I did not think of the Greater Palm Springs area as a budget metropolis. It consists of the communities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs. As I drove around I noticed the names of streets: Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Fred Waring, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, etc. They had one thing in common- they are all dead and they all lived, at least part of the year, in the Palm Springs area. Lucille Ball owned a hotel there. More residents included: Walt Disney, Kirk Douglas, Judy Garland, Bill Gates, Cary Grant, Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Barry Manilow, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Autry, Dean Martin, Ann Miller, Errol Flynn and Jean Harlow.
The city became a fashionable resort in the 1900s when tourists with health problems arrived to sample the dry heat. They were comfortable in the microclimate because the mountains blocked the cold winds. There were also inventive architects that designed unique vacation homes using prefabricated panels, folding roofs, glass-and-steel houses with open-design plans, air-conditioning, swimming pools and very large windows. In those days Hollywood had a “Two Hour Rule” meaning that contracted employees had to be available within two-hours from the studio in case last minute filming had to be done. Palm Springs fit that window.
The film colony and tourists discovered this desert playground in the early 1940’s. There were golf courses, tennis courts and more swimming pools than anywhere else in the United States. There was even gambling at several clubs in Cathedral City. After World War II the area added spas and new homes. The Palm Desert Corporation built office buildings and more homes and country clubs. Thirty years later this area became the city of Palm Desert. Bob Hope, a longtime resident, was appointed Honorary Mayor. Palm Springs became known as the “Golf Capitol of the World.” Polo was revived, as were tennis tournaments.
Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in 1954 and Harry Truman also spent considerable time in the area. In 1962 John F. Kennedy came to town on the first of several trips. President Gerald Ford had visited Palm Springs during his term as Vice President and in 1976 returned to build a home there. Mrs. Ford had her alcohol and drug center in Rancho Mirage. Then mayor Sonny Bono founded the Palm Springs International Film Festival which is held every January. This year it was January 2-12th. The area has been rediscovered by today’s Hollywood stars.
The last time I was in Palm Springs the downtown area was seedy, even around the Spa Resort Casino. It reminded me of the areas of Atlantic City that were off the boardwalk area. Then the renaissance began, slowly at the beginning, with gay people from the San Francisco area being priced out of their homes and shops. They found their new area in Greater Palm Springs and the movement started. Great weather 10 months of the year, mountains nearby, and wind energy for cheap electricity, an international airport and well maintained highways and roads. No potholes caused by rain and snow, as in my hometown of NYC.
As the older (my) generation died off, younger people moved in. Yes, there is the Rodeo Drive of Palm Desert (El Paseo) but there is also Highway 111 & Interstate 10 with Costco, Target, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and all the budget motel/hotels/fast food restaurants and outlet stores. There are also other casinos in Rancho Mirage, Coachella, and Indio and in Cabazon (on the highway to & from Los Angeles, next to the 180 store Desert Hills Premium Outlet stores where I shopped and bought several items).
I spent 4 days with Sally Jessy Raphael and her husband Karl Soderlund at their home. Sally has excellent taste and the home reflects that. Everything in quotes were from her notes to me.
“I consider the Palm Springs area to be an inexpensive place to live. The weather is ideal 10 months of the year. There is very little rain and it is dry and mild with temperatures between 65-80 degrees. True it is hot in July & August but I love the heat and everyone has air conditioning. There’s lots to do. Even though we don’t play golf there are more than 100 courses in the region for our guests to use. This is a big tennis town and lots of swimming pools. The area is also a good place for hikers and rock climbers. There are mountains everywhere. It was also voted the cleanest city in America. There are no bad areas and I always feel safe, many times not even locking my front door.”
“The International Film Festival is wonderful and I believe it is the 3rd largest in the US. The McCallum Theater has a different show almost every night with big stars. The casinos also have great shows. Almost half the population is young and the schools are well run. The town is very health conscious. The gays have done a lot opening small boutiques, restaurants, B&B’s etc. People are very friendly. There are lots of art fairs and galleries. (Sally is an accomplished artist with several gallery exhibits). Also, because of the abundance of wind turbines electric rates are low. You saw the airport- no roof and two non-stop flights a week from NYC. I like the slow pace of life here and the excellent nightlife.”
