The “Land of 10,000 pools”
… and oh so cooling! Many Palm Springs area resorts promote a tally of 10,000-plus pools in describing the paradise-like, luxury lifestyle of the valley. With a population of approximately 250,000 residents, the 10,000-plus pool estimate for the surrounding cities allows one pool for every 2.5 of us. As the population grows in the Coachella Valley — so goes the increase in swimming pools.
In 1939, the city of Palm Springs boasted more swimming pools than any other place in the country. Not a surprise, with temperatures that beg for all cooling options available most of the year, where there aren’t 10,000 lakes (slightly different terrain than Minnesota). The early 1940s are considered Palm Springs’ heyday, with wealthy Hollywood types journeying to the scenic desert to enjoy an oasis for fun, socializing, golf, tennis, and lounging poolside in glorious sun-filled weather. Those might have been the glory days for getting Palm Springs on the map, but current times might best be described as roaring times for pool construction.
Even though much of the early draw for vacationers to Palm Springs happened to be the warm, curative mineral waters treasured by the local Agua Caliente tribe, those who came to stay in this desert built swimming pools! As one of the fastest-growing population areas in the United States, the valley surrounding Palm Springs still fits the oasis-for-fun category, and stylish, new, high-tech swimming pools keep adding to the allure.
It’s not only pool numbers that make the greater Palm Springs area such a refreshing paradise, but also the stylish way in which desert dwellers cool off that might be one the valley’s most distinctive traits. Current estimates from pool companies in the area bump up the number to 15,000-plus pools either in service or under construction in the Coachella Valley. The city of La Quinta’s building and safety department lists more than 5,500 permitted swimming pools in La Quinta alone — and adding at least 100 new pools to the record each month.
Cooling in Style
Jim Harebottle, CFO at California Pools & Spas in Coachella, suggests there are 15,000-plus working pools in the valley.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that number keeps increasing in a hurry, given the continuing spread of high-end, gated communities and homes being built throughout the East Valley. Even in Palm Springs there will be an increase in pool numbers with new land now open for more home and condo construction. Not too many people … in the desert full time — or certainly those who make the trip to enjoy weekends only — want to be without access to a pool.”
Speaking to the growth of swimming pools in the valley, California Pools, a local pool designer and builder for the past 20 years, has expanded from a one-room operation with five employees to a four-acre, 10,000-square-foot office with 400-plus employees.
Golf communities, individual homes, and certainly apartment, condo, and gated racquet or athletic club conclaves all keep building pools — and not necessarily in the same old 1939 style. There are a lot of new conventions making a splash in pool design. Granted some older Palm Springs pools have personality all their owners — consider Frank Sinatra’s grand-piano-shaped pool built in 1947 at his Twin Palms estate. Designed for leisurely swims and to enhance the mountain and desert views at martini hour, Architect E. Stewart Williams incorporated the tressed, cutout pattern of the walkway overhang next to the pool as a design element creating piano-key-shaped shadows from the shifting sun on the pool’s edge.
Creativity and High Tech
“There are so many options for pool design now,” says Graham Balog, director of sales for California Pools. “There always has been, but our technology has helped us build a bit more ‘out of the rectangle’ without taking forever to finish … or being too costly. So the shapes and sizes, water features, and entries have great variety. But what has moved pool construction, design and maintenance along is the technology for sealing and cleaning pools — like pebble-texture surfaces and self-cleaning vacuum systems. That has allowed us to design with a lot of creativity.”
“More and more homeowners want to build their backyard pool areas as a one-stop shop for entertainment. We’re designing many combinations of elements, such as tanning shelves; spas; swim-up bars; in-pool sitting stools; fountains; bridges; seating ledges; water features adding stonework, sculptures; or custom artwork; easy access to barbecue grilling stations; and home outdoor music and video entertainment centers,” Balog says.
“Tanning shelves are the most popular feature for pools being installed currently,” Balog adds. “It’s very popular to build shallow, gradual entrances … some including sand, as well as tanning shelves complete with umbrella-stand holders for sunbathers. You can spend the whole day in the pool … and also continue to entertain in the evening with the resort-type pools going into many individual homeowners’ back yard view,” he adds.
Steve Hanousek, vice president of sales and construction for Master Pools & Spas in Thousand Palms, echoes the 15,000-plus and growing fast sentiment. Started in 1958, the family-owned pool business has witnessed the number of pools built in the valley move from 50 per year to more than 1,000 new pools annually.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘standard’ pool anymore. With the variety of amenities, we’re finding our customers are requesting saltwater chlorination features, raised spas with aesthetic water features, and many additional water and lighting options,” Hanousek says.
