thunderbird country club

Thoroughly Modern Cody

The early work of famed architect William F. Cody was instrumental to the success of what’s now known as Thunderbird Country Club.

Melissa Riche Current Digital, Home & Design, Real Estate

thunderbird country club
The rear elevation of the Jorgensen/Mavis residence features a deep overhang that shades living space indoors and out.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM RICHE

In March 1950, The Desert Sun’s front page announced plans for Thunderbird Ranch to be converted into an 18-hole golf course. Chief among the trailblazers were top amateur golfer and developer Johnny Dawson, Barney Hinkle, and Frank Bogert (who ran the ranch). Dawson and Hinkle pooled their resources to buy the adjacent Warburton ranch, then Dawson contacted his old friend, Houston oilman D. B. McDaniels, who provided the extra $100,000 they needed to fulfill their dream.

Thunderbird became the first golf club to feature home sites for sale. It was a risky and untried venture for Dawson and Hinkle, but fortunately their instincts proved sound. Home sites sold like hotcakes to the rich and famous such as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Phil Harris and Alice Faye, Hoagy Carmichael, and Leonard Firestone.

Architect William F. Cody was appointed to adapt existing guest ranch buildings, design the new clubhouse with the all-important cocktail lounge overlooking the first tee, and a 300-seat dining room to facilitate serious socializing. Members and guests could also stay in one of 14 long-gable cottages Cody designed for Thunderbird. A master at site planning, Cody worked alongside course designer Lawrence Hughes to interweave the valuable home sites resulting in the best of both worlds for golfers and homeowners.

thunderbird ranch ad
jorgensen mavis house

Side view of the Jorgensen/Mavis house shows the depth of the overhang as well as the remarkable stonework of both the outdoor wall and the living room fireplace wall.

Cody’s work for the club gave the architect an easy introduction to potential clients for new homes. In Palm Springs, he had received an American Institute of Architects honor for the Del Marcos Hotel and his own modernist family home was much admired, so clients had every confidence in Cody’s design abilities.

Dawson, Hinkle, and McDaniels all commissioned Cody for their own homes within the first year of Thunderbird’s existence. He went on to design more than a dozen private residences and several multi-unit communities in and around Thunderbird as well as another half a dozen homes and a condominium community at Tamarisk Country Club. Many of his beautiful homes remain, reinforcing Cody’s significant architectural legacy to the city of Rancho Mirage.

Cody’s work for the club gave the architect an easy introduction to potential clients for new homes. In Palm Springs, he had received an American Institute of Architects honor for the Del Marcos Hotel and his own modernist family home was much admired, so clients had every confidence in Cody’s design abilities.

William Cody

William F. Cody (standing) examines architectural plans with an associate.

jorgensen mavis house night

At night the Jorgensen/Mavis residence looks like a midcentury stage set.

Home sites sold like hotcakes to the rich and famous, such as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Phil Harris and Alice Faye, Hoagy Carmichael and Leonard Firestone.”
julius shulman photo

Historic photo of the living room, taken in the mid-1950s by legendary photographer Julius Shulman.

jorgensen mavis living room

Contemporary photo shows that nothing has changed. The Mavis family even had upholstery made specially to replicate the original.

Motivated to make Thunderbird Country Club a success, Hinkle became its vice president, spokesperson, and planning liaison, reporting to the county planning commission about new infrastructure, home lots for sale, and the fact that utilities would be placed underground (vital for unobstructed views and flying golf balls). With Tony Burke, Hinkle was responsible for home sales around the club, as he had been for Thunderbird Ranch. Before the transition, Hinkle’s real estate company ran ads in 1949 promoting “beautiful ranch houses with thick cedar shake roofs’ nearing completion with ‘interesting glass opening onto covered porches.”

As the new club forged ahead, Hinkle commissioned Cody to design a family home on one of the best view lots, with easy clubhouse access. Plans were drawn by January 1951 and by December, the Hinkles were holding their house-warming party. The low-slung ranch home embraced its site, wrapping around the swimming pool and terrace in an expanded U-shape, with two wings splaying out from the central living area. Rooms opened to shaded porches via walls of glass. Interiors in the Dawson, McDaniels, and Hinkle homes were characterized by a decorative arrangement of roof beams and trusses spanning the living room. The house remains in excellent, virtually original condition, complete with a built-in piano and mirror-backed bar; original bathrooms, each with a different color scheme, and the exterior detailing: slumpstone brick that Cody favored, board-and-batten siding, the thick cedar shake roof. Hinkle’s 1949 ad description was reflected in Cody’s design.

william cody house

The spread-out U-shape is most evident in the aerial view.  Bedroom wing on the right; kitchen and maid’s quarters on the left; living space and deep loggia embraced the views.

cody thunderbird home

Exposed rafters and beams in the living room were a feature of the midcentury ranch house, in particular the early ’50s Cody homes at Thunderbird.

Motivated to make Thunderbird Country Club a success, Hinkle became its vice president, spokesperson, and planning liaison, reporting to the county planning commission about new infrastructure, home lots for sale, and the fact that utilities would be placed underground (vital for unobstructed views and flying golf balls). With Tony Burke, Hinkle was responsible for home sales around the club, as he had been for Thunderbird Ranch. Before the transition, Hinkle’s real estate company ran ads in 1949 promoting “beautiful ranch houses with thick cedar shake roofs’ nearing completion with ‘interesting glass opening onto covered porches.”

