In a remarkable turnaround, Palm Springs’ longest and most intractable preservation battle appears to be coming to an astonishingly positive end: property owner Grit Development is on the cusp of receiving city approval for the first phase of its proposed restoration of the Town & Country Center. Having abandoned a recent proposal to insert a large hotel into the complex requiring demolition of key historic features, Grit’s new plan will sensitively restore the entire Center to its original appearance.
The Town & Country Center, built between 1946 and 1955, was once a glamorous retail, restaurant, and residential mixed-use project designed over the years by a number of important visiting and local architects including A. Quincy Jones, Paul R. Williams, Albert Frey, John Porter Clark, Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison.
The Palm Springs Modern Committee began working on the preservation of the Town & Country Center in 2004, co-founding Friends of Town & Country Center in 2006. In 2011, when PS ModCom’s attorney identified illegal aspects of the City’s Development Agreement, we ran a Desert Sun ad and sent out direct mail pieces requesting voters to contact the City with their views on its harmful terms. In subsequent years, preservation architect Susan Secoy wrote the successful Palm Springs Class One Historic Site and National Register of Historic Places nominations that were crucial in the effort to save the complex. Working together, a strong effort by the preservation community led the City Council in 2016 to remove the Town & Country Center from the downtown project and prevent its future demolition.
Preventing Demolition by Neglect
By early 2017, the Town & Country Center had reached such a severe level of deterioration that there was great concern it would be destroyed by vandalism or arson. Following urgent discussions with council members, PS ModCom’s executive director Nickie McLaughlin was officially appointed by the City Council to serve as the preservation liaison between the City and property owner Grit Development. The most critical tasks were interior clean up, roof repairs, and window replacements along with the installation of fencing and security monitoring systems to prevent further damage. Next, PS ModCom worked with the owner on an immediate exterior beautification plan. In addition to surface repairs, a meticulous investigation of original paint colors was conducted that led to the period-correct repainting of the Town & Country Restaurant.
Proposed Bank of America restoration.
View of proposed alleyway.
Grit Development’s Restoration and Rehabilitation Plan
Of four planned restoration and rehabilitation phases presented to the City by Grit Development, the first is concentrated primarily on the Palm Canyon Drive frontages including the former Bank of America building. In addition, the former E.F. Hutton building facing the interior courtyard behind Crazy Mel’s Burgers will be restored and repurposed. Preservation architect Susan Secoy, who led the rehabilitation of the former Tahquitz Plaza (now Kaptur Plaza), and architect Jim Cioffi will collaborate on the restoration of the Town & Country Center. According to the Desert Sun, “The design plans aim to stay as true to original plans as possible, undo decades of add-ons, and modernize to make the properties more accessible and up to modern codes.” Phase One is slated for completion in 2021.
If the entirety of the Town & Country Center is ultimately restored and repurposed under the auspices of owner Grit Development, it will be the miraculous conclusion to decades of effort by the preservation community and elected officials to bring back to life an irreplaceable cornerstone of sophisticated Modern architecture in the heart of Palm Springs.