Shadow Mountain  

In a desert, the first thing you build for is water.

The second thing is also water.

Let’s talk about water in the Coachella Valley.


Beneath our desert is a vast, 65-mile long aquifer, running from Whitewater River to the Salton Sea. In the 1940s, before major expansion of people and plants, it likely held 30 million football fields of water.


You just needed to get it to the surface, and building a new town from near-scratch is like digging wells in the desert: it takes money, something Cliff Henderson was very good at raising.


In fact, his newly formed Palm Desert Corporation was like a blistering Silicon Valley start-up when it came to investors. The Board was riddled with Hollywood types, captains of industry, wealthy industrialists.


Executives of Lockheed, Consolidated Steel, Union Oil.

Leonard Firestone of tires and (less well known) California wine.

Justin Dart, who married a Walgreen daughter, then ran the competitive Rexall drug store chain following his divorce.

E.L. Cord, a transportation mogul whose holdings included Checker Cabs (a pre-Uber thing), Duesenberg cars, and the company that became American Airlines.


In 1945 the Palm Desert Corporation dug a well to 612 feet, allowing Henderson to break ground on Shadow Mountain Club in 1946.


First came a lake that was for sailing and (come on) rainbow trout fishing.

Then in 1947, a massive 350,000 gallon* figure-8 pool with two 20-foot slides.

Followed in 1948, by a Mid Century Modern stone, wood and glass clubhouse.

And truly that was just the beginning as Shadow Mountain Club quickly became the access of social, recreational, cultural, and even business life in the roaring early years of Palm Desert. 


*350,000 gallons is enough to give everyone in Coachella Valley in April a six pack of refreshment. Unless it’s Coachella in which case never mind.




Gallery Photo Credits:

Photos courtesy of Historical Society of Palm Desert.

Special thanks to Cindy Calquhoun.

Topics: Mid Century Modern Architecture, Clifford Henderson, Palm Desert History, 

Bing Crosby, Edgar Bergen, Esther Williams