As the new club forged ahead, Hinkle commissioned Cody to design a family home on one of the best view lots, with easy clubhouse access. Plans were drawn by January 1951 and by December, the Hinkles were holding their house-warming party. The low-slung ranch home embraced its site, wrapping around the swimming pool and terrace in an expanded U-shape, with two wings splaying out from the central living area. Rooms opened to shaded porches via walls of glass. Interiors in the Dawson, McDaniels, and Hinkle homes were characterized by a decorative arrangement of roof beams and trusses spanning the living room. The house remains in excellent, virtually original condition, complete with a built-in piano and mirror-backed bar; original bathrooms, each with a different color scheme, and the exterior detailing: slumpstone brick that Cody favored, board-and-batten siding, the thick cedar shake roof. Hinkle’s 1949 ad description was reflected in Cody’s design.

melissa riche’s Guide to Researching Your Home’s History

Discovering homes with an architectural pedigree is very rewarding.

Not long ago, I was invited to visit a 1954 home at Thunderbird Country Club. It didn’t look like the work of a desert architect, but it had a familiar quality. It was exciting to discover it was by famed Los Angeles architect A. Quincy Jones (who designed Sunnylands). Even the UCLA archive had the house listed as ‘proposed,’ believing it hadn’t been built. Here are the steps I took to uncover the home’s history:

1

Accessing the Past is an online archive set up by the Palm Springs Library. It includes old phone directories from the 1930s through 1964. I checked the address in the 1955 directory and found Mrs. Margaret Lester as the owner. accessingthepast.org

2

Next I visited Desert Sun digital archives, entered “Margaret Lester” and “Peggy Lester.” We also entered Quincy Jones and voila! The newspaper cuttings also give insights into the owner, but that’s another rabbit hole. cdnc.ucr.edu/

3

Knowing there’s an official archive for Jones’ work, I went to the Online Archive of California and entered A. Quincy Jones to be routed to the list of his work. There it was: “Margaret Lester — House (Proposed). Located in Thunderbird Country Club.” oac.cdlib.org/

4

I contacted the archivist at UCLA Special Collections library. He was intrigued, so he took a snapshot of a site plan and sent it through. It closely resembled Google Earth’s image of the existing home.

5

I booked an appointment to visit the drawings at UCLA.

6

I drove into L.A. with the homeowners and spent two hours in the Special Collections Library at UCLA poring over the beautiful Jones drawings for the “Lester Residence.”

william cody hinkle residence

The Hinkle residence is a quintessential example of an early mid-century ranch house by Cody.

7

I tracked down the son of the original owner (named in those old Desert Sun articles). He shared old photos of the house from the mid-‘50s. His memories included being taught to play golf by Eddie Susalla, baseball by Ralph Kiner, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz visiting his home to watch episodes of their own TV series. His mother was heir to Cyclax, a U.K. cosmetics company that has a Royal Appointment seal: the Queen wore their cosmetics during her coronation.

These are some easy steps to start you on the road. The Palm Springs Historical Society and the Architecture & Design Center in Palm Springs are also good resources. For in-depth research, contact a local historian or qualified architectural historian. Preservation Mirage can help with recommendations. preservationmirage.org

Texas Wedge

D. B. McDaniels was a quintessential Texan, large of wealth, girth, and cigars. A Houston oilman, he also owned a Cadillac LaSalle dealership. His belief in Johnny Dawson’s ambition resulted in a game-changing investment of $100,000, which got the club off the ground. Like his club cohorts, McDaniels chose Cody to design his home, a Y-shaped ranch facing the clubhouse and an easy jaunt to the bar. On one side of the living room, ceiling height windows overlooked the 9th fairway and the club. Sadly, McDaniels enjoyed the house only four years before he died. Although the house has been somewhat remodeled, with the addition of a large lanai over the terrace, Cody’s original design is still visible. It was only recently identified and confirmed as one of his early Thunderbird homes.

McDaniels was among the first to play golf at Thunderbird, but a bad leg impeded his ability to walk the course. His legacy was the introduction of a mechanized golf cart; the rest is history. Sports Illustrated ran a December 1959 article titled “The Golf Cart Is Here For Good,” which explains:

db mcdaniels

D. B. McDaniels adapted a motorized ice cream truck into a noisy four-wheeled, six-passenger, two-cycle golf cart.

william cody ranch original

McDaniels’ house at Thunderbird.

“…the first golf cart made its appearance there about nine years ago, coinciding with the beginning of the golfing boom in the area. It was a walloping four-wheeled, six-passenger vehicle which had been brought West by a prosperous oilman from Houston named D. B. McDaniels. Its two-cycle gasoline engine chugged and wheezed and spat noxious fumes and shattered the nerves of virtually every golfer on the Thunderbird course except its owner. However, Palm Springs is a youthful, aggressive sort of place, patronized by energetic and successful business people from all across the country who refuse to turn their backs to the future, and many of them were quick to see prospects in this monster.”

DB McDaniels exterior

The original Cody ranch has been modified with a covered lanai but is still recognizable.

This story originally appeared in R/M, the Magazine of Rancho Mirage, 2020 edition. To read the current digital edition, click HERE.