Walking Through Palm Springs History

Sombreros, sunshine and margaritas were the fuel for a series of historical walking tours in Palm Springs. Kathryn Leonard and her husband were visiting friends in and the Mexican city of San Miguel de Allende five years ago when the idea for historic walks sprouted in her head.

McCallum Adobe built in 1884 - The first house built in PS by the first white settler John McCallum and his family #PalmSprings
Kathryn is a retired schoolteacher with enough energy to challenge the energizer bunny. An avid tennis player and skier she may have finished with her professional career, but she is certainly not prepared to be idle. Kathryn told Nutmeg that during a walking tour in San Miguel de Allende she thought that the concept would work well in Palm Springs.

Cornelia White House built in 1893 - second oldest house in PS. Open free to the public #PalmSpringsLeonard presented her walking tour proposal to the board of the Palm Springs Historical Society and the idea came to life. The “Heart of the City” was the inaugural tour in 2009, and six years later there are seven tours and 25 volunteer tour docents. You can see the full list here.

Tennis Club Tour -Palm Springs Historical SocietyTour #4 The Exclusive Tennis Club Enclave - 9:30 ThursdayKathryn has crafted her “Mexican” brainwave into popular tours that run every day of the week except Sunday. She agreed to answer a few questions for our readers.

G&N: What are the most popular tours?

Visitors love the Hollywood cache of Palm Springs making “Golden Era – Hollywood Homes in Old Las Palmas & Frank Sinatra’s Neighborhood: The Movie Colony” highly subscribed tours.

Frank Sinatra’s Neighborhood: Movie Colony - 9:30 Fridays #PalmSpringsG&N: If a visitor has only enough time for one tour which one would you suggest?

It depends on a person’s areas of interest; the tours cover history, star glamour and architecture. The walks have been developed in conjunction with the Historical Society so the content is always factual yet dusted with attention-grabbing antidotes and photos from the archives.

Elvis Honeymoon House - Rat Pack Playground 9:30 TuesdayG&N: What goes into creating a new tour?

We start with what we think might be an interesting part of Palm Springs; then there is research, a walking map and a script are developed. Before any tour is launched to the public, 3-4 docents walk the route and rehearse the script a minimum of five times. During this phase, the script is altered, refined and then tested on the most experienced docents. Only then is it ready for paying customers.

“Last year we ran an ad in the paper for our newest tour Frank Sinatra’s Neighborhood: The Movie Colony. We had such a tremendous response that we sold out and then ran two extra tours for those on the waiting list. It was 106 degrees on those days, but the people still came. It was amazing!”

Viceroy Hotel - Tour #3 Inns, Architecture and Glamour 9:30 Thursdays #PalmSpringsG&N: How do you train your tour guides?

It starts with an application, which is followed by a series of interviews (Historical Society staff, the tour captains and myself). The applicant must be prepared to volunteer at the Historical Society to learn about Palm Springs’ history. Before any new guide is ready to lead a tour, they must shadow the captain(s) to learn the scripts, understand the walking route and be comfortable answering typical questions. This continues until both the new volunteer and the captain(s) feel comfortable that the docent is ready to lead the walk.

Loretta Young Home - Tour #5 Stars & Star-chitects in Deepwell - 9:30 Monday & Saturday 1:00G&N: If tour participants asked you for three reasons you love to live in Palm Springs what would those be?

  1. The weather. It is why people came here starting in the 1920’s and are still coming.
  2. The small town feel with its “big city” offerings: museums, theater, shopping, events, galas, the Film Festival, golf and tennis tournaments, etc.
  3. The Friendly people.

G&N: If tour participants asked you for three things they must discover in Palm Springs what would those be?

  1.  The Palm Springs Historical Society Walking Tours to learn the history, glamour and architecture! Ask your docent or Kathryn for their tips on where to dine in the city.
  2. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
  3. The Indian Canyons with the largest concentration of palm trees (>3000) in the world.

If you are planning a visit to Palm Springs, or feel it might be time to pull yourself away from the pool or the putting green…take a look at the full list of tours here, there is sure to be one that will peak your curiosity.

Note: There are other tours in Palm Springs, but look for these original tours developed by the historical society team.

Image credits: All photos were provided by and published with the approval of Kathryn Leonard and the Palm Springs Historical Society

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