Wonder Women of the Coachella Valley

Zaddie Bunker

Women With Vision
Palm Springs Life

Zaddie Bunker (1886-1969) came to Palm Springs in 1914 with her husband. They studied auto mechanics from handbooks and opened Bunker’s Garage, which they constructed out of sheet iron. Keenly aware of the growing influx of tourists, Zaddie and her husband bought additional property and built the Bunker Cottages.

Zaddie’s husband did not share her vision and eventually left her. Undaunted, she continued to run the garage as a skilled mechanic and became one of the village’s most successful entrepreneurs and wealthiest landowners.

Zaddie became the first female holder of a chauffeur’s license in California and started a transport service, bringing mail and passengers from the train station at the far north end of the village into the center of town. Her two sisters, Henrietta and Lillian, subsequently joined her in her entrepreneurial endeavors. Henrietta opened a hotel on North Palm Canyon Drive, and Zaddie and Lillian bought property across the street from Bunker’s Garage (the current location of Desert Fashion Plaza) and built the first movie house.

The sisters continued to buy property and build theaters. During the 1940s and ’50s, they leased most of the downtown block to the famous Chi Chi nightclub.

In 1946, at age 60, Zaddie started taking flight instructions in San Bernardino, received her multiengine rating at age 63, and made her first solo flight at age 66. At 73, she passed the strenuous physical for Air Force jet pilots and became an honorary Air Force colonel. She piloted an F-100 Super Sabre jet and became one of the first women to break the sound barrier. At age 76, she won a cross-country airplane race from Dateland, Ariz., to El Centro, Calif., beating five male pilots. In her 80s, she applied for the Apollo moon flight. Although she wasn’t given permission to participate, she was allowed to spend some time in the space capsule simulator.

Jacqueline Cochran

Jacqueline Cochran (1910-1980) rose from childhood poverty to become an aviation pioneer. She was the first woman to fly in the Bendix Trophy Transcontinental Race in 1935, winning it in 1938, and was the first woman to ferry a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean in support of the war effort in 1941. By 1961, she had become the first woman to break the sound barrier and held more speed records than any other pilot in the world. She passed in Indio in 1980.