Philip Boyd; 1st Mayor of Palm Springs, UC Regent

Times Staff Writer

Philip L. Boyd, the first mayor of Palm Springs who later became a Riverside assemblyman, chairman of the Republican State Central Committee and a regent and benefactor of the University of California, has died after suffering a fall. He was 88.

Boyd died Saturday at Eisenhower Medical Center where he had been a patient the last week.

The banker and land developer was brought to Palm Springs by his parents in 1921 in hopes the dry desert air could restore his health after illness had forced him to drop out of Wabash College in his native Indiana.

The experience helped to shape his philosophy of life.


‘Think of Objectives’

“When you have a serious illness early in life,” he told an interviewer four decades after his forced move to California, “you begin to think of objectives.

“You lie in bed day after day and you think. . . . You think that if the day should ever come when you don’t have to devote all your time to making money, then you should pay rent for the space you occupy in this world.”

The desert made him healthy and wealthy. Boyd repaid the debt by helping to found the city of Palm Springs and UC Riverside and by donating money and more than 3,500 acres of land to create the university’s Philip L. Boyd Deep Canyon Research Center and the Living Desert Reserve, both in Palm Desert.


In his 20s, Boyd became the first full-time secretary of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce. Bothered that everybody left town to bank in Banning, in 1929 he set up and managed a new branch of the Bank of America in Palm Springs. Both positions helped him learn land values.

“The years between 1929 and 1932 were a period of bust and failure,” he said years later. “Many properties went through reorganization. One of them was the Deep Well Ranch on 110 acres practically in the center of town. I acquired control of it--mostly on credit--and it became a profitable operation. . . .”

In 1933, he bought a vegetable ranch on land now occupied by the Thunderbird Country Club.

Began to ‘Pay Rent’

His fortune growing, Boyd began to “pay rent” through civic service. When Palm Springs was incorporated in 1938, he was elected to the first City Council, and then chosen by his colleagues as the first mayor, serving until 1942.

Moving to Riverside because of his expanding real estate and land development interests, Boyd became a member of the Riverside Board of Freeholders, which drew up a new city Charter. In 1945 he was elected to the Assembly, serving until 1949.

Boyd’s major piece of legislation was a bill to establish UC Riverside. Later, as a member of the state Public Works Board, he participated in property acquisition and construction of the new campus.

Demonstrating his frivolous side, Boyd, the bald legislator, also introduced legislation on behalf of the Los Angeles chapter of the Society for Fair Play for Bald-Headed Men to cut the price of their haircuts.


Always embarrassed by his lack of a college degree, Boyd arranged with Wabash College to take his final 14 hours of classes at the new Riverside campus he had helped create. He was granted his bachelor’s degree from the Indiana institution in 1956, 38 years after he had first enrolled.

In 1950, Boyd was chosen as chairman of the Republican State Central Committee in a controversial election that defied the tradition of automatically naming a vice chairman as chairman.

Appointed Regent in 1957

In 1957, he was appointed by his friend Gov. Goodwin J. Knight as a regent of the University of California.

Boyd resigned the post in 1970, two years before his term expired, in protest of a new public disclosure law for state officials.

“My list of investments is not extensive, nor would their publication reveal any conflict of interest,” he told the Los Angeles Times at the time of his resignation. “Such a requirement for a public statement, however, would involve an invasion of privacy, which I believe should not be demanded as a prerequisite to public service.”

His resignation as a regent came shortly after he donated 3,500 acres of ground on the slopes of the Santa Rosa Mountains for the Philip L. Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center. The land was home to one of the West’s largest herds--200 head--of big-horn sheep and has been used for wildlife and botanical research.

Boyd is survived by his wife, Dorothy Harmon Boyd, whom he married in 1926, of Palm Desert, and two sons, Spencer M. Boyd of Grants Pass, Ore., and Douglas M. Boyd of Newport Beach, and a daughter, Mrs. Daniel Henderson of Panorama City.