JULY 8, 1994 - Charlie Farrell appeared on cover. We featured stories & interviews plus photo essays on: art galleries & studios, artists, entertainers, theater productions: local sports groups among others
The following feature deals with Palm Springs in mid-1950s & the early gay influence
in the desert appearing in the July 8, 1994 edition.
by Bob Canon in collaboration with Daryl James
The sale of the Warm Sands Villas Hotel is one of the major events of the year! It takes us back at least 40 years to the beginning of Palm Springs as the world-renowned gay resort area.
In 1955 Art Linkleletter, then the big TV and radio star of the day, came to my office on Union Square in San Francisco and said that he needed the best man in public relations he could find and that I was he - Canon Associates, Public
Relations & Advertising. Art told me that he was going to create the world's largest and wealthiest residential community and that he wanted me to handle it. It was to be located south of Palm Springs - which I had never even heard of.
There was no airport in Palm Springs, so we flew his private plane to Los Angeles and his chauffeur drove us over to a dumpy little town with only one major hotel, The El Mirador, which is now the Indian Avenue tower entrance to Desert Hospital. We then
drove miles south and saw nothing but sand and rocks. No trees, no water, no views, no stores, homes or service facilities. Parked by the side of the road was a station wagon on which was painted "Rancho Mirage." No people, no roads, no stores,
no trees and no water. He had to be crazy and I told him there was no way I could get mixed up in that deal. (I should add that he failed to mention that he already had contracts with Walter Annenberg and Frank Sinatra. For what, one could
Palm Springs was a tiny little ghost town with only two hotels and maybe three or four restaurants. Fewer houses than you would bother to count - also no trees.
Some of the palm trees were imported from Hawaii and many were transplanted from the Indian Canyons by the McKinney family. One two-lane road leading in from L.A., no railroad trains and no airplanes. He was crazy! In the meantime, one of
the most popular Big Band singers of all time, Eadie Adams, who started on fifteen minute radio programs, then a band vocalist and joined the great Kay Kyser Band as its first female singer - began visiting Palm Springs in 1953 to introduce producers and show
people to one of the only two luxury resorts then standing, the Desert Inn and the El Mirador. By 1961 Eadie had broken her ties with MGM and had decided to relocate to Palm Springs and enter the real estate field. In the meantime, Charlie Farrell
and Ralph Bellamy, two big Hollywood stars had gotten into the habit of driving over to the El Mirador on weekends to play tennis. Soon, however, the fad caught on and the courts were always filled. Charlie and Ralph, in disgust, decided to solve
that problem in a big way. They build the world famous Palm Springs Racquet Club with apartments for up to 100 guests.
Well, as the Hollywood celebrities began to discover the
Racquet Club, they fell in love with Palm Springs and decided it would be a great place to live. Go and see the "Movie Colony" today. Miles of fabulous estates tucked up against the mountains in the north end of the city. They all wanted
to be close to the Racquet Club and more important, close to the hills, because with no trees in the desert, the wind was unbearable.
Eadie Adams, of course, had more business than she
could handle. Her earliest clients included: William Holden; Mary Martin; Gloria Swanson and everyone you could think of. Her office staff grew to sixty people. With the movie celebrities in Palm Springs, the tourists now began to come in
hordes just to see them. An airport was installed, a railroad station was built and hotels and restaurants sprang up like crazy. it was also the beginning of some gay tourism. Cathedral City was the first destination and it immediately became
known as "Cat City." Three or four gay hotels started including: Dave's Villa Capri; Lost World; Desert Palm, etc.
Hotels in the City of Palm Springs were all straight, but there
now hundreds of them. All the buildings on Warm Sands for example, were hotels or apartment houses and it was in this relatively quiet end of town that multi-millionaire and world-famous aviator Howard Hughes of Hughes Aircraft Corp. chose to build a
home for his girlfriend, himself and all their friends. He called his home "El Mirasol Villas" and it is still the most beautiful place on the street.
Eadie Adams of course, immediately
built a beautiful little hotel called the "Desert Knight," which was used by all of her Hollywood clients when they came over to look at property. Hers was not a gay clientele, but did of course include the Hollywood gays. She started the Desert
Knight with her lover/companion Pat McGrath who also has been an important Hollywood figure in costume design and selection. Pat still runs the hotel and is just as charming as ever. Eadie, tragically, died in 1983.
Because of Howard Hughes' estate, the entire Warm Sands Drive neighborhood built up to capacity; a few private homes for the wealthy, but mostly hotels and apartment house. The largest resort was called the Warm
Sands Villa and that went through a long history of everything from luxury hotel to cathouse, bar and gambling den. In 1975 Daryl James, who now owns the Aruba Hotel, bought the Howard Hughes' estate and turned it into a gay hotel. In 1977 my close
friend Eadie Adams, whose Desert Knight Hotel I had been patronizing since 1960, persuaded me to buy the El Mirasol Villas. It was gorgeous and the price was right, so I bought, with the assurance from Eadie that she would help me get a good gay clientele.
Having an important advertising/public relations business in San Francisco, it was necessary to hire a hotel manager. Therefore I took on a man named Skerts Moody who had been running the place for Daryl James. I ran the place in absentia from
1977 until 1980 when, because of finances, I had to sell the place. A few years later, in 1983, it sold again - this time to Don Ettinger.
In 1982 my partner, Walter Richardson
and I decided to sell our restaurant in Carmel and to make Palm Springs our permanent home. We flew down to discuss the weather with Eadie Adams' wonderful and my close friend Nelda Linsk. She urged me to return to the Warm Sands area and promptly
sold me Haciendo en Sueno. The area was now almost all gay with the exception of the Warm Sands Villa and a large hotel called the Golden Palms Villa which is a gorgeous 30 room estate. The street was now all hotels and apartment homes catering
to the gay clientele. The Villa, still the largest hotel on the street, was still in operation, but the neighborhood had badly deteriorated. It was now known as the drug center of the city.
Fortunately Bob Mellon and Peter Tangel immediately bought the hotel next door to ours, now known as the Vista Grande, and with their help and the help of El Mirasol, we got rid of the drug business and soon all of the resorts changed ownership, all
great new gay ownership! We were left with only one pill and that was the big Villa Hotel. Now, today that too is gone! Palm Springs has a permanent population of some 42,000 with most people consisting of vacationers or second home owners
who use the desert only from Christmas to Easter. Its primary clientele is gay and transient with golf, swimming and tennis being the big attractions. With the sale of the Warm Sands Villa, the area between Ramon and Sunny Dunes is now almost exclusive
gay. Warm Sands Drive and its side streets have over 25 gay hotels or apartment houses and that's in addition to the 20 or more gay hotels in the adjoining neighborhoods.