Becoming A City

Becoming A City

Without question, Indian Wells was created to preserve its residents' independence and vision. As Bert Cavanagh recalled at the 20th anniversary celebration, "Indian Wells incorporated primarily for self protection. There were other cities eyeing the area and we wanted to take control rather than be annexed."

Voters clearly were of one mind. When the election was held on June 27, 1967, there were only 285 registered voters. Voter turnout was 85%. An incredible 93% voted in favor of incorporation. According to the League of California Cities, the incorporation passed by the highest percentage of voters in California's history!

Just three weeks later, on July 14 (coincidentally Bastille Day), Indian Wells became California's 400th city and the 16th in Riverside County. Pete Peterson was elected the city's first mayor. Work began immediately on establishing zoning, building and sign policies to protect Indian Wells' residential quality.


During Mayor Peterson's term, the Erawan Garden Hotel was constructed, resident John R. Clark, Jr. was elected president and tournament chair of the 1971 Bob Hope Desert Classic, the city council passed a unanimous resolution to annex six and one-third sections of Santa Rosa Mountain land to preserve its spectacular backdrop, the Balboa Bay Club of Newport Beach purchased substantial acreage in Indian Wells Country Club, the city purchased a four and one-half acre site for a future civic center, and Lucille Ball sold the 118-room Indian Wells Hotel for $1 million.

When Mayor Peterson died in office, Vice Mayor H.L. "Bert" Cavanagh completed his term. Due to other commitments, Cavanagh stated he did not wish to continue on as mayor, but returned to his active role as vice mayor when Joe Young was elected in 1972.

Though Young was the newest member of the council when he was elected, he received a unanimous vote. Accomplishments during his tenure (1972-75) included the passage of sewer bonds and completion of the initial work; planning for drainage improvement projects; moving the city council, staff and planning commission to new quarters on Club Drive; and the naming of Eisenhower Mountain. In addition, the Balboa Bay Club/Indian Wells, designed by renowned architect Edward Durell Stone, opened its doors with a split-level clubhouse and four championship tennis courts. The city began its tradition of hosting big-name tennis when Indian Wells played host to the desert's first major tournament, and 13 women held the first meeting of the Indian Wells Garden Club, 

Politics and business often go hand in hand, to both good and bad effect. Such was the case during Frank Chilson's term, 1975-1984. On the positive side, Village I, the city's first shopping center was approved. On the negative, Proposition 13, which passed in 1978, restricted the city's ability to create property taxes. Based on the five-cent tax structure in existence at the time, post-Prop 13 revenues totaled a mere $40,000. And when Proposition 4 passed, requiring that funds earned from invested capital be reinvested in a community within a 10-year period, civic leaders were faced with a dismal future. They sought an alternative source of revenue. Financial consultants suggested the city seek premium destination resorts. Richard Oliphant, who was to become Indian Wells' next mayor, was assigned the task of trying to locate suitable resorts.

In trying to woo hotels, the council learned Indian Wells needed golf. The Redevelopment Agency was formed to generate funds to purchase land and build a municipal golf course. Also noteworthy, in 1980, Desert Horizon Country Club became the newest luxury residential community to open in Indian Wells.

While Mayor Oliphant was in office, 1984-1992, Indian Wells met its goals. Two city-owned 18-hole Ted Robinson-designed golf courses were built at The Golf Resort at Indian Wells (renamed the Indian Wells Golf Resort in 2007) between the Hyatt Grand Champions and Stouffer Esmeralda Resort (now Marriott's Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa). American Golf was brought in to manage the courses, which have gone on to win numerous awards. Charlie Pasarell moved his Pilot Pen tennis tournament to the Grand Champions site. Village II was built across the highway from Village I, and a General Plan was adopted.


Other accomplishments marked the city's second decade. The former Eldorado Polo Grounds were transformed by Tom Fazio into two world-renowned courses when The Vintage Club opened, The Living Desert was established, the Civic Center was built, Indian Wells founded the Cove Communities Fire Commission (now Cove Communities Services Commission) and Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Bureau, and its Highway 111 Corridor Master Plan received a citation for excellence by the American Institute of Architects. Most important, the city had survived its first real trial and transformed impending financial disaster into solid financial standing.