The Racquet Club of Palm SpringsAug 15th, 2014 | By Lindsay | Category: Marilyn Monroe Locations, This and That
On July 24th, while waiting in line for my morning coffee, my eyes wandered over to a nearby newspaper stand and landed on the headline Historic Racquet Club Hotel Destroyed in Fire. My heart immediately sank as the now vacant Racquet Club of Palm Springs is not only steeped in Hollywood history, but is rumored to be the spot where Marilyn Monroe was discovered in 1949. The thought that it had been decimated was devastating. My mom and I finally made it over there to survey the damage while we were in the area last week and found that the headline had been a bit exaggerated. Thankfully, the destruction was not nearly as bad as had been reported.
I first stalked the Racquet Club in October 2008 (you can read that post here) and, despite the fire which gutted one structure and harmed three others, it looks much the same today as it did back then. In fact, while I was there with my mom, I could not figure out which of the buildings had been lost in the blaze. It was not until I got home and compared aerial views to news photographs that I was able to pinpoint it. The edifice destroyed was a two-story structure comprised of hotel rooms that had been built years after the Racquet Club initially opened. It is denoted with a pink arrow below. Thankfully, the property’s pool, its infamous Bamboo Room restaurant (where the Bloody Mary was invented), the bungalows and the Albert Frey-designed Schiff House remain intact.
That being said, the structures that do still stand are not in great shape and haven’t been for years.
The members-only Racquet Club of Palm Springs was founded by actors Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy (who played James Morse in Pretty Woman) in 1934. At the time, the 53-acre site consisted of two tennis courts and a snack bar. Bellamy and Farrell sold off a majority of the land shortly after the club’s opening, leaving behind 11 acres. A pool was added to the property in 1935, the Bamboo Room in 1937 and 35 guest cottages in 1946.
Due to the fact that the public was kept out, the Racquet Club became an instant celebrity hot spot. Such stars as Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, John Barrymore, Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh all spent time there. Their goings-on were reportedly quite raucous – so much so that The Charles Farrell Show, a television program based upon the club’s revelries, soon hit the airwaves. (The pictures below were taken during my 2008 visit.)
Legend has it that my girl Miss Marilyn Monroe was discovered by the Racquet Club of Palm Springs’ pool. (You can see the pool in the pictures below, which were also taken during my 2008 stalk.) As the story goes, photographer Bruno Bernard brought a blue bikini-clad Marilyn to the club as his guest and snapped images of her standing in heels on the property’s diving board. It did not take long for William Morris agent Johnny Hyde to sit up and take notice. He became enamored with the young starlet and quickly took her under his wing. The rest is history. You can read a story about the Racquet Club encounter, told by Bernard’s daughter, here.
The Racquet Club went through a succession of different owners in its later years and, though its popularity had waned, it continued to be successful for the most part. In 1977, the site was purchased by M. Larry Lawrence, the same real estate developer who in 1973 restored San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado (another Marilyn Monroe locale) and turned it into a premiere destination. Lawrence did not have the same luck with his Palm Springs acquisition. In 1986, he decided to open the property to the public. The club’s heyday had long since passed, but its loss of exclusivity delivered the final blow. The bungalows were eventually auctioned off to individual buyers. The public areas were then sold in 1999 to developer Bernard Rosenson who planned to turn the premises into a gay and lesbian retirement community. Rosenson spent three years and millions of dollars restoring the historic club, but his idea never took off and the site was shuttered in 2003. At some point thereafter, it went into foreclosure and was taken over by the bank.
New owners purchased the club from the bank in 2011 and, while there were talks of restoring it, it has been left untouched ever since, sitting vacant and dilapidated with no sign as to what its future holds. I sincerely hope someone steps in soon to rehabilitate the historic property. I, for one, would love to sip a Bloody Mary in the very room where the drink was created and jump off the very diving board on which Marilyn Monroe was discovered.
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Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: The Racquet Club of Palm Springs is located at 2743 North Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.