It is not uncommon to hear a news about great mid century modern architecture being on the verge of demolition. Some are saved, restored and preserved, but unfortunately, many are demolished. The former Tramway Gas Station in Palm Springs, California was one of the fortunate ones – it has been restored and now serves as the Palm Springs Visitors Center, welcoming the visitors as soon as they enter the city on Highway 111.
As the name implies, The Tramway Gas Station once stood as the Enco service station. The building was designed by Swiss-born architect Albert Frey and Robson Chambers. Completed in 1965, this 2300-square-foot mid century marvel soon became a landmark of the city with its dynamic soaring roof (referred to as a hyperbolic paraboloid roof) and sleek lines. However, the city suffered an economic downturn, closing many businesses in the 1970s and 1980s. The Tramway Gas Station was not an exception and closed its doors by the early 1990s. The building was then boarded-up and defaced with graffiti.
In 1996, a private developer bought the Tramway Gas Station to demolish and turn it into a gateway to a subdivision. When the residents protested, the city council designated the structure as a historic site, which disallowed the developer from altering the building’s exterior without the city council’s approval. The designation was later removed when the developer opposed to the decision, however the Tramway Gas Station was saved from demolition after all when the developer’s plan simply fell through. The building was up for sale once again.
In 1998, two San Francisco men, Montana St. Martin and Clayton Carlson bought the property. They restored the building respecting its original integrity as much as possible. The building reopened as an art gallery in early 2000 and remained as such until it was sold to the city for $638,000 in December 2002. The city spent another $500,000 for a restoration project, including adding a separate restroom area and updating landscaping. The restored building has been serving as the Palm Springs Visitors Center, standing proudly just as once it had been.