Who Slept Here
The real estate market’s most notable opportunities to live like a celebrity
It may not be the most tactful question to ask when entering someone’s home for the first time, but around here it can be a pertinent one. Real estate agents in Palm Springs hear it all the time, as do those in the Central and East valley. While some home buyers look for new construction with free upgrades, or midcentury style they can rejuvenate, others seek brand recognition in the form of celebrity status.
At any given time in this area, no matter what the market is or isn’t doing, there are a handful of housees on the market with celebrity cachet. Beware, however, of listings that are quick to shout Hollywood names and slow to tell potential buyers if that person owned the home, lived there, vacationed there, stayed there once, gave some input on the décor, stepped foot on the grounds once for a party, or simply was rumored to have known a former owner. If it means something to you when making the property rounds, you may have to dig deep — even on your own time and dime.
Even when you find the real deal — a house that a bonafide star or starlet lived in at least part of the year, a home in which they made pancakes, fought with their lover, unwrapped Christmas presents, and potty-trained their beagle — the name behind the facade might be the most glamorous part. Estates with an esteemed past are not always the grandest, most up-to-date, or even the most expensive, though some are certainly all three. Like any other home, they have been subject to the quirks, personal tastes, and bizarre tendencies of their past owners. In some cases, you’ll see original fixtures that should have been updated decades ago, and you’ll mourn the loss of original details that should have been preserved but instead fell victim to an interior designer’s interpretation of the trend du jour circa 1982. All of them do, however, hold inside their halls an undeniable intrigue and sense of time and place — even if that time and place can’t always be pinned down, which is often the case.
If walls could talk and skeletons could come out of those closets and dance, the market would likely take another interesting turn. In the meantime, enjoy window shopping through these desirable estates each with its own story to tell.
Johnny Mercer Estate
The Mesa, Palm Springs
In the late 1930s, when it was built, this "modern hacienda" was considered stateof- the-art. Sitting on more than an acre, making it one of the biggest lots in the Mesa, the U-shaped-plan house has been restored to its original glory without destroying its history. Its look and feel harken simpler times and comforts. Twelveinch thick walls keep it cool in summer and wood floors were chosen to match the originals. With a blue mosaic-tiled pool, Mrs. Mercer's tennis court across the great lawn, mature trees, and its own orange grove, the gabled home with a red-clay roof and exposed rafters welcomes with open arms. The famed Ship of the Desert house is a neighbor; Mercer's friend Barry Manilow lives across the way.
Donna Reed Estate
Old Las Palmas, Palm Springs
Who wouldn’t want to play the pictureperfect homemaker here? Donna Reed wiled away afternoons in this serene house that intertwines the feel of a grand Southern plantation with that of a breezy summer cottage. Designed by Charles Matcham of Pasadena in 1934 and called El Sueño (The Sleep), the house remains a rare local example of the California Monterey style. The construction is hollow tile with a smearedmortar effect. The main house has formal living and dining rooms, an updated kitchen, and enclosed sun room. The attached casita has a separate entrance; there's also a twobedroom guest house. Just add a few rocking chairs to the second-floor terrace and pour a glass of lemonade.
Keely Smith/Bobby Milano Residence
South Palm Springs
Keely Smith's former Canyon Country Club home has a split-level plan with bedrooms upstairs, an entertainment room downstairs, and wide views of the fairways from the terrace.
This 1969 renovation sits on the Canyon Country Club fairway. An unusual split-level floor plan is at once distinctly retro and modern, with a beamed-ceiling great room and a chef’s kitchen with Absolute Black granite countertops, custom cabinetry, and stainless steel appliances. The courtyard pool and spa are an unusual touch. Four bedrooms sit on the main level; an entertainment level below has a fireplace, wet bar, and another bedroom. A glass-walled shower and deep soaking tub in the master bath are fit for a star. Views span in every direction, making it tough to top the peacefulness of morning coffee on the terrace as the first golfer of the day tees off.
