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Ancient beauty for the young set

Special to The Times

Long in the shadows of Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City has desert views to match its neighbors’ as well as a youthful population and some bargain prices.

Beginnings

The first inhabitants of Cathedral City were the Cahuilla Indians, and about 28% of the city is still leased from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. When Col. Henry Washington of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came through in 1850, he said the area’s canyon formations reminded him of a grand cathedral. The canyon area was christened Cathedral Canyon. Not many people lived there before the 1920s. It became Cathedral City when the city was incorporated in 1981.

Drawing card

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A 90-minute drive from Los Angeles, Cathedral City offers homeowners beautiful desert and canyon views and houses next to the San Jacinto Mountains for under $400,000.

Although the Coachella Valley calls up images of retirees playing golf at tony resorts, Cathedral City resists the stereotype. According to the 2000 U.S. census, Cathedral City’s median age is 32, compared with the national median age of 35.3. Cathedral City is also home to a thriving gay and lesbian population, Mayor Kathleen DeRosa said.

Insider’s viewpoint

For 28 of his 49 years, Councilman Greg Pettis has lived in the Cathedral City Cove -- an enclave of homes surrounded by Cathedral Canyon.

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The beauty of Cathedral City, he said, is that “you can buy a home here, not just dream of owning one.”

Pettis said he had seen the city change from a sleepy small town of 5,000 with “funky” hubcap stores, a drive-in movie theater and a lot of open desert. With a population now about 45,000, Cathedral City’s open land is filling with homes and condos for single professionals and families.

Cathedral City boasts a Big League Dreams Sports Park, miniature golf and an Imax theater, signs of its youthful population, Pettis said.

Housing stock

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The market has been fueled by baby boomers looking to retire and young families buying their first homes, according to Bill Turnbull of Turnbull Realty in Cathedral City.

“For a while, Cathedral City wasn’t Palm Springs or Rancho Mirage and didn’t have their status,” Turnbull said. That changed when boomers from Los Angeles and the Bay Area saw a bargain in Cathedral City real estate, he said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find a home under $300,000.”

Unlike other desert communities, most of Cathedral City’s housing isn’t tucked away behind gates. Most of its tile-roofed, one-story Spanish-style homes were built by small developers or individual owners, starting in the 1950s. Modernist homes, built in the 1950s and ‘60s, round out the housing stock.

Report card

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Cathedral City is part of the Palm Springs Unified School District. According to the 2004 Academic Performance Index, which gives a maximum score of 1,000, four of its five elementary schools scored as follows: Cathedral City Elementary, 635; Sunny Sands Elementary, 737; Aqua Caliente Elementary, 649; and Landau Elementary, 732. Rio Vista Elementary just opened and no scores were available.

Nellie N. Coffman Middle School scored 605; James Workman Middle School, 667. Cathedral City High School scored 594.

Historical values

Residential resales:

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Year...Median Price

1990...$115,000

1995...$87,000

2000...$125,000

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2004...$269,000

2005...$326,500*

*Year to date.

Sources: DataQuick Information Systems, www.cathedralcity.gov/; api.cde.ca.gov/reports.asp; www.realtor.com; Cathedral City Chamber of Commerce, cathedralcitycc.com/index.html; and Turnbull Realty, turnbullgivanteam.com/.

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