Palm Springs Spa and Resort

A reflection

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Above photo: The Palm Springs Spa and Resort designed by Wexler, Harrison, and Cody. Photo: Julius Shulman / Getty Archives.

“A most daring and dramatic change of pace for the area, this luxurious spa became a centerpiece for recreational activity in Palm Springs.”

– Sam Banowit (developer and builder of Palm Springs Spa and Resort)

The Palm Springs Spa was an icon which stood out even among the surfeit of Mid Century Modern architecture of the area. The Spa was the brainchild of Sam Banowit whose plan was to build a hotel and resort that could cater to any leisurely need. Designed by noted architects Donald Wexler, Richard Harrison, and William F. Cody the Spa opened in 1960. The building’s most celebrated feature was the colonnaded entrance canopy that led visitors along a reflecting pool. This canopy and water feature continued within the building’s interior and helped elevate the design of the Spa from the ordinary to the exceptional.

In 1957, after a fire had destroyed an existing bathhouse, also built by Banowit, a plan was drafted for the Palm Springs Spa and Hotel. Banowit negotiated a 99 year lease agreement for the land with the Cahuilla tribe. This was the first long-term lease agreement in history as previous discriminatory zoning laws only allowed for short-term leases, frightening off investors and left Native lands undeveloped. However the 99 year lease was nullified when the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla tribe later purchased and operated the Palm Springs Spa and Resort up until 2014.

Upon opening in 1960 the 30,000 square foot Spa and Resort had received guests from all walks of life including many celebrities of the day, making the Spa a popular stopping off point. Architecturally it boasted the first thin-arch, post-tension concrete entrance and immediately became a destination for many travelers looking for a dip in its therapeutic waters. However, in recent years the Spa had suffered from neglect, poor renovations, and had become a sad shadow of its former glory. And while preservationists lobbied to have the Spa saved and restored, the facility was shut down and fenced off.

All above images are from the Julius Shulman / Getty Archive

In a move that shocked many, in September of 2014 bulldozers and backhoes began tearing down the Spa. There was no announcement of this demolition and to date no concrete plans have been presented as to what will replace the former icon.

The Spa was definitive Desert Modernism.There are those who say that not every building can be saved and there is a truth to that. However, there are buildings that go beyond just being architecture. These are the buildings and spaces that are not only quintessentially representative of their style but spark an emotional connection as well. It is these buildings that become the timeless ambassadors – not just of a past era – but of the ongoing history of a place and people. It is these buildings that must be saved. The Palm Springs Spa and Resort was one such building, now reduced to rubble behind a retaining fence.

In the video below, the Wexler family react to the demolition of the Palm Springs Spa and Resort. Video via The Desert Sun”

If you cannot see the video on your mobile please click here.

Palm Springs Spa Resort

The Palm Springs Spa and Resort (1960 – 2014). Photo:

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6 years ago

I work a few blocks from the Spa. It was a tragedy to see it destroyed. It could have been a masterpiece again if they had restored it to it’s original glory. What a loss.

Michael Stern
6 years ago

This was truly one of California’s greatest midcentury modern works. It’s tragic that they let it go..

andrew danish
6 years ago

i will never set foot in any Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla structures.

Lynda Bourgeois
6 years ago

Very sad that this was not protected from decay and demolition. I’m sure that there are investors that could have restored this iconic structure. When our architecture is lost, a piece of our history is lost. Preservationist can never rest on their heels. It is an on going battle.