If vintage1960s Palm Springs glamour is your vacation schtick, then be prepared for some high maintenance. Posing poolside at any of the stylistically renovated mid-20th century motels and resorts around town, martini glass in hand, demands effort.
Back in the day, Palm Springs’ sexy glamour and elegant informality involved big, immaculately coiffed hair and perfectly applied make-up accessorized with a poolside wardrobe of wildly printed, jewel-encrusted caftans, tight flared pants and cropped tops. I know this from looking at photographs of Hollywood’s elite who were lured to this desert playground to escape prying paparazzi and watching television shows like ‘Mad Men’.
“Every home in Palm Springs has a pool, the sixties social scene revolved around pools and tennis courts,” said Robert Imber who conducts architectural tours of the town. Palm Springs briefly fell out of fashion with the beautiful people in the 1980s but today, it’s back on the chic list, a renaissance led by 21st century style-meisters snapping up properties in what is arguably the world’s finest collection of mid-20th modernist architecture.
Hollywood moguls and movie stars gravitated here as it fell within the ‘100 mile clause’ stipulated on studio contracts limiting the distance they could travel when filming. Elvis loved Palm Springs so much he not only honeymooned here with Priscilla but purchased an Albert Frey-designed house in Chino Canyon. Frey was one of a mod squad of architects attracted to Palm Springs’ climate and star wattage. Visionaries like William Krisel, William F Cody, Donald Wexler and John Lautner introduced avant-garde European technologies, unadorned clear lines and wide framed windows to create the ultimate in extravagance – trophy homes designed for old Hollywood to carouse in.
“New technologies using steel, glass and concrete, coupled with a desire to design buildings that integrated with the natural environment, created a collection of highly original desert modernism that’s unparalleled anywhere else,” said Robert Imber as we pause outside the ultra-modern Kaufmann Desert House designed by Richard Neutra, built in 1946, it remains an iconic contemporary structure.
Hollywood legends living in legendary homes included Clark Gable, Rock Hudson, Steve McQueen, Bogart and Bacall. John F Kennedy would drop by for assignations with Marilyn at pal Peter Lawford’s while Sinatra and his ‘Rat Pack’ were great entertainers particularly with a nightcap around the piano at the Ingleside Inn. With many Palm Springs homes now available for holiday rentals, visitors can enjoy the country club lifestyle of tennis, golf and martinis. A good dose of nostalgic glamour can be had at Frank Sinatra’s Alejo Road house ‘Twin Palms’ with its piano-shaped swimming pool.
For the rest of us, many Palm Springs’ hotels and resorts offer a retro experience that won’t break the bank. The swanky Riviera Palm Springs’ $70 million retro-fab makeover relives the cutting edge of cool from its dazzling lobby to poolside bars and cabanas where the It crowd come to par-tay. Untouched by time, Del Marcos Hotel built in 1947 retains its vintage vibe while secreted amongst palm-treed grounds, The Horizon Hotel’s 22 bungalows, built 60 years ago, look as fresh as tomorrow.
Palm Springs also displays its Spanish heritage through architecture and The Plaza Theatre, which opened in 1936 screening Hollywood classics to the town’s A-list celebrities, is a prime example. The Spanish colonial theatre still stages musical productions performed by a legendary line-up of long legged lovelies aged between 55 and 85 – ageless style!.
While many Palm Springs residents have permanently checked out, by floating in pools, lounging elegantly on sun chairs or perching on bar stools while Dean Martin croons through the sound system, their spirit lives on.
Another martini anyone?
You can fly there direct from Los Angeles but the two-hour drive from Los Angeles traverses a fascinating landscape including the surreal Joshua Tree National Park and crackling-dry Mojave Desert. The grey ribbon of asphalt slices through the Coachella Valley arriving at Palm Springs’ lush oasis where towering white wind farms are replaced by stands of Californian fan palms and the San Jacinto mountains wear a halo of amber light.
Architecture: Take a Palm Springs Modern Tour when local expertRobert Imber covers 30 miles laced with unforgettable stories. T 760 318 6118 palmspringsmoderntours.com
Celebrity: Book The Best of the Best Tours on 760 320 1365
Join the Mod Squad
Now in its 10th year, each February, Palm Springs’ Modernism Week draws the architectural cognoscenti that includes Hollywood A-listers, creatives and hipsters who want to buy into the modernist aesthetic either by purchasing a house or merely a lamp to take home from one of the decorator stores around town. Now on Feb 12 – 22. modernismweek.com
Escape the heat and take the spectacular revolving cable car ride to the top of San Jacinto mountain on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Not only does the temperature drop by up to 20 degrees but so does your stomach as spectacular views spiral below. In the coolness of this hiking wilderness, the broad Coachella Valley stretches 2,595 metres below and distant lines of dark vegetation show signs of the legendary San Andreas fault line.
For more check out www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com