Nellie Coffman: The Mother of Palm Springs

Excited to announce that KCET’s Lost LA series just published my article about about Nellie Coffman, considered the Mother of Palm Springs.

How "The Mother of Palm Springs" Transformed a Desert Village into a Tourist Mecca

Before she was Nellie Coffman, she was Nellie Orr, daughter of Santa Monica hotelier James Orr. Originally from Indiana, the Orr family lived in several towns before relocating to Southern California in the late 1880s. Nellie later followed her family west after her first husband died tragically in a Texas fire within months of their wedding. The family settled in the area now known as Pico Rivera, next to the 400-acre walnut ranch owned by Charles Coffman.

Coffman’s son Harry, who managed a small parcel on his father’s ranch, was smitten. According to the hotel register, an eager Charles came to see Nellie just three days after her father started his new job at Santa Monica’s St. James Hotel. The two were soon married at the St. James Hotel and built a life around Harry’s medical practice in Santa Monica. Incidentally, James Orr also later owned Santa Monica’s Atlanta Hotel and the Clarendon. Hotel management was in Nellie’s blood.

The Atlanta Hotel in Santa Monica which was owned by James M. Orr. Courtesy of the Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives.

The Atlanta Hotel in Santa Monica which was owned by James M. Orr (father of Nellie Coffman). Courtesy of the Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives.

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