The DSP Guide to Palm Springs
Published on: 31st December 2019
Although we are perhaps best known for our Golden Age Crime Fiction and Furrowed Middlebrow titles (female British authors of the early-to-mid 20th Century), our Hollywood Collection is both dear to our hearts and ever expanding, these biographies and autobiographies of Silver Screen luminaries transporting us to those glamorous days when the eyes of the world were upon California.
Of course, when we think of our favorite Golden Age movie stars relaxing, we tend to imagine them dining at The Brown Derby, drinking at The Mocambo, or entertaining their equally famous friends at their sprawling, Beverly Hills mansions, and all this is undoubtedly true. However, a movie star in Los Angeles was never able to truly unwind; press photographers stalked The Cocoanut Grove or Ciro's in the hopes of grabbing a snap of Veronica Lake or James Mason, and even when at home, tour buses full of rubber-necking fans destroyed any semblance of a normal home life where a star could let his or her hair down and simply 'chill'.
(Below, just some of the titles in Dean Street Press's 'Hollywood Collection').
It was Frank Sinatra who found a solution for both himself and his Hollywood compardres; buying a weekend house in the sleepy desert village of Palm Springs (a two hour drive from Los Angeles and, in the late 1940s, definitely 'off the beaten track'), Sinatra encouraged his famous friends to join him, and by the middle of the 1950s, Palm Springs had transformed, growing from little more than a pit-stop between Las Vegas and L.A. to 'the' desert playground for the rich and famous. Sinatra's role in creating the myth of Palm Springs is beautifully documented in Leo Zahn's 2018 documentary, Sinatra in Palm Springs.
Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Palm Springs enjoyed a tremendous growth in both domestic and civic architecture, all of it in the Mid-Century Modern style and created by such notable architects as Albert Frey, William Cody, and David Wexler, the collective result of their work rendering Palm Springs a perfect time capsule of the American mid-century at its sylish best. Even today, no new buildings can be constructed above a certain height, and each must adhere to the 'spirit' of Palm Springs. This not only makes for a particularly pretty town, but one in which you feel as if you've gone back in time; back to an age of martinis at noon, dressing up to sit by a pool, 'supper clubs', and (of course) all of it soundtracked by Sinatra.
(Two examples of typical Palm Beach Mid-Century Modern homes, the use of breeze blocks in each indicitive of the town's architecture. These bright, modern, and delightfully 'optimistic' buildings lie in interesting contrast to the rugged mountains surrounding the town).
Lucky enough to have family in Palm Springs, we spend our Christmasses there, and this last one was no exception. With each trip, we feel we know the town a little better, and as we at Dean Street Press not only love the past, but tend to live as if we're in it, we thought we'd share with your our guide for a having a thoroughly retro Palm Springs weekend. After all, who doesn't want to feel as if they're living in a Slim Aaron's photo?
(Below, photographed in Palm Springs in 1970, 'Poolside Gossip' is arguably Slim Aaron's most famous photo).
HOW TO GET THERE
Although small by comparison to Vegas or L.A., Palm Springs has its own (and utterly stylish) airport, with either direct or connecting flights from all major U.S cities. Alternatively, it is but a two hour drive from L.A., or a four hour drive from Las Vegas.
WHERE TO STAY
As it's a vacation resort, there is no shortage of hotels and motels in Palm Springs, most of them dating from the city's heyday, and serving every budget. Interestingly, two of our favourites fall at both the highest end of the spending spectrum and possibly the lowest. The iconic Parker Palm Springs is far from inexpensive, but you 'get what you pay for' in this chic boutique hotel housed in what was originally the first Holiday Inn in California. With its famous breeze block facade and more recent interior design by Jonathan Adler, you almost expect to find Dean Martin sitting at the famous lobby fire pit.
(Right, the famous facade of The Parker, Palm Springs).
If you'd rather not break the bank on your visit to Palm Springs, our favorite economy dig is the equally iconic Caliente Tropics motel. Opened in 1964, the famous A-frame entrance of this Polynesian themed resort once welcomed the likes of Elvis Presley (who honeymooned in Palm Springs with Pricsilla), and with its large, heated pool and delightfully kitsch Tiki Bar, The Caliente is an affordable way to enjoy Palm Spring's most iconic era.
