To say the least, Howard and Ellen LOVED Joshua Tree. They started coming to Morongo Basin in the early 60’s and purchased 5 acres ON 29 palm highway. It was their vacation cabin. It was located across from the Yucca Valley airport, at about the same place that Walmart is now located. Howard designed the square house – one bathroom and the rest of the house was an open area with a kitchen area, living room and an alcove with a bed. The design was based roughly on Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence – it had a high peak on the front and lots of glass. Similar to the design of the house in Joshua Tree. Howard, Ellen and Jerry would take the 2 hour drive from Claremont many weekends to spend time in the High Desert (about 3,200′ altitude – much above Palm Springs – which is at or below sea level).
Around 1966 CMC college decided to build a stadium on the track across from the Pierce’s home in Claremont. This was going to kill the view of Mt. Baldy and the hills. Along with the ever increasing smog in the LA basin, Howard and Ellen decided to move to the High Desert. They had found a 20 acre piece of land on the south side of Joshua Tree. No one could ever block their view! It backed onto a 1 square acre of land that was unoccupied and was adjacent to the Joshua Tree Monument (that became the Joshua Tree National Park).
So they had a road built up to the second-best pad for a house. There was a better pad up higher, but Howard wanted to save it for a future building (never happened). They created two pads for a house and a studio. Howard designed the two homes – the studio was designed to be converted into a one bedroom apartment if they wanted in the future. The house was brick and very small with a two car garage. The important part was the full glass windows that gave them the view!
Over time, the view became almost second to the importance of the “pad” in front of the house where all the animals came to visit. Quail visited every morning and they would bring their batch of babies. One day there would be 20 babies, then next day 18, the next day 15 … you get the drift. It was nature! Chipmunks would eat out of a hand (peanuts). Roadrunners would also “beg” for food – balls of ground beef. They would tap on the windows with their beak to get our attention and get fed. Ground Squirrels were considered to be “Hoover” (vacuum cleaner) as they took the bird feed and away it would go. Ellen hated them. Bunnies would appear as well.
We also had coyotes – sometime multiple ones – come visit (and howl at night). We fed them dog food.
But the pad came alive at night as well – fox and skunks could be seen. The Pierces loved the animals and they were always an inspiration for art.
As I find pictures / more stories, I’ll add them here. There was a question in the Facebook Group that asked about the current status of Howard’s larger pieces and that was the inspiration for this page.
Below are some photos I took in 2019 when I was in Joshua Tree for our 50th High School reunion – Yucca Valley High School. Many of his pieces are still around the area. I didn’t get to all of them, but most…
View from Prescott Trail looking up at the main house (on the right) and the studio (left). You can see “Pete” the roadrunner silhouetted to the left of the studio.
Howard’s studio with Pete.
The Family has become a symbol for High Desert Memorial Hospital in Joshua Tree. Ellen spent many days as a “pink lady” volunteer in the shop.
Also at High Desert Memorial Hospital in Joshua Tree. Made from concrete over a wood frame.
Howard and Ellen were big supporters of the Junior College in Joshua Tree. They made some contributions, but they didn’t have lots of money, so they contributed functional art. Howard made the sign for the campus.
At CMC entry.
In a courtyard of the CMC campus
Myrtle originally was a parade float for Yucca Valley celebration. During that celebration Joshua Tree held turtle races (a big circle – I remember it being 60′ in diameter with an inner ring for turtles that were marked with numbers painted on their backs). It was a different time.
Howard did not do the first design of Myrtle, but he did re-work and made it into a much more realistic version of a turtle. It was delivered to its current resting place in front of the Joshua Tree sign on 29 Palms Highway.
This was given to the Elementary school down the hill from Howard’s house.
At the High Desert Memorial Park Howard gifted the quail.
Howard and Ellen’s final resting place in High Desert Memorial Park.