Its refreshing news to read about someone dedicated to preserving historic buildings here in Palm Springs. The following article was featured in The Desert Sun today and gives hope for our Palm Springs preservation efforts- Thank you Mark!
Giving new life to old buildings
MIKE PERRAULT • The Desert Sun • January 2,
Mark Spohn hopes to foster new attitudes about old
The longtime commercial real estate broker, who
moved to Palm Springs five years ago, recently
decided to put his skills to work doing what he
could to help save historic commercial architecture
in Palm Springs.
Spohn speaks to preservation organizations and
others across the city about his initiative called “Old
Buildings, New Attitudes.”
“The greenest building is the one that is already
built,” said Spohn, vice president of Sperry Van
Ness Commercial Real Estate Advisors.
Spohn has more than 30 years of experience leasing
and selling office and retail properties, including
more than two decades in Los Angeles.
He was a regular visitor to Palm Springs all those
years, developing an appreciation for the city’s
architecture. That prompted him to do what he
could to preserve Palm Springs’ commercial
“I am making it my goal to find investors to
rehabilitate (historic buildings),” Spohn said.
“There is a need to be proactive in adaptive reuse of
historic buildings by encouraging private
Spohn sees it as not only preservation but an
economic development issue. In PowerPoint
presentations, Spohn rattles off a list of historic
development projects: the Riviera, Colony Palms and
Horizon hotels; The Willows; the Seeburg and
An ongoing renovation of the 58-room, 71-year-
old Spanish Inn at 640 N. Indian Canyon Drive in
recent months aims to preserve the former
Ambassador Hotel, once a getaway for Hollywood
icons such as Lana Turner and mogul Howard
Hughes, Spohn said.
Palm Springs City Manager David Ready said the city
supports “the renovation, the new attitude, the
“The big impediment has been, ‘Does (the project)
pencil out?’ Are the numbers there for the developer
to make a profit?” Ready said.
To help encourage renovation of commercial
properties such as boutique hotels, city officials in
May expanded a hotel incentive program. It rewards
developers who complete major remodels by giving
them a hefty rebate on the bed tax.
Robert Imber, a board member of the Palm Springs
Modern Committee and trustee for the California
Preservation Foundation, said there is an abundance
of Palm Springs historic architectural assets in need
of rehabilitation, so Spohn’s program is timely and
beneficial for the region.
“In Palm Springs, other than the preservation
organizations and a few specific projects in recent
years, I am not aware of anyone other than Mr.
Spohn forwarding such practical and efficient
strategies that combine restoration and development
at commercial properties,” Imber said.
What’s noteworthy about Spohn’s approach is that it
presents properties as intrinsically valuable because
of their historical character, said Ron Marshall,
president of the Palm Springs Preservation
Many preservationists have been concerned that
some developers have been more concerned with
“real estate speculation” than making a building
viable, which can be detrimental to the long-term
health of the city, Marshall said.
Many folks think historic preservation is some
arcane science, he said.
“Nothing could be farther from the truth,” Marshall
said. “The U.S. Secretary of Interior has established
simple, straightforward standards that local
governments are encouraged to follow for the
treatment of historic properties.”
Among projects the Foundation has been working
on is ensuring “sensitive restoration” of the 71-
year-old Welwood Murray Memorial Library, a city-
owned property in downtown Palm Springs.
A survey the city conducted shows there are more
than 100 historic commercial buildings. Their
architectural styles range from mid-century modern
to Spanish colonial revival.
Among architects who have created commercial
buildings are Albert Frey, E. Stewart Williams,
Richard Neutra, William Cody and Paul Williams.
Typical prices for such properties range from about
$3 million to $10 million, Spohn said.
Many office, retail, boutique hotel and special-
purpose buildings — while they are in need of
repair — are well-built structures in prime
locations, Spohn said.
Spohn emphasized that historic development
projects must be as economically feasible as any
others. If done right, they will benefit the community
by retaining the architectural charm and character
that distinguishes Palm Springs from other desert
resorts, Spohn said.
One project Spohn is working on is to draw a
Liberace Museum that closed in Las Vegas to Palm
Springs, where the entertainer had numerous
Spohn said investors willing to renovate commercial
properties often have emotional ties to the city or
Other developers see an opportunity to tap financial
incentives, including a federal historic tax credit
that pays for up to 20 percent of rehabilitation
Public-private partnerships also can help
developers garner grants for façade improvements
or take part in hotel tax abatement programs.
Some historic properties to watch in the future
include La Serena Villas bungalow court, Town and
Country Center historic courtyard, and the Harlow
Club hotel in the Las Palmas historic commercial
district, Spohn said.
The modern real estate group is an avid supporter of Palm Springs’ Historic Preservation efforts.
For more information please visit the
Palm Springs Preservation Foundation.