AKA: Torney General Hospital, Palm Springs, CA; El Mirador Hilton, Palm Springs, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings -public accommodations - hotels

Designers: Franklin, Helen, Interior Designer (firm); Walker and Eisen, Architects (firm); Williams, Paul R., AIA (firm); Percy Augustus Eisen (architect); Helen Franklin (interior designer); Albert Raymond Walker (architect); Paul Revere Williams (architect)

Dates: constructed 1927-1928, demolished 1989

2 stories

1150 North Indian Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92622

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Prescott Thresher Stevens, who had made a fortune in cattle ranching and real estate, commissioned the Los Angeles architectural firm of Walker and Eisen to design El Mirador Hotel, ("the lookout"), Palm Springs's second luxury hotel (after the Desert Inn). Walker and Eisen created a design for a 165-room hotel, with a trademark, 68-foot tower; the tower, derived from Spanish Colonial and North African sources, had a zig-zag, polychrome, pyramidal roof. Its owner envisioned it as a premier luxury hotel; to add shopping to its list of attractions, I. Magnin, the prestigious Los Angeles-based retailer, opened a boutique at El Mirador. Opening on 12/31/1928, the hotel occupied 20 acres originally, with an Olympic-size pool, where swimming and diving competitions were held to attract national attention. It also opened the first 18-hole golf course in Palm Springs to cater to the upper class. Stevens operated it until 10/1932, when, due to the stock market crash, it was auctioned off for $300,000 to Warren Pinney, an attorney working for Stevens at the hotel, and businessman Ralph LeCoe. To create nationwide publicity, Pinney and LeCoe enticed motion picture newsreel crews to stay at the hotel, to film celebrities, such as Shirley Temple, Bing Crosby or William Holden, staying there. The hotel also interested new photographic magazines, such as Life (bought by Time's Henry Luce in 1936 and redesigned to feature photography) and Look (begun by the Cowles Publishing Company in 1937), to run stories of visiting stars. They even arranged for the very popular NBC radio serial, Amos 'n' Andy, (which began in 1928) to broadcast their nightly show from the hotel during winters in the early 1930s. At the beginning of World War II, the US Army purchased the hotel for $425,000 from Pinney, turning it into the 1,600-bed Torney General Hospital, named for Army (and Navy) physician, Brigadier General George Henry Torney (1850–1913). Decommissioning of the facility came after the war, when the City of Palm Springs temporarily retained control; the city sought to pass a bond issue to enable it to create a civic center at the hotel, but the municipal referendum failed. Various owners controlled the property until 1952, when an investment syndicate of 18 led by F. Roy Fitzgerald and Ray Ryan, purchased it for about $900,000 with the intent of reopening it as a luxury hotel. They engaged Los Angeles architect Paul R. Williams (1894-1980) to renovate their property, indicating their intent to spend $5 million on the project. According to the Paul R. Williams Project, "His new design included the addition of a porte-cochere entry, cabanas, sun decks, new pool area, and an outdoor lounge with modernistic trellis and retractable canopy. Beverly Hills interior designer Helen Franklin collaborated with Williams to create all new interiors." (See "El Mirador Hotel, Palm Springs, California,"Accessed 02/03/2014.) The hotel, then managed by Frederick Clauson, reopened on 12/15/1952 featuring a ribbon-cutting ceremony with actress Joan Taylor (1929-2012). After Williams's renovation, the hotel had mixed success; it still attracted stars and used them for added publicity, but, by the 1960s, it was beginning to lose its cachet as other, newer resorts and country club communities proliferated in Palm Springs. Actor John Conte (1915-2006) and his wife, Sirpuhe Philibosian Conte (1908-2008), an Armenian heiress to an oriental-rug fortune, bought El Mirador in 1968; they leased the property to the Hilton chain, and founded a television station KMIR-TV, operating studios at the hotel. Debts forced the sale of the station and the hotel in the early 1972. Neighboring Desert Hospital purchased the El Mirador in 12/1972.

As time went on, later owners added detached wings and bungalows to El Mirador. A large of amount of remodeling occurred c. 1942, when the Army's Torney General Hospital created new wards in the former hotel. (See Sam Hinton, "A Naturalist in Show Business or I Helped Kill Vaudeville,"Accessed 02/03/2014.) Some buildings in the Torney General Hospital's complex were reused by a 38-bed hospital, the Palm Springs Community Hospital, forerunner of the Desert Regional Medical Center.

Demolished. El Mirador closed to guests in 1973, and the hospital began the process of demolishing wings and bungalows on the property. The Palm Springs Historic Site Preservation Board named El Mirador's Tower a Class 1 Historic Site on 06/27/1984. The original tower, lobby and several suites remained standing until 07/26/1989 when a fire gutted both. Ironically, the Desert Regional Medical Center had decided to allocate $2 million just before the blaze to refurbish the buildings (which had been used for storage) into a cardiac rehabilitation facility. The Medical Center rebuilt the colorful tower in 1991.

Palm Springs Historic Site (1984-06-27): 1

PCAD id: 11569