The Big Valley

Discreet communities are the little jewels within the necklace of Coachella Valley cities. A few of their residents tell us why.

R. Daniel Foster Real Estate 0 Comments

A central location, good schools, and abundant cultural events keep the Patels very content in their gated Rancho Mirage neighborhood.

The Patels

Agam, associate director, MFA program UC, Riverside, Palm Desert Center;
Nicole, ESL teacher, adjunct faculty at College of the Desert;
two children, 7 and 5

Mission Shores,

Agam: We got married in 2007, but I bought the home in 2004 before I met Nicole. … Our home was still a dirt lot when I signed the paperwork. It’s a three-bedroom, two-bath, Spanish style, all one floor with high ceilings. A decent-sized backyard, and I put in [a] patio. The kids use the backyard a lot.

Nicole: I work … at College of the Desert — about a 10-minute drive. Everything is 10 minutes away.  Agam is … at the University of California, Riverside [Palm Desert].
We have huge windows that look out to surrounding trees. It’s a beautifully landscaped, semi-desert feel here, a natural look. Also, mountain views from the front. There are no power lines, they’re all buried — and a street ordinance against streetlights, so you can see the stars at night.
Since we have little kids, our home is not exactly a sanctuary. Like most young couples, we’re working and raising a family. …[W]e do lots of cooking.

Nicole: We get our vegetables at the Palm Springs farmers market on Saturday. We also shop at Clark’s Nutrition near Dinah Shore Drive and Trader Joe’s in Palm Desert — everything is central.

Agam: It’s a great place to raise a family. It’s true that there aren’t a lot of kids in the neighborhood, and there are many retired folks here. But we have good friends across the street. They live in L.A., and they have a little boy. He comes over on the weekends. We do see more families trickling in, but not many younger families like us.

Nicole: I like the feeling of safety here, in a gated community. And everything is so close.

Agam: It’s 10 minutes to Palm Desert and La Quinta, and 10 minutes to Palm Springs. We can be at the museum that fast …  Palm Springs has fun, cultural programming, hip hotels, good food, and shows.
We love the elementary school: a wonderful principal, and the teachers are great. A nice small school. It’s in Rancho Mirage Cove, sort of tucked away from where you would expect a school to be, and it’s walking distance from there to the community park and the library.

The Community Park [about 5 miles away] just re-opened with a new amphitheater that has concerts, music festivals. We’ve been to two concerts there; the first was country music. There are also tennis courts, play areas, basketball, and open space for picnics. We’ve taken the kids there since they started to crawl.

Nicole: We’re a five-minute drive to Sunnylands; I go to yoga there on Friday mornings. We also go on family days — they have crafts for kids, music, and there’s the historical component, of course. On certain holidays they hold events, like the Day of the Dead Celebration. There’s always something happening. It’s great to have the amazing history so close.
We love the [Rancho Mirage] Library  on 111; it’s one of the best in the valley. They do a really good job of bringing in culturally relevant programing, reading programs for toddlers and kids, and they have a writer’s series. Good movies there, too.

Coachella Valley Neighborhoods

The Perezes relish the sense of security that comes with such close proximity to their extended family.

The Perezes

Desiree, full–time mom;
four children, 13 to 17


I live near downtown Indio — it’s all residential with four schools nearby …  Lots of families.
We live in a ranch-style house, four bedrooms, built in ’62. These older homes have bigger bedrooms, bigger yards. We bought four years ago, right after my husband, Javier, passed away.

This neighborhood was started in 1959, so most of the homes were built in the 1960s.
Dominguez Park is right around the corner. Nice big play area, a basketball court and walking trail … My four boys love it, and are down there all the time.
We’re out in our backyard a lot, and love the lawn, the patio, and lights we’ve strung up. There’s a couple of grapefruit trees for shade, and a great view of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Every year we all go to the Tamale Festival and the parade. It’s two blocks down from us on Miles Avenue. My brother and his wife come, aunts, cousins — it’s a real family outing. The National Date Festival … we do the exact same thing — another parade! They call Indio the City of Festivals. There’s always an event, a celebration … We see other families in the neighborhood at the parades and events. We see our grocer there and other shopkeepers.

