The Road to Fame and Fortune

Stars and “starchitects” made Palm Springs the grandest of A-list party pads. Follow us for an eye-popping tour of some iconic celebrity houses



PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK DAVIDSON HISTORIC IMAGES COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Fascination with celebrity never dies. The desire to connect to Hollywood — the excitement, the razzle-dazzle — remains as strong today as it was in the ’50s. And Palm Springs will always be part of that Tinseltown allure. Locals and visitors still marvel at many celebrities’ houses, some for their architectural prowess, others for their curious history. That’s why we hit the road to learn more about them. Think of this as a do-it-yourself celebrity home tour. The houses we visited are easily accessible and beyond architectural mystique. The road trip steers you into some of the most divine neighborhoods in the Coachella Valley, each revealing a fabulous slice of history and many offering some of the most unforgettable views to boot. Buckle up!


The Kaufmann House
470 Vista Chino, Palm Springs

The Lowdown: A star in its own right, this architectural darling is one of the most famous houses in the desert, if not one of the most lauded in the United States. Built in 1946 and designed by master architect Richard Neutra, its handsome, abstract modern design drew attention when Pittsburgh department store titan Edgar J. Kaufmann used it as a vacation hot spot. But it was Grammy winner Barry Manilow who kept the house’s celebrity soaring when he purchased it as his first Palm Springs residence in the early ’70s. Resting on more than 2.5 acres, the house certainly has character: five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a pool, pool house (actually a “viewing pavilion” for the main structure), tennis court, and plenty of architectural eye candy. Architecture lovers Brent and Beth Harris restored the house in the mid-’90s, returning some of its original luster, including a sheet-metal portico.

19.1
The house’s dollar value in millions when Christie’s auctioned it as a work of art in 2007.


Frank Sinatra
70588 Frank Sinatra Drive, Rancho Mirage

The Lowdown: Big, bold, and lavish. With eight buildings on the property, which sits at the base of Tamarisk Country Club, we expected nothing less. The main house, where Sinatra lived between 1954 and 1995, is said to be nearly 8,000 square feet. Guest quarters chime in at 4,500 square feet. Trains big and small — a fascination of Sinatra’s — appear in and outside of the main house. An orange railway car at the side of the main house — a rectangular Mecca inside — includes a waiting room, barber salon, and sauna.

62
The number of celebrity portraits commissioned by Sinatra that still hang on the walls. Among them: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Ronald Reagan, Eva Gabor, Jayne Mansfield, Bob and Dolores Hope, and two of Marilyn Monroe.


Liberace
226 Alejo Road/501 Belardo Road, Palm Springs

The Lowdown: Dubbed The Cloisters when it was a boutique hotel in the ’60s, this Spanish-Mexican-colonial-style masterpiece deceives the eye. From the front, it appears smaller than it is. It has also lost some of the dazzle that the famed pianist gave it while living here beginning in 1967. (Purchase price: $200,000, plus $130,000 in renovations.) Its five bedrooms had already been converted to guest suites when Liberace arrived, but the flamboyant Grammy winner turned them into theme rooms. The Valentino Room featured a sleigh bed, and there was a Persian tent room off to the side of the pool. Other marvels: a master bedroom so large one tour guide noted that you could fit a small house within it. Beyond that, the house has many crystal chandeliers, numerous antiques, and a small chapel (Liberace was said to have prayed daily in a shrine dedicated to St. Anthony) to fan away any residual boredom. Liberace reportedly died here in February 1987.

“Carma”
The eccentric singer was said to have taken to living in the garage at one point.

&

Ann Miller
457 Hermosa Place, Palm Springs

The Lowdown: When you think of a “Hollywood” home, this is what you envision — bold, much like Miller’s personality. The extravagant stomping grounds of the acclaimed actress (Kiss Me Kate, Easter Parade, Broadway’s Sugar Babies) sit on one of the biggest lots in the Las Palmas neighborhood. Hard to miss, the salmon-toned, two-story gem with Spanish ceramic roof was built in 1928. Perks include a swimming pool and plenty of green lawn. At the moment, patriotism also factors in — an American flag flies proudly above the house every day. KTLA personality Toni Holt owns the historic estate with her husband, Robert Kramer.

All Wet
This is rumored to be the place where, during a festive cocktail party, Frank Sinatra slugged a bartender for not correctly making him an extra dry martini.


Dean Martin
1123 Via Monte Vista, Palm Springs

The Lowdown: Martin was said to be one of the last to have purchased a midcentury modern jewel from the father-and-son architecture pioneers George and Robert Alexander, who died with other family members in a plane crash in 1965. Martin purchased the house for $56,000 and luxuriated there with his second wife, Jeanne, in the ’60s and ’70s. (She is still sighted here on occasion.) The tan-and-white motif, coupled with several lush palms and boulders, add to the stellar and memorable modern design.

3
Number of Martin’s grandchildren who were often seen at their lemonade stand, offering refreshments to onlookers fascinated with the home’s celebrity history.


Loretta Young
1075 Manzanita Ave., Palm Springs

The Lowdown: The star of classic films The Bishop’s Wife, Call of the Wild, The Farmer’s Daughter, Come to the Stable, and TV’s The Loretta Young Show, Young moved into this pristine dwelling in 1993. Standouts here included a stunning, circular, white living room; 14-foot ceilings; and a suspended fireplace. Young died in 2000, and the property sold in 2001 for more than $630,000, easily double what she had paid for it. Note the beautifully trimmed hedges, which Young is said to have attended to personally with a pair of scissors.

Got Wings?
At Christmastime, Young purportedly filled the house with angel figurines and heavily decorated the exterior of the property with them as well.


Barbara Steisand and James Brolin
555 Patencio Road, Palm Springs

The Lowdown: Oscar- and Tony-winner Streisand and Brolin must enjoy plenty of marital conversation in this striking midcentury modern standout, perched on its own mini-mountain. The famous couple also enjoys breathtaking valley vistas from the main house, situated behind a much larger-appearing guest mansion. A long, gated driveway is every bit of 20 degrees and decorated with tall palms on each side. The guest mansion’s patio sports a classic Hollywood canopy. Meanwhile, the main quarters have plenty of windows for the views.

300
Degrees of view


TOUR DE FORCE

Bus tours are hit and miss, so it’s refreshing to come across a creative beast like Celebrity Tours of Palm Springs. Like the city itself, this local enterprise has plenty of style — and much of that comes from the tour guides.

Tim Bannister, the relatively new owner of the company, which has prospered here for more than 40 years, says he “likes to try to paint a picture of the valley and show people how celebrities impacted Palm Springs.” And that he does. Bannister and his guides sweeten these outings with stellar bon mots and an authentic desire to share a wealth of the valley’s celebrity history. A recent excursion proved enlightening for a number of reasons. Beyond offering detailed accounts of what life may have been like for some of the stars who lived here — and some who still do — Bannister reveals a wealth of knowledge about architecture.

Running 90 minutes to two hours, the tour offers a fine glimpse of some lavish houses, as well as a feel for some of the desert’s distinctly original neighborhoods, especially around Las Palmas. Take a seat.

Information: 1-760-770-2700, www.thecelebritytour.com

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