The native Cahuilla Indians were the first to inhabit this special place. The railroads came later, followed by settlers in search of open space, and clean desert air.
Hollywood celebrities and affluent vacationers from the east discovered Palm Springs during the 1920’s and the 1930’s. Palm Springs was now a popular resort destination, and a desirable place to live and play. And play they did. Palm Springs was in its “heyday”.
The city’s four largest hotels (El Mirador, Desert Inn, Del Tahquitz, and Oasis) were always full during the season. Outdoor activities included Tom O’Donnell’s golf course, numerous horse stables, several tennis courts, including film actor, Charlie Farrell’s celebrated Racquet Club.
The city also proclaimed that it had more swimming pools than any other place in the world. Palm Springs was rockin’ now.
Irwin Schuman, a businessman with a real sense of style and showmanship opened a full scale tropical-themed restaurant and nightclub on Palm Canyon Drive in 1941 called the Chi Chi Club. He hired Balinese dancers and Fijian fire-eaters to gratify his guests’ fantasies.
During and after World War II, the Chi Chi became a favorite destination for U.S. servicemen, and just about every New York or Las Vegas headliner. Notables included – Desi Arnaz, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Mathis, Duke Ellington, and the “Queen of Jazz”, Ella Fitzgerald.
The list of famous entertainers’ and celebrity guests is endless, but I think you see my point. The bright klieg lights shining in the desert sky could only be from one place – the Chi Chi Club on Palm Canyon Drive where so many legendary performers and celebrities gathered for more than 25 years, and helped shape Palm Springs into a worldwide tourist resort.
Its reputation continued to fuel the explosive growth of the area during the 1940’s, 50s and 60s. Notable architects designed homes and buildings that reflected the unique beauty of the desert environment. Glass (lots of it), wood, steel, stone and concrete materials were designed by the architects to complement and integrate their structures with the desert landscape.
My memories of Palm Springs began in 1960 when some friends of mine invited me to drive down from Los Angeles, and share their motel room with them during spring break. As I recall, there were six of us staying in that room. Rollaway beds were everywhere.
Palm Springs and Newport Beach were two of the hottest spring break destinations during those years to party, meet girls, and party some more. How could I say “No” to all of that? Well, I didn’t, and have had many fond memories of that very special spring break ever since.
Our fascination with Hollywood celebrities, and the desire to connect to Hollywood remains as strong today as it was during the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Oscar Levant, pianist, composer and actor once said, “Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood, and you find the real tinsel underneath.” There is some truth there, but does it really matter? Heck, it’s Hollywood!
Entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Liberace, Dean Martin, Barbara Streisand and James Brolin, Elvis Presley, Barry Manilow, and Marilyn Monroe built homes in Palm Springs. They were attracted by the free and easy desert life style, coupled with the warm and dry desert weather. Booze and drugs were tolerated, and a fairly discreet citizenry who left celebrities alone.
Boy, do I feel old. I was in high school during the mid to late 1950’s. My father was an architect, and his firm designed many homes during the 50s that are now referred to as midcentury modern. He designed our home, and it incorporated many of the same features that are referred to today as “iconic.”
Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz lived in midcentury modern desert homes too, and today, their homes are part of a rental pool of selected “Estate Rentals.”
Yes, the 1950’s were mid twentieth century, and we now live in the twenty-first century, but we didn’t refer to our house as mid anything. My father designed it, and it was a cool place to live.