We can walk to the Civic Center Mall. There’s plenty of restaurants, grocery stores — the Yellow Mart for sporting goods. We get all the kids’ uniforms there. … [El] Rincon Norteno is there in old town. We know the family that owns the restaurant, have known them for years. And they knew my grandparents, so they’re old family friends. They’ve had the restaurant for over 50 years.
Indio is big on its history. The city finished, I think just recently, six murals near the Civic Center Mall.

It takes 15 minutes to walk to the com-munity center [Desert Recreation District], great for kids. It has a gym, sports — basketball, volleyball, racquetball.

We have a tight family unit. My parents live two miles away, and my grandparents are within five miles, so we see them a lot, and they love that my boys are close. My aunt and uncle live on one street, my mom’s dad lives on the street over, and my dad’s parents live the next street over.

We have family dinners here at my place every Wednesday. My parents, my brother and his wife come, and their two kids. People tend to stay put. They don’t move away to Los Angeles, San Diego — they stay here. One of my uncles did move to Arizona, but that’s unusual.

We do barbecues together, anniversaries, boxing, and other sports on TV. Any little reason, and we say, “Let’s get together!” Karaoke parties. Super Bowls. We also camp regularly with about six families — to Idyllwild, Yucaipa, Chula Vista. That’s my Pioneer RV in the driveway that we use, have had it for five years.

I’m telling you this is a very small valley. We’re all entwined somehow. I always run into old friends from high school, and it’s, “Oh, you’re married to so-and-so and he’s a friend or cousin of mine.” There’s a sense of home, a sense of security here. It’s comforting.

Coachella Valley Neighborhoods

Dennis Woods (left) and Robert Rotman, have panoramic views and feel completely connected to the desert terrain.

Robert Rotman
Dennis Woods

Robert, interior designer,
Dennis, urban planner

Little Tuscany,

Robert: We’ve been together for 18 years and have vacationed here for 30. We moved from Santa Monica in 2012, when we bought the house. Four-bedroom, 4 1/2 baths. The architecture is classified as midcentury Atomic Ranch, which has to do with the low-slung roof and the futuristic look. More of a contemporary design, rather than Tudor or Spanish. At the time, it was revolutionary. We have big renovation plans.

Dennis: Many people in Palm Springs have the experience of living on the golf course and looking up to the mountains. Here, we live within the desert, and look down to the valley, which can feel like a park. Here, it’s more natural with rocks, boulders. We feel very connected to the land here.

Little Tuscany represents the new Palm Springs — it’s all about water conservation with desert landscape design.

Some of the most iconic homes in Palm Springs are in Little Tuscany: the Frederick Loewe [Estate]; and Raymond Lowey. There are many homes by architect [E.] Stewart Williams — he designed the original Sinatra house down the hill on Alejo. The Hearst family had a house here, just a lot of iconic architecture.

Unlike other neighborhoods that can appear homogenized, Little Tuscany has mostly custom-built homes — lots of architectural gems. And one of the most photographed homes in the U.S. is here: the Kaufmann house. A [gated] subdivision is being created above us — all custom homes as well.

Robert: We have 360-degree views, and can see the tram from our front and backyards. We have a wide view of the windmills in the distance. At night they flash red, so it’s a great light show.

Dennis: There’s even a view when we pee.

Robert: We sit in our backyard and watch our visiting friends’ planes land. That’s how we know they’re on time. Once we see the plane, we drive to the airport and pick them up. We come across coyotes, mountain lions, skunks, and further up: bighorn sheep. We had a tarantula living in our front yard for a while.

Dennis: Little Tuscany has a variety of income groups and is incredibly inclusive. Being removed from town, this area attracts independent thinkers: architects and writers, people in the entertainment industry. There are condos at the lower part of the hill that sell in the high $200,000s to low $300,000s. … I know that having a variety of income brackets is a plus. The new subdivision above us, they’re asking $1.2 million for those, and in other parts of Little Tuscany, it’s in the multimillions.

Robert: I’ve had my business since 2009… It’s based in Palm Springs and I do work for clients in L.A. as well. … I recently designed the remodel of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, which will be complete [this month].

