Focus shifting to interior of cultural center soon, opening hopefully ‘within the coming year’
A rendering of the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza, a public gathering place under construction on tribal land adjacent to Downtown Palm Springs. (Courtesy Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians)

Focus shifting to interior of cultural center soon, opening hopefully ‘within the coming year’

“We are back in action and continuing construction.” That’s the answer from a spokesperson for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians when asked one of the most common questions in Palm Springs: When will the tribe’s cultural center, under construction since 2018, open?

For now, Director of Public Relations Kate Anderson says, the exact answer remains unknown. However, hurdles have recently been cleared that should see work shift to the interior portions of the project, including the cultural museum.

“We still have quite a bit of work to do,” Anderson recently told members of the Main Street Palm Springs business association. “We hope to be opening within the coming year. I know that I’ve been saying that a lot lately, but as soon as I have a more refined target date I will let you know.

“I promise we are coming soon, even though I don’t have an actual date for it yet.”

When that date arrives, the project — currently behind fencing in the heart of Downtown — will feature a 48,000-square-foot museum, a public plaza, an “Oasis Trail” that mimics nearby Indian Canyons, and The Spa at Se’c-he, a 40,000-square-foot facility under the direction of Daniel Spencer. He currently runs the tribe’s Sunstone Spa, a Forbes four-star operation in Rancho Mirage.

The Palm Springs spa’s centerpiece will be the water, just as it has always been at the location. Se’c-he means “the sound of boiling water.”

“The hot mineral spring located here is the tribe’s most sacred site,” Anderson says. “It does bubble up right in the middle of Palm Springs at that site.”

It’s not just any water. While currently hidden under a collection ring and at one time covered by a city roadway and sidewalk, it goes on a long journey to arrive.

“The water there does not intersect with the Coachella Valley’s water at all,” explains Anderson. “Rain and snow from Mt. San Jacinto seep down into the ground where it comes up 12,000 years later in Palm Springs. We really do know that this is ancient water. The last time this water saw the earth’s surface was more than 12,000 years ago. That was the end of the last Ice Age.”

Visitors enjoyed this bathhouse on Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians land in the 1900s. (Photo courtesy Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians)

The spa will be in its fifth iteration when it opens at the former site of the Spa Resort Casino, which was torn down starting in 2014 to build something that could protect and preserve the spring.

An original bathhouse on the site opened in the 1880s and is considered the city’s first tourist attraction. As visitors began to flock to the desert, the tribe made efforts to keep pace with demand. A bathhouse was constructed on the site in 1910, followed by mineral baths in the 1930s, and finally the hotel in 1961.

As with many projects during the pandemic, the cultural center suffered from supply chain issues. However, work continued behind the scenes, including that done by Pamela Hannah, head of operations at the museum, and Dr. Steven Karr, its executive director.

“We are just getting ready to build out the inside of the museum,” says Anderson. “Building out the exhibits and exhibition will take us time. Starting in April, we will be working completely in the interior of the building to build out the designs.”

For now, the exterior is nearly complete, as evidenced by the public square that can be seen with a bit of effort at the intersection of North Indian Canyon Drive and East Tahquitz Canyon Way.

“If you’re driving around and can see a bit through the fences, this is what you’re seeing taking shape,” says Anderson. “That’s our gathering plaza.”

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