Palm Springs-Hollywood’s Magnificent Desert Playground

By posted on March 17, 2017 11:13AM

Today’s Palm Springs and its thriving neighboring resort communities exude a vibrant, progressive energy that attract visitors by the thousands. There can be no doubt that much of this desert oasis’ allure is based on its close Hollywood connection. And many tourists venturing to Palm Springs are more than curious about the locations of these Hollywood stars’ homes and the legends associated with them.

Elvis and Priscilla Presley's Home in Palm Springs
Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s Home
Nat King Cole's Home Hollywood – Palm Springs Connection
Nat King Cole’s Home

The history of Palm Springs is a fascinating one. According to anthropologists, Native American Indians have lived beside the sparkling waters of Palm Springs’ tree-lined canyons and around its bubbling hot springs for over a thousand years. Next came the Spanish explorers, the first pioneers, and fast forward to the 1920s when Palm Springs became Hollywood’s desert playground for celebrities needing escape from the busy hustle and bustle of the showbiz world.

Hollywood – Palm Springs Connection

The royalty of the movie industry flocked to play in Palm Springs where they could still honor their contract stipulations to remain “within two hours of the studio” in case they were called back for another take or shoot. More importantly, this desert oasis offered them privacy from the watchful eyes of their studios and the press.

It was during the early years of the 20s and 30s that studios invested a considerable amount of money to help locate, groom, and establish potential stars. As a result, they kept a tight rein on their stars’ images. These actors and actresses had little power or control over their own careers, and their futures were at the mercy of the studio that signed them. Movie stars’ contracts even included what was known as a “morality clause”. Scandals were cause for studios to break a contract with the star. Hollywood stars’ solution was the little-known and sparsely populated Palm Springs. Many began to purchase second homes here, in this remote yet easily accessible desert community, where they could play, relax, and cavort in relative isolation away from the public eye.

Beautiful Downtown Palm Springs
Beautiful Downtown Palm Springs

The initial influx of stars to Palm Springs started with a trickle. But by the mid-1950s, an increasing number of western movies were being filmed in the area and there were not enough hotels and homes to accommodate the stars and studio personnel. Bing Crosby‘s Blue Sky Village mobile home park opened, providing a temporary place for Hollywood stars to stay while on location. And residents live in this mobile home park even today.

Part-time Hollywood visitors were attracted to the Palm Springs area, drawn to its stunning scenery and mild winter climate. Many chose to stay and their legacy can be seen everywhere in the street names of Palm Springs and its adjoining desert communities – Frank Sinatra Drive, Dinah Shore Drive, Gene Autry Trail, Bing Crosby Drive, Jack Benny Road, Bob Hope Drive and more.

Marilyn Monroe's Home in Palm Springs
Marilyn Monroe’s Home

As time progressed, more and more Hollywood and music stars flocked to the desert to purchase their hideaway homes. Those stars included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Lucille Ball, Liberace, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Hamilton, Bob Hope, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, and Jack Benny.  Over time the Hollywood – Palm Springs connection grew.

Palm Springs Architecture

We had the privilege of accompanying Kurt Cyr, a designer and mid-century modern expert from Palm Springs Mod Squad on an architectural and design tour of these mid-century desert modern jewels, many the homes of famous movie stars. Kurt not only provided information on the architects who helped shape the modern architectural look of Palm Springs, he entertainingly related some of the stories of the stars who lived in these homes.

One in particular was the story of Frank Sinatra who at the time was married to Ava Gardner. On a surprise visit to their Twin Palms home, Ava found Frank in their swimming pool with a beautiful young aspiring starlet. A fiery argument ensued and a champagne bottle was hurled, chipping the bathroom sink. Which of the feisty stars hurled it is somewhat in dispute but that infamous chip still remains in that very sink. And though the home is now privately owned, the house is available for rental.

Frank Sinatra's Home
Frank Sinatra’s Home

Many of these stars’ homes set the standard for postwar Hollywood glamour and embodied the pinnacle of casual living. And it didn’t hurt that they used some of the best architectural designers of the day. The style of the homes became synonymous with the 50’s and 60’s Palm Springs lifestyle of sipping on martinis and throwing lavish parties. Frank Sinatra actually had a flag with a martini on it that he raised on his flagpole, indicating to his close friends in proximity that he was there in Palm Springs and his bar was open.

Hollywood stars who didn’t own homes in Palm Springs had their favorite hotels in the area providing the most privacy and seclusion when they needed an escape from the craziness of Tinseltown.

One of these, the historic, storied picturesque 30-room Ingleside Inn, was built in the 1920s as a small, elegant boutique hotel nestled in the heart of Palm Springs, yet secluded enough to give stars the privacy and anonymity they desired. Stars like Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Spencer Tracy were frequent guests here. And unbelievable as it sounds, famed opera diva Lily Pons came for one night and stayed for 13 years.

Palm Spring's Historic Ingleside Inn
Palm Spring’s Historic Ingleside Inn

Melvyn’s Restaurant in the Ingleside Inn remains an absolute charming and enchanting throwback to Palm Springs Hollywood heyday. Fifteen years ago, the inn was declared a historic site by the city of Palm Springs. Serving as a home base for a host of authentic Hollywood glamour stars, it was a popular hangout for the Rat Pack and their associates. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin once performed in the smoky iconic piano bar and photos of the “Who’s Who” of show business and politics adorn the walls. And Copley’s Restaurant in Palm Springs with its stunning mountain views is actually located on the former estate of Cary Grant.

Famous Melvyn's Restaurant- Hangout of the Stars in Palm Springs
Famous Melvyn’s Restaurant- Hangout of the Stars

The Palm Springs Walk of Stars located downtown pays homage to its famous Hollywood counterpart. Its path is a literal walk of fame honoring notable people who have lived in the area. Honorees include not only Hollywood and music stars like Rock Hudson and Elvis Presley, they also feature Medal of Honor recipients and former presidents.

Palm Springs Walk of Stars Hollywood - Palms Springs Connection
Palm Springs Walk of Stars

Though the Hollywood – Palm Springs connection may not be as pronounced as it was in its earlier days there is no doubt that a new generation of Hollywood A-listers has succumbed to the lure of the desert and the relaxing privacy it offers.

Palm Springs is indeed being rediscovered by today’s Hollywood stars and the Hollywood – Palm Springs connection continues. This is no more evident than the popularity of the International Film Festival held each year in January. The festival, founded by then-mayor Sonny Bono is a dazzling star-studded event attracting celebrities like Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Ron Howard, Halle Barry, Leonard DiCaprio, Anne Hathaway and Dakota Fanning. And the locals will tell you that the stars can be spotted all over the area during this event.

Welcome to Palm Springs
Welcome to Palm Springs

Perhaps this is why Kirk Douglas once said” If you want to see a star. Don’t go to Hollywood. Come to Palm Springs”. And were we ever surprised on our last visit when we spotted Matt Damon casually strolling out of one of Palm Springs most popular and eclectic restaurants.

Noreen L. Kompanik is a registered nurse and freelance writer and photographer based in San Diego, California. Fortunate to have lived overseas as a Naval Officer’s wife, she has traveled extensively and her many Italian and other European adventures have sparked her passion for cooking and wine tasting. A member of the International Travel Writers and Photographers Association, Noreen is a frequent contributor to several online and print publications. She shares her latest adventures, photos, and published stories on her What’s In Your Suitcase? Facebook page. Her stories reflect her love for travel, history, adventure and family.

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