WHAT TO DO
Apart from lounging in the sun enjoying some 'poolside gossip' of your own, there is much to do in Palm Springs and its environs. If you're traveling with adults only or with kids, it is no accident that the town was dubbed 'the desert playground'. The first stop for all is usually the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, a system of swooping cable cars that transport visitors from the base of the Coachella Valley up into the mountains. If you can conquer your fear of heights, the ten minute trip up the mountain is well worth while; the views from the top are breathtaking, and there's also a restaurant, bar and gift shop housed in a Mid-Century structure that recalls the Mount Rushmore cafeteria scene in North by Northwest. If you visit in winter, you can play in the snow as you walk one of the mountain trails, and at Christmas, Santa makes scheduled visits to the top of the tramway.
If travelling with children, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens makes for a wonderful day out. A conservation center, this unique sanctuary has gathered endangered animals who fare well in a desert climate. Certainly, there are camels galor, but kids can hand-feed giraffes, and get 'up close and personal' with jaguars and mountain lions.
For outdoorsy types, there's plenty of trecking, horseback riding, and paragliding to be had, but (if you're anything like me) shopping comes top of list when it comes to Palm Springs, and you'll find it surprisingly reasonable.
Downtown Palm Springs in a Mid-Century mecca of gift shops and boutiques. We recommend just strolling North Canyon Boulevard and darting into whatever store takes your fancy, but if you find that overwhelming, here are some of our favorite places to spend money in Palm Springs.
See's Candies are only to be found in California and neighboring states, and their vintage style store in downtown Palm Springs pays homage to the company's history. Free samples will greet you at the door, and these beautifully packaged chocolates make for perfect gifts for the folks back home. For the word's most mindblowing collection of Bakelite brooches and Mid-Centry trinkets, Dazzles (left) will keep you browsing for hours, and for pure, unadulterated, tongue-in-cheek kitsch, Just Fabulous more than lives up to its name. For non-tacky souvenirs, Destination PSP offers MCM repro' glasswear, teeshirts, totes, and (most famously) tissue box holders in the form of some of Palm Springs most famous houses.
When it comes to fashion, there's plenty to choose from, but for pure Slim Aaron's Palm Springs style, we recommend Trina Turk, and her menswear label, Mr. Turk. As bright and splashy as the pool at The Parker, Turk's vision is a joyful, retro jet-set approach to resortwear, and even if you find the clothes a little flashy, her glorious flagship store is alone worth a visit.
WHERE TO EAT
There are hundreds of little restaurants nestled in between the stores in downtown Palm Springs, many with outdoor seating so you can watch the parade of colorful characters and style icons who make up Palm Springs, but - for breakfast - our favorite is the hilariously outrageous Lulu's, with its endless menu of oversized meals and a cavernous, over-the-top setting Liberace (who also owned a home in Palm Springs) would have envied. Step away from the bustle of downtown and have lunch at Norma's, a semi-al fresca restaurant at The Parker. Offering posh takes on diner classics, it's easy to linger over lunch as you watch the hotel's glamorous (and often famous) guests on their way to play croquet.
Yet to truly step back in time while dining, Melvyn's at The Ingleside Inn is perfection served up in a chilled martini glass. A traditional American steakhouse, Melvyn's was a favorite of Sinatra (even when he famously threw a plate of spaghetti at the wall), and in true vintage fashion, one can head to the dance floor between courses for a Rumba (there are live musicians performing almost every night). The atmosphere is rivalled only by the food (where else can you find a perfectly cooked Beef Wellington the size of a football?), and an evening at Melvyn's truly evokes a long-lost time of ladies in cocktail dresses and evening gloves, their gentlemen gallantly offering their arm as they escort her to the dance floor.
(Above right, Norma's at The Parker, below, Melvyn's, the quintesssentail Rat Pack dining experience).
After such a busy day and glamorous evening, you'll probably need to spend the following day relaxing by the pool of whatever hotel or motel you choose. And what better Palm Springs poolside reading than one of Dean Street Press's Hollywood Collection books?