Former Palm Springs City Councilmember and current Planning Commission vice-chair J.R. Roberts held a news conference on Wednesday, October 20 to announce a significant development regarding the restoration project of the historic Plaza Theatre in Downtown Palm Springs. Noted television/theatre producer, director, and writer David Lee, a Palm Springs resident, has pledged $5 million to jumpstart an extensive renovation project of the celebrated theatre. $3 million will be donated immediately and an additional $2 million will follow as matching funds to encourage additional contributions. Lee presented a ceremonial check at the event, which took place at the entrance of the theatre. Roberts, current Palm Springs city council members, and Plaza Theatre Restoration Committee Board Members were present to accept the sizable donation.
“I strongly believe in the preservation of historic American theatres,” said Lee. “I’ve been impressed with the planning that has already gone into the admirable restoration project for the Plaza Theatre and saw an opportunity for me to assist in this impressive campaign. I hope that my donation will spark interest in others who feel as strongly as I do about preserving our city’s past and creating a quality entertainment space for future generations.”
The Plaza Theatre is one of the city’s most iconic structures. Built in 1936, the building has been the location for film premieres, national radio broadcasts, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies. Despite its use, over the last few decades, the building fell into disrepair. In 2019 the City of Palm Springs, led by Roberts, launched a campaign to restore the grand dame Plaza Theatre to its former glory. The interior of the building was cleaned up, but the Class One Historic structure still requires significant work to shore up its decayed infrastructure. Lee’s donation will provide a significant portion of the funds needed for the complete restoration. Additional donations will be sought to fully fund the restoration process, which may require $10 – $12 million to complete.
The City has engaged the international architectural firm Gensler and historic preservation consultants Chattel to develop a comprehensive restoration and rehabilitation plan for the structure. Their plan called for installing 670 new seats, significant infrastructure repairs, installation of new theatrical equipment, and structural improvements to ensure the building meets current fire prevention and Americans with Disabilities Act mandates. A detailed plan and timeline will now be conducted using the funds from Lee’s donation.
“I am humbled and deeply touched by David’s incredible act of kindness and civic responsibility,” said J.R. Roberts. “A long-time philanthropist who has supported many other charities in our valley, his significant donation to this important project will allow us to immediately start on the necessary renovation process and will help us begin to achieve our goal of returning this beautiful building back to its former glory. We could not have done this without his generous help. A fully restored and operating Plaza Theatre will be a huge boost for Palm Springs economically and culturally and that is our focus. This gift shows that support for preservation and the arts is BACK!”
The Plaza Theatre restoration and fundraising campaign was in its early stages when COVID-19 pandemic forced a cessation of activities. The last event in the building was a sold-out concert featuring Nancy Sinatra in February 2020 during Modernism Week.