As preservationists steam, demolition teams working in the desert heat have begun to tear down Donald Wexler’s famed Spa Hotel in downtown Palm Springs. The hotel was closed in early June by its owners, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. To add insult to injury, the demolition has begun with the hotel’s most famous element: it’s elegant, concrete-vaulted colonnade.
“We are outraged and upset. We’ve been trying to provide information to the tribe on how this hotel could be successfully restored and renovated. They mention communication about everything. But it wasn’t until I drove by that we saw that the demolition had started,” Palm Springs Modern Committee (PS MODCOM) Executive Director Nickie McLaughlin told AN.
The Spa Bathhouse and Hotel, acknowledged as one of the city’s most significant buildings, was designed in 1955 by a collaboration of elite Palm Springs architects including not just Wexler, but William Cody, Richard Harrison, and Phillip Koenig. McLaughlin confirmed that the colonnade’s destruction had been completed on September 3.
McLaughlin said PS MODCOM had been talking with Agua Caliente since July 14, and were given the impression that the tribe had no plans on the table for immediate demolition. The assumed lack of plans also allowed the tribe to circumvent CEQA rules, she said. According to the Desert Sun, because the demolition takes place on tribal land it is a “tribal action,” and not subject to any state or federal environmental protections.
“I think they’re not true to their word and I think this is a very poor display of how they operate,” said McLaughlin, who added that PS MODCOM and the tribe had discussed the possibility of restoring the existing building (with the tribe receiving various tax credits) and constructing new facilities to the north. Another organization, the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, encouraged members and interested parties to send over 1,000 letters to the tribe urging them to reconsider the demolition.
“It’s really nauseating,” said Wexler’s son Brian Wexler. “It’s so disappointing that one of the most iconic structures of Palm Springs has been lost.” He said his brother Gary was driving by when demolition started and sounded the alarm.
It is unclear what Agua Caliente plans to build on the site. At this point calls to the tribe had not been returned. “We are in the planning stages of creating a vision for this key location in downtown Palm Springs,” Agua Caliente Tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe said, in a statement. “Our next steps include demolition of existing structures as well as taking the necessary steps to protect and preserve the hot mineral spring.”