It’s quite a remarkable experience to travel from the hot and sun-soaked Palm Springs Valley up to the cool alpine climate of the San Jacinto mountains by way of a 10-minute tramcar ride. The journey transports you over 5,800 feet in elevation to temperatures that are roughly 30 degrees cooler than the desert below.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was a long time in the making. Electrical engineer Francis Crocker first envisioned the concept in 1935 when he wanted to escape the heat by way of quick transport into the mountains. With many setbacks, ranging from political roadblocks to war, the project didn’t begin to take form until 1961. The steel carrier cable that would carry the passenger cars consists of five supporting towers, with four of them erected by helicopter to airlift both crews and materials.
The Valley Station portion of the project, where passengers would first enter and eventually board the tramcar, was designed by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers. Because of a shallow stream on the site, Frey and Chambers designed the Valley Station as a covered bridge with structural trusses for the walls. Frey, who was Swiss, also traveled to Switzerland to meet with experts in overhead cable carrier design and visited several operating aerial tramways in the country to learn more about their technical aspects.
E. Stewart Williams designed the upper Mountain Station, located in Mount San Jacinto State Park. To match the surroundings, the Mountain Station has a Swiss chalet atmosphere, with large windows to view the incredible scenery. John Porter Clark was appointed as the coordinating architect for both station projects.
The tramway was extensively remodeled in 2000, complete with new rotating tramcars. Both stations are still in operation as is the restaurant in the Mountain Station—the perfect spot to sit back and take in the views after a long hike in the mountains.
Can’t get enough of MCM Palm Springs architecture? Don’t miss Atomic Ranch at Modernism Week! Find tickets here to Atomic Ranch: Remodeled Marvels book event here and a house tour with AR and H3K here.