bahama hotel palm springs

Renovating History

The 60+ year architectural story of the Bahama Hotel has come to life with its second coming as The Cole Hotel in Palm Springs.

JIM POWERS Current Digital, Hotels & Resorts

bahama hotel palm springs
A drone shot of The Cole Hotel today shows its enlarged footprint but still with elements from its 60+ year past.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY DON BUELL, DONEVON STUDIOS

When it opened in 1959, the Bahama Hotel was considered “one of the most unusual of Palm Springs hostelries”, according to a Desert Sun article from January 1959. In announcing the opening of the $300,000 two-story, 30-room hotel, owners Arthur and Amy Nelson Lee also prominently listed “refrigerated air conditioning and television for all rooms”.

Not really sure that was the unusual part of the property.

More likely was the stonework done on the main building by mason John Francis Gallerini, who would later duplicate similar work for the Spa Hotel in downtown Palm Springs. Or its midcentury pedigree, notably architect Hugh Kaptur who was credited for the exterior decor. Raymond Devore, a San Clemente draftsman, designed the building.

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Kaptur, however, has said his role was minimal, says Barbara Anne Marshall, a board member for the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, who has a working history of the hotel. In an email response, Marshall noted despite downplaying his role in the project, “Kaptur vividly recalls his disappointment at not being awarded the design work…” because of a family connection to the hotel. Amy Nelson Lee was the aunt of Kaptur’s wife, Rosemarie.

A year ago, the hotel’s history was expected to come to life with the unveiling of its latest version, The Cole Hotel, during Modernism Week Fall Preview. Contractor issues canceled the event, and now the coronavirus pandemic is postponing a true grand opening.

thecolehotelpalmsprings

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE COLE HOTEL
A drone shot of The Cole Hotel today shows its enlarged footprint but still with elements from its 60+ year past.

Still, The Cole Hotel officially opened for business in March just before the shutdown, then closed, and reopened in late June.

In its original state, the Bahama Hotel offered 15 rooms with kitchenettes and 15 regular hotel rooms. The Cole Hotel eliminated those kitchenettes, created five floorpans, and kept the midcentury vibe with a colorful, clean look thanks to help from H3K Design in Palm Springs. There is even a “Honeymoon Suite” covering 600 square feet with wraparound windows and a private balcony.

Owner Mark Weis shares with Palm Springs Life his fascination with the property that led to creating The Cole Hotel. And despite the bumps and bruises that come with undertaking a renovation, he persevered to get it done.

How did you become involved with this project?

I have a vacation rental out here. I’m out here quite a bit. When it’s not used, I’m actually living here. I used to pass by the property every time I came here. It just always looked like a really interesting renovation project. I’ve always enjoyed challenging renovation projects. That certainly was the most challenging project I’ve had to date. I’ve done large apartment buildings in places like Dallas, Detroit, and San Diego, but this was definitely something completely new. The property wasn’t even for sale when I passed by it.

TheColeHotelpool

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE COLE HOTEL
Generous space around the pool area.

I actually tracked down the owner of the place and the person I purchased the property from actually got a really good deal on it because they bought it from the woman who had owned it for many, many years.

What caught your eye?

It was something different, something I hadn’t done before. But I had no idea that it was going to require that amount of work and that amount of redesign. It took twice as long as it was supposed to, but that’s like every project, I guess. I think new construction is probably easier because there’s no surprises. You know what you’re getting into. With renovations, you just don’t know until you start ripping walls out and looking under the concrete. There were a lot of surprises with that place.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE COLE HOTEL
The main suite has a lounge area and wraparound windows above North Palm Canyon Drive.

What were some of the biggest challenges in bringing the hotel version of the property back?

Probably the biggest thing is permitting of course, because it sits on the main thoroughfare (North Palm Canyon Drive). We had to go through the Architectural Advisory Committee. They comment on anything from color of the property to landscaping to the type of windows and doors and whatever else you can see from the street. That was a process. And then parking was also another issue because of the way that we redesigned the hotel and created more of an outdoor space. We eliminated a lot of the parking that was there. It was already substandard anyway. I think it only had originally 14 parking spaces, but we removed many of the parking spaces and expanded that outdoor area and created a larger pool. And then I purchased the three lots to the north of the hotel and did a lot merger and turned that into parking. So now we’ve got more than enough parking for the hotel.

I’m sure you have probably spent time staying in hotels yourself. What ideas did you want to incorporate into The Cole Hotel?

There were lots of things and we spent quite a bit of time studying other hotels because we wanted to take a midcentury hotel and keep that charm yet update it without making it look like it’s been updated. For example, inside the room the espresso machine you use and the Bluetooth radios, and televisions that you can watch whatever you want on. It doesn’t look like it is, the Bluetooth radios actually look vintage. They look like they’re from the late ’50s. So we tried to keep that vintage look and feel, definitely. That was important.

There are many boutique hotels in Palm Springs, and each manages to look and feel different than the other. What makes The Cole Hotel unique?

We actually offer something that most other boutique hotels don’t, and that’s the ability to come stay at the hotel and not leave. You don’t have to leave for food or drink, everything is there. There’s plenty of space, which is something else that we have that a lot of other hotels don’t have. We have a ton of square footage, outdoor square footage. There’s plenty of room for social distancing. The pool is huge. The patio is huge around the pool. We’ve got a lot of outdoor dining space. And so there’s no need to be close to other people that you’re not in quarantine with.

heydaythecolehotel

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE COLE HOTEL
The eating area at The Cole Hotel has become home to Heyday, a popular burger pop-up that gained notoriety at VillageFest.

How did you bring in Heyday to provide food?

We actually met with them down at the Thursday night street fair. One thing led to another and they were actually looking for a space and it seemed like a really good fit. So we let them use the kitchen. They were doing their curbside service for the first couple months of this quarantine and people loved that. They’ve developed a menu for the hotel.

In hindsight, at any point in the project, did you think, “Am I making a mistake? Should I pull out?”

Oh yeah, many times, many times. It’s one of those things where you’re so far into it, there’s no turning back. It was just a lot of moving parts and it was just overwhelming at certain periods during construction that I would have loved to have walked away from the project. But you reach a point that you just can’t walk away from. You got to keep going. You have to see it through to fruition. Now, I’m glad I did because it turned out really well. Even with the pandemic, I think there’s a huge future for The Cole. I think it’s going to be a great spot on the north end of Palm Canyon, because there’s really nothing up there.

For more information, visit thecolehotel.com.

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