Seeking to protect classic downtown bank building, city agrees discussions with owner about Class 1 designation need to come first

The single-story building on South Indian Canyon Drive formerly housed Security First National Bank. It’s well known for the terra-cotta bas-relief panels that adorn its exterior.
This building at 500 South Indian Canyon Drive was built by Security First National Bank and currently houses Union Bank.

One of the first buildings built in what was then an emerging financial district in the southern portion of Downtown Palm Springs will not receive historic designation yet, but it could be headed there.

Looking back: The single-story building at 500 South Indian Canyon Drive was built by Security First National Bank. It currently houses a Union Bank branch, but at one time contained The Palm Springs Playhouse. It’s well known for the terra-cotta bas-relief panels that adorn its exterior.

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  • Designed by Scottsdale, Arizona-based architect Joseph B. Wong, the building incorporates many hallmarks of mid-twentieth-century retail bank design, including Modernist architectural details, state-of-the-art banking technology, and an emphasis on automobile culture.

  • The building has undergone alterations and remodeling, but the exterior has remained mostly as Wong intended

In June 2021 the city’s Historic Site Preservation Board (HSPB) agreed to seek Class 1 designation for the building. The move is designed to protect buildings from major alterations and requires that owners go through review by HSPB before being allowed to proceed with any construction.

  • Following a public hearing last month, the HSPC unanimously recommended the designation to the City Council, which took up the issue at a regular meeting last week.

Driving the news: While preservationists and some members of the public urged councilmembers to adopt the HSPB recommendation on Feb. 9, a majority voted to delay the decision, asking that city staff and the current owner — who objected to the designation — first sit down to discuss his concerns.

At issue: Jeff Piper, whose family purchased the building in 2019, told councilmembers the purchase of Union Bank by US Bank — which already has a branch in the city — likely means the building’s current leaseholders won’t renew. He fears prospective tenants may lose interest if making revisions to suit their needs requires additional steps. He also objected to the fact he had so far been left out of the discussion.

  • “We’re not trying to be bad neighbors,” Piper said during the Feb. 9 meeting. “We’re just trying to figure out how to best protect our family’s investment in this property.”

One property neighbor expressed concerns that without a tenant, the building would fall into disrepair and attract vandals, similar to what happened at the building that formerly housed Saks Fifth Avenue at the corner of South Palm Canyon Drive and Ramon Road.

  • “What happens if this thing goes empty?” asked Chris Jares. “We need to do what we can to keep these places leased and keep them occupied.”

Bottom line: Councilmember Lisa Middleton was the first to recommend that city staff, members of the preservation community and the building’s owners meet to hammer out an agreement before bringing the matter back to the Council.

  • Middleton and others pointed to other successful agreements, including one that led to the preservation of the former home of J.W. Robinson Department Store, also on South Palm Canyon Drive, that was opposed by its owner a decade ago but now houses multiple new businesses.


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