Palm Springs Art Museum

Coachella Valley

The Palm Springs Art Museum is an imposing four level edifice located just off Palm Canyon Drive in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, California.Palm Springs Desert Museum

This 83,000 square foot structure represents a unique amalgam of natural history, desert life, Hollywood glitz, presidential politics, upscale retirement and the fine and performing arts.

The museum's permanent exhibits include a 20th century art gallery, Mesoamerican art, Western and Native American art, a George Montgomery collection, a William Holden collection, a miniatures collection and a gallery of 19th century landscapes. It also includes a natural sciences gallery, a graphic arts gallery and a gallery for special exhibits.

I arrived on a weekday, just as the museum opened at 10 AM, and was able to find a parking place right across the street. Inside, after paying my admission fee, a delightful elder volunteer provided me with a 5-minute orientation of the museum, its galleries and exhibits.

Western artI was anxious to see the natural history section, which was displayed in the wing to the right. Flash photography is prohibited and low light levels meant I was unable to get my hoped-for shots.

I wandered about the other galleries viewing the impressive displays, but I was drawn back to the main level. Here, there is an exhibit of western sculptures by ex-cowboy actor George Montgomery, complete with letters and photos of President and Nancy Reagan.



Adjoining this display, in the Western and Native American Art gallery, is an impressive exhibit of Cahuilla basketry and other cultural artifacts, which remains on permanent exhibit. The museum's facilities include a lecture hall, art and natural science classrooms, the Sinatra Sculpture Court, two sculpture gardens and the Annenberg Theater, as well as a cafe, the museum store and box office.

A variety of programs are offered on a year-round basis that include nature hikes, children's workshops, a docent council, community outreach, films, concerts, symphonies, opera and drama.

Museum History

This high-brow, upscale museum first opened humble doors in 1938, the same year the city of Palm Springs was incorporated. The museum was founded by Don Admiral, a college administrator with a geology degree and a flair for promotion and development. Admiral conducted local classes and tours and opened the museum in La Plaza Arcade to share his interest in natural history with the community.

Sculpture GardenAdmiral actualized a dream shared by two earlier Palm Springs naturalists/residents. In 1916 California naturalist Edmund Jaguar started a Nature Club from among the town's 70 residents. Sixteen years later, in 1932, Theodore Zschokke became "naturalist in residence" at Deep Well Guest Ranch and created a Nature Trail that included various plant and animal exhibits.

Admiral's 1938 museum had a rocky start. For 20 years it passed through the hands of a series of directors, operating on a shoestring, but continuing to grow, with sporadic contributions from the growing population of the area.

In 1952, Philip Boyd, a local rancher and museum trustee, together with Dr. Edmund Jaeger and Desert Magazine publisher Randall Henderson, finally succeeded in convincing the museum's board to establish a wildlife sanctuary by leasing acreage in Palm Desert at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

During the 50s and 60s, the Palm Springs Desert Museum began rapid growth, after expanding its focus to include performing and fine arts. By 1963, the population of Palm Springs had grown to 117,000, and there were 80,000 visitors a year to the museum.


The trend toward the fine and performing arts continued, with considerable influence from Hollywood, which had discovered, then vacationed, and began to retire in Palm Springs. Finally, the current facility was financed and built, and opened in 1976 with 4,000 people in attendance.

In the meantime, the Wildlife Sanctuary in Palm Desert separated and became an independent entity. In 1972, it incorporated as The Living Desert with Boyd at its head, assuming much of the original charter of the Palm Springs Desert Museum.

I concluded my visit to the Palm Springs Desert Museum with a tour of the two outdoor sculpture gardens on the lower level. Back inside, I consulted the box office for upcoming performances and promised myself I would return some evening for an event in the Annenberg Theater.


There are lots of resorts, hotels and motels in Palm Springs, click here for more information.

The Palm Springs Art Museum
101 Museum Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92263

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