Now feels like an excellent time to introduce a delightful cartographic gent appropriately named “Jolly” Lindgren, who forwent the rather pedantic historical pictorial maps of the 1930s and 1940s and opted instead for creating fun-filled “hysterical maps” showing great American resorts. In this instance, it is our own dear Palm Springs and points south, both of which had been drawing the glitterati out to clean desert vistas throughout film industry boom of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Lindgren lathers it on thick—the jokes are very corny, but how can you keep from laughing at “mix yourself a broiler maker,” or “every season is the slack season” (for daring women wearing slacks), or a dry lake singing “how dry I am.” The map legend identifies three types of palms: date, native and itching (insert rim-shot here), and the elephant trees are labeled “GOP forest.”
Lindgren’s geography is fairly sound despite his compass rose stating that “this map may be cockeyed but this is right.” Marked is the area where General George Patton had recently trained troops to fight in the deserts of North Africa, where the U.S. Army battled Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps. We can also see Calipatria, where the Al G. Barnes Circus maintained their winter quarters, and a ghost popping out of Superstition Mountain, where local lore describes an eight-foot tall skeleton that haunts the Anza-Borrego sands. There are also tourist attractions like the Painted Canyons, the Desert Inn, and the Desert Hot Springs, all of which drew folks from L.A., San Diego, and points east.
Surprisingly, the area thrived agriculturally dating back to the 19th century, and Lindgren notes the presence of lettuce, dates, melons, grapes, oranges, and tomatoes. There are, of course, an abundance of Palms; notice Washingtonia filifera, or the desert fan palm—the only species native to these parts. The map stretches all the way to the Mexican border and paints a flattering picture of the Salton Sea, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, the Imperial Valley, and Holtville, which you probably didn’t know was “the carrot capital of the world.”
Like many resorts in the Los Angeles area, the railroad and water figured mightily in drawing locals out into the very dry heat of Palm Springs and the Coachella valley. A Mexican diarist noted hot springs in 1823, which were officially put on USGS maps in 1853. The old Bradshaw Trail stage route was in operation as early as 1862, but when the Southern Pacific railroad laid tracks, it literally set the stage for hotels (like the Palm Springs Hotel, built in 1886) and the Desert Inn, which allowed the early health-seekers to spend clean-aired but very uncomfortable vacations beneath the palms. With the blessed introduction of air-conditioning, tourism flourished, and the area became one of the major resorts within a short drive (for an Angeleno) from the big city.
A Hysterical Map of Palm Springs Thru the Desert County to Old Mehico, Hatched and scratched by Jolly Lindgren, 1948
Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.