The Old Hollywood Homes of Palm Springs
Located just over 100 miles from Los Angeles, Palm Springs has gone hand in hand with Hollywood for the better part of a century. It has been synonymous with the “playground of the stars” for decades. Replete with its wonderful climate for outdoor activities, such as golf and tennis.
Some of the stars that spent a considerable amount of time in Palm Springs and the surrounding area include Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. We’ll cover all of these and many more in this article.
A Brief History of Palm Springs
Although the first movie was filmed in 1915, it is six years earlier that the story should really begin. This is because 1909 was the year that a woman by the name of Nellie Coffman opened the Desert Inn.
Coffman’s vision was to open an oasis in the desert for people to come on holiday. With only $2,000 she realized her dream by building fabric-covered, wood-framed buildings called “tent houses.” When it opened it was only 75 feet long on Main Street (now Palm Canyon Drive) and went only 290 feet west toward the mountain.
In the 1920’s as the inn grew in popularity with Hollywood, the tents were replaced with Spanish-style buildings. In 1915 the Oliver Morosco Photoplay Company shot the movie, Peer Gynt, in Palm Springs. It was an ideal filming location with its desert as well as mountain terrain.
Hollywood Comes Calling
It wasn’t long until bigger productions were filming here as well, such as Salome (1918) starring Theda Bara and The Sheik (1921) with Rudolph Valentino. Of course, all of the stars and the rest of the production stayed at The Desert Inn, since it was the only game in town with its monopoly on the hospitality industry at the time. Nellie’s son George Robertson:
“IT WAS SUCH FUN TO SEE THE MOVIE PEOPLE JOIN IN THE SQUARE DANCES AT THE DESERT INN. THERE WERE SHEIKS, HAREM GIRLS, AND COWBOYS ALL DANCING AND MUNCHING ON DESERT INN FRIED CHICKEN.”
One of the early stars to put down roots in Palm Springs was Clara Bow and her husband, Rex Bell. Another star from silent movies, William Powell of The Thin Man fame, eventually bought property here in 1941. He first came to Palm Springs in 1925 to shoot the movie Desert Gold and hated the place.
“I’LL NEVER FORGET MY FIRST REACTION TO PALM SPRINGS. THERE WAS ALL THIS SAND AND NO PLACE TO GO EXCEPT THE DESERT INN. I REMEMBER THINKING, ‘HOW CAN ANYONE VOLUNTARILY COME HERE TO LIVE? NOW, THIS MANY YEARS LATER, I WONDER, HOW CAN ANYONE EVER LEAVE?’”
– William Powell
The El Mirador Hotel
In the late 1920’s another hotel opened, the El Mirador Hotel. This hotel would help catapult Palm Springs into the national consciousness.
Frank Bogert, a recent UCLA graduate moved to Palm Springs in 1927. Although he started by giving horseback rides to hotel guests at The Desert Inn for $1, he soon would go to work at the El Mirador Hotel as their publicist.
Bogert and another employee named Tony Burke would take pictures of the stars that stayed at the hotel (including Claudette Colbert and Mary Astor), sending them to various publications as well as movie studios. These pictures would be seen by millions as they appeared in newspapers as well as newsreels at movie theaters around the nation.
In the years that followed, Burke would go on to become a major player in Palm Springs real estate. Bogert on the other hand would eventually manage the El Mirador Hotel in the mid-1950’s. Shortly thereafter becoming Mayor of Palm Springs from 1958 to 1966 and again from 1982 to 1988.
In the late 1950’s, Ray Ryan was a successful Texas oil tycoon who had bought full ownership of the El Mirador. Prior to that, Ryan had been a minor stakeholder in the hotel. Ryan eventually developed the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club. As well as the Bermuda Dunes Country Club.
The former consisted of a 400-boat marina, while the latter included a golf course, clubhouse, and a fairway housing development. Ryan promoted these properties aggressively. This would allow him to hobnob with many of the biggest Hollywood celebrities of the day.
As the years went by, Palm Springs evolved. In the 1960’s The Desert Inn was torn down and replaced with a shopping mall, The Desert Inn Fashion Plaza. In 1972, the El Mirador Hotel would be transformed into a hospital. None of this had much of an impact on the stars of Palm Springs.
The Stars of Palm Springs
Bob Hope first came to Palm Springs in 1937 when he and his wife, Dolores, decided to take a vacation, staying at El Mirador Hotel. They loved it and in 1941 bought their first house there. 5 years later they bought a second house. This latter house was in what was called the Movie Colony.
The Movie Colony was a neighborhood with properties owned by stars including Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, and Frank Sinatra. The Hopes continued to accumulate real estate in the area in and around Palm Springs, which had an estimated value of over $50,000,000 at the time of Hope’s death.
The most famous property that Hope owned is 2466 Southridge Drive in Palm Springs, which was built in 1979. The ultra-modern house, which resembles a spaceship, is over 23,600 square feet and was designed by architect John Lautner, a student of the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright.