Dennis: I do transportation and urban planning for the Coachella Valley Association of Governments. I’m also the Little Tuscany neighborhood co-chair of ONE-PS, which promotes communication between residents and city officials. We meet monthly, sponsor a city council election debate, throw an annual picnic. We have a direct line of communication to City Hall to solve problems. We mostly shop in the uptown design district, all walkable from here. We walk down to Koffi in the morning sometimes, or to Cheeky’s. Going there and back, it’s a great stroll through our neighborhood, the houses, the chirping birds — waving at the neighbors. It truly is a Mr. Rogers kind of neighborhood.

We have an active social life, and this house seems like it was built for entertaining. It’s all about connecting with people and food and music. It’s a very The Big Chill house. People just want to hang out here.

Coachella Valley Neighborhoods

Former professional pool man and soap opera star, Tim Priehs maintains his midcentury sensibility in a pad Frank Sinatra built for one of his mistresses.

Tim Priehs

retired businessman

Cathedral Cove,

The story behind [my] house is that Sinatra built it for a mistress in 1962. Frank and his buddies paid to have St. Louis Catholic Church, down the street, built for his mom. And pardon the expression; he wanted a “trick pad” up the street. It makes a lot of sense.

So, given this is a midcentury house, I’ve renovated it over the years, retaining that feel. There are photos of Frank and his buddies around, a photograph of downtown Palm Springs, Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, and others. It’s a two bedroom, two bath, with 2,450 square feet.

I bought the house in December of 1990 with my wife at the time, but we divorced two years later. I knew I wanted to be on the south side of Palm Canyon because of the wind belt. Because when it gets windy — well, having been a pool man for 19 years I know it’s not fun.

My business was called A Kool Pool Service. I drove around in a ’55 Chevy pickup with gangster white walls and signage. Had three guys working for me.

The cove has all kinds of homes, it’s very eclectic, from brand new homes to cinder block construction — and everything in-between.

This neighborhood has such a variety of people — straights, gays, old, and young. We all enjoy the quiet, and the quaintness of the cove. When I bought, this was considered the central valley, but now it’s all moving east. The cove, it’s just a hidden jewel in the desert.

Back when I moved in, the lower cove was a bit sketchy. People would say, “You live in the cove?” not realizing how far up I lived. That’s since been cleaned up — the dilapidated homes and unpermitted stuff — gone.

The higher up you go, the bigger the lot size. These are mostly one-half acre lots. Just a different feel up here. People over the years have visited after being in the desert for 20 years, or their whole life, and they say, “Oh my God! I never realized! I just had never come up this far.” We’re higher up than the Ritz-Carlton, on the next hill over.

The nights are crystal clear; you can see  the stars, and hear the coyotes. And all those city lights. There aren’t many streetlights up here.

My backyard view is of the San Jacinto Mountains. Around my pool: salon chairs, fiberglass pool chairs, a spiral staircase in the corner — I’m an eBay and Craigslist addict, it’s where I get all of this retro furniture. Also in the garage: a blue Formica Kenmore barbecue, 1950s.

I’m a former actor on General Hospital, early 1980s, and have been in other shows.

I used to collect motorcycles, but I sold them all, also vintage cars. I’m down to two: a red, 1967 Shelby Cobra with white stripes. It’s a replica, not an original. The other is a 1948 Plymouth convertible. I’m the second owner, and the first was my mentor, [writer/producer/actor] Rod Warren. He used to drive around in that car with Lily Tomlin and others in New York City.

I was in a bad motorcycle accident, January 2003. Two surgeries. Spinal fusion. Twelve-inch rods to either side of my spine, and 13 3-inch bolts. I go to Bikram yoga every day.

Coachella Valley Neighborhoods

Werner Boettcher built the house for himself and Tori St. Johns. The Spanish design complements La Quinta’s Latin aesthetic.

Tori St. Johns
Werner Boettcher

Tori, school counselor;
Werner, owner, concrete construction company

La Quinta Cove,

Werner: I built our house in 2001, a Spanish, four-bedroom, 3  1/2-bath along Montezuma. I’m a contractor, in the trade all my life — in La Quinta. My father founded the company in 1964, and I took over in 1981. And now I want to do another house because after living here, I see all my design flaws. And I’m not going to tell you where they are.

Tori: The colors inside are very saturated —cobalt, yellow, mustard, deep tans, and red in the kitchen. And the views are amazing  — from every window. There’s a dark sky ordinance that bans streetlights in the cove, so we have great night views of the stars, just incredible.

