On the way to luxury, Palm Desert in 1940’s
Palm Springs Life Archives
Visionary Cliff Henderson purchased 1,700 arid acres of pure desert more than 60 years ago — miles from civilized Palm Springs — and imagined a town centered by an opulent shopping district. In 1946, he began making it happen. Fueled by a dream, Henderson built a grand thoroughfare he called El Paseo and punctuated it with stately palm trees nearly a decade before the first store opened. “I wanted a smart avenue,” he said in a 1980 interview.
At the time, Palm Desert (or Palm Village, as it was known) consisted of a few homesteads and a lot of sand. Henderson developed Shadow Mountain Club, which elevated the town’s profile and became its sophisticated social center, creating a celebrated place in the blossoming Coachella Valley.
Hollywood also played a role in Palm Desert and El Paseo’s conception. Henderson built the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles and first visited the desert in 1945 as the guest of radio performer and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. He soon began to dream about his feted city with the illustrious avenue.
Today, El Paseo buzzes with activity year-round and remains a haven for shopping and dining. The popular avenue features luxury retailers, fine eateries, art galleries, and personal and professional services.
Henderson died in 1984 at the age of 88. He lived to see the early results of his master plan for this “smart” shopping district that delights locals and draws millions of visitors annually.