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October 18, 2005

Desert Hot Springs History

This past weekend was Desert Hot Springs' "Festival of the Waters." I'm sorry if you missed it. I wandered through the event (in the parking lot at the Desert Hot Springs Spa) a couple of times and discovered The Desert Hot Springs Historical Society who, I tell you now, have no website at all. They were selling two items: a photocopied packet containing a brief chronology of the area and some old newspaper and magazine clippings ($3 for that) and a reprint of a pamphlet entitled Desert Hot Springs Why? written in 1948 by L.W. Coffee, the real estate developer who made DHS what it is ($4). I bought both.

The material doesn't look very professional, but at least there are no misspellings. I did find it pretty bothersome, however, that the Coffee pamphlet contained no information on the date it was written. When you read it, though, some information near the end suggests it was probably written in 1948. I'm afraid if I complain any further I'll obligate myself to joining the Society to help them out. Let me try to blend some of this information to give you some highlights of DHS's glorious history:

1858: The Army Corps of Engineers performed an incomplete survey of the area that would become Desert Hot Springs. Coffee had to rely partly on this incomplete survey when he began laying out subdivisions in the 1930s. He wrote that "When the [1858] survey party gave up they job they made a notation on the official records. 'Too hot—gone to the mountains.'" Weenies, I say. Coffee's surveyor found nine survey sticks left by the Army Corps of Engineers and sent them off to U.C. Berkeley.

1908: Homesteaders arrive in the area.

1913: Cabot Yerxa arrives and homesteads 160 acres.

1915: Yerxa discovers both the cold and hot water aquifers.

1932: L.W. Coffee meets Cabot Yerxa who was then operating a grocery store in Moorpark, California.

1933: Coffee organizes a trust whose beneficiaries are the various owners in the area that would become Desert Hot Springs. He begins to drill for water, leasing a small drilling rig and hiring Earl Howard, "a real well driller." Drilling proceeded from early May to late June, when they had "about 65 feet of water in the well at a temperature of 140°. The weather was warm, I was not accoustomed [sic] to it, so all activities ceased until November of the same year." Eventually the well was extended to a depth of 333 feet.

Before 1938, Coffee had sold 14 1-acre lots. "The corner of Palm Drive and Eighth Street was purchased by J.W. Vivian of Santa Barbara [who] contracted for the first home to be built at Desert Hot Springs, a beautiful three-bedroom stucco with tile roof." How 'bout that?! 3 BR stucco, tile roof. Exactly what they build today.

Coffee had built his first bath house at Palm and Pierson. "We then installed an electric light plant,operated with an old Studebaker engine, which supplied lights for the bath house and the adobe. This plant furnished us about twelve lights, which was hardly enough..." Coffee adds a butane gas range and begins serving meals. He applies for a beer and wine license "which was not hard to get at that time." Weekend crowds often sleep in their cars because there are no rooms.

1937: Cabot Yerxa returns to DHS. He begins to build his pueblo in 1939 and continues working on it until his death in 1965.

1938: Coffee's trust falls apart after 5 years of litigation (nothing ever changes!). Everything halts.

1940: Coffee starts over by resurveying the area. Sells the first house lots at $95, taking a loss on every one. He builds a tank house containing an ordinary household bath tub at Palm Drive and Eighth. Due to the great demand he then builds a temporary concrete tub outside.

1941: Coffee builds and opens the first commercial bath house; 120 feet long, separate men's and women's sections. More than 2000 people show up for the grand opening on July 12 and partied until 2:30 AM. At the time Desert Hot Springs consists of only 1 cafe and less than a score of homes.

1942: The first newspaper, The Desert Sentinel is created.

1944: Post office opens on Pierson.

1946: First public school.

1947: Coffee's bath house burns down. New one opens.

1948: Water Company is formed. First Methodist church. Coffee predicts the population of the city will be 30,000 by 1960. [In 2005 it is just 19,500].

1949: Street lights.

1957: The first bank, Bank of America on Pierson. Coffee dies.

1961: Bath house closes.

1963: Bath house re-opens. Desert Hot Springs incorporates as a city.

1964: DHS Spa opens.

1987: Mission Springs Water District forms.

1991: Coffee's bathhouse (1947 construction) demolished.

1999: First high school.

2001: Municipal bankruptcy.

2004: Bankruptcy resolved. Ron's Log arrives to survey the scene.

