Desert Fashion Plaza: The Final Solution?








By Bob Garrison


Why did Wessman change the plan for the Fashion Plaza? The first plan, designed by the city, used the museum as a pivot. With attractions for the public and a classic outlook, it had place and class. Apparently, according to the Desert Sun, Wessman (the old mall’s owner) tossed in his 2 cents on the subject. What a comedown!

I am countering Wessman with my vision for what would make the Fashion Plaza a jewel of the desert once again. Let’s start with a wish-list of potential businesses, services, and vendors that that would appeal to locals and visitors alike:

A Hollywood Regency Restaurant for visitors

A real Oyster Bar

A real Kosher Butcher

A modified Trader Joe’s

A real French Pastry shop

A real Fresh Bagel (boiled) Shop

A strictly health food restaurant (maybe like Palm Greens in Sun Plaza?)

2 Museum shops (a Permanent Collection & a Changing Collection)

A Photograph gallery featuring Old Movie Stars from the Valley

Movie Star Animation

An artist on the property for public animation

Antique furniture (2nd Hand) and accessories reflecting Hollywood days & Mid Century Modern

An upscale cosmetics and toiletries shop

A licensed marijuana products shop (Affordableprescriptions. No cigarettes.)

Parisian style coffeehouse, with liqueurs & and extravagant bar food, pop art on the walls, and appropriate piano/string instrumental entertainment.

An elegant Gay Bar (proper, expensive, smokey, with a dress code, torch singers doing blues, Bar food, and a strict 2 AM closing with rides home offered to the overly-inebriated, and no lookie-loos or paparazzi allowed)

The history of the Fashion Plaza is torturous. One of Palm Springs most historic structures, The Desert Inn, was torn down to build the monstrosity of a mall. And now it’s been moldering for years, mainly because of Wessman’s tight-fistedness in the name of his children, who themselves must be approaching old age by now. Of course, other property owners of Palm Springs are doing the same thing, insisting on exorbitant rents that businesses can’t afford, and then taking tax breaks on their empty, disintegrating properties. For years, city officials have been tearing their hair out as the town’s old-money families do nothing while downtown rots.

What can crack the ice? Who’s trying to do something about the Fashion Plaza before it turns to dust? our capable Mayor – who has a penchant for doing the right thing – has tried. A few weeks ago, it looked like Wessman and the city had come to a formal agreement to redo the Fashion Plaza. In conjunction with the Palm Springs Art Museum, they created a plan for a simple and classic space with with a boulevard, places for car to park, places for people to sit, and parkways and public space sweeping across several blocks to the steps of the Museum. It was a graceful, sensible plan to follow.

But now Wessman has pulled that plan off the table. Apparently he doesnt want to be obligated to help pay for things like parkways and vistas to the museum. Instead, it’s likely he still want to be free to pack small city blocks full of the usual, useless retail stores, oversized hotels, and gawdy parking structures. Retail, as we know it, has pretty well passed the ‘mall’ formula. Malls are now closing faster than they are built. One would think the changing face of retail would be most obvious to a developer.

Alas, must we lament the oss of another plan? A plan that would bring the history of Palm Springs into the forefront, and revive the arts that made the town famous in the first place. Not only the fine arts, but the food arts, and boutiques full of imaginative things to sell. Not like Sax and Walmart and bad Mexican restaurants (though a taco wagon on the street might add vigor!).

We need a plan to get the blood pumping through downtown Palm Springs again. Start thinking high end food stuff, art, antique furniture emphasizing mid century modern, and even grocery stores long needed in this end of the Valley. Some old, some new, some retail, and some wholesale would pique curiosity and add vigor. And don’t forget Places to sit, and places to walk leisurely through the crowds in the shadow of the museum. Places to pose for a portrait, fill a white paper bag with home-made bagels, places to get a half-dozen clams on the half shell. Places to rest, and to spend part of the afternoon under misters indulging in a Cappuccino and a French pastry. Places to quaff a mug of bitter stout, places to finger an antique fabric from an Aztec tomb at the museum shop. Places to spend the day at the spa, get a shave or your nails done, or a massage and a little steam. We need some places, people.

In case Wessman is unmovable, I suggest that the city take off its gloves and condemn his property as a health hazard, and level his buildings. Okay, leave him his parking lot (Whoops! Looks like the museum has its eyes on his parking lot!). If Wessman needs to be mollified, I have Plan B for him.

Seems there’s been recent discussion (again) about the lack of public rest rooms downtown. Why not put two or three such depositories in areas of the Fashion Plaza that are now not being used for anything? And in front of each men’s and women’s room, why not have a life-size statue of something that resembles Rodin’s “The Thinker” with Wessman’s face? A fitting tribute indeed.


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