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Montage at Mission Hills—A Brief History of the Development and Area

(Special thanks to Mario J. Gonzales, GHA Properties, and Tom Tousignant, resident since 2004, for information and accounts used in the development of this history)

The Original Residents

The Cahuilla Indians — who lived throughout the area for over 2,000 years — were the original inhabitants of the Cathedral City area and the area now known as Coachella Valley. Members of the Shoshone tribe, the Cahuilla Indians were industrious farmers, hunting local wildlife like deer and sheep when necessary to fulfill tribal needs. In 1876, the Agua Caliente Band, descendants of the Cahuilla tribe, established a 52,000-acre reservation, which encompasses 28 percent of the Cathedral City area. The first Spaniards were thought to appear in the area in 1772, with the first settlers planting roots in approximately 1821. In 1850, Colonel Henry Washington of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discovered that the area’s canyons resembled the interior of a grand cathedral, and he named this canyon of majestic beauty Cathedral Canyon.

Early Land History 1876 to 1950

The history of Montage at Mission Hills is interestingly tied to land ownership history in the western Coachella Valley and the unique patterns of land ownership and residential development here. The development of Montage at Mission Hills was made possible by the convergence of a unique set of legal, legislative, economic, lifestyle, and real estate trends in the 50s and early 70s.

The story begins on May 15, 1876, when Section 14 and a portion of Section 22 (Tahquitz Canyon in Palm Springs) were set aside by Executive Order of President Ulysses S. Grant as the original Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. The parcels were remnants in the checkerboard pattern of land ownership that had been created by the government. The checkerboard pattern of land ownership was first established when the U.S. Government gave the odd-numbered sections of 640 acres each to the Southern Pacific railroad in the early 1870s as an incentive to build a cross-country rail line. The even-numbered section parcels in the east valley were retained by the Government and eventually became part of the Agua Caliente Reservation.

In January 1891, the U.S. Congress passed the Mission Indian Relief Act, authorizing allotments of larger section parcels to individual tribal members of the tribe from the acreage comprising the Reservation. Then the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation was expanded in 1896 to incorporate government-owned even number sections in what is now Palm Springs and Cathedral City. The expanded reservation included about 31,610 acres in the checkerboard pattern of land ownerships that Palm Springs and Cathedral City residents are very familiar with. Montage at Mission Hills is located in Section 34, an even-numbered parcel that became part of the Agua Caliente Reservation.


From the mid-1890s, more than 60 years passed before the allotment elections for the Agua Caliente Reservation were finally approved by the Secretary of the Interior. Congress passed Public Law No. 255 in August 1955, which allowed for leases of 50 years. On September 21, 1959, Congress approved The Equalization Act which finalized the individual Indian allotments and opened the way for Indians to realize the economic value of their lands via sale and long-term lease of property.

The land on which Montage at Mission Hills was built was once a part of an Indian-owned parcel. The story of Golden Checkerboard (1965) is told in a book by local author Ed Ainsworth about the Agua Caliente Reservation lands. Its subject matter concerns the mid-20th century economic conditions of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of Palm Springs and the history of the 99-year lease law which enabled Indians to commercially develop tribal-owned lands. Unfortunately, these laws gave rise to an infamous Indian land conservatorship program which fostered corruption and graft in the valley.

This program became the subject of a series of Pulitzer Prize (1968) winning Riverside Press-Enterprise articles written by journalist George Ringwald which exposed instances of excessive fees, fee-splitting, and other types of questionable conduct within the conservatorship program. The program was officially ended in 1968 after the Secretary of the Interior’s Palm Springs Task Force similarly exposed it as fraudulent and corrupt and full control of the Reservation Lands was returned to the Indians. With ownership clarified, the development of Reservation Allotments became more feasible.

Cathedral City’s history as a fledgling community began in 1925 when four enterprising land developers (George Allen, M.V. Van Fleet, Glenn Plumley, and Jack Grove) formed a partnership and purchased 320 acres of desert land from the Southern Pacific Railroad. That same year, they submitted their first subdivision map. Less than six months later, in January of 1926, Cathedral City (a name chosen to reflect Colonel Washington’s original observation) was born when the first lots were sold.

The Country Club Period 1953 to 1972

In Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Palm Desert began to develop in the 1950s and 1960s fueled by the relatively low cost of land and the proximity to Hollywood studios which were within a two-hour drive, making it a new playground for members of the entertainment industry. The resolution of Indian land ownership rights added to the inventory of available development land.

While land in the eastern part of the valley was being developed, the approximately 43-acre property in the northeast portion of Section 34, Township 4 South, Range 5 East, in Riverside County (Now Tract 29771) where Montage at Mission Hills is located was historically a leasehold within the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. The land remained vacant except for some intermittent agricultural uses including a date palm grove. The land is thought to have been owned by some of the same seven Indian families who owned the property on which the Mission Hills Country Club was developed.

Mission Hills Country Club Development 1973 to Today

 In 1968 Tulsa, Oklahoma businessman Max Genet relocated to the Palm Springs area. An avid golfer, he saw the possibility for the creation of a world-class golf club and recruited a group of seven friends and investors from the Midwest with a similar interest in golf and convinced them to invest in a new project. The partners acquired rights to develop portions of the Aqua Caliente leaseholds located in Section 26 and Section 34 for the development of a new golf course community to be known as Mission Hills Country Club. The development had been made possible by the passage of The Equalization Act federal legislation in the 1959 provisions which allowed the Indian owners to grant long-term lease agreements on their reservation lands.

The Genet proposal was initially planned to be part of Cathedral City and was promoted as “the largest country club development in the world” at a cost of $50M. The development came at the end of what has been called the “Country Club” construction era (1953–1973) in the Coachella Valley. That period saw the development of the first seven country clubs in the Valley including close-by Montage neighbors, the Thunderbird County Club, and Tamarisk Country Club. These clubs were made famous by their Hollywood star investors like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and the Marx Brothers, among others.

Genet hired Desmond Muirhead-Gene Sarazen Consulting Co. of Newport Beach to plan the development. Golf Digest Magazine described Muirhead as “the most innovative golf course designer in 100 years” and he was called the “father of private golf club communities” by Executive Golfer Magazine. Over his career, Muirhead would design courses and golf communities with Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Nick Faldo. The Muirhead-Gene Sarazen design team planned the 624-acre Mission Hills Country Club which originally included two golf courses, 45 acres of lakes connected by streams and waterfalls, a clubhouse, eight tennis courts, saunas, an Olympic-size swimming pool, therapeutic pools, and a cottage hotel for members’ guests. Montage at Mission Hills residents enjoy many of these amenities today as part of their Mission Hills Country Club social membership that comes with homeownership.

Originally Mission Hills was planned to include 1,200 condominium units, supplemented by 165 executive homes organized into condominium villages rather than aligned to the golf course fairways. The plan did not include the Montage at Mission Hills site, perhaps because it was separated from the main Mission Hills Country Club site by major roadways and the design goal of the Mission Hills Country Club layout was to minimize the number of times a golfer would need to cross a local roadway, and they did not want to have to cross major roadways.

The first phase of the plan was completed in1973 and was comprised of units located in the southwest corner of Mission Hills property immediately across the intersection from Montage. The Mission Hills CC first access was from 36th Avenue, now Gerald Ford Drive. Subsequent phases of developments were completed by different developers and architects over the years as was Genet’s plan. Prominent local developer John Wessman and Wessman Development later became involved in the development of phases of the Mission Hills Country Club and had secured the leasehold rights to develop the property at the southwest corner of what is now Gerald Ford Drive and Da Vall Drive—the land that would become the Montage at Mission Hills parcel.

Montage Development 2000 to 2005

Mario Gonzalez, Developer of Montage and Neighboring Aldea

“The Montage property sat vacant for many, many years and I thought it was a great piece of land in a great location. It was a poorly taken care of date field” according to Mario J. Gonzales, President of GHA properties. I knew that John Wessman was the owner of the leases on the land. It had been a leased piece of property that was a part of the Mission Hills Development that was parceled off.” “Our company had been developing properties along the Gerald Ford Drive corridor having built Aldea and Aldea the Vistas developments just west of this site. We had great success with both projects and wanted to continue the momentum of building good, solid homes in a great location.”