Red Skelton Estate
Up Highway 74 (about 20 minutes from El Paseo) in Mountain Center
Valleywide views and a secluded mountaintop location are the biggest draws of this historic home with a chalet feel. Look out over the treetops from any room and breathe in the fresh air, just like Red did. This four-bedroom house was built 4,500 feet above the desert floor in the '60s by the developers who created Lake Arrowhead. Red and his wife loved to use the house for entertaining — and for keeping his Rolls-Royce collection. Surrounded by National Forest, it sits on more than eight acres, ideal for those who like to roam free.
Cher’s Palm Springs Hideaway
Old Las Palmas, Palm Springs
Cher fans take note. Cher never actually lived here. nor does it reflect any traces of the 1970s/'80s/'90s Cher we know so well. No, this 1938 home full of old Spanish charm was, as the duPont Registry reports, updated by Cher and her designer in 2006, improving on the original design with an open floor plan and an additional 2,000 square feet to double its size. The listing states, “This standing monument of beauty, tradition, and culture was created by the inspirations of Cher who knows and lives the lifestyle of a privileged few.” The look is much more neutral and desert décor than one would expect of the pop star. Travertine tile, granite countertops, French doors, and Venetian plaster walls set the tone. The master suite features his-and hers wardrobe rooms, a fireplace, wet bar, and an adjoining foyer. Makeup, costumes, and wigs not included.
Bette Davis Estate
Old Las Palmas, Palm Springs
It’s just fine if the silver-screen actress never owned this house, or even lived there full time. This 1933 hacienda on more than an acre is a beautifully updated compound that could lure a buyer on its own. Homeowners would see what Davis did when she leased the self-contained guesthouse toward the end of her career: loads of privacy, a Spanish exterior, beamed ceilings, seven fireplaces, a formal garden, orchard, and those Las Palmas mountain views. After a million dollar-plus restoration and expansion by the current owner, it now boasts a state-of-the-art kitchen, theater, a luxurious master bedroom, and guest suites. The three-room casita reveals a bar/cantina, gym, Jacuzzi, and sauna. The grand backyard, with a big blue pool and champion tennis court, are secluded enough to make anyone forget all about the paparazzi.
John Phillips Estate
Little Tuscany, Palm Springs
The favored open floor plan of midcentury houses remains a strong selling point in this completely revamped 1957 four-bedroom home, as does the compelling curved atrium with waterfall, huge entertaining poolside patio, and 40-foot wall of glass along the back. Mostly, however, this house has been updated inch by inch for a fresh, clean look and contemporary appeal. The master bedroom, with fireplace and blackout curtains, boasts double rain-shower heads, massage jets, a soaking tub, and a door that leads out to the pool. Travertine floors and baths, a slate pool and Wolf, SubZero, and Bosch appliances complement plush furnishings and a concert grand piano. The media area has pocket sliders that disappear, thus doubling the living room with outside space and a unique open ceiling for star gazing. The home has long been part of a luxury rental program — and it's easy to see why.
Ivy Priest Estate
Little Tuscany, Palm Springs
The 4,100-square-foot Villa Vista was built in 1955 by Ivy Baker Priest. The main house has three bedroom suites, a full kitchen, a wet bar, and a large living room and dining area overlooking the pool and spa. The separate guest house has a living room, bedroom, and bath and there's a separate office with three workstations. Uniquedetails include the paddle tennis court and an outdoor shower. Mountain views abound. And here’s a celebrity detail once removed: Ivy is the mother of Pat Priest, the actress who played Marilyn Munster in the 1960s television show The Munsters.
Denise Robergé Estate
Built in 2003, this unusually artistic five-bedroom house will attract an unusual buyer. But that buyer will have found a gem — complete with the jewelry designer’s old and new touches collected from across the globe. The 9,500-square-foot home sits behind a dramatic gate on 1.5 acres and incorporates elements of Mission-style architecture with an emphasis on early California. Rustic and whimsical, each room bursts with unexpected details — from beamed cathedral ceilings, hand-forged sconces, and concrete floors stained with red wine, to towering leaded stained glass windows, oversized furnishings, Old World arches passageways, and a catwalk above the dining room. One wall is entirely pocked with holes, made deliberately to store bottles of wine. With a coach house, studio with loft, and lagoonstyle pool, there is truly nothing like it.