Werner: I’ll go across the street and shine a light into the brush and catch a dozen set of eyes staring back. And howling, there’s always some of that. Back to the house — we have 12-foot vaulted ceilings, and the floors are poured concrete, stained and scored. They simulate 3-foot square tiles, which you can’t find anywhere, and so people wonder where we got them. I tell them we bought a quarry in Italy and had them imported.

Tori: I work at the Desert Sands Unified School District — for 20 years — in the Student Assistance program. … I love my job, and I love the kids. I’m also on the board of Safe Schools Desert Cities. We always liked the cove, especially our street, Montezuma, since it borders the wash, and really all of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. No one can build on the wash, that’s really a plus. We can walk the [Bear Creek] Trail all the way up to Sugar Loaf Cafe at Pinyon Pines, about 15 miles. From the trail we see Bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, roadrunners, quail, coyotes, bunnies …

Werner: Everything around here was divided into 50-by-100-foot lots when the La Quinta Hotel was built in the 1920s. Adobe houses were constructed on most of them, and you can still spot some of the original adobes on the smaller lots in the cove.

Tori: The lower cove was once less desirable, but as Old Town  has been developed, starting about a dozen years back, that’s changed. Now people can walk to stores and restaurants, so the lower cove has been coming up.

This whole area — it’s all mixed, in terms of demographics. A Rolls Royce might be parked right next to you. There’s also the new Century Theatre, with lounge-type seating.

We go to dinner in Old Town sometimes. The [La Quinta] Arts Festival is there.

That area is great for walking, and lots of fun events: outdoor movies on Friday nights and little concerts. And there’s a farmer’s market on Sundays.

Coachella Valley Neighborhoods

Charlie (left) and George bask in the sunlight (for which their Sunmor neighborhoods is named). Since moving from Minneapolis 14 years ago, they have become very active in their community.

Charlie Ciali
George Janofsky

Charlie, retired flight attendant;
George, waiter

Sunmor Estates,

[George and I] moved from Minneapolis to Palm Springs in 2002, the year we bought our 1955 Sunmor house just off Andreas Road. We didn’t know we were buying architecture, we just thought the house looked cool.

Sunmor is one of the largest neighborhoods with midcentury homes in Palm Springs.It’s mainly Alexander homes. The top of the market is around $700,000, and you might be able to pick up a fixer-upper in the low 300s.

Very little stays on the market here for long. We have more of a village feel because the homes here are all older, and also of the same style. There was a wave of interest in the

Sunmor architecture about the time we bought, in 2002. And there’s been another in the past five years or so.

They named this neighborhood Sunmor because it quite literally gets about an hour more sun, being farther away from the mountains than other neighborhoods.

When we moved here, this house was a dump. We bumped the kitchen out. New floors, windows, sandblasted the ceilings, and got the original Douglas fir ceiling back, the beams had been painted white. We also removed the drop ceiling in the kitchen.

The original blueprint for all of these homes is the same. Identical three-bedroom, two-bath layouts, and usually a pool. The only difference with these homes is the fireplace. Some layouts have it placed on the back wall, some on the side. The neighborhood does have some bastardizations of the architecture, but now, people are generally … making an effort to restore properties to align with the original architectural vision.

I … do print making and encaustic painting, and teach. I work as an artist-in-residence with the Palm Springs Unified School District, and have been on the Palm Springs Art Museum Artists Council board for seven years. I’m currently president.

Most of our shopping is done around Ramon Road and Gene Autry. Everything is 10 minutes away.

Sunmor Neighborhood Organization has done numerous things for our area. I was on the board for two years  — 2012, 2014.

Before, there was so much speeding along Livmor Avenue, so we had it blocked at one end to prevent through traffic. That cut down our neighborhood traffic by 60 percent or more. The association had to go through a lot of hoops to get it closed, but they did it. We’ve also dealt with airport noise, which is minimal. We show up at City Hall and council meetings, and have good relations with city officials.

Sunmor home tours are done every other year. Our first one sold out — 400 people. We just did it again this year, and raised over $30,000 for our neighborhood association. The last two tours have been held in conjunction with Modernism Week.

Our association … has quarterly wine and cheese meetings at rotating homes. All this builds a great sense of community.

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