Indian Wells Destroys a Cherished Link to California Art

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November 21, 2010–Anyone driving down Highway 111 last week saw that the long-dreaded demolition of the Carl Bray Gallery has begun. A crew first tore off the roof that the artist had painstakingly reinforced with steel beams salvaged from the Indio railroad yards where he worked. By Friday, the 18-foot fireplace—made with stones from Berdoo canyon as well as favorites from the Bray kids’ rock collections–was exposed to view.

Carl Bray painting in the dunes behind his home, now the site of the Indian Wells Country Club. Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation.

Stage One of demolition: The roof is torn off.

The Indian Wells City Council voted to destroy the last trace of the town’s original village despite an outpouring of public dismay and the findings of an official environmental review saying the Bray home was a significant historical resource meriting protection under federal law. The village of Indian Wells once consisted of Dan’s Market, the House of Purple Glass, a trailer park, a snake sideshow and the circa 1952 Bray gallery. Now nothing remains.

The Bray Gallery in better days. Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation.

In a similar situation, Desert Hot Springs city leaders once attempted to raze the quirky Pueblo-style home of artist Cabot Yerxa. Protests in that case succeeded, and Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is now the second greatest tourist draw in the city (the first is hot mineral water).

Similarly, in Tucson, city leaders tried to tear down the homemade adobe studio of artist Ted DeGrazia. In this case, too, local government eventually bowed to public sentiment. The home was saved, and now serves as one of Tucson’s most popular attractions. In 2009, 550 locals and visitors attended DeGrazia’s Centennial birthday celebration at the gallery.

There will be no triumphant second act  in Indian Wells. So what are the lessons from the Bray battle? Several local archaeologists and preservationists came away concluding CEQA laws (California Environmental Quality Act) have no teeth. In cases where you have a calcified City Council, stronger measures are needed.

After all, a champion of Cabot’s Pueblo once held off the bulldozers with a shotgun. After years of harassment by city officials who wanted his land, Carl Bray himself once told the bullies if they stepped foot on his property, he’d shoot them.

Carl Bray, right, and fellow artist Fred Chisnall in the1950s.

Carl Bray never shot anyone and we’re not recommending violence. However, in future fights preservationists should not expect government agencies to follow the rules, but should be prepared to hire lawyers, hold sit-ins, act up, and practice all manner of creative civil disobedience.

Indian Wells’ original smoketree artist, Carl Bray, now age 93, lives and paints in Banning. Update: Carl Bray died in 2011, just months after his gallery was destroyed. For more on Bray:

1 comment for “Indian Wells Destroys a Cherished Link to California Art

  1. We just discovered Palm Springs and surrounding area 3 years ago. We visit twice a year and have fallen in love with its natural beauty, its history, and its art.

    Here in the Midwest we preserve many of our historical sites and buildings often times restoring them to its original beauty.

    What a shame to loose something that can and will never be replaced.

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