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Save The Palm Springs Plaza Theatre

Plaza Theatre front

Note: The Plaza Theatre began restoration on March 4, 2024. It is expected to reopen in the fall of 2025.

The Palm Springs Plaza Theatre has been a hub for entertainment in the Coachella Valley for years, attracting talented performers worldwide. Over the years, this legendary theatre has hosted some of the most iconic performances, showcasing diverse talent. From musicians to comedians, the Plaza Theatre has seen it all.

Over the decades, the building has deteriorated, and the Plaza Theatre Foundation was established to raise $16M to fully support the City of Palm Springs’ effort to restore the historic theatre.

Plaza Theatre Interior
When the Palm Springs Follies performed in the theatre.

History of the Plaza Theatre

The Palm Springs Plaza Theatre story begins in true Hollywood style. It was built in 1936 by heiress Julia Carnell, who loved Palm Springs but thought there wasn’t enough to do. She solved the problem by buying land and building the La Plaza shopping complex, the first outdoor mall in America.

It was designed by architect Harry Williams, father of renowned midcentury modern architect E. Stewart Williams. Julia  Carnell brought Williams from Ohio to design the entire Plaza shopping center and the iconic theater. The theatre’s architectural style is Spanish Colonial Revival, a trendy style in California at the time. At the time of its opening, the theatre was considered one of the country’s most modern and luxurious movie theaters.

The theatre’s iconic identity was established on its opening to the public in 1936 with the world premiere of the Oscar-winning George Cukor film Camille, with its legendary star, Greta Garbo, allegedly slipped into the back of the theatre after the lights went down.

Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck at the premier of Camille.
Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck at the premiere of Camille.

In addition to being a movie theatre, it was also the venue for nationally broadcast radio theatre programs by luminaries such as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, and Amos ‘n’ Andy.

Palm Springs Follies

The Palm Springs Follies was a long-running musical revue performed in the Plaza Theatre. The show featured a cast of performers, all over the age of 55, and was known for its glitzy costumes, high-energy dance numbers, and classic show tunes.

The Follies was founded in 1990 by Riff Markowitz, a former Broadway dancer, and his wife, Mary Jardin, an actress and choreographer. The couple envisioned a show that would celebrate the talents and energy of older performers, and they drew upon Palm Springs’ reputation as a retirement destination to recruit a cast of seasoned entertainers.

Follies finale
Over the years, the Follies became a beloved fixture of Palm Springs’ cultural scene, attracting thousands of visitors yearly. The show’s performers were known for their impressive dance skills, their powerful voices, and their larger-than-life personalities, and they brought a sense of joy and vitality to the stage. The Palm Springs Follies ended in 2014 after a 23-year run.

Class 1 Historic Site

In 1991, the theatre became a Class 1 Historic Site.

plaza theatre
Credit: Palm Springs Historical Society

Where We Are Now

Some $16 million is needed to preserve and keep the theatre alive with top-notch entertainment so that it will work on its own.

David Lee

David Lee made a $5 million donation in October 2021. In March of 2022, he hosted another fundraiser that included cast members of Frasier.

Credit: David Lee

David was the Producer of Frasier, Wings, Cheers, and The Jefferson. For some of these shows, he also acted as writer and Director. Lee has been nominated eighteen times for Emmy Awards and won Nine times. He also won the Directors Guild Award, the Golden Globe Award, the Producers Guild Award, the GLAAD Media Award, the British Comedy Award, three Television Critics Association Awards, and the Peabody Award.

A near-sell-out crowd enjoyed a delightful, gossip-tinged afternoon as only this celebrity-centric playground can deliver. Team Frasier was testimony to Palm Springs’ celebrity magnetism, made possible only because multi-Emmy winner Lee (he also created Cheers) has loved Palm Springs all his life. First as a visitor with his parents, then with friends, and now as a resident for more than 20 years. plaza theatre Fundraiser

Donna and Jon Croel

In April of 2022, the Foundation board informed the Palm Springs City Council that it had received an incredibly generous donation of $2 million as a matching grant. The Croels are new residents of Palm Springs and were so captivated by the Plaza Theatre restoration project that they followed David Lee’s initial $5 million pledge with one of their own.

“We were honored to join David Lee, the Plaza Theatre Foundation founders, and all the other people who have donated to this important preservation project,” said Jon Croel. “Donna and I continue to be impressed by the significance of this restoration project and the important role that the Plaza Theatre has served in the history of Palm Springs. We hope our donation inspires others in the community to step forward and help the Foundation raise the remaining funds needed to restore this iconic building.”

Donna and Jon Croel at the Plaza Theatre

$2 Million To Go

The foundation board secured an additional $2 million from the City of Palm Springs and $2.5 million from the State of California.

Since it began its capital campaign to raise funds to restore the iconic Plaza Theatre, the Foundation has raised $14.5M towards its goal of $16M. With $2M left to grow, there are many ways in which the public may play a significant role in the Plaza Theatre restoration.

Founder’s Circle is only available to the first 100 individuals committed to this critical and historic preservation project.
Each Founder’s name will be prominently displayed on a specially designed Founders Wall for $25,000 each.

Naming Opportunities are available for seats or other areas of the building.

The Plans for Restoration

In 2018, the City engaged the international architecture firm Gensler and historic preservation firm Chattel to develop a comprehensive restoration and rehabilitation plan. The Gensler conceptual plan called for a complete restoration of the historic aspects of the theatre, installing approximately 700 new seats, the expansion of the current lobby, significant infrastructure repairs and the installation of new theatre equipment, and significant structural improvements to meet current fire prevention and ADA mandates.

In 2022, Architectural Resources Group, Inc. was chosen to complete the design and oversee the renovation. Architectural Resources Group has completed several other historic projects of similar scope.

Plaza Theatre Exterior-rendering

Plaza Theatre Interior-and-Stage rendering

Plaza Theatre Interior-rendering

Curtain Up!  

“It’s great to see people in the seats,” J.R. Roberts, chairman of the Save the Plaza Theatre restoration committee board of directors and former Palm Springs councilman, beamed in closing remarks. “It’s not often a working theatre needs restoration, but the Plaza does. We’d planned the after-reception for onstage. However, we don’t trust the stage to hold this many people.”

JR Robers


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