Plaza Theatre restoration efforts boosted by a single $5 million private donation
Talk about a kickstart! Backers of the effort to refurbish the historic Plaza Theatre in downtown Palm Springs announced Wednesday they received a $5 million donation from a private donor, immediately putting them halfway toward their fundraising goal.
David Lee, an award-winning producer, director, and writer best known for his work on Frasier and Cheers — who is also a city resident — wrote the check. An initial $3 million will be donated immediately, and an additional $2 million will follow as matching funds to encourage further contributions.
“I strongly believe in the preservation of historic American theatres,” Lee said in a written statement. “I’ve been impressed with the planning that has already gone into the admirable restoration project for the Plaza Theatre and saw an opportunity for me to assist in this impressive campaign. I hope that my donation will spark interest in others who feel as strongly as I do about preserving our city’s past and creating a quality entertainment space for future generations.”
J.R. Roberts, a former City Council member and current member of the Planning Commission who is helping spearhead the restoration efforts, made the announcement, saying Lee’s donation was completely unexpected.
“It was a total surprise,” Roberts said after making the announcement. “I’ve known David over the years. He was one of the first supporters when we launched the campaign. I had asked him to be on the steering committee for the organization.
“This came as a total surprise. There was no warning.”
The theater was opened in 1936 as part of the La Plaza complex built by architect Harry Williams with funds from Julia Carnell, an heir to the National Cash Register Corporation fortune. Its stage has hosted some of America’s most famous performers and performances, including radio shows by Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Edgar Bergen. It was declared a Class 1 Historic Site in 1991. The city took over ownership of the theater in 2012.
In the late 1980s, Sonny Bono created the Palm Springs International Film Festival at the theater. In 1991, a vaudeville-type revue called The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies launched there, running for 23 years. The show brought renewed international exposure to the theater and, in many ways, helped revitalize downtown Palm Springs.
When The Follies closed in May 2014, the building began to languish. Roberts and others started a fundraising drive to restore it to its former glory in 2019. That effort had early momentum, but the efforts stalled in 2020 as financial concerns brought on by COVID-19 shifted the priorities of potential backers. Before Lee’s donation, the total raised was estimated to be roughly $500,000 of the $10 million to $12 million needed to restore and upgrade the theater fully.
In July, the Palm Springs City Council helped renew interest in the project after approving $50,000 for minor updates needed to make the building safe for occupancy. The city has engaged the international architectural firm Gensler and historic preservation consultants Chattel to develop a comprehensive restoration and rehabilitation plan for the structure. A detailed plan and timeline will now be conducted using the funds from Lee’s donation.
Approval for occupancy is essential for the planned Oasis Music Festival, currently slated for January 27 through 30, 2022. Organizers of that event, including Palm Springs Life Magazine, hope the theater can serve as a hub during the festival. They plan to earmark a portion of any event profits for the restoration of the theater.
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TEACHER HONORED: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond last week named five exceptional educators as the 2022 California Teachers of the Year, and one of them teaches in Palm Springs. Nichi Avina, a middle school science teacher at Cielo Vista Charter School, was chosen as one of five recipients of the honor, it was announced October 15. Avina, who has taught in the district for 15 years, was earlier named one of four teachers of the year by the Riverside County Board of Education. “In what may be the toughest ever time for California families, students and educators, these five innovative and caring teachers have made profound differences in the lives of their students and communities,” said Thurmond. Avina was cheered by the community Wednesday as she rode in the annual Palm Springs High School Homecoming Parade along Palm Canyon Drive. A complete list of state Teacher of the Year honorees is available here.
COVID SURVEY: Should masks still be required indoors? Should proof of vaccination or a negative test result be required to eat indoors at a restaurant? These are just two of the questions on a survey being conducted by The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the city. Palm Springs officials are looking for guidance from residents as they move forward in the battle against COVID-19 and are seeking input on rules that were put in place in early August in response to a surge in the virus due to the highly contagious Delta variant. To complete the survey and have your voice heard, click here.
PROBLEM SOLVED: Offensive wording on concrete in a vacant lot across from the new city park along Belardo Road was painted over by community members who earlier raised concerns with city officials. Paul Green and Jim O’Keefe spent Wednesday morning painting a message of hope — “If The World Just Danced” — which is the title of the second single from a new album by Diana Ross. Green had recently raised questions about whether offensive language on the concrete — including anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment — was part of the city-sponsored project. A city representative said Tuesday the language painted on the concrete may be protected free speech but that the concrete was available for any artist to paint. The property was under consideration for a hotel project at one point and then a condominium project. It is currently undeveloped.
MIZELL EVENTS: Walking aerobics, jewelry making, and more programs are offered today, beginning at 8 AM, at Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way. Today’s complete schedule can be found here.
STORY TIME: The Palm Springs Public Library offers story time for preschoolers starting at 10:30 AM via YouTube. Librarian Nancy Valdivia reads stories, sings songs, and shows early learning concepts (Wednesdays in Spanish and Thursdays in English). You can find more information here and watch the YouTube videos here.
WOMEN’S CHAT: The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert offers a chat group for all women — no matter how you identify — to discuss topics of interest and find connections every Thursday at 10:30 AM. You can find information about the event here.
NOT TEEN TALK: The Palm Springs Public Library’s teen librarian hosts an Instagram Live session each Thursday at 3:30 PM. To follow along, follow @psplteenzone on Instagram here.
FOOD AVAILABLE: FIND Food Bank distributes food in the city today at a community food bank, 610 S. Belardo Rd., between 5 PM and 7 PM, and at the Palm Springs Convention center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, from 5 PM until 6:30 PM. A complete calendar of food distribution in the community this month is available here.
FREE MUSEUM ADMISSION: The Palm Springs Art Museum offers free admission from 5 PM to 7 PM this evening. Tickets are required and can be obtained here.
