City History

The City of Rancho Mirage Historical Resources Survey (2003) described three eras of development. The following text is an edited summary from that survey.

Early Agricultural and Residential Period: 1924 – 1950

The DaVall’s Wonder Palms Date Ranch, William Everett’s Eleven Mile Ranch and the Warburton’s Red Roof Ranch were early farms growing date palms, table grapes, and citrus. In 1924, Los Angeles developers purchased several hundred acres to subdivide into ten-acre farms geared to “gentlemen farmers,” among them the Clancys – hence Clancy Lane.

A Pasadena investor purchased land around the area known as Magnesia Falls Cove in 1934, called it ‘Rancho Mirage’ and began selling lots offering “modern attractive small homes.” Advertisements boasted that Rancho Mirage offered “one more hour sunshine” than Palm Springs.

In 1944, Hollywood lawyer, later Treasurer for the State of California, A. Ronald Button, purchased the holding to restart residential development. In 1956, he was briefly joined in his venture by enterprising brother-in-law and TV personality Art Linkletter.

In 1946, Eleven Mile Ranch converted into the White Sun Guest Ranch; Frank Bogert opened the Thunderbird Ranch Guest Ranch in 1947 designed by Pasadena architect Gordon Kaufman. Visitors enjoyed vacations in rustic cabins, with chuckwagon breakfasts, swimming and horseback riding.

Country Club Era: 1951 – 1973

In 1950, entrepreneur and golfer Johnny Dawson chose Thunderbird Ranch and Red Roof ranches as the location for an 18-hole golf course and country club, backed by investors that included businessmen and Hollywood celebrities such as Bob Hope, Randolph Scott, Phil Harris, Desi Arnaz, and Ralph Kiner. The key innovation was the sale of residential lots along the fairways; celebrity and industrialist investors attracted like-minded purchasers. Thunderbird Country Club opened in 1951, becoming the first 18-hole golf course in the Coachella Valley. William F. Cody designed the remodel of the guest ranch buildings and fourteen “cottages,” available to members.

Tamarisk Country Club was created on land that was part of Wonder Palms Hotel and Guest Ranch. A group of 65 investors included Hollywood notables Jack Benny, George Burns, Danny Kaye, and the Marx Brothers plus businessmen Lou Halper and Tom May of May Company. It also offered home sites along the fairways and was ‘unrestricted.’ The club opened in 1952, with a golf course designed by William Bell. The country clubs had profound implications for Rancho Mirage: the evolution of a “Desert Modern” style of architecture that grew out of local architects’ need to adapt plans to the unique requirements of a new style of living.

Characteristics included 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 panoramic views while front elevations are often shielded for privacy. Roofs float above glass walls and clerestories, ceilings are supported by thin steel or wood posts. Exterior materials include stucco, wood, slump stone, and natural rock.

Architects contributing to Desert Modern style included William F. Cody, E. Stewart Williams, Palmer & Krisel, Wexler & Harrison. Because of their affluence, property owners often commissioned architects of national and international prominence, such as Welton Becket, A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons, Richard Neutra, William Pereira, Wallace Neff, and Paul R. Williams.

Multi-family developments were a type peculiar to Rancho Mirage: single-family residences grouped around community landscape and swimming pools.

City Era: 1973 – Present

In the late 1960s, Rancho Mirage had a year-round population of approximately 500 and 1500 seasonal residents. By 1970, 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 formed. In August 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 alone. Country club development in gated communities such as Mission Hills, The Springs, and Sunrise Country Clubs continued unabated. Though many of these developments may never attain the status of ‘historic’ architecture, they have had a significant impact on the character of the city. A number of custom, individual homes have been built by important architects that should be recognized as they age.