Many of the structures at Casa Cody have been around since the 1930s.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LANCE GERBER
As you approach Casa Cody, the oldest continuously operated hotel in Palm Springs, bougainvillea spills over the perimeter walls and fencing and creates a sense of privacy and sanctuary. Before entering, you hardly notice the property’s vast size, but inside, the retreat unfolds gracefully as it detaches from the rest of downtown. The grounds reflect the lineage of the buildings, with historically protected fruit trees dating back more than 90 years and generous space for events ranging from picnics to weddings.
Casa Cody is a piece of Palm Springs history. In the back of the property, you can find remnants of a stone-line irrigation ditch built in the late 1800s under the supervision of Judge John J. McCallum, who wanted to make Palm Springs an agricultural hub to supply fruits and vegetables to Los Angeles. In 1892, torrential rains washed out much of the irrigation system.
“We are lucky that we have these quaint vestiges of times past,” says Ken Lyon, associate city planner and historic preservation officer for the city of Palm Springs. “It’s part of what makes Palm Springs unique for tourism. People are craving authentic experiences and not a replica of something that didn’t exist. Palm Springs is fortunate in that much of our older infrastructure is still surviving and people can still appreciate it and enjoy it.”
Carolyn Schneider was interested in Casa Cody’s historical roots long before she formed the hospitality management group Casetta Group, which now owns the property. Schneider had ties to Palm Springs, first as a vacation spot while growing up in L.A., and later while working for Ace Hotel and spending time at its Palm Springs property. “Casa Cody is that gem that stood out and had so much potential,” Schneider says. “It already had such an engaged audience that loves the property. [It] just needed a little love, a little refresh.”
The romantic respite is situated on tranquil grounds in the shadow of the San Jacinto Mountains.
Lyon says that change can come to historic properties — even those that seem frozen in time, like Casa Cody — despite the thinking that altering or modifying a building is the antithesis of preservation. “The secret,” he asserts, “is doing them in a way that’s sympathetic and respectful of the historic character of the building.”
Schneider says research drives the work of Casetta Group, which recently restored the historic Hotel Willa in Taos, New Mexico, and transformed a 1931 church in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood into a forthcoming 25-room hotel. With Casa Cody, a previous owner of the property, former Palm Springs mayor Frank Tysen, shared a wealth of information. “I think we got almost everything we needed from him, including lots of pictures,” Schneider says. “He had trunks full of old files, and he passed all that onto us, so that was extremely useful.”
In Casa Cody, they found an eclectic combination of four parcels — each containing residential properties occupied over the years as either hotels or apartments — that came together by 1988 and received a Class 1 historic site distinction in 2008. Despite the disjointed arrangement, the 30-room hotel was rooted in the strength and will of its founder, Harriet Cody, one of many women who shaped Palm Springs.
A cousin of the famous cowboy performer Wild Bill Cody, Harriet came by wagon from Hollywood to Palm Springs in 1916 with her husband, Harold, a Philadelphia architect, who sought to ease his tuberculosis with the dry, warm air. They built an adobe house on the hotel’s current grounds, and Harriet nursed her husband around the clock. Food trays mysteriously appeared outside her door. She would eat and return to her husband’s side while the dishes disappeared. They later discovered that Nellie Coffman, owner of the nearby Desert Inn, had sent the trays.
When Harold died in 1924, Harriet put her Vassar University education to work by turning her limited knowledge of riding horses into the village’s first livery stable. She initially located it behind their home on what is now South Cahuilla Road and later moved it to Indian Avenue (now Indian Canyon Drive) near the Lois Kellogg estate. Business thrived because city streets were made for horse traffic with hitching posts and water troughs up and down Main Street (now Palm Canyon Drive). Harriet rented horses for $5 a day and also boarded horses for visitors, including movie cowboys Tom Mix and Jack Holt.
Her husband’s passing made Harriet realize she needed more than her livery stables to make a living. By 1932, she opened Casa Cody featuring an L-shaped structure designed by Myron Hunt, whose resume included a wing for the Mission Inn in Riverside, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. The building, which offered small kitchenette apartments, would later house officers of Gen. George Patton training for the North African campaign during World War II. Some of the first hotel rooms at Casa Cody came from L.A. Four small, prefabricated wooden cottages originally built to house athletes for the 1932 Summer Olympics in L.A. were shipped to Palm Springs and originally sat on the ground, not a foundation. Three of them were demolished in the 1950s.
Casa Cody blends modern design with its colorful Spanish Colonial Revival heritage and adobe architecture.
Historic structures on the property include the California Ranch House and Adobe House.
