Skip to main content
Original Issue


Lifting his head and gazing across the 2½ miles that separate his ranch home from Palm Springs, Mr. Paul Hoffman (opposite) might well wonder if what he really saw was a mirage. After all, it is a barely believable oasis that comes equipped with a thousand swimming pools, a nightclub built of lavender bricks and a golf club where one round could cost a guest $32 before tips. And where else is there a water hole where the palm trees are lampposts, the shopkeepers are movie stars, and anybody who wants to give a chuck-wagon dinner on the desert can call up and have it catered?

All this and much more is Palm Springs, a bizarre Bide-a-wee blooming on the great southwestern desert, one hundred miles east of Los Angeles. Snuggled up against the brown, barren rock mountains which wall it from the winds and shelter it from the smog, warmed by an 80° desert sun in the day, cooled to an easy-to-sleep-in 45° at night, Palm Springs has become a haven for millionaires and pensioners and a winter suburb for Hollywood, a scant air hour away.

One homey hacienda is a quarter-of-a-million-dollar nook which features a built-in, time-controlled sprinkler system that wets the olive trees at 4 on Tuesdays, the palms at one on Wednesdays and automatically rains off schedule on days that are unseasonably dry. The TV set descends on electric signal from the ceiling, the foyer is covered by a sliding glass roof, there are blue-tiled diamond designs on the icebox, and ice water flows from the headboard. The décor throughout is brass and blue, and the asking price includes a parrot imported from Africa because his yellow breast matches the metal trim and the blue of his wings is just like the house paint.

Although many a Palm Springs residence might satisfy a Saudi prince, its villagers, as they are sometimes quaintly called, live their waking hours in their clubs, which are both handsome and high priced. One of the oldest and certainly the most famous is the Racquet Club, which was started by Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy, who bought the property in the '30s. Bellamy pulled out in favor of an oil deal, but Farrell stayed with it, made it a club in 1935. Members and guests can rent one of the 60 rooms in 15 cottages scattered over 11 acres. Rates are about $15 to $35 a day without food, and the woods are full of Liz and Mike, Dana and Greg, and other local versions of Hélo√Øse and Abélard.


While the Racquet Club embraces Hollywood, the socialites play in the more rarefied atmosphere of the Tennis Club, whose clubhouse offers a bar with a sunken floor so bar flies can view the courts over the barman's head, and a fireplace with a built-in waterfall that cascades down its face and courses in a modest rivulet in front of the flames.

There is nothing quite that spectacular over at society's golf grounds, the Thunderbird Country Club, unless it be Robert McCulloch's pushbutton house which, like many another extravagant abode, is built along the club's fairways. Among other necessities, the McCulloch place has an electrically controlled seven-place human Lazy Susan that revolves with the sun. Though mostly limited to high society, the Thunderbird has accepted such luminaries as Perry Como, Hoagy Carmichael, Desi and Lucy, Gordon Mac-Rae and Ralph Kiner. Should any of these members bring guests, the greens fee is $15, a cart (which everyone uses out here) $12, and a caddy is $5.

A few years ago some members of the community became so incensed over the Thunderbird's entrance requirements they bought a tract of sand and greasewood. It cost almost a million dollars, but Paul Adessi, who built the Arizona Biltmore's links, grew a magnificent green course which became known as the Tamarisk Country Club. The first ball went off the fairway six months after ground was broken. Ben Hogan was brought in as pro. The present golf pro is that old tennist Ellsworth Vines, and the names on the lockers look like a sign on a Hollywood lot—Sinatra, Hope, Crosby, Gable, Danny Thomas, Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, the Marx Brothers and one labeled merely "Hoppy."

Of the old-line nests, El Mirador, built in the expansive style of the late '20s, seems to be about as ageless and as ample as Kate Smith. For peace and seclusion there is the Ingleside, lately visited by Norman Vincent Peale, where the red-tile-topped white cottages are up to their Spanish rafters in oleander and flame vine. Although motel is a vulgar word in Palm Springs and never mentioned in public, the Oasis is a charming hotel where the newer rooms are built in a double tier around a meadow of grass inlaid with pool, shuffleboards and pallets for tanning. A glass-walled dining room overlooks it all. Rooms in the original part of the Oasis Hotel across the street are as low as $14, but, with the building of the new wing last year, the hotel now has oases back to back.

Along Palm Canyon Drive, where the street lights hang from the palm trees, a stroller can buy a bag of nails at Alan Ladd's hardware store or a $50,000 champagne diamond ring which the other day decorated the vi-trine of Andrea Leeds's trinket shop. A lady who dresses in pink, wears the handle of Miss Winsome Courtney and inhabits a pink fur store will peddle passersby a set of four golf club covers (cerulean mink, ranch mink, desert gold mink and lutetia mink) for $100.

Most any afternoon at 5 boy meets doll at the Doll House, a local, low-lit restaurant where the elite eats to meet. Stuffed dolls are sold at a counter, and live ones are stuffed with reasonable fare at the tables. There is a lively bar up front. After that there is the Chi-Chi, an armory built of lavender bricks which encloses a restaurant and a nightclub where Hildegarde, or somebody, recites twice a night for a class of 600. Finally, in the small hours, a man can stagger into The Springs, an all-night, $600,000 phantasmagoria-with-food, settle himself comfortably in a white bucket seat padded with a purple cushion, order a pastrami sandwich and wonder what ever happened to Beau Geste.