Palm Springs Mall; Palm Springs, California

The Coachella Valley is a desert region in eastern Riverside County, California, stretching through the desert north of the Salton Sea. One of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country (with an estimated 2010 population of around 600,000 permanent residents, plus hundreds of thousands of seasonal residents), the region has been a popular tourist destination since the 1920s when many in Hollywood were drawn to the hot, sunny weather and seclusion. The region’s anchor city and historic heart (though not the largest community) is Palm Springs, at the far western edge of the valley.

Development patterns in the Coachella Valley are more or less what you would expect of a region developed almost entirely in the 20th century (and very significantly in the last few decades). The region is criss-crossed with a network of wide grid-pattern arterials and a sprawling network of low-slung housing developments, many of them resort-style communities for part-time residents. Like most places that have exploded in this manner, there are dozens of strip malls and big box centers scattered across a 25-mile wide swath of the valley stretching from Palm Springs to Coachella. Buried within that mess, there are no less than four enclosed malls, and shopping in air conditioned comfort makes sense when the region is known for it searing heat and blinding sun. However, 3 out of 4 of these malls are dying (and one of the four is shuttered entirely). We posted the Fiesta Mall in Indio, at the eastern end of the valley, about a year ago. Today’s mall is 25 miles to the west: Palm Springs Mall, while technically still open for now, is one of the near-dead.

Located on Tahquitz Canyon Way about 2 miles northeast of downtown Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Mall is a relatively small, T-shaped community center, with an extension on one side that housed a Von’s supermarket and several smaller outdoor-facing stores. Architecturally, the exterior almost looks like a fairly standard strip mall, but the interior still has terra cotta tiles and other trappings of malls from several decades ago. There are also some interesting soaring ceiling features and skylights that clearly date the mall to its original construction in the late 1960s, even if it otherwise appears to have gotten a facelift sometime in the 80s. Until the middle of this past decade, it was relatively successful, with Gottschalks, True Value, Ross Dress For Less, and Office Max all functioning as the mall’s most recent anchor stores.

The Palm Springs Mall opened with San Diego-based Walker-Scott in 1970, who lasted in the space until the entire chain folded in 1987. Long Beach-based Buffums’ replaced them, but they also folded in 1991. Gottschalks took over the space right up to that company’s demise in 2009. The large anchor at the southern end of the mall was for a time a Kmart store, but that space was subdivided into True Value and Ross Dress For Less at some point later. I can’t find if there was a tenant in that space before Kmart, and to add to the confusion many news articles on the internet seem to confuse this mall with another dead mall in Palm Springs, so there is some question as to whether this mall or the other ever had a JCPenney anchor store. Just over the last few months (since these photos were taken in February, even!) the True Value fled the mall for a new location.

Rumors of a redevelopment have been swirling since at least 2007, when the mall was at least still somewhat viable (and still had its main anchor store in Gottschalks). There continue to be rumors of *something* to happen at the property, but in the meantime it continues to bleed tenants. The location is also somewhat strange and off Palm Springs’ main arterials, so it may make more sense to repurpose the property as something other than retail though the empty lots that dot the nearby area seem to indicate there isn’t a ton of demand.

Like a lot of dying malls in growing sun belt cities, we couldn’t find much about the Palm Springs Mall online–there probably aren’t that many current residents who remember much about the glory days. Do you know more about the history? Use the comments section to fill us in.


Author: Caldor

Jason Damas is a search engine marketing analyst and consultant, and a freelance journalist. Jason graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and a minor in Music Industry. He has regularly contributed to The Boston Globe,, Amplifier Magazine, All Music Guide, and 168 Magazine. In addition, he was a manager for a record store for over two years. Currently, he focuses on helping companies optimize their web sites to maximize search engine visibility, and is responsible for website conversion analysis, which aims to improve conversion rates by making e-commerce websites more user-friendly. He lives in suburban Boston.

15 thoughts on “Palm Springs Mall; Palm Springs, California”

  1. A 600K population can support one big mall, but not 3 or 4, even if they’re mostly middling. Tourists/weekenders will want the kinds of stores that don’t turn up in malls to buy sundries, homeowner stuff for weekend homes, or boutique-y one of a kind stuff. The mall has nice interior touches but looks hideous, yet generic on the outside. The dark tiles seem dated and inconsistent with an airy, light interior. This seems like the kind of small-ish mall that developers stopped building after the stagflation days of the 70s and 80s. the aftermath of that era was the beginning of the power center era and the rebirth of moderately large strips as a feasible design. These are the kinds of malls that normally die, although they are often small enough to feasibly de-mall. Is this in an area underserved by big boxes or close enough to wealthy areas to get boutiques? Otherwise, this seems destined to become (appropriate for the desert) a ghost town.

  2. @Rich,

    Nope, tons of big boxes all around, though the Palm Springs area in general is pretty wealthy. (The immediate neighborhoods seem pretty mid-tier and older, but by and large fine).

    Because there is so much strip development on busier arterials nearby, I’m not sure I see this space being redeveloped as retail at all, and most of the more upscale retail (such as boutiques) is about two miles away in downtown Palm Springs, which is a major tourist destination. If this space stays retail, I would bet more on a more modest grocery-anchored neighborhood center.

  3. Repurposing the property sounds like a good option. Perhaps make some of the land a park, some new housing, some new retail or community based organizations. It’s sad to see these places just waste away, thankfully we have people taking the time to document these centers which were important to us back in the day.

  4. I think the Office Max was JCPenney. There was also a Market Basket, which is now Kaplan’s College.

  5. It was dead when I visited in 2001.
    There was another mall downtown Palm Springs that was even more dead. I can’t recall the name and it’s probably gone now, but I couldn’t believe they had two dead malls in one town! It was 115 out… I figured a/c would be a good thing and everyone would flock to malls. So much for that idea.
    Glad you got some pictures to immortalize this place.

