A local resident continued to gain support Friday for an online petition calling for the removal of a bronze statue of former Palm Springs Mayor Frank Bogert, who allegedly helped force the removal of residents of color out of downtown to make way for new development in the 1950s and ’60s.
The Change.org petition created by David Weiner, who has lived in Palm Springs for 16 years, had more than 1,500 signers as of Friday afternoon.
The proposal to remove the statue that stands in front of Palm Springs City Hall comes as controversial monuments have been toppled nationwide since the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, spurring renewed conversations about the history of racism across the country and in the Coachella Valley.
“It’s a really dark stain on the history of Palm Springs,” Weiner said. “We’re in a nationwide discussion about race relations and how we treat each other, and I think we should be having that discussion in Palm Springs.”
Weiner, 53, said he plans to speak about the petition at a Palm Springs City Council meeting next month.
A representative of the city was not immediately available for comment Friday on the quest to remove the statue of Bogert, who died in 2009 at the age of 99. But Mayor Geoff Kors previously told the Desert Sun that he supports public discussion on the matter.
At the heart of the drama is a one-square-mile parcel of land called Section 14, part of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians tribal reservation west of Indian Canyon Avenue near downtown.
It’s prime real estate, home to hotels and other high-end establishments, but 60 years ago, it was one of the only places for people of color, including Blacks and Latinos, to find a spot to live amid rampant housing discrimination as people began migrating to the region in large numbers after World War II. There were no city services like water or sewer, and residents often burned their trash in lieu of trash service.
“The common discussion between downtown business owners interested in tourism and taxpayers throughout the city was that the reservation was becoming a slum,” Renee Brown of the Palm Springs Historical Society wrote in an essay published in the Desert Sun in 2015. “The voices of discontent grew louder and louder, saying that it was time to clean up the mess or it would negatively impact tourism and property values throughout the city.”
Changes in federal law in the mid-’50s allowed tribal members to lease out their land for longer increments of time than before, which boosted property values tremendously in Section 14 and presented a golden opportunity for bringing new development to the patch of tribal land adjacent to the booming downtown corridor.
The legislation also created a complicated new system that allowed for conservators and guardians to “protect” Indians and their estates from people trying to cheat them of their lands, according to Brown.
“These court-appointed conservators and guardians took control of a majority of Indian estates which included much of the property on Section 14,” she wrote.
Bogert was one of those conservators.
Weiner’s petition alleges that Bogert, who served as mayor from April 1958 to January 1966, and the rest of the Palm Springs City Council participated in a series of schemes to rid residents from the area in order to make way for the world-renowned resort destination Palm Springs has become.
Evictions began in large numbers in Section 14, and many of its buildings were burned to the ground shortly after. Some residents were allegedly kicked out without receiving proper notice.
“Allegedly, some of the homes of those who did not receive or heed the eviction notices were bulldozed while they were at work and they returned to find only the remnants of their possessions,” Brown wrote.
Earlier this month, Kors spoke broadly about acknowledging the city’s racist history, hinting an apology could be forthcoming regarding the evictions in Section 14.
An investigation was launched in 1968 by the California Attorney General’s office, which found that the city “not only disregarded the residents of Section 14 as property owners, taxpayers, and voters; Palm Springs ignored that the residents of Section 14 were human beings.”
Palm Springs officials at the time argued it was the Agua Caliente landowners who did the evicting, not the city. But many of the landowners did not have control of their land holdings, which was the responsibility of the conservators and guardians — among them, Bogert and other influential local white residents.
While the city was not charged with any crimes, the California Attorney General’s office in its final report cited “evidence of unusual cooperation between developers, the Indian conservators and the city of Palm Springs in the demolition of Section 14.”
“It’s just so slimy,” Weiner said.
Bogert, who served a total of 16 years in office — his last term was from 1982-88 — was one of the city’s most recognizable figures. He is memorialized in his statue sporting his trademark cowboy hat atop a horse.
He arrived in Palm Springs in the 1920s, serving as the publicity manager for the El Mirador hotel, and later managed the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce.