It’s been three months since I posted Part I about Cabot Yerxa and his Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs, CA. I finally had the chance to upload the photos I took of the grounds and interior, and since I’m still obsessed with the place and think everyone else should be, I’ll go ahead and share them now.
Built entirely by hand with handmade or found objects and no known blueprints, the pueblo-style building has 150 windows, 65 doors, 30 rooflines, and 35 rooms spread out over 5,000 square feet.
Cabot Yerxa was inspired by Southwestern Indian pueblos ever since he saw a replica of one at the Chicago World’s Fair when he was about 10 years old. He collected pictures and postcards of pueblos and Native American images throughout his life. The Hopi-style “Old Indian Pueblo” was not only a home but a stage for Cabot to educate visitors on Native American art and culture through his lectures and collection of artifacts, as well as personal stories about living with the Inupiat people in Alaska.
Cabot in 1941 by digging out a hillside with a pick and shovel. The pueblo was built into the hillside to insulate against the weather, a common technique found in both sod homes in the Upper Midwest and igloos in Alaska. The Pueblo was built on an East/West axis, and Cabot incorporated vents and shafts throughout the pueblo to optimize air flow.
Much of the material came from abandoned homesteads in the area, and cabins that had housed workers for the nearby Colorado River Aqueduct. Cabot not only dismantled the structures and transported the lumber, he also straightened the nails to use again. Homemade bricks and cement mortar gave the facade of adobe on the ground floor. The rest of the exterior walls were constructed of wood, chicken wire, and plaster.
I can’t neglect to mention Cabot’s intriguing second wife, Portia, who lived with him at the Pueblo. They married in 1945 at the ages of 62 and 61. Portia Fearis Graham had a long career as a public lecturer and private consultant in spirituality and self-help. Plans to open a “metaphysical ranch” with friends brought her to the Desert Hot Springs area. Cabot and Portia shared an interest in Theosophy, a spiritual movement that influenced groundbreaking abstract artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian.
Cabot died at the Pueblo in 1965; Portia left Desert Hot Springs and died four years later. After years of neglect and vandalism, a man named Carl Eyraud saved the property from demolition. He restored the Pueblo and reopened it as a museum in 1970, giving tours and lectures as Cabot had done and living there with his family. The Eyraud family deeded the Pueblo to the city of Desert Hot Springs. In 2012 Cabot’s Pueblo Museum was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Special thanks to the Cabot’s Museum Foundation for the opportunity to photograph inside the Pueblo, and share the story of this one-of-a-kind artist, writer, builder, human rights activist, and adventurer, Cabot Yerxa.