A Coachella Valley mainstay, the iconic Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (pstramway.com) is undergoing an intensive renovation project. Not only will this two-year $13.3 million project give the 57-year old mountain station a facelift, but it will also improve access for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. Scheduled to be completed in 2021, the project will be done in phases, with little to no disruption in services. Best of all, the wheelchair-accessible tramway will remain operational during the whole process.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Experience
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a must-do on any Coachella Valley visit as it offers breathtaking views of Chino Canyon as it climbs from the valley station some 6,000 feet up to the mountain station. It’s a quick 10-minute ride and since the floor of the circular tram car rotates, there’s not a bad seat in the house.
Access at the tramway is excellent too, starting in the parking lot. Although the main parking lot is quite steep, there’s a dedicated accessible parking area just to the left of the valley station. From there it’s a short level walk to the building; however if you don’t have a placard and can’t do distances, there’s also a drop-off area in front. There are three flights of stairs up to the ticket and boarding areas, but there’s also an elevator to the right of the stairs.
Up on top there’s good pathway access in the boarding area, and accessible family restrooms nearby. And boarding the tram is a breeze, as you can just roll on through the wide doorways on both sides of the cars. The mountain station is equally accessible with roll-off access, and accessible restrooms around the corner.
The tram arrives on the second level of the mountain station, with elevator access to the other two levels. There’s good pathway access to the third floor restaurants and lounges, and barrier-free access on the first floor patio, where you can get a nice view of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Take some time to enjoy the view, and have a bite to eat before you make the return trip to the valley station. And don’t forget to take a coat, as temperatures can be 30 to 40 degrees cooler at the 8,516 foot high mountain station.
The renovation project includes both seen and unseen elements at the mountain station. At the top of the unseen list is the aging heating and cooling system, which was installed when the mountain station was built. The old radiators and swamp coolers will be replaced with a modern efficient system. There will also be major upgrades to the equally dated electrical system, as it’s getting harder and harder to find replacement parts for it.
And although most visitors won’t immediately notice the infrastructure upgrades, they will take note of the newly designed interior. Prest-Vuksic Architects is overseeing that part of the project, and their goal is “to create a refreshed, exciting and accessible experience to a historically significant building.” To that end they plan to remove or repair any past work that wasn’t sensitive to the original architectural concept
In preparation for the work, the Natural History Museum which is located on the first floor has been temporarily relocated to the Francis Crocker Room on the second floor. Likewise the documentary Building the Dream, which is usually shown in the first-floor theater, is temporarily being screened on the second floor.
And the good news is, the work is progressing nicely; in fact, the terminal already has some new accessible restrooms.
More to Come
Over the next two years, improvements and upgrades will continue at the mountain station. An interactive screen will be added next to the first-floor theater, where guests can get information about trails near the mountain station. The theater screen will also be replaced with a larger model and moved to another wall. Additionally, the Natural History Museum will get modern display cases, complete with QR codes for cell phone access.
Upstairs, both the Francis Crocker Room and the waiting area for the tram will also see some improvements.
The most noticeable changes will take place on the third floor, where the Peaks Restaurant, the Pines Café and Lookout Lounge will all get a total makeover. In addition to new furniture and carpeting the Peaks Restaurant will get a new kitchen and an added bar area. Lookout Lounge will be relocated to an adjacent wall, and will offer visitors sweeping desert views.
An although many of the improvements are structural, there’s no shortage of creative design accents in the mix. At the top of the list are four new fireplaces that will add a touch of color to the mountain station. Unlike conventional fireplaces, these models will use water vapor to produce different colored flames. Additionally, employees will be able to change the flame color with the flip of a switch.
So come and check out the new and improving mountain station at Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Mid-century modern done well — with 2020 access features — will be the final result.