John Wessman, Second owner of Montage Parcel and joint developer with GHA

As Gonzalez tells the story, he negotiated with Wessman to purchase the property but Wessman was not willing to sell. Wessman was, however, willing to Joint Venture. GHA bought the existing property lease development rights and then bought the Leasehold itself from the Indian owners to be able to convert the Montage Site to fee land. The Ford Duvall Group LLC formalized the relationship between Gonzales and Wessman along with associate Dan Starkey in April 2000 and planning on Montage at Mission Hills continued.

“As the property had been a piece of the Mission Hills Country Club, but planned to be developed separately, I felt it made sense to tie this property to the Mission Hills Brand.” GHA and Wessman were able to negotiate “an extension” with Mission Hills Country Club in December 2000, which included a Social and Fitness membership to the country club to be paid for within the new Montage at Mission Hills HOA dues structure. “This (benefit) was very well received (by buyers) and allowed us to position Montage at Mission Hills as being on the Gerald Ford Corridor and not Cathedral City, for marketing purposes.” When we started selling our homes, the homes were more valuable than Palm Desert and we offered a unique product with all the desired bells and whistles at a tremendous value.

The City approval process for the development went smoothly Gonzalez explained. “I have been developing homes and apartments in Cathedral City since the early 1980s and earned credibility with city staff and city officials as we moved down Gerald Ford completing prior developments. In doing so, we set new standards in quality, which was a big plus for our reputation. The most difficult part of the development process was buying the land to convert it from lease to fee.”

GHA’s planning and design intent for Montage was “to create something different, fresh, edgy…a unique property where folks had a choice of architectural styles.” A “MONTAGE OF HOMES.” He felt the iconic location was deserving of developing the best property in Cathedral City proper. “I literally designed the Community Site Plan on my dining room table in Cathedral City, took the concept and refined it with my engineers to what it is today,” said Gonzales.

“When it came to designing, I spend a lot of time studying architecture. I love the design and details. I was at a builder convention and met representatives from Danielian Architects and then later visited some of their work. I liked their culture and their people and challenged them to do what you have today.

“Some of the other key consultants on the project included local firms MSA Consulting and Ron Gregory Landscape Design. GHA hired Interior designers, marketing firms as well as a very top-notch color scheme consultant from Orange County to work along with Danielian Architects, also an Orange County Firm.

Originally named the Artesian Collection at Mission Hills, the development became known as Montage at Mission Hills. The planned-use development consists of 128 lots up to a quarter acre in size on streets named after renowned artists (Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Monet, Chagall, and Dali). The homes feature three-to-five bedrooms and are built in three exterior architecture styles: Italianate, Tuscan, and Contemporary. There are four interior floor plans and sizes for each architectural style. The plans were depicted in the original Montage at Mission Hills Sales Brochure.

Home construction was completed between 2002 and 2004. Sales prices ranged from $350,00 to $625,000 at the time of construction of the first phase depending on unit size, finishes, and exterior amenities. Sales were reportedly brisk from the delivery of the first homes with many properties being purchased as investment properties and second homes during the booming housing market at the beginning of the millennium.

The Montage at Mission Hills Homeowners Association Articles of Incorporation was executed in May 2001 and was fully recognized by the California Secretary of State in February 2002. Tract Map 29771 was filed with the Riverside County Assessor’s Office in January 2002 containing two parts—one of 52 lots and the second of one of 76 lots. The original Covenant, Conditions, Restrictions (CC&Rs) were approved in May 2001. Construction began in early 2002. The first unit was sold in the summer of 2002. Development began along Matisse Road, Dali Drive, Picasso Court, Van Gogh Road, and Monet Court. The second phase of development began in spring 2003 and continued along Van Gogh Road south to Artisan Way, Da Vinci Drive, Chagall Court, and Matisse Road. The last unit sold was on Matisse Road and closed in August 2004.

