By Jim Farber
The room is the essence of swinging '60s cool. A tuxedo-clad singer croons "One More for the Road" in the best sultry Frank Sinatra tradition. High-stem, frosty two-olive martinis are being served from the softly lit, gently curving bar. The swish of snare drum brushes contrasts with the clink of silverware. You'd almost expect the Rat Pack to appear.
And you would be right. That's because the stage of Michael Holmes' Purple Room (at the Club Trinidad Resort in Palm Springs) is where Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey and the rest of the Rat Pack gang got their act together before taking it on the road to Las Vegas. And there's the picture on the wall to prove it.
A visit to the Purple Room Supper Club is just one of the many ways Palm Springs can transport you back to the golden era when Hollywood stars were Palm Springs royalty, when cars had fins and midcentury modern architecture was the design of choice.
Today, Palm Springs is an architectural treasure trove, possessing one of the greatest concentrations of midcentury modernism in the country. There are signature houses designed by Richard Neutra and John Lautner, swooping Space Age creations by Albert Frey, classic hotels by William F. Cody, a planned community by William Krisel and more, lots more.
Perhaps the ultimate Hollywood glamour fantasy would be to book a stay at Frank Sinatra's modernist gem, Twin Palms, designed for him in 1947 by E. Stewart Williams. The house, with its sleek horizontal lines, twin towering palm trees, built-in living room recording equipment and piano-shaped pool can accommodate up to eight guests. It's also available for lavish dinners and weddings. Be sure to see the famous smashed mirror in the bathroom where Ava Gardner is said to have chucked a champagne bottle at Ol' Blue Eyes.
For a very different transporting architectural experience, consider a stay at the landmark Del Marcos Hotel designed in 1947 by one of Palm Springs' defining modern architects, William F. Cody. The plaque outside the two-story building describes the structure as "an informal post-World War II modern resort design with bold-angled roof and walls, stone facade, glass-enclosed lobby, and open breezeway."
The Del Marcos was Cody's first Palm Springs commission, and it launched his career. The hotel also won a creative design award from the Southern California chapter of the American Institute of Architects as an example of "cutting-edge resort hotel architecture."
Completely renovated in 2016, the hotel celebrates a 1950s and 1960s vibe while retaining all of Cody's defining architectural elements. The visual motif is pure retro, from the airy lobby with its terrazzo floors to the color scheme with its avocado-green wall accents. The hotel's 17 rooms fan out around the outdoor pool, providing an ideal spot for afternoon lounging and the adults-only free happy hour.
For the true aficionado of midcentury modernism, there is no more indulgent event than Palm Springs Modernism Week. This yearly gathering (which will take place Feb. 13-23, 2020) offers a total immersion in the modernist experience. You might even find yourself donning '50s finery to attend a theme party at Elvis Presley's honeymoon retreat.
There are guided bus tours, walking tours, special open house tours of celebrity homes, lectures, museum exhibits and a modernist furniture and decor trade show. But the Modernism Week event that is not to be missed is the Cul de Sac Party. This creatively staged event recreates a 1950s real estate sale, complete with an Air Stream trailer office and bouffant-hairdo hostesses.
The centerpiece is Canyon View Estates, a meticulously preserved planned community by William Krisel. Any home that sports a For Sale sign on its perfectly manicured lawn with a classic car parked in the driveway is open for viewing. It's like a time capsule right out of a 1950s edition of Better Homes and Gardens.
Whether it's the sultry atmosphere of the Purple Room, lounging by the pool at the Del Marcos Hotel or taking part in the celebrations of Modernism Week, going retro in Palm Springs is a blast!
WHEN YOU GO
Modernism Week: www.modernismweek.com
The Purple Room: www.purpleroompalmsprings.com
Frank Sinatra's "Twin Palms": www.sinatrahouse.com
The Del Marcos Hotel: www.delmarcoshotel.com
Jim Farber is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Jim West, a volunteer guide, conducts a tour during Modernism Week in Palm Springs, California. Photo courtesy of Jim Farber.