Palm Springs Mall in California: A Journey Through Time

Palm Springs Mall is Born

In the late 1950s, oilman-turned-developer Ray Ryan and Seeterra, Inc. President A.R. Simon joined forces to create a shopping center in Palm Springs, California.

They enlisted architectural firms Mayer, Kanner, Leitch, and Cleveland to design the buildings and contractors Ernest W. Hahn and Leonard Wolf to build the project. The Palm Springs Shopping Center welcomed its first tenants in 1959, including a Market Basket supermarket and a 24-lane bowling center.

Growing and Changing

By 1965, the center embarked on a new phase, transforming into an enclosed, air-conditioned space called the Palm Springs Shopping Center Mall.

The expansion included the addition of a J.C. Penney department store, a Bank of America, a Thrifty Drugstore, and even an ice skating rink.

In 1969, the center was renamed Palm Springs Mall and was touted as the retail hub of Coachella Valley. The following year, San Diego-based Walker Scott opened a location in the mall.

Palm Springs Mall
Dead Mall in Palm Springs” by kbcool is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The 1980s: Renovation and Expansion

The 1980s saw some significant changes at Palm Springs Mall. In 1983, J.C. Penney left for the newly constructed Palm Desert Town Center.

Three years later, the mall underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation that brought a food court, additional retail spaces, a Kmart, and local retailer The Alley.

The mall’s exterior was also updated during the renovation, and the parking lot, landscaping, and lighting fixtures were revamped. Sadly, Walker Scott closed shortly after the renovation.

Buffums and Harris-Gottschalks

In 1989, the Palm Springs Mall welcomed Buffums, a Long Beach-based department store chain, as it opened its doors in the former Walker Scott space. The grand opening was a momentous occasion for the community, with the then-mayor of Palm Springs, Sonny Bono, attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Buffums was known for its broad selection of merchandise, including clothing, accessories, home furnishings, and more. The store was a popular destination for local shoppers seeking quality products and exceptional customer service. Buffums also provided a variety of in-store events and promotions, further engaging the community.

Unfortunately, Buffums’ tenure at the Palm Springs Mall was short-lived. Buffums struggled to maintain its market share and was eventually forced to close its doors in the early 1990s.

Palm Springs Mall
Dead Mall in Palm Springs” by kbcool is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Not long after Buffums’ closure, Harris-Gottschalks moved into the vacant space. Harris-Gottschalks was a California-based department store that catered to a wide range of customers with its assortment of clothing, home goods, and other products. The store aimed to fill the void left by Buffums and become a new favorite shopping destination for Palm Springs residents.

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For a time, Harris-Gottschalks enjoyed success in the Palm Springs Mall. However, the store also faced challenges, eventually leading to Harris-Gottschalks closing its doors in 2009 after filing for bankruptcy.

Decline and Rebirth

The 2000s marked a downturn for the Palm Springs Mall. Foot traffic decreased, leading to shuttered retail spaces. Major tenants like Gottschalks, Vons, True Value, Ross Dress for Less, and OfficeMax closed or relocated.

In 2012, Chinese businessman Haiming Tan purchased the property for $9.2 million. College of the Desert proposed transforming the location into a satellite campus two years later. Although the owner initially refused to sell the property, the college eventually acquired it for $22 million after a four-year legal battle.

Demolition of the mall began in May 2019, with the first construction phase for the new campus set to begin in 2023.

Table: Palm Springs Mall Timeline

Year Event
1959 Palm Springs Shopping Center opens
1965 Expansion and transformation into an enclosed mall
1969 Renamed Palm Springs Mall
1970 Walker Scott opens
1983 J.C. Penney leaves
1986 Multi-million dollar renovation
1989 Buffums opens
2000s The decline in foot traffic and the closure of major tenants
2012 Property purchased by Haiming Tan
2014 College of the Desert proposes a satellite campus
2017 The legal battle between the mall owner and the college begins
2019 Demolition of the mall
2023 Construction of the new campus

The Community’s Nostalgia

Palm Springs Mall holds a special place in the hearts of many residents who have fond memories of shopping, dining, and spending time with friends and family there. Over the years, the mall was the backdrop for many celebrations, first dates, and unforgettable moments.

Some of the mall’s most remarkable features were its ice skating rink and the bustling food court, where locals could grab a quick bite and catch up with friends. The mall’s transformation over time, including the addition of new tenants and the departure of old favorites, reflects the ever-changing retail landscape.

Palm Springs Mall
Palm Springs Mall” by Woolox is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The New Beginning: College of the Desert Satellite Campus

With the mall’s demolition in 2019, a new chapter began for the property. College of the Desert’s satellite campus will bring new life to the space, offering educational opportunities to the community.

The campus plans include state-of-the-art classrooms, study areas, and modern facilities to support the college’s mission to provide accessible, high-quality education. In addition, the satellite campus will offer a convenient location for students and contribute to revitalizing the area.

College of the Desert Satellite Campus Project

Phase Description
Phase 1 (2023) Construction begins on new campus facilities
Phase 2 Additional classrooms and educational spaces
Phase 3 Further expansion and community-focused programming

A Look Back and Forward

The Palm Springs Mall has had a rich and storied history, from its opening-air shopping center to its final days as an enclosed mall. Though the mall has closed its doors, its legacy lives in residents’ memories.

As we look forward to the new College of the Desert satellite campus, it’s essential to remember and appreciate the mall’s role in shaping the community. The new campus will continue the mall’s legacy by providing a space for education, personal growth, and community engagement.

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