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Early Palm Springs:
Tourist Town on the Make
Gomorrah in Eden: Hollywood's Weekend Home
Building on the Harsh Terrain: Modernism in the Desert
Desert Visionaries
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Gomorrah in Eden:
Hollywood's Weekend Home
“At weekends, a stream of besotted lovers, transients, and misfits streamed to Palm Springs, where a colony of drunks and fornicators had by now been founded.” -Patrick Macnee(actor)

Rudolph Valentino - The Sheikh
rudolph valentino

Working and Playing in the Desert
From the 1930’s throughout the 1960’s Palm Springs prospered as a leisure center and getaway retreat for Southern Californians of means, becoming linked with a celebrity leisure culture of hard partying in the sun-soaked desert hideaway. The area gained renown as a vacation spot for wealthy industrialists with names like Maytag, Mars and Kellogg. Hollywood soon followed. Exotic palms set in a desert oasis were among the many features that attracted filmmakers to California and served as the perfect backdrop for Rudolph Valentino in The Sheikh and Theda Bara in Salome. The region served as a stand-in for the Mediterranean or Africa and ten movies a year or more were filmed there beginning in the silent era through the 1950’s. The area attracted legions of actors, writers, designers, set decorators, grips and hangarounds. As with other emerging resort areas including Las Vegas, the manufactured environment reflected an image of celebrity and leisure in the imagination of visitors and part-time residents. Beginning as early as 1928, the hotel Mirador and a succession of entertainment venues attracted celebrities from the film industry. A residential area grew up around the hotel and became known as the Movie Colony, featuring spacious Spanish Colonial homes. New clubs including the Racquet Club opened with custom architecture and exclusive amenities. Residential areas began growing in the 1920’s and 1930’s and early residents veered toward more traditional designs for adobe and ranch style homes, clearly grounded in Spanish colonial vernacular.

Chi Chi Club - Palm Springs
chi chi club

Tinseltown Playground
The reputation of Palm Springs as a Hollywood playground was firmly established by the 1940’s and 1950’s. A party lifestyle followed the Hollywood elite. Select shops found only in Beverly Hills and exclusive restaurants spawned from New York and L.A. dotted Palm Canyon Drive, the city's main drag. Entertainers including Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Eartha Kitt, Jerry Lewis, Liberace and Lena Horne used the Chi-Chi Club or the Dollhouse as a warmup room before moving a show on to Vegas. In the late 1930’s and 1940’s Jack Benny would broadcast his radio show from The Plaza Theater in Palm Springs, bringing attention to the region on a national scale. These establishments aimed for Beverly Hills Supper Club exclusivity, while the other end of the spectrum featured small illegal gambling clubs in nearby Cathedral City.(Danish/Hess, p.41) Palm Springs exhibited the Vegas style celebrity mystique years before Sinatra decamped at the Sands with his Rat Pack.

Desert Hot Springs Hotel - 1950's
desert hot springs hotel
These invaders from the city where imagination and otherworldliness were the stock in trade began to make their own statements, using how and where they live to convey their message. Spanish style was increasingly out of date and out of touch. Guest cottages surrounding the Bamboo Bar at the Racquet Club for weekend visitors were designed by up and coming architects. New commercial buildings including hotels, office buildings and stores that fit a new design aesthetic cropped up along Palm Canyon Drive. Residents began to choose sophisticated, simple, lightweight buildings made possible by advances in construction materials that allowed for relatively low cost, quick construction to suit a range of tastes and offered to those at different levels of the economic spectrum. House commissions began to roll in through the 1940’s and 1950’s from the likes of Sinatra, Hope, Crosby, Gable and many more who used Palm Springs as a retreat from work and the press across a ‘dusty four hour drive from Los Angeles.’ (Cygelman, p.23) This trickled down to the public sector and to other classes of dwellings. An abundance of wealthy clients and patrons who could afford innovative architecture in their residences had influence over public architecture and down the housing chain by imitation and connection to a group of architects and designers working to create their own legacies.
Early Palm Springs:
Tourist Town on the Make