May 7, 2020. 

My name is Melissa Riche. I am president of the local nonprofit group, Preservation Mirage.

Preservationists and architecture fans across our valley were saddened to hear that another valuable piece of Rancho Mirage midcentury architecture was recently lost to demolition.  It was the Hyatt von Dehn Residence, also known as the ‘Heaven Can Wait’ house, at 40995 Thunderbird Road in Thunderbird Heights. 

The property was a sprawling mansion comprising seven bedrooms in 8,000 square feet on more than two acres.  It was designed by desert architect Howard Lapham in 1960 and was the subject of a cover story for Architectural Digest magazine in 1961.  The house was remodeled in the late 60s by famous Palm Springs designer Arthur Elrod, for the next owners, Mr. & Mrs. Roy Woods of Oklahoma and the home was again featured in Architectural Digest.

The Von Dehn residence is referred to on p.16 of the 2003 Context Statement of the city’s Historic Resources Survey, discussing Howard Lapham’s legacy to the city of Rancho Mirage.  It included the fabulous ‘Ichpa Mayapan’ at the top of Thunderbird Mesa, a house that was immaculately restored a few years ago after it fell into disrepair and now often hosts President Obama.

Hyatt von Dehn was a millionaire entrepreneur who opened his first airport hotel near Los Angeles International Airport in 1953 and gave his name to create the Hyatt House Hotels chain as well as Von Dehn Road off Frank Sinatra Drive.

Every year Modernism Week brings thousands of people to the valley – and to our city – to enjoy the spectacular architectural legacy that exists here.We have received hundreds of emails, messages, and phone calls about the destruction of the Von Dehn residence.  I will read just one to you.  Council members have received seven pages of other comments from concerned residents.

Preservation Mirage makes statement at Rancho Mirage city council meeting

To whom it may concern,
The city of Rancho Mirage has an internationally renowned architectural legacy that it is in danger of losing all together. Many cities have to struggle to manufacture a marketing gimmick to distinguish themselves from others.  Rancho Mirage already has one (a sophisticated one at that) in its architecture.  Not only would it truly be a loss to architectural history to squander its legacy, but I'd argue that you're throwing away a valuable potential 'brand' that took decades, millions of dollars, a golden age of Hollywood and American industrial clientele, and an internationally recognized group of architects to realize.  I am asking that you please consider Rancho Mirage's past heritage as an integral part of its future.  Thank you for your time, Piper Mavis, Third generation owner - Jorgensen Mavis Residence, Thunderbird Country Club

Some comments from the community...

The demolition of significant architecture in Rancho Mirage must stop.  Please update your records to avoid razing historic structures as the city has done with Richard Neuta's Maslon home and Ken Kellogg's organic modern Chart House Restaurant.  People come to Ranch Mirage to appreciate modern architecture.  I miss seeing the Kellogg masterpiece every time I drive past the gaping hole that is left on 111.  Lenora Hume
I am very familiar with this house as I used to live in Thunderbird Heights. Perhaps a decade or two ago this destruction would have been less of a surprise but now, in current more enlightened times, when these houses are appreciated and cherished, this loss is particularly inexcusable and shocking. This is a terrible tragedy and once again brings up the need for a stronger preservation ordinance, and one that is enforced, in Rancho Mirage.  Brad Dunning
This was a mid-century architectural home that was well documented and worthy of landmark status--much like the Maslon House that was also destroyed, and also in Rancho Mirage.  Shameful to see our history needlessly destroyed in just one day.  When will the City of Rancho Mirage act to protect its own legacy?  Adriene Biondo, Chair Emeritus, Los Angeles Conservancy Modern Committee
As the author of "Arthur Elrod: Desert Modern Design," I am appalled and beyond frustrated that the city of Rancho Mirage is not protecting its rich architectural and design legacy.  Arthur Elrod redesigned the Hyatt Von Dehn residence in 1969 at the height of his career, and Architectural Digest, which the published the estate in the Winter 1970s issue, said it exemplified "contemporary luxury."  Rancho Mirage needs to honor its past and its historic resources.  Adele Cygelman
Our architectural heritage is one of the most valuable assets we have in this area.  If we don’t protect it, we lose not just a home or other building, but we lose a piece of our legacy.  And when we lose that, we risk our future.  Not just because many of us choose to live here because of the architecture.  But because hundreds of thousands of visitors come here and spend money because of the architecture.  Greg Tormo
In order to protect historic/significant properties in Rancho Mirage, the City needs to realize the importance of updating its survey and act upon it to preserve them.  Once gone, this portion of the City’s history cannot be restored.   Kitty Mahon
It's very sad to read about the loss of this house.  It wasn't necessary and had Rancho Mirage updated its historical resources survey, it would not have happened.  As Modernism Week proves, with increasingly record breaking numbers of attendees from around the world -- this last February was over 62,000 attendees, with an local economic impact of $61,000,000 and receiving 3.1 billion media impressions around the world -- (with hundreds of them on sold out tours of Rancho Mirage homes and associations), a city prospers by respecting its history.  As with the 2002 Neutra House destruction, which was a HUGE embarrassment to the City, losing historic resources shouldn't continue.  Can you imagine if that house was still in existence how world renown it would have become, raising Rancho Mirage's profile at the same time?  Just refer to the media history of the Neutra Desert Kaufmann House in Palm Springs to see how many times it has, and continues, to receive major publicity around the world.  The City of Rancho Mirage should get on it and update the historic resources survey, and start appreciating the architectural heritage that is there before it's all gone.  Mark Davis



Read about historic homes and structures that have been lost in Rancho Mirage... HERE