The grounds of this extravagant ten bedroom mansion contained a tennis court, putting greens, and a swimming pool. The Hopes would often throw elaborate parties for Christmas and Easter at the house.
These parties were the most sought-after invitation in town and would attract guests including Kirk and Anne Douglas. The players in the Bob Hope Desert Classic golf tournament would attend the party as well. This included Presidents Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush.
The house was sold in 2016 to billionaire Ron Burkle for $15,000,00. Burkle bought the property and saw it as “a good opportunity to save the house.” After the purchase he had tried, but failed, to landmark the property. Burkle’s plans were to restore the house and build “four to six other homes” on the grounds.
Hope was heavily involved in the Palm Springs community, especially in philanthropic endeavors. In 1968, Hope donated 80 acres of land, then valued at nearly $1 million. This was to build the Eisenhower Medical Center, which his wife, Dolores, was the Chairman of the Board.
Robert Alexander was a renowned home builder in Palm Springs. His personal home was dubbed the “House of Tomorrow” and was featured in Look Magazine. In 1965 he and his wife were tragically killed in a plane crash.
Shortly thereafter Elvis Presley rented Alexander’s futuristic home for the sum of $21,000 a year. Located at 1350 Ladera Circle, the house is 5,500 square feet. The house has recently been restored to its original 1960’s glory. Some of the features of the house include a 64-foot long couch, a swimming pool, and an ultra-modern fireplace.
Elvis intended to get married in the house. However, when the press got wind of this, he headed to Las Vegas, getting married there instead. In May 1967, Elvis borrowed Frank Sinatra’s private jet, returning from Las Vegas with his new bride Priscilla in tow.
In 1970, Elvis purchased a house in Palm Springs that had previously been owned by Ray Kroc, the franchisor of McDonald’s. Located at 845 W Chino Canyon Rd, the property sits on the Chino Canyon Overlook Trail. Elvis paid Kroc $105,000 for the house.
Dubbed “Graceland West”, the Presley’s lived there for several months a year. After his divorce in 1973, Elvis added another 2,000 square feet to the home. This included a new bedroom, and an entertainment suite he called “The Jungle Room.” In 1981, Frankie Valli would purchase this house, selling it 4 years later for $500,000.
In 1949 actress Marilyn Monroe was discovered by Hollywood agent Johnny Hyde at the Racquet Club in Palm Springs. In the 1950’s she spent time in the city with her then-husband, New York Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio.
In the early 1960’s, Monroe lived in a home in the Las Palmas neighborhood. The house was located at 1326 Rose Ave. The Spanish-style home is over 2,900 square feet, and has four bedrooms.
Originally built in 1955, 1069 E Marshall Way, was first owned by Charles Howard and his wife, screen actress Andrea Leeds. Howard’s father had owned the championship racehorse Seabiscuit. Douglas bought the house in the late 1950’s and sold it in 1999.
The 4,000 square foot ranch home has 5 bedrooms and 8 bathrooms. The exterior features landscaped grounds including various patios, a garden atrium, a K-shaped saltwater swimming pool, and a tennis court.
The Douglas home was also used as a location set for the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, starring Sean Connery and Jill St. John. Specifically, for the pool side scenes at “Tiffany Case’s” house in Las Vegas. This house is available for rent at an average price of $750 per night.
Like his friend Bob Hope, Bing Crosby owned several properties around Palm Springs, including a decadent 1950s trailer park. On the opposite end of the spectrum was Crosby’s home on 70375 Calico Road.
The 6,700 square foot house sits on over an acre of land and has a modern design with a Morrocan theme. Built in 1957, the home was designed to entertain many famous guests that would come into town.
A couple of the famous guests to stay in the house were John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, who allegedly had a tryst here on March 24, 1962. Crosby sold the home shortly after, moving to nearby Palm Desert.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had been visiting the Palm Springs area for many years prior to purchasing property there.
In the early 1950s, Arnaz won a piece of land near the 17th fairway of the Thunderbird Country Club in a poker game. The couple decided to build a home on the property. In 1957, after it was completed Arnaz applied to become a member of the Thunderbird Country Club but was denied admission because he was Hispanic.
Becuase of this slight, Arnaz and Ball bought land in nearby Indian Wells. They then opened the Indian Wells Country Club and Resort Hotel, which discriminated against no one and was the home of the Bob Hope Desert Classic.
They also purchased a house nearby. This 2,400 square foot 3 bedroom property can now be rented for $500 a night.
Dean Martin bought a home in the Little Tuscany (where else?) area of Palm Springs. Built in 1954, this 2,300 square foot home located at 447 West Mariscal Road was acquired by Martin in the early 1960s. Dubbed “The Tea Dance House” by the homes original owner, the house was home to tea dances that Martin would attend on Sunday afternoons.
