PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Firefighters spent Thursday carefully combing through the rubble of buildings at the historic Palm Springs Racquet Club. A fire ripped through a vacant part of the site, damaging four buildings, destroying two hotel buildings. Fire crews were looking for bodies and possible causes of the fire. The flames also destroyed a major piece of Palm Springs history. "It's very disturbing," said Mike Mueller, the former owner of the property and the current architect for the site. "I mean we took great pains to historically preserve this site."
Mueller and the owners of the property, Olivia Communities, have been working to rebuild and return it to its former glory. They're also working with the city to designate the club as a historic site. Now, part that has gone up in flames. "We are just being penalized by losing so much of cultural and architectural history," said Gary Johns, the chair of the Palm Springs Historic Preservation Board.
Even though the fire damaged four buildings, preservationists are grateful, firefighters were able to stop it from spreading to other parts of the site, including the famous Bamboo room. Built in 1933, the Racquet Club played host to old Hollywood's A-listers, including Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and even President Ronald Reagan. While the flames destroyed two of the original hotel buildings, Mueller says it won't sidetrack him from preserving the historic value of the property. "It will give homage to this design, but it certainly isn't ten hotel rooms anymore," said Mueller.
While it's too early to point a finger, neighbors and Mueller say they've constantly dealt with squatters, even with guards and surveillance cameras. "I've always had a problem with vagrants, crystal meth is a problem here as everyone knows," said Mueller.
The fire department continues to investigate the exact cause of the fire. In the meantime, preservationists say fires like fires like this keep putting the historic integrity of the city at risk. "They try their best to enforce, but it may be a bigger issue than the city's capable of enforcing," said Johns.