By Sharon Apfelbaum

30-198auditorium-1This historic stage has hosted music superstars like Arthur Rubenstein and Van Cliburn, Shakespearean actor Dame May Anderson, and political luminaries Eleanor Roosevelt and President Gerald Ford.  The Los Angeles Philharmonic has played annual symphony series here.  Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow brought their medley of contemporary songs.

Palm Springs High School Auditorium showcased such eminent talent when it was the only stage in the Coachella Valley, before the McCallum or Annenberg Theatres even existed.  And the stage also served as training ground for generations of young desert students of performing arts.  It was an original venue for Palm Springs International Film Festival in 1988.  With 1100 seats the theatre could accommodate any production.

But what it did best was serve children, hosting band concerts, choir recitals, school drama clubs and community productions like the annual Nutcracker Ballet. Before the present Spanish Revival style high school opened in 1938 (without the costly auditorium), local students had been bussed to Banning for high school.  The initial enrollment of 120 students quickly rose to 500 in 1954 and has ballooned to 23,581 today.  The auditorium, a then state-of-the-art facility designed by eminent local architect E. Stewart Williams, was added in 1958.   But with no improvements since, it was time to come out of the wings and update that ‘state-of-the-art.’

In 1998 when years of heavy use had broken the seats, chipped the tile and peeled plaster walls, citizens like novelist Sidney Sheldon and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians led the cause to redeem its fall into dingy decay.

One patron remarked, “We managed to save the vacant, obsolete Albert Frey-designed gas station, surely we can restore our local theatre.”  And so they did.

In today’s fast-evolving digital age, it is time for another upgrade.  Enter the Palm Springs Unified School District. Under the keen supervision of Executive Director of Facilities Julie Arthur, the Riverside architecture firm Ruhnau, Ruhnau, and Clarke is carrying out an extensive renovation and addition.  Plans include adding storage space and dressing rooms, a traditional green room for performers, upgrades to plumbing, acoustics, electrical and HVAC systems, replacing damaged interior and exterior features and improving seismic safety. A newly expanded lobby area presents gallery space for art and museum exhibitions.

Project funding came from a 2008 public bond measure, appropriating $16 million for building and facilities.  The Foundation for the Palm Springs Unified School District launched a $5 million endowment campaign this year and attracted a $2 million lead gift from longtime local philanthropist Rozene Supple.  With $3 million to raise The Foundation offers a slate of naming, sponsorship and underwriting opportunities for this community project.  Contact Ellen Goodman:
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