Other information in the historical society's packet reveals that what is now Varner Road used to be Routes 60/70/99 and that this ruin
Abandoned Building

is all that's left of a service station that took advantage of the driver's need for radiator water after the long desert climb from Indio. According to an article in the April 1978 issue of Desert magazine, this service station was abandoned in 1950 and that since then it has been used in many movies. The area is called "Willow Hole." There was discussion of putting the county landfill there, but the BLM blocked that. There was a serious proposal to build a park there in the 1960s. The BLM took that under advisement and is, I guess, still thinking about it. They have, however, built quite a few windmills on the hillside there.

Too late have I discovered that the DHS Historical Society included NO contact information in the material I bought from them. Let's not worry about whether they have a website or not. Let's just teach them about business cards! A Google search turns up this address for them: Desert Hot Springs Historical Society; P.O. Box 1267; Desert Hot Springs CA 92240

Filed under Coachella Valley | permalink | October 18, 2005 at 08:00 PM


Regarding the memory of an old resort near Dillon and Bubbling Wells - there is still a delapitated place near Bubbling Wells just south of 20th -probably the Circle B owned by old movie actor Warner Baxter. Several cottages surround an empty pool while a couple of hundred feet north stands a house in front of another empty pool. I spoke to a blowsy old broad who said she was looking after her elderly father who had lived in the house for years. It's a fascinating place which includes an ancient wood water tower hidden by the tamarisk trees. You'll know you're there when you see the abandoned 1958 Ford sedan in the front yard of the house.

Posted by: Mahatmacoat at Nov 7, 2018 7:46:12 AM

Regarding my query above about the long-lost spa from the 1960s, I found it: Lido Spa, at 12801 TamĀ­ar Drive. It is still very much in business and looking good, although the rooms I remember across the road seem to have been replaced by residential housing, alas.

Posted by: Bruce Swanson at Sep 3, 2018 1:40:02 PM

I remember as a kid in the '60s going to a small resort located just south of Desert Hot Springs, probably around Dillon and Bubbling Wells Road. I cannot remember the name of the place, but the pools (two) were by the office and the units were across the road. They were made of concrete and originally brightly painted. There were patios as well. My guess it was built in the 1950s and probably is long gone by now. I haven't been in the area since about 1969. Does anyone remember the place?

Posted by: Bruce Swanson at Aug 30, 2018 2:57:14 PM

My Grandfather was Leo Pierson, Pierson Blvd. was named after him. I was unable to find any history except the original homestead map. Pierson is spelled incorrectly. Pierson was a actor, producer in Hollywood. I am trying to find out history on the land he owned. I would also like to at least donate a picture of Leo Pierson, and get him mentioned in the history of Desert Hot Springs. Any Ideas will be appreciated.

Posted by: Mary Ann at Jul 17, 2010 10:09:05 AM

That's the website for Cabot's Pueblo Musem. The website for the DHS Historical Society is www.dhshistoricalsociety.com/

Posted by: Ron's Log at May 11, 2008 8:39:03 PM

There is now a website: www.cabotsmuseum.org

Posted by: Michael O'Neal at May 11, 2008 12:01:45 PM

The book, revised and updated in 2006, is available for an even $20 at Sidewinders and Paradise cafes in Desert Hot Springs, but apparently not yet at Amazon. It has no ISBN and is published by "Little Morongo Press." A search of the web for that publisher turns up nothing more than this single book. They do include an email address for the publisher in the book: watersay@aol.com

You should be able to find it at the DHS Chamber of Commerce as well.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Nov 1, 2007 5:15:33 PM

Bad news! I stopped in at the library and there isn't a copy in any public library in Riverside or San Bernardino counties!

Posted by: Ron's Log at Nov 7, 2005 5:43:55 PM

Amazon has a placeholder for the book, but, yes indeed, totally unavailable. I'll look for it at the library -- maybe even the one here in DHS!

Other books by John J. Hunt, all unavailable.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Nov 6, 2005 4:13:30 PM

Too bad you don't have a copy of my book "The Waters of Comfort," which the Historical Society used to sell. I'm completely sold out, but I'm planning to publish a 2nd Edition early in 2006. Check out the Palm Springs Library, The Riverside Library, or UC Riverside Special Collections at the Rivera Library.

Posted by: John J. Hunt at Nov 6, 2005 1:05:06 PM

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