Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Downtown Project

In its heyday, L.A. had its Sunset Strip and Chicago had its miracle mile. Minneapolis still has its Nicollet Mall and Eat Street. Many cities across the country have their own branded tentacles of food, drink, lodging, and entertainment. Now Palm Springs has done them one better with its own small-town village atmosphere cloaked as a 21st century hotspot. Throw in a summer splash party or two and it has become a poor man’s version of ‘Caligula’ for the masses… as long as they’re preferably under thirty years of age.

Old Palm Springs Painting by Melvin Hale

Back in its glory days, Palm Springs was a classic example of heighten expectations clashing with the reality of desert stargazing. In reality, it was only the well-heeled or coastal-connected that got to hang out with the stars. For the average visitor Palm Canyon Drive was just a welcome respite from the normalcy back home even while it harbored high hopes for seeing one of their favorite stars passing by on the sidewalk. Over the last several years, Palm Springs has slowly regained its panache.

The new town is a happening place once again. After years of economic stagnation and entertainment limbo Palm Springs has risen like a Phoenix. However, it’s no longer your grandparent’s vacation spot.

Palm Springs is fast becoming just about the hippest hot spot this side of Brooklyn, Silver Lake, and West Hollywood. West Coast hipsters, designers, remodelers, artists, musicians and actors are all rediscovering what their forefathers knew all along. They’re finding that wrapping those warm blue pools with a healthy shot of alcohol can bring out a hedonistic nature in the best of us.

In the heart of downtown is the Rowen Hotel - a central showcase for the brand new downtown Palm Springs. The new hotel is meant to anchor the many new downtown projects underway. Next door, The Palm Springs Art Museum continues to draw large crowds to its special exhibits. A pocket park will soon be constructed between the two enterprises. Walkability is a key ingredient here to attract the masses; tourist and local alike. The city is even carving up areas around town and giving them distinct labels such as SOPS (South of Palm Springs) and the Uptown Art and Design District.

While the hint of change had been in the air for a long time, it took the turnover of an old motel to kick-start this new makeover process. Most observers would agree that it was the conversion of an old Howard Johnson motel on Palm Canyon Drive into the new hip ACE hotel that became the catalyst for the hipsters to start coming to town. Now there is a whole cache of hotels and motels changing hands and branding themselves as ‘hip.’

The ACE comes replete with its well-earned reputation as a hipster hangout.

The Saguaro is distinguished by its colorful paint schemes throughout the building and its grounds.

The Parker covers thirteen lush acres and has become ‘the place’ where Hollywood hangs out during the International Palm Springs Film Festival and the rest of the year.

There is still something magical about the surrounding mountains, desertscape, warm winter months, and hip happenings all over town. Palm Springs is now a virtual cornucopia of cultural, artistic, sensual, musical, and intellectual stirrings for just about everyone from the art culture-types to the more modest of minds. It all seems to be happening here.

It’s a new era for Palm Springs and I’m lucky enough to be ‘cruising along’ in the middle of it.