The Privacy Factor Encourages More Homeowners
to design their own patios as the spot where they love to spend most of their free time. Also, with property values continuing to increase, an investment of $40,000 to $60,000 in the pool zone seems to have returned the investment, and then some, for property exchanges over the past several years.
“The average cost of our pool projects is about $60,000. And the real estate brokers tell us that in our current market, unlike most other areas, homeowners recoup 100 percent or more of their initial cost of pools at resale. And homes sell faster in this area, of course, with pool improvements,” Harebottle says. “We also have to give a lot of credit for the immediate increase in pool sales to the major home builders and exclusive club developers here in the valley. They have made swimming pools an integral part of their sales programs for years.
“One of the fastest-growing areas of our business is in pool remodeling. Because pools have been so prominent in the valley for so long, there is now a great demand to rejuvenate and even redesign or add features to existing pools. The older pools used different materials and techniques than are standard today, so it does take some expertise. A lot of the mechanics of the pool are underground also. With property values shooting up, lots of homeowners are calling us to upgrade their properties,” he adds.
“Pebble-textured finishes have added appealing color and beautiful sealing capabilities to most new pools,” Harebottle says. “Digital control systems for lighting, music, water features, temperature, waterfalls, on-or-off systems really add to the custom feel for enjoying your own pool and back yard. We’ve transitioned a number of traditional, fresh-water pools using salinization equipment for homeowners switching to saltwater. We’re also building more pools with the homeowners’ pets in mind … areas set aside for Golden Retrievers or Labs, as an example, so the entire family unit — pets and all — can spend time together.”
True to the nature of Palm Springs, an escape from Hollywood brought Tim Priehs to the desert. Innovative thinking and hard work keeps his A Kool Pool business moving forward. A Cathedral City resident since 1988, Priehs is a former actor whose credits include the film Body Heat, television shows including General Hospital, music videos, and commercials. Active in charitable support for Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert and YMCA of the Desert — and recent two-time winner of the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational Golf Tournament — Priehs is at home in the desert. He based his company, opened in 1991, on an idea to cool pools by spraying water across the surface in a fountain effect to help reduce evaporation and lower the water temperature by two to three degrees.
A Kool Pool was also the first in the Coachella Valley to offer saltwater swimming pool conversions.
“Saltwater pools are good for the skin, nose, eyes, hair, and clothing; and they perform well in our extreme-heat environment,” Priehs says. “High dougle and triple-digit temperatures, combined with sand and extra debris from leaves and plants, create algae problems in a hurry … and fluctuations in chemicals are hard to keep constant in those conditions, so we find saltwater systems are more consistent and perfect for this climate.
“The saltwater in a backyard pool is very refreshing and not as concentrated as the ocean. Where the ocean is 40,000 ppm, a saltwater pool system would be less than 3,000 ppm of saline. It’s therapeutic and it cuts down on the amount of chemicals,” he adds.
The need to cool the pool will also keep Priehs busy this summer. While often the challenge is heating the pool for comfortable swimming in most places, the desert summers create overly warm pool temperatures.
“With our summer weather, equipment that cools the water temperature may be a homeowners’ best friend when they really need to cool off most,” Priehs says. “So we offer a system for cooling pool water that extends the enjoyment of the pool year-round.”
Priehs’ company installs a patented cooling system, by Glacier, that lowers the temperature of a typical, 15,000- to 30,000-gallon residential swimming pool to a desired level while it’s running during the day or overnight — at low cost (approximately $2 per day while). “Water is circulated through the system, the heat is removed, and chilled water is pumped back into the pool at a rate of 25 gallons per minute on residential pools and up to 125 gallons per minute for commercial pools. The system is electric powered, at just 12.5 amps; does not require Freon or natural gas to operate; and installs with any pool equipment setup.
“This is an inexpensive way to cool your pool in the summer,” Priehs says. “An individual cooling system is ideal for the desert. For about the same cost of running a ceiling fan, homeowners can reduce the temperature of their pool by 15 degrees and really enjoy the pool during the hottest months.”
There’s no better place for beauty and function to come together on a 114-degree day than a backyard pool with a gorgeous mountain and golf course view. After all, most of us are here to relax, unwind, and cool off in style!
— Peggy Horkan