Montage HOA Governance and Organizational History

The first meeting of the Montage at Mission Hills Homeowners Association was held March 3, 2003, at the Mission Hills Tennis Club. Al Chavez was the elected President of the Association and was the first officer elected. On February 24, 2004, the second meeting of the Association was held at the Mission Hills Tennis Club, and Frank Mitchell was elected Vice President and Pamela Price was elected Treasurer.

In 2005 the second group of Board of Directors was elected including Lars Hansen, Frank Mitchell, and Tom Tousignant; and the Association Membership voted to expand the number of Board Members from three to five members. In July 2005, Jerry Stamper and Skip Sanchez were appointed by the sitting Board through a self-nomination process and Board review of credentials. John Finkler was the first chair of the Architectural and Landscape Committee that also included Irene Hartzell and Donna Tousignant. Skip Sanchez was the first Chair of the Neighborhood Watch Committee. The first property manager was Dayton Dickey of Personalized Property Management.

Al and Erma Chavez were the first to purchase a home in Montage on July 25, 2002. That home is located at 36171 Dali Drive. Al Chavez was appointed as Homeowner Representative to the Developer’s Board of Directors in early 2003. The first meeting of the Montage at Mission Hills Homeowners Association was held March 3, 2003, at the Mission Hills Tennis Club. The first budget available in the Montage financial records was for 2004. It was prepared by Personalized Property Management. On February 24, 2004, the second meeting of the Association was held at the Mission Hills Tennis Club. Following the last home sale in August 2004 the Developer appointed Judge Franklin Mitchell and Pam Price to serve with Al Chavez as the first Homeowner’s Board of Directors.

A meeting was held on September 3, 2004, at the home of Elizabeth and Loren Dreyfuss by 26 concerned homeowners to develop mechanisms to improve communications between homeowners, the Board of Directors, and Personalized Property Management. A list of concerns and recommendations was presented to the Board and PPM.

As a result of the concerns the original Community Manager, Tony Marinino, was replaced by Dayton Dickey. Following the installation of a new community manager, the Board began holding open bi-monthly Board meetings at Mission Hills Country Club. Three different landscape contractors were briefly tried to improve common area maintenance. The second Annual Homeowners Meeting was held on March 20, 2004.

Tom Tousignant was elected to replace Pam Price on the Board at the 2004 Annual Homeowners Meeting. As Treasurer Tom was able to recover approximately $12,000 from GHA and PPM in overpaid expenses since the accounting record began in September 2002. In November 2004 a contribution of $20,000 was made by GHA to initiate the Reserve Account for Montage. The first financial review of the Montage Books was conducted by a professional Certified Public Accountant as of December 31, 2004.

In 2005, the second Board of Directors was elected including Lars Hansen, Frank Mitchell, and Tom Tousignant and the Association membership voted to expand the number of Board Members from three to five members. The first Board minutes were prepared by Tom Tousignant for the March 10, 2005 meeting. The first Board agenda was prepared for the April 2005 Board meeting by Dayton Dickey.

In July 2005, Jerry Stamper and Skip Sanchez were appointed by the Board to fill the newly created positions through a self-nomination process and Board review of credentials. John Finkler was the first chair of the Architectural and Landscape Committee that also included Irene Hartzell and Donna Tousignant. Skip Sanchez was the first Chair of the Neighborhood Watch Committee. STC Reserve Consultants prepared the first reserve study in July 2005 for the 2005 budget year.

The first Montage at Mission Hills Homeowners Association Newsletter (Volume 1, Number 1) was first published in May 2004. The first Montage at Mission Hills Homeowners Association Directory of all residents was first published in 2004. The Association Message Board at the Corner of Da Vinci Drive and Van Gogh Road was installed In December 2007. The Board is the location for the posting of all Official/Legal Board and Committee meeting notices and Association announcements.

The Association’s first website was provided by Personalized Property Management and was developed between November 2007 and April 2008. Publishing of the website was fully assumed by the Association in January 2010 to add control, timeliness, functionality, and save on costs. Bill Lewis was the first Association Webmaster. The website design was updated and expanded from six pages to 64 pages in March 2016 by new webmaster Scott Reese, Board President Curt Beyer, and Board Member Tom Tousignant. 

