Palm Springs

Where desert landscapes meet celebrated architecture

Palm Springs has a colourful past, with the city centre dating back to the 1880s.

The McCallum Adobe in Palm Springs.
The Palm Springs Historical Society maintains both the McCallum Adobe and the Cornelia White House. They also run guided walking tours throughout the historical neighbourhoods of the city. — Photo: Palm Springs Historical Society

Travel back in time at the McCallum Adobe and historical neighbourhood tours, or walk nature’s ancient path at the Indian Canyons.

The city centre of Palm Springs dates back to the 1880s. Judge John Guthrie McCallum was the first non-Indian permanent settler in Palm Springs. “He arrived here with his wife and five children in 1884, and purchased a large portion of land which is now the heart of the city,” said Jeri Vogelsang, the director of the Palm Springs Historical Society. He divided and sold the land, and built his well-known adobe home.

“It still stands today as the oldest building in Palm Springs.” The McCallum Adobe is now open to the public as a museum. Tours run from October through May.

The McCallum Adobe is a great stop for visitors looking to gain a general knowledge of the city’s recent history of settlers. “The McCallum Adobe has many aspects of the city’s history portrayed in exhibits that change each season,” said Vogelsang. Historic photographs provide a glimpse back in time; letters and paintings created by the earliest pioneers in the city complement the original photographs. “We also have a film that tells the history of Palm Springs that runs continuously.” The McCallum Adobe acts as a starting place for visiting history buffs to soak in eras past.

While the McCallum Adobe is the star of the show, Palm Springs is rich with historical architecture and artifacts. In fact, the building right next door continues the time travel which the adobe house provides.

The Historical Society also maintains the neighbouring Cornelia White House. This building was built in 1893—it is the second oldest in Palm Springs. “It is also open for touring and is furnished as a pioneer home at the turn of the 20 th century,” said Vogelsang.

Moving away from the McCallum Adobe and the Cornelia House, the Palm Springs Historical Society showcases other historical neighbourhoods in the city. “My favourite feature is the Historical Society’s historical walking tours,” Vogelsang said. “Seven different tours take visitors through the historical neighbourhoods of Palm Springs.” Tours include Frank Sinatra’s Neighbourhood: The Movie Colony; Stars and Star-chitects; Inns, Architecture and Glamour; and the Celebrity Haven that is the Tennis Club Neighbourhood. Especially in the winter months, visitors may even spot a celebrity roaming around town.

The Indian Canyons

Just outside of town, before Judge McCallum and his family found Palm Springs, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians were the hunters and gatherers of the area. Their livelihood thrived around the Indian Canyons. “This is my number one recommendation for visitors to Palm Springs,” said Vogelsang.

“It lets people see what this beautiful valley was like before civilization encroached.” Beautiful is an understatement for where California fan palms meet desert landscapes.

Unfortunately, the Cahuilla band that lived in this area all but disappeared after a smallpox epidemic spread in 1863. Shortly afterwards, Judge McCallum built his adobe house. However, the Indian Canyons that gave life to the earliest population remain a must-see sight when travelling to Palm Springs, California, only minutes from town.

Now, hiking trails run through the desert and fan palm forest giving visitors a taste of what life in Palm Springs was like before settlers arrived. Rock formations and ridges add layers of ancient history to each hike. The canyons are an oasis in the middle of the desert—especially Palm and Tahquitz Canyons which house a stream and a waterfall. Murray Canyon is a little more secluded, but the perfect place to spot rare birds. Andreas Canyon has huge overgrowths of greens rooted into the rocky ground. Whichever canyon visitors choose to hike, they are promised a combination of sights unlike anywhere else in the world.

Modernism Week

Each February, Modernism Week takes over the city. “There are literally hundreds of events from lectures, to exhibits, home shows, home tours, bus tours, cocktail parties and more to celebrate and inform about our rich architectural heritage from adobe to Spanish Colonial to Midcentury Modern,” Vogelsang said. The goal of Modernism Week is to appreciate the mid-century architecture that is present in the city, and encourage further education about the city’s past.

Events are priced separately, but many events are free. Tickets can be purchased online at www.modernismweek.com.

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