There is a lot to see and to do in the Greater Palm Springs area. I will concentrate on 3 places where I spent considerable time. The Living Desert; Two Bunch Palms Spa Resort and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. I briefly stopped at the following attractions that are worthwhile if you have more free time than I had: San Jacinto Mountain Range (drove around them coming from Temecula to Palm Desert. Don’t try at night); Palm Springs Art Museum (had 15 minutes there), Cabots Pueblo Museum (5 minutes from Two Bunch Palms) & El Paseo Shopping Avenue (had lunch there).
I met the CEO of Two Bunch Palms located in Desert Hot Springs (30 minutes from Palm Desert) several months ago at a press dinner here in NYC organized by the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. He was kind enough to invite Sally & her husband Karl to accompany me there for spa treatments & lunch. This 77-acre resort was built in 1930. It had become rundown when the new owners took over in 2012. There are 70 newly refurbished rooms including 13 suites with outdoor patios and/or courtyards (18 years and older only). The Wellness Spa has 19 indoor/outdoor treatments rooms, 2 mud baths (my choice of treatment) and 2 water therapy pools. There is a lap pool, two tennis courts, fitness room, many movement & enrichment classes and a huge earth mount dome dedicated to yoga. The tour I was given by cart also included nature trails, a duck & turtle pond where you can feed the fish and a new conference center.
We had lunch in the farm-to-table restaurant Essense where Chef Cossi Houegban prepared a fabulous lunch. We changed into our swimsuits and relaxed by the natural spring artesian waters that are 169 degrees and are cooled to 90 and 104 degrees in the Grotto. The waters contain lithium, calcium and magnesium. The best value is the day spa. Non-resort guests can gain access to the facility with a minimum reservation of one (1) 60 minute treatment along with a Day Spa Fee ($40 weekend/$25 weekday) that allows access to the Grotto, the pool and the grounds from 10 am to 6 pm. World Away Day Spa packages are also available and designed to include at least one treatment, gratuity, lunch credit and the day spa fee ($195). For more information- http://www.twobunchpalms.com
I spent 3 hours at The Living Desert, both walking and using their tram. You really need 5-6 hours to see everything. It was established in 1970 by people who foresaw the impact that resort development would have on the local desert ecosystem. This led to the interpretive nature trail and preserve in Palm Desert. The grounds have been expanded to 1,200 acres of which 1,000 acres remain in their natural state. A desert oasis was created with animal enclosures and small animal exhibits. Then came a walk-through aviary and an animal care center that I visited watching an operation take place. They soon accepted threatened and endangered species. An Education Center followed as well as Eagle Canyon, home to mountain lions, Mexican wolves, bobcats, badgers and many birds. Before the turn of the century they completed an amphitheater for a twice-daily Wild Wonders show as well as the Village WaTuTu with a new café, gift shop and new exhibits featuring striped hyenas, camels, sheep and goats. In the early 21st Century they added a children’s play park, an exhibit housing a reticulated giraffe and ostrich and a butterfly pavilion. Soon there was an added endangered species carousel and camel rides. I actually managed to see most of the above, ending at the very large model railroad exhibit. For further information- http://www.Livingdesert.org
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is located in the rugged Chino Canyon on the north edge of Palm Springs. The dream began in 1935 but construction was not complete until 1963. Not one cent of public funds was used for either the construction or operation of the tramway. It was an engineering challenge and was labeled as the “eighth wonder of the world.” The first tower is the only one that can be reached by road. Helicopters flew over 20,000 missions during the 26 months of construction, hauling men and material needed to erect the four other towers and the 25,000 sq. Mountain Station. It is 10,834 feet to the top of Mount San Jacinto. In 2000 there were new cars installed including the world’s largest rotating tramcars. Since it opened over 18 million people have travelled the 10-minute, 2.5-mile ride, which begins at the Valley Station- elevation 2,643 feet and ends at the Mountain Station- elevation 8,516 feet. The cost of a ride is- $23.95 for adults & children 3-12 are $16.95. It’s a very small world; the last time I was in Palm Springs I met Greg Purdy the PR person for the Palm Springs Follies (no longer in business). Greg is doing the same work for the Tramway and honored me by riding up and back with me. For further information- www.pstramway.com. For more information about Greater Palm Springs- www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.