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The Racquet Club of Palm Springs

Aug 15th, 2014 | By | Category: Marilyn Monroe Locations, This and That

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (12 of 19)

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.

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That being said, the structures that do still stand are not in great shape and haven’t been for years.

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (19 of 19)

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (14 of 19)

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.

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (15 of 19)

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (16 of 19)

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.)

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (2 of 6)

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (5 of 6)

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.

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (3 of 6)

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (4 of 6)

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.

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (3 of 19)

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (7 of 19)

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.

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (4 of 19)

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (17 of 19)

For more stalking fun, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Los Angeles magazine online.  And you can check out my other blog, The Well-Heeled Diabetic, here.

Racquet Club of Palm Springs (18 of 19)

Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: The Racquet Club of Palm Springs is located at 2743 North Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.

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8 comments

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  1. Tanya C says:

    I really enjoyed this article! Thank you!

    We just bought & remodeled a condo in the Club Condominiums, that is adjacent to the Historic Racquet Club. After we moved in, we met a couple neighbors who educated me on the history or the Racquet Club, and who shared stories of the former stars who lived in our complex and the shenanigans they got into…LOL! I was fascinated! It saddens me that the RC, and its history, appear to be been forgotten.

    Our unit looks at a newer 2 story structure that was erected on one (of the two) origianl tennis courts back in 2008. That structure has been boarded up ever since, as it was one of the casualties of the real estate downturn, and is an eyesore. That being said, if it remains as is, I will have unbelievable privacy as no one lives there, but it sad that a piece of history is in a state of limbo.

    I do know that the Historic Association of Palm Springs has become involved, and is trying to deem some of the original structures in the Racquet Club as historical, so that they could be preserved. However, the person(s) who currently own the property recently took it off the market, as they are opposed to any of the structures getting historic classification. It is truly devastating to see the state that this historical gem has been reduced to. It has neglected and in ruins. Graffiti marks many of the structures, and all windows are boarded up. It’s a shame! I would love if the City of Palm Springs were able to get the historic classification, and bring the historical properties back to their former glory. After all, it is the Racquet Club (and it’s celebrity status), that put Palm Springs on the map! AND…..I know that I for one would love to have a Bloody Mary at the revamped Bamboo Room!

  2. melinda johnson says:

    I love your article about such a wonderful place! My dad used to warm up Alice Marble on the tennis court in the old days and I came across some old photos of the club taken probably in the 40’s. I wanted to drop them by the current Racquet Club, but obviously no one is there …. do you know anyone who might be interested in the photos … they are mostly shots of the buildings, pool, and people playing tennis with explanations on the reverse side … I remember playing tennis against some wonderful movie stars there as well …

    • Tim Gillam says:

      Hi Melinda I would be interested in learning more about your collection, especially any which may be if my father. I have no photos of him and only occasionally see one of him somewhere. Thank you

    • Lindsay says:

      That is amazing that you have old photos of the club! The Palm Springs Historical Society – 221 South Palm Canyon Drive, (760)323-8297 – would likely be interested in the pictures. I would definitely reach out to them. 🙂

  3. Tim Gillam says:

    Nice article Lindsay and thank you for taking time to write it. I grew up at The Racquet Club as my Father was club Tennis Pro Dave Gillam. I learned to play tennis there starting at age 3 and a half (1959 I guess) and spent a tremendous amount of time there until about 1966 or 67. It was such an amazing place to be part of. Though I was just a kid I could roam around at will and would talk and hang out with anyone who would or could tolerate me. The talent in those days were always polite and I never once had anyone treat me wrong or ask me to leave them alone. I won’t drop any names because I am sure you can imagine who spent time there in that time period. So much history at this place I could just never understand why someone could not have brought it back to life. Again thank you for remembering this remarkable club. TDG

  4. Alisse Ellis says:

    I just found your website and love it! We have purchased and restored 4 condos in the Racquet Club Garden Villas and have fallen in love with the community and its history. I recently purchased an old book of matches and a scarf from the racquet club, but cannot find out the history of the scarf. I was wondering if it was maybe worn by staff or what not. Do you happen to know or have you seen anything similar?

  5. Shawn Broes says:

    Thanks for the posting. I’ve followed the club for a long time, and have a long family history with PS, but I had not been out there in a couple of years, so was not aware of the fire until today. Real pisser that nothing has been done with the old place. Maybe there’s still hope?
    Shawn B

  6. Ashley says:

    It’s really sad to see the state that it’s in now! 🙁 Love those early Marilyn photos so it’s fun to see and read about where they were taken!


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