King Camp Gillette built his Palm Springs retreat just south of downtown at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
In 1920, an interesting visitor was seen wandering the grounds of The Desert Inn in his bathrobe in dire need of a shave.
When other guests commented on his appearance Nellie Coffman, the owner of the hotel, explained that in her opinion the gentleman could wear what he liked. She further explained that the gentleman was one of her best customers and none other than King Camp Gillette, the inventor of the safety razor.
Eventually, Gillette made Palm Springs his winter retreat and he purchased a large swath of land in what today is called the Mesa neighborhood. The Mesa is nestled at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains just south of downtown where Palm Canyon Drive curves to become East Palm Canyon.
In 1923, he built a stately Spanish home, and as importantly, began extensive plantings. In the ensuing years, he would build more houses and multiple out-buildings. He exuberantly experimented with date palms and exotic cacti with a grand plan of beautifying the desert.
Indeed, Gillette was a profligate spender, with excellent tastes in real estate. He acquired 508 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains and commissioned Wallace Neff to design a Spanish Colonial Revival-style mansion of 25 rooms with a gloriously tiled fountain overlooking an unrivaled vista of rolling hills dotted with native oaks. (Years later, Bob Hope purchased the property.) The handsome house was completed in 1929, just before the stock market crash in October that year.
Gillette’s fortunes dissipated. Eventually he was forced out of his own company and his misfortune in the stock market crash caused a swift decline in his lifestyle and health.
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There is a multitude of ways to learn more about Palm Springs, which turned 82 in 2020. One of the more intriguing methods is by exploring the city’s history.
The Palm Springs Historical Society will share a story whose time and place corresponds with today.
For more information, visit pshistoricalsociety.org, or visit their location at 221 S. Palm Canyon Drive.