Liberace’s Third Palm Springs HouseMay 31st, 2013 | By Lindsay | Category: Celebrity Homes
Shortly after moving to the desert back in January, I took my dad to a doctor appointment and, while in the waiting room, happened to pick up the November 2012 issue of Palm Springs Life magazine. It turned out to be a fortuitous choice because in it was an article titled “Living With Liberace” about a recently-remodeled Old Las Palmas-area residence that had once been owned by the legendary pianist. The article, of course, piqued my interest, but, let me tell you, I just about fell out of my chair when I read that the property’s new owners, accountant Garth Gilpin and his wife, doctor Elizabeth Smalley, originally hailed from Pasadena, the city that I had just migrated from! I decided I had to stalk the home as soon as possible – especially considering all of the hoopla that was then (and is still now) surrounding the recently filmed HBO biopic Behind the Candelabra (which finally aired this past Sunday) – and I dragged the Grim Cheaper right on out to do just that a few days later.
Liberace, who was born Wladziu Valentino Liberace and who was at one time the world’s highest-paid pianist, purchased the one-story desert dwelling on North Kaweah Road in 1968. It was his third Palm Springs home. Lee, as he was known to his friends, actually owned six Coachella Valley-area properties throughout his lifetime (including one that he purchased for his mother and another that he purchased for his brother). Of his penchant for buying residences, he said, “Some people collect stamps, I like to collect real estate. I am a firm believer in the good earth.”
During Liberace’s years there, the four-bedroom, five-bath, 3,101-square-foot abode, which was originally constructed in 1952 and sits on a 0.33-acre plot of land, was decorated in a French Provincial style and boasted a Louis XIV room and a large fountain. According to the Palm Springs Life article, Mr. Showmanship would play his piano nightly, much to the joy of his neighbors, and each Halloween, would pass out silver dollars, much to the joy of local trick-or-treaters. Garth told the magazine that the man who formerly lived next door (he has since passed away), would share anecdotes of Lee’s time on North Kaweah, saying “He told us how Liberace would come over in the mornings, in his bathrobe, and go into his icebox and chow down on his fried chicken leftovers. Then at night he’d hear him playing the piano. It’s such a great Palm Springs story, isn’t it? ‘I lived next door and got to hear Liberace playing the piano for free.’”
Liberace purchased his final desert residence, which was named The Cloisters (you can read my blog post on it here), in 1967. It was in disarray at the time and the pianist immediately began a long restoration process, to the tune of $136,000, while still living on North Kaweah Road. He finally moved into The Cloisters in 1972, at which point he offloaded the Kaweah property.
When the Kaweah house was put on the market in 2009, it boasted a price tag of $995,000 and was in quite a state, as you can see below. There are quite simply no words for the monstrosity that the interior had become. Wait, I take that back. There are words. Two of them, in fact. Hot mess!
Shockingly, the extravagant décor was not a leftover from Liberace’s days, but was the brainchild of the home’s then owner who was apparently a huge fan of both Mr. Showmanship and Elvis. You can check out additional photographs of the residence’s unique interior on its real estate listing here.
Garth and Elizabeth wound up buying the property in May 2010 for $625,000. Of their first tour of the dwelling – a viewing which rendered the couple “speechless” – Elizabeth says, “There were painted cherubs on the ceiling, a room that was Dalmatian and cow print, fake flowers, red velvet, gold, with Elvis and Liberace everywhere. It was the most dysfunctional house we’ve ever seen. Nonetheless, we thought, how can we not do this?” Shortly after purchasing the residence, they hired designer Christopher Kennedy to help them “honor and respect Liberace’s original vision without, you know, recreating it” and “to make it feel Liberace without looking Liberace.” You can see the result – which is fabulous – on the Palm Springs Life website here. Hard to believe it’s the same house as the one shown in the photos above!
Thankfully, subtle reminders of the pad’s famous former owner were left on the exterior of the property, as well, including music notes on the front gates.
And a piano-shaped mailbox, which I fell in love with!
The house is even named “Piazza di Liberace” and bears a sign informing visitors of that fact. Love it!
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: Liberace’s third desert home is located at 1441 North Kaweah Road in the Old Las Palmas section of Palm Springs.