Come and Explore!

At the Historical Society of Palm Desert's Museum, you'll experience a fascinating collection of historical photos, newspaper and magazine archives, as well as oral history on the early settlers of Palm Desert, California.

Prominently displayed on the walls are breath-taking aerial views from the 1940s thru the 1980s of Palm Desert and the surrounding majestic moutains.

Did you know General George Patton established his Motor Pool on Portola Avenue in Palm Desert during the 1940s? The Motor Pool supported the training of troops prior to battling the Germans in North Africa during WWII. We've got the history and pictures. So come on by!

Original Palm Desert Fire Station, home of the Historical Society and our fire engine

What is the HSPD?

Motto: Today is Tomorrow's History

The Mission of the Historical Society of Palm Desert: To collect, preserve and record the history of our city and communities: and to provide access to the society's archives and artifacts through exhibits, publications, programs and events.

HSPD is organized as a non-profit (501.c.3) corporation that supports its mission and purposes in a responsible manner. The Society cares for the materials and pieces in its possession as unique and irreplaceable objects of local history and strives to protect and preserve its collections for posterity.

President: Rob Pitchford 2024
Vice President: David Toltzmann 2024
Treasurer: Susan Marie Weber 2024
Secretary: Bev James 2024
Imm. Past Pres.: Harry Quinn
Linda Holden Clode 2024
Don Graybill 2026
Nerl Porras 2026
Jo Ellen Hughes 2026
Tracey MacDonald 2026
Erika Sharp 2026
Juleen McElgunn 2024
Darrell Cozen 2024
vacant 2024
vacant 2026
Merilee Colton 2026

History of Palm Desert, California

The early maps labeled it as a Sand Hole. In the 1930's a few homes were built and lots sold in a development north of Highway 111 called Palm Village. World War II brought General Patton to Portola Avenue and to the Colorado Desert to train for African warfare; but no one ever dreamed this would become a world-class destination resort. No one except Cliff Henderson and his brothers Randall, Phil and Carl, who with brother-in-law Tommy Tomson and investors, including Edgar Bergen, Leonard Firestone and Harold Lloyd, turned a sand hole into a sparkling jewel called Palm Desert.

The brothers' first glimpse of Deep Canyon and the Santa Rosa Mountains triggered a sense of the magic and potential of this place. They envisioned fine homes and swimming pools, schools, churches, and culture that would draw visitors and families from far and wide.

The Henderson brothers began development of 1,600 acres. Construction of the Shadow Mountain Club and the Desert Magazine Building began soon. A new spirit and energy was evolving. This is only part of the story. The rest awaits you at the Historical Society of Palm Desert, where you'll 'Discover the Past and Celebrate the Present.'

Founding Fathers of Palm Desert

Clifford Henderson was a visionary who started monumental projects and brought them to fruition. Just as he built the Pasadena Winter Garden, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium and organized the National Air Races - he conceived an idea for a post-war community in the desert...and Palm Desert was born.

Randall Henderson loved the written word and he was the editor of the popular "Desert Magazine." An expert on desert and mountain environment, he caused many people to lose their 'barren, desolate' mind-set about deserts. He was looking for a place to relocate his publishing plant from El Centro..and Palm Desert became that place.

Phil Henderson was Cliff's right-hand man. They worked well together in completing projects in Pasadena and Los Angeles; and so it was with establishing the community that became Palm Desert (Phil suggested the name). Unfortunately, Phil died very young - while the desert dream was still being hatched.

Carl Henderson was a realtor who managed Cliff's estate in Brentwood while his brother served as a pilot in WWII. He eagerly jumped aboard when Cliff let his family know he could use their help, as there were acres of sand to be marketed in Palm Desert.

Tommy Tomson was Cliff's brother-in-law, married to Dorris (the only Henderson girl). A well established architect/designer of land developments, Tomson laid out the streets south of Highway 111, designed the Shadow Mountain club, and from his hand came many of the 'firsts' that evolved into Palm Desert.

Leonard Firestone wore many hats in his lifetime, besides being director of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company. Of local historical interest is the fact that he invested heavily in many facets of Cliff Henderson's desert projects. Not only did he contribute funds, but he spent time and energy in being one of the pioneers. You will notice that various parts of the development shared the name of the two men, like Firecliff Lodge in Palm Desert.

Exhibits On Display in the Palm Desert Historical Museum

Palm Desert Through the Ages Exhibit: This exhibit traces the development of Palm Desert from the early years of agriculture and Palm Village through the 1940's, 1950's, 1960's and 1970's, and the founding of modern-day Palm Desert. It includes famous residents and architecturally significant buildings as well as General George Patton in Palm Desert during WWII.

Shadow Mountain Club Exhibit: Featuring the first social, tennis and golfing club in Palm Desert, built in 1946 and now a historic landmark.

Aerial Views of the Coachella Valley Exhibit: Large wall size photos of the Coachella Valley and Palm Desert, taken from the 1940's to 2007. These photos document the growth around landmark streets and places established in the 1940's.

Architects of Palm Desert Exhibit: This exhibit explores the work of some of Palm Desert's noted architects and their designs. Featured are "Palm Desert's Architect" Walter S. White, William Krisel, Rudolph Schindler, John Outcault and others.