The 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom home still contains Martin’s personal white piano. Barry Manilow wrote a song on this piano while visiting with Martin. Manilow showed up at the home many years later to find the sheet music was still present in the piano stool, which the new owners didn’t even know could be opened.
Taylor owned this house located in the upscale neighborhood of Las Palmas from 2004 until her death in 2011.
The house dubbed “Casa Elizabeth” contains 4 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, is available for rent and prices range from $560 to $1250 a night depending on the time of year. Other features of the house include a fireplace, pool, and spa.
In 1954, cinema icon and Hitchcock regular Cary Grant bought a home in the Movie Colony, which he owned until it was sold in 1972.
928 N. Avenida Palmas was built in the year 1930 and designed by John Byers in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. Built by Dr. Jacob John Kocher, the 6,000-square-foot, 6 bedroom, and 6 bathroom residence is a detailed replica of a 19th-century Spanish farmhouse.
Visitors to the home included such stars as Sophia Loren, Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Clark Gable, and Alfred Hitchcock.
Frank Sinatra first lived at 1148 East Alejo Road. In 1948 he hired architect E. Stewart Williams to design the house. Williams convinced Sinatra to allow him to do so in a modern style. The 4,500 square foot, 4 bedroom, 6.5 bathroom house was dubbed Twin Palms.
Williams designed the pool in the shape of a piano, and when the sun hits the openings in the veranda at the right angle, the shadows form piano keys on the pool sidewalk.
The house also contains Sinatra’s personal Valentino stereo system that Capitol Records presented to Sinatra back in the day. It could record onto vinyl, and also transmit recordings back to the recording studios in Hollywood.
Sinatra lived here with his first wife Nancy Barbato, and his second, to Ava Gardner.
“IT WAS THE SITE OF PROBABLY THE MOST SPECTACULAR FIGHT OF OUR YOUNG MARRIED LIFE, AND, HONEY, DON’T THINK I DON’T KNOW THAT’S REALLY SAYING SOMETHING…”
– AVA GARDNER
In 1955 Sinatra threw a bottle of champagne at Ava Gardner who ducked out of the way. The bottle crashed into the sink in the master bathroom, cracking it (the crack is still there).
Sinatra owned the house until 1957. He sold it to buy a much larger property dubbed “The Compound”. Located 15 miles from downtown Palm Springs in Rancho Mirage, 70588 Frank Sinatra Drive, the walled property sits on the 17th fairway of the Tamarisk Country Club.
The guest quarters are as large as Twin Palms alone, and the main house is 8,000 square feet on 2 and a half acres. Many Hollywood stars stayed in the 9 guest bedrooms of the home: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rosalind Russell, Yul Brynner, Milton Berle, and Ronald Reagan.
Besides Reagan, another future President stayed there as well. In 1960 John F. Kennedy spent two days at Frank’s place sleeping in one of the guest rooms of the main house. Sinatra, a Democrat, supported Kennedy vigorously in the election, even recording a song from the campaign.
In 1962, Kennedy was supposed to stay at Sinatra’s home but at the last minute those plans changed and the President stayed at Bing Crosby’s home instead (see above). The official story that Sinatra was told was that the Secret Service thought his property wasn’t secure enough for the President to stay there.
“THAT’S THE EXCUSE WE USED — SECURITY — AND WE BLAMED IT ALL ON THE SECRET SERVICE. WE’D WORKED IT OUT BEFOREHAND, BUT FRANK DIDN’T BUY THAT FOR A MINUTE, AND, WITH A COUPLE OF EXCEPTIONS, HE NEVER SPOKE TO ME AGAIN. HE CUT ME OUT OF ALL THE MOVIES WE WERE SET TO MAKE TOGETHER — ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS, 4 FOR TEXAS — AND TURNED DEAN (MARTIN) AND SAMMY (DAVIS) AND JOEY (BISHOP) AGAINST ME AS WELL.”
– PETER LAWFORD
The real reason for the change was J. Edgard Hoover played Attorney General Robert Kennedy a wiretap of Sinatra and notable mobster Sam Giancana. Giancana expected Sinatra to use his influence with Kennedy to get the FBI off his back.
Sinatra said on the call that he started an affair with JFK’s sister, Pat Kennedy Lawford in order to use her to influence her brothers. When RFK got wind of this via the tapes Sinatra was 86-ed out of JFK’s life.
“FRANK WAS LIVID. HE CALLED BOBBY EVERY NAME IN THE BOOK, AND THEN RANG ME UP AND REAMED ME OUT AGAIN. HE WAS QUITE UNREASONABLE, IRRATIONAL, REALLY. GEORGE JACOBS TOLD ME LATER THAT WHEN HE GOT OFF THE PHONE, HE WENT OUTSIDE WITH A SLEDGEHAMMER AND STARTED CHOPPING UP THE CONCRETE LANDING PAD OF HIS HELIPORT. HE WAS IN A FRENZY.
– PETER LAWFORD
Sinatra sold the property in 1995.