and discuss the results of the community input and visioning sessions with [the] property owner.” After an overview of the publicly-derived “Preferred Concept Plan,” the developer was allowed to present a completely new “Wessman Development Desert Fashion Plaza Concept Plan.” While the new Wessman Development DFP Concept Plan is laudable insofar as it successfully breaks up the DFP superblock, it recycles the developer’s demand for the gratuitous demolition of the Town & Country Center in exchange for a new retail store frontage “road to nowhere.” Particularly disturbing was public comment by a senior Palm Springs Art Museum official characterizing the proposal as a “terrific plan” and implicitly endorsing the demolition of the Town & Country Center.
On January 26, February 3 and February 9, 2011 the city of Palm Springs hosted three “visioning sessions” to receive public input regarding the Desert Fashion Plaza and the Town & Country Center. Many PSPF members and board members attended the sessions and were outspoken in their support for the restoration of the Town & Country Center. Public input also included calls for local (as opposed to chain) retail, pedestrian-friendly throughways, world-class architecture, etc. As a result of this community process a “Preferred Concept Plan” was developed that offered an innovative solution that addressed many of the shortcomings of the failed DFP superblock. The final community plan also disconnected the Town & Country Center from the DFP development plan, a short-term solution supported by PSPF. Despite this apparent real progress, at the final February 9, 2011 visioning session, Mayor Pougnet suddenly announced that the developer had agreed to “work with the city” and “had heard” the community’s input.
On December 15, 2010, the Palm Springs city council voted 5-0 to proceed with plans to acquire both the Desert Fashion Plaza and Town & Country Center. The vote was the result of years of fruitless efforts by the city to motivate Wessman Development Company to have the properties contribute to the city's economy. The vote also validated the preservation community's strategic decision not to litigate on CEQA grounds when the Town & Country Center's Class 1 historic site nomination was rebuffed by the city in June of 2009. The city has established a schedule for community input ("visioning" workshops) which will discuss the mechanics of purchasing the Wessman holdings which have been appraised at $15.7 million for the Desert Fashion Plaza and $2.3 million for the Town & Country Center. According to the mayor, the city may pay for the properties either through an agreement with another developer (via a Disposition and Development Agreement) or through a "tax assessment created by a vote of the people."
At the November 18, 2009 Palm Springs City council meeting, the Museum Market Plaza Specific Plan (which includes the historic Town & Country Center) was amended as follows: "No permit for the demolition or substantial alteration of any portion of the Town and Country Center will be issued until (a) all discretionary entitlements consistent with the Specific Plan have been approved for the renovation or redevelopment of the existing Desert Fashion Plaza; (b) building permits in furtherance of such renovation or redevelopment have been issued; and (c) substantial work consistent with such building permits have commenced on the existing Desert Fashion Plaza."
It is PSPF’s view that the foregoing amendment guarantees the safety of the T&CC for the immediate future as the current owner/developer has asserted he does not have the financial wherewithal to renovate the Desert Fashion Plaza. Should the current owner/developer fail to renovate the Desert Fashion Plaza in a timely manner, we are confident that the city of Palm Springs will take legal action to acquire and renovate the T&CC.
On June 24, 2009 the Palm Springs City Council voted 5-0 AGAINST Class 1 historic site designation of the Town and Country Center despite significant public support and an endorsement from the State of California's Office of Historic Preservation. We will keep you updated as the T&CC drama continues to unfold.
Read our informational flyer 10 Myths and Misconceptions About the Town & Country Center and Historic Preservation. On June 18, 2009, PSPF volunteers delivered a copy of the 10 Myths flyer along with a cover letter to 200 Downtown Palm Springs Business Owners. To read the cover letter click here.
Consistent with the city staff's findings, on June 9, 2009 the city's Historic Site Preservation Board voted 4-2 (DeLeeuw, Gilmer, Marshall and Williams supporting) recommending Class 1 historic site designation of the Town and Country Center (T&CC) to the city council.
The nomination was authored by PSPF board member Patrick McGrew and is a thoughtful and scholarly assessment of the historic and architectural merits of the property. The 21-page nomination has already injected some much-needed objectivity into the sometimes emotional T&CC debate.
Unfortunately, proponents of demolishing the T&CC have been swayed by the developer's specious arguments that (1) the building is unremarkable, (2) it would be expensive to renovate and (3) it is not an economically viable business configuration.
These arguments, of course, are flawed. Any concerned citizen who reads the nomination will readily conclude that the building is historically and architecturally important. Secondly, renovation costs alluded to by the developer have been unrealistically high. Thirdly, we know that courtyard configurations have not only been viable in the past but are viable today (witness the success of "The Corridor" complex just a few blocks north of the T&CC).
The economic viability of our downtown is not some elusive goal. Historic preservation has worked to revitalize hundreds of downtowns all over the country. Many of these downtowns have fewer and far less remarkable architectural resources than Palm Springs. We need only to point these simple truths out to our fellow citizens and elected leaders.
In the Media
Click on a title below to view.
||February 28, 2017, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||July 17, 2016, Palm Springs Life (Town & Country Center)
||April 21, 2016, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||April 19, 2016, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||March 8, 2016, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||January 29, 2016, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||January 8, 2016, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||August 13, 2015, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||October 2012, Palm Springs Life Annual Progress Issue (“Delivering on MEASURE J”)
||September 15, 2012, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||June 18, 2011, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||June 7, 2011, The Architects Newspaper (Town & Country Center)
||Summer 2011, CA Modern magazine (Town & Country Center)
||May 26, 2011, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||November 24, 2009, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||June 23, 2009, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||June 7, 2009, Desert Sun (Town & Country Center)
||May|June 2008 Issue, Preservation magazine (“Palm Springs Eternal”)