PARK OPENING: The city plans a grand opening at 5:30 PM this evening for the new Downtown Park, located along Museum Way, adjacent to the Forever Marilyn sculpture. The event will feature an ABBA tribute band, a mini-Taste of Palm Springs with local restaurants, and a Halloween pooch costume contest. To date, the park has no official name, although momentum has been building to name it after Nellie Coffman.
VILLAGEFEST: The city’s weekly outdoor street fair takes place at 6 PM on Palm Canyon Drive downtown. The event includes vendor booths on both sides of the street — a portion of which is closed to vehicular traffic. At this time, face coverings are required for all who attend, regardless of vaccination status.
BIKE NIGHT: Members of the American Legion Riders from Post 519 in Palm Springs are once again holding Bike Night on Thursday evenings. The event gets under way at 6 PM at the Legion, 400 N. Belardo Rd. Aside from a display of machinery, there will be free hot dogs and raffle prizes.
ONGOING & UPCOMING
LGBTQ+ ARCHIVES: The newly formed LGBTQ+ History & Archives of the Desert will hold its inaugural exhibition, titled “Sharing Our Desert’s LGBTQ+ History,” during the November Pride celebration, and it’s looking for your contributions. The exhibition, an official event of Palm Springs Pride, will be held for free at the Welwood Murray Memorial Library in downtown Palm Springs from November 4 through November 7. If you have any LGBTQ+ treasures in your garage, attic, closet or storage area you would like to donate, please contact the organization by email at [email protected]. You can also follow them on Facebook.
DANCE FESTIVAL: Nickerson-Rossi Dance is holding the Palm Springs International Dance Festival Fall Series Thursday through Sunday. Events include an opening night party at 6:30 PM at Desert Rose Playhouse, 611 S. Palm Canyon Dr. An all access pass can be purchased here.
FILM NOIR: Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival runs Thursday through Sunday at Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Rd. The event was started in 2000 by Lyons, a mystery author and Palm Springs community leader who passed away in 2008. More information, including ticket prices, can be found here.
NEXT PLAY: Palm Canyon Theatre’s production of Shrek The Musical opens Friday evening and runs through November 7. Showtimes are 7 PM on Thursdays, 8 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 PM on Sundays. Children under 12 get in free with proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the performance. For tickets or other information, call the box office at 760-323-5123 or order online at PalmCanyonTheatre.org.
DESERT ENSEMBLE BENEFIT: Desert Ensemble Theatre’s season-opening performances are this weekend at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Rd. The performances will benefit the company’s student training and scholarship fund. More information and advanced ticket sales can be found at desertensembletheatre.org.
BULKY ITEM COLLECTION: Palm Springs Disposal Services is hosting a free bulky items drop-off event Saturday from 8 AM until 2 PM in the north parking lot of City Hall, located at 3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way.
COMMUNITY CLEANUP: The Community Partnership on Homelessness and Palm Springs Clean Up are joining together for a monthly city cleanup and homeless outreach on Saturday starting at 8 AM. To participate, meet at the downtown parking structure on Baristo Road and Indian Canyon Drive. Trash bags, disposable gloves and water will be provided. Organizers encourage participants to wear a hat and bring a claw if you have one.
HALLOWEEN EVENTS: The city hosts a pair of Halloween-themed events this weekend. On Saturday from 12 PM until 3 PM, you can take part in Candy, Cars & Community at Demuth Community Center, 3601 E. Mesquite Ave. The event features candy, cars, and games and is free to attend. On Sunday, come to the Floating Pumpkin Patch at Palm Springs Swim Center, 405 S. Pavilion Way, starting at 11 AM. The price of admission is $5 and includes a free pumpkin as well as coffin races, pumpkin painting, a selfie booth, and more. The Palm Springs Public Library is hosting a fun, free, community event called Spooktacular Drive-Thru on Wednesday. October 27. from 4 PM until 6 PM. Joined by PS Power Baseball, Mizell Center and PS Parks & Recreation, these groups will each have a station located in the parking lot in front of the library, 300 S. Sunrise Way, and will hand out candy and treats as participants drive through.
CENTER CELEBRATION: On Sunday at 11 AM, The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert officially cuts the ribbon after a multi-million-dollar renovation at its headquarters, the McDonald-Wright building, 1301 N. Palm Canyon Drive. To register for the free event, go here.
SENIOR FITNESS: The Mizell Center will celebrate active older adults the last week of October with complimentary classes all week long, and an informative talk from race walker Darlene Backlund on Monday, October 25. To participate, sign up at the ticket window for all free events. Mizell Center is located at 480 S. Sunrise Way.
UPCOMING MUSICAL: Girlfriend, a production of Dezart Performs, will be performed at 7:30 PM from Wednesday, October 27 through Saturday, October 30, at the Rancho Mirage Amphitheater, 71560 San Jacinto Dr., in Rancho Mirage. General admission is $45 in advance; tables for 6 PM. dinner seating is also available. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit dezartperforms.org. Find the complete story here.
BOO BALL: The desert’s version of Met Gala returns in person this year when the third annual BOO BALL takes place on October 30. The event benefits Boo2Bullying, a locally-based nonprofit organization founded by Dimitri Halkidis. For tickets and sponsorship opportunities, you can email [email protected] or call 310-435-8528. You may also purchase tickets at this link. For the complete story, turn here.
AIDS WALK: The community’s largest gathering of HIV advocates comes together on Saturday, October 30, to walk toward ending the HIV and AIDS epidemics in the Coachella Valley. Complete details, including registration information, is available here.
PRIDE RUN: The Palm Springs Pride 5K Run & Walk takes place Saturday, November 6 at 8 AM. The event is both in-person and virtual for 2021. Registration is available here.