  6. The Ross/True Value space was a small ‘new look’ Penney’s prior to Kmart. There was a Thrifty’s between the main entrance and Von’s which was built in the time that I lived in Palm Springs (’83-’85) and the mall was unimpressive even then. You should dig up some information on the Desert Fashion Plaza in downtown, which is a–seemingly rare–dead luxury mall.

  7. @ST,

    The Fashion Plaza was super dead 25 years ago when it was in its prime. Anchored by I Magnin, Sax Fifth Avenue and a hotel. It was an awful layout where the mall snaked around the anchor stores kind of like ¢ . The two palm springs malls could never compete with Palm Desert which had all the major anchors: May Company, Robinsons (moved from dtwn ps), Bullocks, Bonwit Teller (later Bullocks Wilshire then later I Magnin which moved from PS) , and JCPenney which moved from the PS mall. Even today it still hosts Macys, Sears, JCPenney with a Nordstrom moving into the demolished Bonwit Teller anchor.

  8. @BIGMallrat,

    My brother Billy and his partner quite often they visit Palm Springs, actually so much so they might as well get their mail there. Anyway they have told me in the past about this dead mall in downtown Palm Springs. Next time I see them I will ask if its still standing.

    Now as for redeveloping a dead mall is concered, I wonder if an “adults only” type of mall could work in Palm Springs? Afterall Palm Springs is full of those “clothing optional” resorts ( Trip Advisory has several listed on their site ) and I would imagine many go there for their “naughty weekends”.

    Of course not talking about a mall with tons of dirty book stores like one sees out along the interstate but something more, well more classy. I am thinking more along the lines of the type of store that Hustler Magazine runs or here in Denver “Pleasures”..very clean and well much so that its hard to notice it being “adult” unless one goes in. Add a few bars, maybe a gay friendly cigar bar for example, and of course stores that cater to one’s personal fetishes such as those into “role playing” and gay bears ( Palm Springs is a VERY popular place for that crowd ). Heck why not an “adult” supermarket. or a hair place where women can get their hair done by men wearing nothing but jock straps or whatever and men getting their haircuts done by topless women. Of course kids..wouldnt be allowed anywhere near this place.

    Yeah all of this may sound crazy with a big C but hey such a idea would be different..and in a place like Palm Springs..could work.

  9. @Cathy Jones, the dead mall in downtown Palm Springs is in fact still standing. I took a bunch of pictures on the same trip in February when I got the photos for this post–I’m sure they’ll wind up on the blog eventually. The mall itself is completely shuttered so my photos were only of the exterior.

    No comment on the rest! You’re the one who said crazy with a big C, but I encourage your creative thinking 😉

  10. I worked for Walker Scott from 1979 to 1989. The Palm Springs location was the last retail store to close. I was a bit surprised by the 1987 date since I thought it was 1988 but I could be wrong. I knew that Buffum’s took the location over and closed in 1990 or 91.

    The remodel to the mall took place in late 1986 or early 1987. I remember taking a trip to Palm Springs to meet with the landlords about certain costs. I was in the store only twice. Once in 1985 and then 86 or 87.

    Actually, I was quite upset that Buffums took out the huge chandelier and it ended up in the landfill or recycled because it was audacious and captured the upscale style of Palm Springs of the 60-70s.

    Overall, Palm Springs/Palm Desert and surrounding communities have a problem with sustainability. When I worked for WS, one of the issues that came up regularly was the fact that the local residency was considered transient. In those days a substantial portion of the local population were snowbirds. They came in October and left in March, April or May. So retain sales plummeted in the summer when utility bills would eat you alive. The average WS customer (particularly in Palm Springs) was middle class and probably 45 years or older. For many, the inflation of the 70s and early 80s ravaged their retirement funding and by 1983-84, returns on funding were bleak.

    During the mid to late 80s remodel of this mall, the landlords spent an awful lot of money fighting with the city over things like paint colors, etc. I do know that the mall was painted at least twice because the city would not approve the color AFTER it was painted even though they had approved the color before it was painted. Those costs were of course passed on to the tenants–which further marginalized the profits of stores which were already seeing less and less revenue.

    What I remember most about this mall was that it wasn’t a ‘hang-out’ mall. People came to the mall to shop at a specific store and then get out.

    I did some work in Palm Desert for another company in 2008. The Westfield Mall in Palm Desert at hwy 74 and 111 seemed absolutely vibrant by comparison even thought it had a lot of vacant stores–and this was in the off-season.

    The 80s and 90s were devastating to local and regional retail chains. Consolidation was the name of the game and less profitable locations were simply shut down or the entire chain died.

    It was a sad time.

  11. I have lived in Palm Springs for 10 years and really , there isn’t much family entertainment. If you want to go to such places like , “Dave and Busters” you have to travel. Which is a very entertaining place for all ages. With gas prices being so high, no body wants to have to go out of their way. We need something new in Palm Springs to catch peoples attention. Just an idea. Thank you for your time.


  12. Original 1970s tenants:
    The Orange Bowl, Mages Sporting Goods, House of Fabrics, Radio Shack, Kinney Shoes, Karla’s Pastries, Herb Hoffman’s Red Kettle, Winchell’s Donuts, Thrifty’s, The Alley(original), Antheny Shane Records, KG Men’s, Hickory Farms, Walker-Scott, JC Penney, a Shoe shine guy, Market Basket, a Travel Agency….RIP PS Mall.


  14. @Cathy Jones,

    I think you have a great idea. PS should consider it.

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