Nellie Coffman and the Desert Inn

Chapter Three

An early guest at the hotel was Thomas O’Donnell who prospered developing the oil fields of Long Beach. He came to the hotel to relax, and struck up a close relationship with Nellie. When it came time to build her dream, he guided her to obtain loans through Security Bank in Riverside to finance the construction. As part of the construction project, Nellie originated the first land lease in Palm Springs by leasing a parcel of land to Mr. and Mrs. O’Donnell on the hillside west of the inn. Mr. Tanner designed a home there for the O’Donnells with Nellie overseeing its construction. Each day, morning and night all summer long, that 58-year-old woman climbed the trail to the site to inspect what was being done.
As the buildings began to take shape, Nellie’s sons played an integral part in the process. George, an engineer, and Earl were there daily to help with the building and inspect to work. They kept in constant contact with the builder and the bank, insisting on the best quality for every step of the process.
By 1926 the buildings were complete. The fabulous new hotel continued to serve its usual clientele and attract new guests. Word of mouth and appropriate publicity continued to draw wonderful guests. With her sons, they continued to build a reputation for superior quality with attention to every detail. In order to provide a superior level of service, there were two employees for every guest. Guest’s every need could be met. The publicity for The Desert Inn always included wonderful descriptions of Palm Springs and she coined the expression “America’s Foremost Desert Resort”.

Nellie was not only concerned with building the family business, she was also deeply involved in life in the village. All of the staff at the hotel were housed and fed in hotel facilities.
Having come from very humble circumstances and having been blessed with good fortune, she wished to share her bounty. Charity was a leading theme in her life. She assisted many families in need, sending carpenters from the hotel to repair leaking roofs and giving beds to families with none. She was one of the original founders of Welfare and Friendly Aid which became United Way. She was a sponsor of the founding of the Palm Springs Women’s Club and gave support for the founding of St. Theresa School. She gave donations to every church in the village. For her hard work to develop Palm Springs and many kindnesses, she was called Mother Coffman.
Education was foremost in her mind. She established a school at The Desert Inn for the children of guests. She was active in the elementary school that was the only campus for the Desert School District. She served with distinction on the board of trustees for over 20 years, helping with the planning and supervision of Frances Stevens School. She was also the desert’s representative on the Banning Union High School District, and lobbied that body to establish a campus in Palm Springs. She succeeded with the school opening in the fall of 1938. This is the 75th anniversary of that school. For her efforts, Nellie N. Coffman Junior High School was named in her honor.
She instilled in the family and the employees a desire to always serve the guests and all of the villages with kindness and care. The Desert Inn established the reputation of being a haven of peace, tranquility, and quality services.

© 2016 Deepwell Estates Neighborhood Organization