By Renee Brown
When "Auntie Pearl"called during dinner, the most powerful men in Palm Springs got up from their dining tables and came to the phone.
Pearl McCallum McManus was the daughter of John Guthrie McCallum, the first pioneer settler in a little desert town which would later be called Palm Springs. He purchased over 6,000 acres of land and a one-fifth interest in the water company. A 21 day rainfall in1893 washed away his crops and irrigation ditches followed by an 11 year drought that devastated the desert land and drove away settlers. Before he died he learned that the federal government was giving the rights to the water from Tahquitz and Andreas canyon back to the Aqua Caliente tribe.
After his death in 1897, Pearl and her mother moved to Los Angeles where Pearl attended Marlborough Shcool for Girls. They returned to Palm Springs in 1909 and found much of her father's ranch property overgrown and a mess. Money was scarce so her mother sold her shares of the Palm Valley Water Company to make ends meet. While Pearl took care of her mother, now an invalid, she began to reclaim her fathers property.
After her mothers death in 1914, Pearl married Austin McManus, a very successful real estate man from Pasedena. Then, after the deaths of her remaining siblings, she assumed control of all of the McCallum holdings.
Under the guidance of her husband, she learned to make deeds to her properties reversible for architectural reasons. Some bitterness persisted over the way she put restrictive covenants on the use of the land she sold.
In 1924, they brought Lloyd Wright to Palm Springs ( son of Frank Lloyd Wright) to build the Oasis Hotel, which sat on valuable Palm Canyon frontage that grew to be worth millions. The couple developed the first apartment house called the Hacienda, sold the city the land for the first airport and developed the city's first subdivision called Tahquitz River Estates.
Pearl and Austins elegant Tennis Club opened in 1937, with its famous oval pool and bougainvillea laced terraces reminiscent of the Amalfi cliffs of Italy. Pearl hired architect Paul Williams of Los Angeles to design the clubhouse and terrace where he created a dining room with one wall that brought the power of the mountain inside with a waterfall set in rugged stone.
Pearl and Austin McManus made millions of dollars selling land and developing their properties, but they also gave much of that money back to the city they loved.
To learn more about Pearl McCallum McManus, visit The Palm Springs Historical Society in Palm Springs, www.pshistoricalsociety.org
Renee Brown is the Curatorial Assistant at The Palm Springs Historical Society