Firehouse Exhibit: This exhibit pays homage to the museum building's beginnings as the first permanent firehouse. The firehouse was a volunteer fire station. The Station Manager and his family lived on the premises after 1951.

Palm Village Inn

Shadow Mountain Club @ 1948

Coachella Valley Water District Display

Historical Society of Palm Desert Monthly Calendar: Click Here

The Hourglass Newsletter
Official newsletter of the Historical Society of Palm Desert

View Latest here

View older versions of the newsletter here

Birth of a Town

The Historical Society purchased the original of this painting and had 25 giclée copies (20" x 24") of the painting made for resale as a fundraising activity. There are only 25 copies, and they will all be signed with a certificate of authenticity. The purchasers of the first 10 copies will have their names on a plaque associated with original, which hangs in the museum. The suggested donation is $250

Original Plot Plan

Copies of the original Palm Desert plot plan with updated overlays are available at the museum for a suggested donation of $40. These reproductions are 23" by 28". This is the plan as originally drawn by Tommy Tomson and then updated with additions showing, for example, the fire station added in 1951.

501c.3 Federal ID 95-3326699

Membership: The Historical Society plays an active role in support of our community and we invite you to do the same by becoming an HSPD member. The yearly membership is July 1-June 30 each year. With your tax-deductible membership you will receive our newsletter 'The Hourglass' and other special benefits. Come help us in our ongoing mission to gather, preserve and restore historical materials important to the future of Palm Desert.

Individual: $30
Family: $35
Supporting: $50
Contributing: $100
Patron: $250
Bronze Lifetime: $1000
Silver Lifetime: $2500
Gold Lifetime: $5000
Business/Organization: $75
Membership Levels
Select your level of membership and click buy now

Want a Membership Application to mail in instead?
Click here to download a one page PDF Membership Application form.

Volunteers: We will invite you to volunteer at the Historical Society. We can always use whatever special talent you are willing to share with us and we'd love to get to know you as you learn some of the history of our city. Some of our volunteers give tours, others help with our "mini musters" (going with the fire department to local schools to teach fire safety), some help with our annual Firehouse Sale, while still others learn to handle archives and preservation of precious pictures and documents. Give us a call. 760.346.6588 or email to:

Board Members and Volunteers

Historic Landmarks

The Desert Magazine Building
(74-221-74-225 Hwy 111) The first commercial structure completed on the south side of Hwy 111 in Palm Desert. Opened in October 1948, it housed the printing and publishing offices of Desert Magazine as well as Desert Printers. A gem shop, a bookstore and the Southwest Art Gallery were also located in the building. The Gallery was a place for local artists to display their works and art shows were held regularly, making it a center for social gatherings for the early residents. Occupying 17,000 square feet, the Desert Magazine Building served not only as headquarters for the prestigious Desert Magazine but also for other national publications and the first local newspaper. Because of heavy mail delivery to and from the building, Palm Desert was awarded its first post office.

Shadow Mountain Club and Figure-Eight Pool
Cliff Henderson's first development was the Shadow Mountain Club, shown here under construction in 1947. Shadow Mountain boasted a 360,000-gallon figure-eight swimming pool, polo fields, a clubhouse and private lake. It was designed to be a destination for those seeking a reprieve from city life, and the grand opening was December 10, 1948. The rich and famous, as well as the ordinary citizen, flocked to the Shadow Mountain Club and launched the growth of Palm Desert.

Palm Desert Community Church
Now the Center for Spiritual Living at 45-630 Portola Avenue, and supported by the Henderson clan, a ground-breaking ceremony was held in 1950. Carl Henderson was chair of the Building Committee.

Palm Desert Fire Station
The original Palm Desert Fire Station on El Paseo was constructed in 1951 by Riverside County Fire Department firefighters from a design by architect Walter S. White, and on land donated by Cliff Henderson. The Palm Desert Fire Station houses the Historical Society's Free Museum.

Palm Desert Community Library
Now the Portola Community Center, at 45-480 Portola Avenue. This building, designed by John Outcault, AIA, was constructed in 1962 on land donated by Randall and Cyria Henderson and was the first library in Palm Desert.

Firehouse Museum today

First Library in Palm Desert

Education and Community Service

Speakers: The Society has speakers who will present programs on the history and early years of Palm Desert and the Coachella Valley to groups and organizations. The Society sponsors several lectures a year during the season. Presentations by speakers on topics of interest to the community are presented in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

School Tours: The Historical Society sponsors visits to the Museum during the school year for elementary grade students to learn the history of Palm Desert, view the exhibits and learn about fire safety.

The Mini-Muster Fire Safety Program: In cooperation with Riverside County Fire Department Station #33, Desert Sands Unified School District and the cities of Palm Desert and Indian Wells, the Historical Society assists in providing fire safety training to hundreds of local third grade elementary school children in October of every year. In addition to learning the safe way to escape a fire, team activities include hands-on water bucket races, how to aim a fire hose at a target, and participating in races while wearing firefighter boots and helmets. The Historical Society has proudly sponsored the Mini Muster since 1993, and over 8,000 students have experienced this valuable training.
Mini-Muster Information sheet

Snoopy Plate now available: The proceeds from this Special Interest license plate sponsored by the California Natural Resources Agency provide grants to museums all over California. Be a Beagle Backer! Click here to order