The little booklet written for the Coachella Valley Savings and Loan Association by Ralph Hancock in 1958 was aptly called “Desert Living”. He explored all aspects of life in the Coachella Valley in the most definitive and informative way. Seemingly intended to introduce readers to desert living “at its best”, it promised that “payments the size of rent can make your dream of owning a home in the desert come true”.
The brochure would be useful today. Currently arriving in droves, newcomers to the desert are fleeing COVID and the less than gracious living conditions elsewhere would always find a friendly and highly informative welcome.
At the time, the brochure sought to ensure that potential owners were fully informed about every conceivable topic related to desert life, starting with the most basic: the perception that the desert was totally unsuitable for dwelling, whatever it is. “Many have the impression that a desert is a great expanse of sand piled up in dunes by the wind, without humidity or vegetation, a land of thirst, desolation, even death… But most of the desert is home to a variety of plant and animal life which, through generations of adaptation, is able to respond to the conditions imposed by this environment.Man, the least adaptable animal of all, has found in the desert l one of the healthiest climates in the world… America’s deserts are quickly becoming a favorite area to live, work and play.
Nevertheless, there is nothing common, conventional or predictable in the desert. “Newcomers experience a whole new way of life in the desert…and, as in all things, their enjoyment of the desert is limited only by their ability to understand.”
The booklet was intended to help with this understanding, first by explaining that the desert is a land of extremes illustrated by its seasons: two to be exact. Spring and autumn are short. The transition from winter to summer and vice versa is surprisingly brutal. Lucky visitors learn to spend “entire seasons in the desert or buy permanent homes here to live year-round.” But appreciating the desert in summer requires some understanding.
The booklet opines: “People who live in extreme natural conditions are inclined to look down on those who live where nature makes life easy. Cold winters or rocky soils develop character, they say. And maybe they are right because we become strong in the face of adversity and resourceful in solving problems. But the same principle can apply in the desert where the opposite extremes of nature exist.
So a summer in the desert isn’t as bad as a winter on the east coast and “if you’re considering buying or renting a home in the desert for year-round use…a An intelligent approach to the problems of life in the desert is absolutely essential.” The booklet goes on to list these challenges and offer smart solutions.
Architecture is high on the list of factors affecting the enjoyment of desert living. Architects and contractors familiar with the peculiarities of the desert should be consulted. A cooling system, not just evaporative cooling, is essential. Surprisingly, heating is also necessary for comfortable year-round living, although the elaborate systems of other climates are not necessary.
“Everything that goes into your desert home should be subjected to analysis and examination. Woods that remain sturdy and beautiful in homes in Ohio and Indiana can crack and split into an ugly mess. in desert construction.Paints that retain their newness for years in other parts of the country can fade and chip in the desert.Most rubbers, leathers, and plastics oxidize and disintegrate quickly at dry air, but glass, metals and stone last forever.
The extreme drought and the desert wind are unavoidable. Good construction can eliminate sand crawling through cracks, but even the best homes will be dusty after the worst windstorms. Fortunately, the clean, dry sand “releases easily from clothing and draperies and leaves no traces of soil like city soot or other country dust. Draperies have been known to hang for 28 years in a home from Palm Springs without a single cleaning other than the occasional shake or dusting.Although slightly faded, they looked, after all these years, as clean and new as the day they were hung.
As for interior arrangements, “there are few pleasures in desert life that exceed those obtained by furnishing and decorating a home. Whether you do it yourself as part of the exercise of your artistic talents or employ the services of one of the many skilled professionals, you will find that decorating a desert home interior is an experience that belongs in the field of creative arts.
The small brochure also covered creative landscape art. “Whether you want to make your place a little oasis in the desert with shrubs and grass or bring the desert to your doorstep with cacti and rocks will come down to your personal whim. It can also depend on your wallet or your spare time, because a lawn, flowers and shrubs are expensive to install and their maintenance costs money and time. A desert setting of cacti and rocks, on the other hand, involves the same installation cost but little maintenance.
Although almost everything grows or can be cultivated in the desert, “some of the tenderest things require so much shade and water that it is hardly worth worrying about…especially since ‘there is a wide variety of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees that thrive in the desert climate, and some of them require little water and less attention than the novice gardener will’ would wait there.
And the most prominent feature of the backyard is the ubiquitous swimming pool. Long considered an economic necessity rather than a luxury, “many families consider a swimming pool to be in the same category of investment as a basement playroom in other climates. Some prefer a swimming pool in the instead of a second car or an extra bedroom, and the falling cost of installing swimming pools puts them in competition with these elements in family budgets.
“The family home designed for year-round use will find a private swimming pool or access to one of the hotel pools to be an extremely refreshing asset during the long summer. Whether used for a brief For daily swimming or for all-day play, most desert dwellers find they get more than their money’s worth from a private pool…when it comes to kids, a pool can become the most important part of life in the desert in the summer.” The most beautiful homes in the desert definitely had a pool.
Finally, the expense of the swimming pool could be offset by prodigious savings on clothing. “The people of the desert spend less money on clothes than the people of any other region. No heavy winter clothes are needed, and in fact you can’t even buy underwear in the desert shops. winter clothes, overcoats, raincoats, children’s snowsuits, rubbers or galoshes, umbrellas, warm gloves, etc. In addition, the informality of desert life makes fewer clothes necessary and cheaper.
And in this way, newcomers experiencing their first summer find that the desert gives them a very friendly welcome.
Tracy Conrad is president of the Palm Springs Historical Society. The Memories Thanks column appears on Sundays in The Desert Sun. Email him at [email protected]