Over time, Casa Cody added more buildings with historic ties to the growth of Palm Springs, including the Crocker Cottage built for $1,000 in the 1940s as part of the El Rincon apartments owned by Francis Crocker, who later spearheaded the building of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. In the 1950s, actress Polly Bergen bought The Apache Lodge for her parents to operate; it offered studios and suites in a long rectangular wood-frame structure with a gable roof. In 1936, a Beverly Hills mortgage broker bought the Winter House, embodying the wood frame and stucco homes of the era. Overall, the design befits the Spanish Colonial revival architecture from the’30s and ’40s before the rise of midcentury modern.
“You’re seeing a lot of what people would refer to as Old West or western-style architecture,” Lyon says. “A lot of simple ranch-style buildings with gable roofs, board and batten sidings, wooden posts, wood cedar shake roof shingles, and things like that. [It’s] very much what you think of in the stereotypical Old West, the old Southwest of the United States construction that took place out here.”
Schneider says Casetta Group set out to preserve the exterior look of the buildings while bringing unity to the interiors. In addition to clear walkways between the properties and upgrades to the landscape, Terremoto of L.A. helped create an edible garden outside the Olympic Cottage that a local farmer will fill with indigenous plants.
“The property — this collection of small homes — lends itself so easily to this really beautiful residential feel,” she says. “We wanted to play to that and make them feel cozy and warm, like you’re staying at a well-designed home, but in a way that feels very approachable. We were inspired by Spanish architecture, given that there’s all of this beautiful Saltillo tile that was already in place.”
Inspired by Casa Cody’s heritage, Electric Bowery, a Venice Beach architecture and design firm, looked at color combinations, materials, furniture, and surprise finds like pages from a sketchbook in a desk that could be framed and displayed to continue to communicate the hotel’s legacy with guests.
Casa Cody offers a private retreat within walking distance of Palm Canyon Drive.
“There was never any intention of stripping all of the old materials entirely out of the room because there is that original wear and tear that adds to the charm,” says Cayley Lambur, one of Electric Bowery’s managing partners. “A big part of preserving the history is actually that, just trying to keep as much of the historic detailing and material that is salvageable in place, and then complementing it with materials that elevate what’s there.”
They received help from both Lyon and David Clarke, principal architect and vice president of Marks Architects in Palm Springs, which Casetta Group hired based on their numerous hospitality projects in the city. Together, they navigated the city’s planning and building departments and the Historic Site Preservation Board. “We looked at paint, roofing, landscaping, walkways, all of the lighting, signage — everything had to contribute to an overall unified experience,” Clarke says. “Taking all these diverse parts and creating a unified experience was challenging. It’s like six different puzzles that you have to put together and make it look like one puzzle.”
Guests enjoy a mix of kitchenettes or full kitchens, private patios, and fireplaces across the property. Dark wood tones form a classic base for the pops of color that are more prevalent in the studio and suite rooms, and the textured blue-emerald green accents — including on the Zellige tile in the bathrooms and bar areas — reflects a modern Mediterranean influence. “Even though it’s the same tile in the jewel colors, they’re slightly different just to keep embracing the unique quality of each room,” says Electric Bowery project manager and senior designer Daniella Gohari. “Layering that with other colors and mixing textures was important to us.” Lambur adds, “A guest could return to Casa Cody multiple times and have a completely different experience every time — their room typology, setting, everything. That was part of the intent.”
In the kitchen areas, there’s a curated selection of cookbooks by Now Serving, an L.A. cookbook and culinary shop, while in-room amenities include eco-minded items like Parachute bedding and bath linens, MoonCloth Designs’ certified organic bath products, custom Finery bathrobes, Ocean Bottle reuseable water bottles, and a special coconut blend wax from Roen x Casetta 001 candles.
The cottages remain true to their heritage, including the Adobe House, where an unobstructed view of the San Jacinto Mountains inspired the brown, tan, and black shades to set the stage for playful touches of color in the floor coverings under the bed as well as the warm coral velvet in the bedroom bench and headboards.
A reimagined entrance plaza at the south end of the property should be complete this year. It will include a retail section and an artisanal marketplace where guests can shop for bites and drinks to enjoy poolside, in their room, or at a picnic spot on the grounds.
Casetta Group wants Casa Cody guests to explore the property and engage in its storied history compared to the in-and-out approach at traditional hotels. “So instead of coming to the hotel and feeling like it’s a hotel room, you feel like you’re going to your friend’s cool Spanish apartment,” Gohari says. Lyon adds a key element to creating that authentic experience is not to give a false sense of history, but to stay true to the property’s roots. “We work to try to help people understand the nature of the historic character of the building that they have,” he says, “and then work within that vocabulary that allows changes to be made but made in a way that is respectful of the architecture.”
• READ NEXT: 5 Road Trip Ideas for Summer 2021.