LA QUINTA, Calif. — Nature--and land developers--abhor vacuums, so it's only logical that this 26-square-mile, largely undeveloped city of about 6,000 year-round residents just west of Indio should emerge as a major development area in the eastern Coachella Valley.
Nearly 20 major real estate developments have been approved for a total of 11,577 condominium units--mostly of the luxury category--plus several hotels, apartments, resorts, golf courses and retail/office complexes, according to Frank Usher, La Quinta's city manager. A former Glendale resident, Usher has been at his post since the city was incorporated in 1982.
Virtually every sizable parcel of land in the city has been purchased by developers, he added. "The developments that have been approved are all well planned, high-quality housing," he said. "The residents of the Cove (the existing residential area generally south of 50th Avenue) supported the incorporation of the city, believing that it was important that the city gain control over the land use, the law, protection, planning, dumping and probably some things we haven't even thought of."
Followed Cathedral City
La Quinta was incorporated a few months after Cathedral City, another desert city undergoing a building boom: For the first 11 months of 1984, building permit valuation added up to $68,859,156 in Cathedral City, up from $35,983,231 for the comparable January-November period in 1983.
In La Quinta comparable 11-month total valuation figures were $26,488,028 in 1984 and $17,188,147 in 1983. For the entire year the totals were $29,643,048 in 1984, and $26,460,525 in 1983.
"It was only a matter of time," Usher said. "We have probably the desert's best resort location, tucked back in a cove, sheltered from the wind by the Santa Rosa Mountains."
Planning Director Larry Stevens, who came to La Quinta from Atascadero last March, said that the incorporation was not necessasarily a response to fears that Indio would annex the area, as one might assume from a look at the map: "People wanted more services, better police protection, more control in general. These same desires led to the incorporation of Atascadero."
Principal planner Sandra Bonner came to La Quinta in December 1982 from Cathedral City. She had worked for Riverside County before Cathedral City incorporated.
'Diversity of Housing'
"La Quinta has a remarkable diversity of housing prices, from $65,000 for a new three-bedroom tract home to $1.5 million for a custom home," she said. "This makes it a well-balanced community because many of the people who work here can live here."
As many with even a nodding familiarity with the Coachella Valley know, this diversity of housing opportunities is not all that common in many communities where service employees are forced to commute long distances from their homes in Indio, Yucca Valley, Beaumont, Banning.
Cathedral City and La Quinta remain possibly the most affordable cities close to the resort developments of Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells and other cities.
Santa Rosa Cove, a 595-unit new home development in the 800-acre La Quinta Hotel resort compound at 50th Avenue and Eisenhower Drive, was the first major new home resort in La Quinta. More than 200 units have been sold at prices ranging from $150,000 to $331,000, according to John Newcomb, vice president of the Anden Corp., the developers.
Many--perhaps a majority--of buyers come from Southern California, but plenty of Midwesterners and Canadians are represented in Santa Rosa Cove, he said.
"Buyers here want golf and tennis facilities in a quiet, wind-protected scenic location," Newcomb said. "They don't want to live amid the bright lights and bustle of Palm Springs, but they have it only a few miles away if they want it. We have a lot of chief executive officers and celebrities who come to the cove because it's peaceful, quiet and secure."
Until the late 1970s--and especially since incorporation nearly three years ago--La Quinta was a true hideaway. The name means the fifth in Spanish, signifying a resting place on the fifth day of a journey through the Coachella Valley when California was a province of Mexico.
The first resort in the Coachella Valley, the La Quinta Hotel, was built in 1923, but Palm Springs quickly took center stage. Developments like Charlie Farrell's Racquet Club in Palm Springs were closer to Los Angeles and patrons of La Quinta such as Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Dolores del Rio were left to unwind in peace.
Hotel Changes Hands
Landmark Land Co. purchased the 268-room La Quinta Hotel and its grounds in 1977 and recently sold the hotel for $46 million to a group of Washington, D.C., investors. Landmark retains a 20-year management contract.
The purchase price covered the hotel and access to the golf course, but not the course itself. The price also covered access to the La Quinta Hotel Tennis Club, with 12 hard courts, four grass courts and three clay courts.