Also In 2016 Montage was honored to receive recognition in The Quorum Community Spotlight with a cover feature in Community Associations Institute, Coachella Valley Chapter two-time award-winning magazine.

In January 2018, the Board of Directors, with the help of the Riverside County Courts, was successful after a four-year effort in updating the Montage at Mission Hills Homeowners Association Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions having previously passed the approval of changes to the Rules and Regulations and Board Bylaws in 2017. The Association petitioned the Court for approval of the CC&Rs when three earlier efforts to gain approval were not successful in securing enough votes to meet the super-majority voting requirements of the previous CC&Rs. The final effort to gain approval was lead by Board President Nick Nickerson, Alan Horowitz, Leo Schlesinger, Tom Tousignant, and Gary Roman. The new CC&Rs removed sections that retained to the original developer managed HOA at the time of construction of Montage in 2001 and brought the governing documents up to current HOA standards for such documents as prescribed by law and operational necessity.

In 2019 Montage released its newsletter in a new format, color and design.  Called the Artisan, after the original name name of the development (The Artisan Collection) the newsletter featured an increased number of  reports by Board and Committee members as well articles to help residents with the maintenance and upkeep of their homes.

In March 2020 in response to the nation-wide Covid-19 pandemic, the Association adopted new practices and operational procedures supporting the virtualization of Board meetings.  From that point forward the annual General Membership Meeting, Board regular meetings and some committee meetings began to be streamed online using the Zoom platform. The move to virtual meeting improved absent Boardmember attendance and increased the participation by committee members and owners wishing comment on Board or personal matters.  The Zoom platform also allows members to participate by phone, an option never before available.

In July 2021 the Association received the prestigious Medallion Award from the Coachella Valley Chapter of the Community Associations Institute recognizing the Boards’ achievements in implementing 72 industry-standard best management and operations practices in the areas of governing documents, policy development, meetings and committees, legal, elections, record keeping, board education, insurance, financials, sales and resales, contracts, reserves, architectural control, maintenance, communications and building community. Medallion communities are recognized as preferred places to live in comparison to other Coachella Valley communities and represent the Board’s efforts to preserve and protect property values.

Also In October 2021 Montage was again honored to receive recognition in The Quorum Community Spotlight with a cover feature in Community Associations Institute, Coachella Valley Chapter.

Help us document our history

If you are a Montage Resident and have any additional historical information or pictures related to the initial planning, construction or early days of Montage at Mission Hills please forward them along to the webmaster at


The Developers and Builders

About GHA Properties

GHA Properties is one of the largest privately-owned homebuilding companies in the Coachella Valley. The company has been in existence for three decades developing a myriad of residential, custom and commercial projects. GHA Companies has been recognized with dozens of accolades, including the BIA Builder of the Year Award, best overall projects from The National Association of Home Builders, Gold Nugget Awards, and Builder’s Choice Awards.GHA Companies received the Pacific Coast Builders Conference 2020 Gold Nugget Award for ‘Residential Detached Collection of the Year’. The award recognizes how design, planning, and development improve local communities. Recently GHA Companies acted as the primary builder for Habitat for Humanity, having donated labor as well as materials for the construction of dozens of homes throughout the Coachella Valley.

“These recognitions are certainly it is a testimony to my team and our culture of developing quality communities,” Gonzales says. “And one thing that I think we do very well is we pay attention to detail. I think that we had a really good understanding of what the market was looking for, and I think we’ve successfully produced that. So that was very rewarding.”  For more information about GHA Properties’ current development projects Click Here.

About Wessman Development Company

Founded in 1968, Wessman Development is one of Coachella Valley’s most successful development companies specializing in commercial, residential, and mixed-use projects. Headquartered in Palm Springs the company is engaged in the development and management of shopping centers, restaurants, offices, medical centers, industrial buildings and apartment complexes. The company is currently involved in extensive mixed-use redevelopment projects in Palm Springs and several housing projects throughout the Coachella Valley. The company changed its name to Grit Development in 2017