Architecture in Rancho Mirage
Architecture in Rancho Mirage is primarily a story of residential development. The City of Rancho Mirage Historical Resources Survey (2003) described four eras of development:
Native Peoples. The first residents were the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians. They built camps in canyons where they could exploit water supplies, natural palm groves and hot mineral springs. They indigenous native animals, gathered plants and seeds and cultivated melons, squash, beans and corn.
Early Agricultural and Residential Period: 1924 - 1950. With plentiful water supplies from an underground aquifer, early interest in the Rancho Mirage area was agricultural. The DaVall family?s Wonder Palms Date Ranch, William Everett?s Eleven Mile Ranch and Johnny and Ruth Warburton?s Red Roof Ranch were some of the early farmers who saw an opportunity to get produce to market before crops in other regions could ripen. The area was particularly suited to cultivation of dates. Date orchards soon dotted the landscape.
The Magnesia Falls area became the epicenter of early residential development. In 1924, Los Angeles developers purchased several hundred acres of land with the intention of subdividing it into ten-acre farms geared to ?gentlemen farmers?. LM and Helen Clancy of Los Angles built the first rancho in 1932 planting grapefruit, dates and grapes.
A Pasadena investor and developer purchased land in 1934 and began selling lots. He offered ?modern attractive small homes? of four to six rooms on 100x100 foot lots in the subdivision. A 1937 advertisement in the Pasadena Star-News, boasted that Rancho Mirage offered ?one more hour sunshine? than Palm Springs and that it possessed ?the finest water system in the valley?. In a less attractive aspect of the period, the advertisement also noted the development was ?restricted?, an attitude that persisted for another generation when membership of the first two country clubs in Rancho Mirage was divided along religious lines.
Hollywood lawyer A. Ronald Button and Dave Culver purchased land in Magnesia Falls to subdivide. Radio and television host Art Linkletter also purchased land in the area to subdivide.
Besides a hand full of year round and seasonal residents, visitors were drawn to the area for dude ranch vacations. Guests lived in rustic cabins, taking meals communally in lodges or on chuck wagon expeditions. Activities included swimming and horseback riding. In 1946, Eleven Mile Ranch converted into the White Sun Guest Ranch and Frank Bogert opened the Thunderbird Ranch featuring ranch style cabins and clubhouse arranged around a pool designed by Pasadena architect Gordon Kaufman.
Construction during this time included single family homes in Spanish, ranch and early modern styles; ranch houses with associated date palm groves; dude ranches and stables with equestrian trails; and early homes for celebrities and business elite.
Country Club Era: 1951 - 1973. The destiny of Rancho Mirage changed forever when Thunderbird Ranch and the adjacent Red Roof Ranch were spotted by golf promoter Johnny Dawson as the potential site for an 18-hole golf course and country club. With a group of investors that included businessmen, politicians and Hollywood celebrities such as Bob Hope, Randolph Scott, Phil Harris, Desi Arnaz and Ralph Kiner, the property was purchased and the Thunderbird Country Club incorporated in May 1950. In an innovative approach to country club development, lots along the fairways were offered for sale to club members. Entertainers Phil Harris, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, songwriter Hoagy Carmichael and tire company executive (later ambassador to Belgium) Leonard Firestone were among the first buyers. The club opened in 1951, becoming the first 18-hole golf course in the Coachella Valley, with Jimmy Hines as the golf pro. Local architect William Cody was hired to remodel the guest ranch buildings and to construct fourteen ?cottages? which were available to members.
The same successful formula was followed a year later, when Tamarisk Country Club opened on the former Wonder Palms Hotel and Guest Ranch. Incorporated in 1951 by a group of 65 investors, including Hollywood notables Jack Benny, George Burns, Danny Kaye, Sol Lessor and the Marx Brothers plus businessmen like Lou Halper, Tom May and Abe Lastfogel. It also offered home sites along the fairways as a means of financing club improvements. The club opened in 1952, with a golf course designed by William Bell and renowned golfer Ben Hogan as the golf pro.
Attracting attention initially because of their well-heeled members, Thunderbird and Tamarisk focused the limelight by hosting tournaments such as the Women?s Invitational, the Ryder Cup and the first Bob Hope Classic. High profile visitors, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, brought additional publicity.
Construction of the country clubs and the associated residences coincided with another development that had profound implications for the character of Rancho Mirage: the evolution of a ?Desert Modern? style of architecture. The Desert Modern style was in many ways a domestication and refinement of the avant-garde International Style of the 1920s and 1930s, and grew out of local architects? desire to adapt modern materials, techniques and floor plans to the unique requirements of desert living. Characteristics include large expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass sheltered by deep overhangs extending from flat roofs and flowing interior floor plans that merged imperceptibly with the outdoors. Oriented to the rear, Desert Modern houses in Rancho Mirage embrace desert, swimming pool and golf course views plus outdoor access while front elevations are often shielded for privacy. Desert Modern houses appear light, with roofs floating above the glass walls and clerestories, and ceilings supported by thin steel or wood posts. In addition to glass, exterior materials include stucco, wood, slumpstone, and natural rock.
Several architects contributed to the development of the Desert Modern style including William F. Cody, E. Stewart Williams, Dan Palmer, William Krisel and Howard Lapham. Because of their affluence, several Rancho Mirage property owners were able to commission architects of regional, national and even international prominence to design their vacation homes. In many cases, the architects had designed projects for their clients in their home cities. These architects included Welton Becket, A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons, Richard Neutra, William Pereira, Wallace Neff and Paul Williams. In many cases, these commissions were rare examples of an architect?s work in the desert or in a residential mode.
Construction during this era include mostly single family homes in the Modern
and Desert Modern styles, many in conjunction with country clubs. Other properties include higher density housing such as apartments, condominiums, hotels and a development type peculiar to Rancho Mirage: clusters of single family residences grouped around commonly owned landscape and recreational amenities such as swimming pools.
City Era: 1973 - Present. In the late 1960s, Rancho Mirage had a year-round population of approximately 500 and a seasonal residency of a least 1,500. By 1970, it had experienced two decades of steady growth. When the neighboring communities of Cathedral City and Palm Desert began to show interest in expanding to encompass the new Eisenhower Medical Center, a movement to incorporate Rancho Mirage as a city was initiated. An election was held in which 85 percent of the voters favored incorporation, and on August 3, 1973, Rancho Mirage became the sixteenth city in Riverside County.
The mid-1970s witnessed a building boom with 5,000 dwelling units reported in progress in 1974. The development of country clubs continued unabated. Commercial growth accelerated along Highway 111 including the distinctive Organic Modern styled Chart House, designed by Kendrick Kellogg in 1978 as a the most notable architectural milestone.
Construction during the City Era included many municipal, commercial and residential structures. Much of the residential building occurred in planned developments of gated communities surrounding a golf course and country club such as Mission Hills Country Club, The Springs Country Club and Sunrise Country Club. Because building during this period is less than fifty years old, most are not eligible for historic designation. However, it is imperative to acknowledge examples of important and significant architecture from the era.