July 9, 2007

Backers fight to save Rancho Dos Palmas

The Desert Sun [Palm Springs]
by Jade Faugno

Its adobe walls have withstood the desert climate and visits from weary travelers and prospectors for more than 80 years.

But Rancho Dos Palmas may not survive the Bureau of Land Management's plans to demolish it if supporting organizations cannot prove the building is structurally sound - or come up with the money to make it so.

The Friends of Dos Palmas, with the support of Desert Alliance for Community Empowerment and Coachella Valley Community Trails Alliance, are working to preserve what they call "a link to the desert's rich past."

"It would be absolutely terrible to lose one of the last remaining adobes in the area," said Jennie Kelly, chair of the North Shore Community Council and a Friend of Dos Palmas.

But the Bureau of Land Management contends the site has undergone too many changes to merit conservation.

"It doesn't look like the house it was in the 1930s," said John Kalish, field manager of the Bureau of Land Management's Palm Springs-South Coast field office.

"It does not have the historical integrity to necessitate preservation," Kalish said.

Connected to the Dos Palmas Oasis in North Shore, the ranch house once served as a stopover for stagecoaches and, in subsequent decades, Hollywood stars. It now stands unoccupied on lands designated by the Bureau of Land Management as a wildlife refuge.

"All of the funding goes into restoring the wildlife habitat, the purpose for which the lands were intended," Kalish said.

To save the ranch house, the Friends of Dos Palmas must prove not only the house's historical significance, but also its structural stability.

Friends of Dos Palmas cite an independent evaluation that states the adobe shows "no evidence of subsidence (e.g. cracks in the walls, deformed openings, inoperable doors and windows)," and is "not in a hazard area."

But Bureau engineers who evaluated the property deemed it structurally unsound.
"It doesn't meet safe standard building code," Kalish said.

Even advocates of the ranch's preservation say the building is only worth preserving if it can continue to stand without draining resources from other desert fixtures.

"It would be a shame (to demolish the house) if they can preserve it, if it isn't too great a cost," said Margit Chiriaco Rusche, a Rancho Dos Palmas supporter and one of the founders of the legendary, non-profit General Patton Memorial at Chiriaco Summit.

"I support having it available as a cultural resource, but only if it's economically and physically reasonable," she said.

According to Kalish, parties on both sides are continuing to discuss the future of Rancho Dos Palmas, and the demolition, if it happens, would not take place until December or January.

"There isn't any rush at all to demolish the old ranch house," Kalish said.