PALM SPRINGS — There weren't exactly throngs of people jamming the town, but among those who did show up at a 50th anniversary party that this desert tourist mecca tossed for itself Sunday were many silver-haired founders who recalled it as "an attractive town for attractive people" and "a place to rest and invest."
Organizers of the Palm Springs Golden Anniversary event blamed stormy skies, which had drenched the area the previous night and threatened to do so again Sunday morning, for a lower-than-anticipated turnout of 1,000 people.
Indeed, the storm clouds apparently forced the cancellation of most of an advertised air show over town in which hot air balloons and antique aircraft were scheduled to "fill the sky with excitement."
But there was nothing downcast about the small but lively group that cheered a parade along Palm Canyon Drive, the city's main drag. The procession was led by the grand marshal, actor Ralph Bellamy, and highlighted by siren-blaring fire engines carrying the mayors of several other Coachella Valley cities, and a float designed to look like a huge birthday cake decorated with 50 large yellow candles.
"I had a wonderful time," said Dana Nye, 40, a makeup artist from Los Angeles, who climbed out of a swimming pool and watched the parade in dripping bathing trunks from the gated entrance of The Colony motel.
After the parade, people gathered at a downtown liquor store parking lot where elected officials praised the Southern California desert's most famous city and joined the audience in singing a new official song that begins: "My town is Palm Springs, need I say more?"
"Heck, we're known the world over," Mayor Frank Bogert told an onlooker after freshening a wad of chewing tobacco.
"When I go to Europe I'm somebody because I'm mayor of Palm Springs," added Bogert, a former hotel manager here. "Now, nobody over there knows the mayor of say, Fresno, because they don't know where the heck that is!"
Came Looking for Work
Among the "old-timers" in attendance was Jimmy Cooper, 75, a retired advertising agent and writer for the Desert Sun, the local newspaper, who drove here from Los Angeles in a Model-A Ford 54 years ago looking for work and a place to live.
"There was one paved road, no traffic, no crowd and no smog," recalled Cooper who, for the occasion, wore a Palm Springs Mounted Police uniform set off by cowboy boots and a Western-style hat. "In those days, there was no middle class either--just working stiffs, or people so loaded with money they didn't even know how much they had."
Other residents recalled coming here to cash in on a land and construction boom that began in the mid-1930s.
"Forty years ago they told me I was crazy for even thinking about buying land here at $1,100 an acre," said L. (Bill) Comeau, a local real estate broker, who described his age as "over 60."
"Well, we bought that land and it went so high it's disgusting," Comeau said with a smile. "I'll leave this place in a box--I don't want to be buried here, because it's too darn hot in summer."
Where does Palm Springs go from here?
Bogert and some other city officials say that tourism will remain the mainstay of the economy of the city, which has a permanent population of 39,000 that swells to more than 75,000 in the winter months. A new $103-million convention center is expected to trigger some additional hotel and restaurant development in the coming years, they said.
But others--including entertainer Sonny Bono, a resident of 13 years and local restaurant owner who on Thursday formally announced his intention to run for mayor in a nonpartisan election set for April 13--insist that this desert spa town is being choked by excessively tight controls on development originally imposed to preserve its village-type atmosphere.
Although Bogert has said he is not running for reelection, Bono has blamed the incumbent and the "good ol' boy network he belongs to" for many of the city's problems.