Major Donation Helps Restoration Of Historic Plaza Theatre In Downtown Palm Springs

Writer, Director, and Television and Stage Producer David Lee is donating 5 million dollars to restore the Historic Plaza Theatre in Downtown Palm Springs.


3 million dollars will be donated immediately. The other 2 million dollars will be used  as matching funds to encourage additional contributions. 


Lee presented a ceremonial check to city officials, and members of the Plaza Theatre Restoration Committee Wednesday morning October 21st at the entrance to the Plaza Theatre.


The Plaza Theatre was built in 1936. It has been the location for film premieres, national radio broadcasts, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies. 


In 2019 the City of Palm Springs, led by then City Councilman J R Roberts, launched a campaign to restore the the Plaza Theatre.


It is a Class One Historic structure, and significant work is required to upgrade its infrastructure. 


Estimates are that it will take 10-12 million dollars to fully restore the Plaza Theatre.


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.


International architectural firm Gensler and historic preservation consultants Chattel are working to develop a comprehensive restoration and rehabilitation plan for the theatre. 


The plan is to make structural improvements to ensure the building meets current fire code and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, install new theatrical equipment, and new seats.


Television/theatre producer, director, and writer David Lee is best-known works for his popular television projects “Cheers” and “Frasier.” He co-wrote and co-produced “The Jeffersons” and “Cheers” with Peter Casey for, respectively, six and four years. He and Casey co-created “Wings” and “Frasier” alongside the late David Angell as Grub Street Productions. Lee has directed revival productions of many Broadway musicals, including “South Pacific” starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Reba McEntire at the Hollywood Bowl. He co-authored (with Joel Fields) a new book for the musical “Can-Can,” and his re-imagined version of “Camelot” is currently being performed in many productions around the globe. Lee has been nominated eighteen times for Primetime Emmy Awards and won nine of those nominations. He also won the Directors Guild Award, the Golden Globe Award, Producers Guild Award, GLAAD Media Award, British Comedy Award, three Television Critics Association Awards, two Humanitas Prizes, and the Peabody Award. He resides in Palm Springs. 


Seminal Palm Springs architect Harry Williams designed the impressive Plaza Theatre in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The theatre opened in 1936 with the premiere of the George Cukor film, “Camille,” with its legendary star, Greta Garbo, who allegedly slipped into the back of the theatre after the lights went down. Garbo’s co-star in the film, Robert Taylor, attended with Barbara Stanwyck.


Over the years, the theatre was the venue for memorable performances by entertainment giants Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Performers Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show broadcast live radio shows from the Plaza, bringing national attention to Palm Springs. It also was one of the most popular movie theatres in the growing Palm Springs community and hosted a number of motion picture world premieres, including “My Fair Lady” and “The Music Man.”


In the late 1980s Sonny Bono created the Palm Springs International Film Festival at the Plaza Theatre. In 1991, a vaudeville-type revue called “The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies” launched and ran there for 23 years. The long-running show brought renewed international exposure to the theatre and in many ways helped revitalize downtown Palm Springs. 


Establishment of Historic Protection

The Plaza Theatre was declared a Class 1 Historic Site in 1991. This designation prohibits any structural changes that do not adhere to the original design. The theatre is in dire need of repair and restoration and the City of Palm Springs is committed to bringing it back to its original luster as the heart of the City.


Three money bags and stacks of money on white with soft shadow.

Photo from Alpha Media USA Portland OR