An estimated 35,000 people flocked to Palm Springs for 2012’s Modernism Week
, and this year’s event is poised to break that record attendance. From February 14th to 24th, over 100 events celebrating Midcentury Modern architecture and style will occur all over Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. Most Modernism Week events sell out before their date, so if you happen to miss the Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palm Estate Tour
, here’s your essential absentee cheat sheet of the event.
WHERE IS THE TWIN PALMS ESTATE?
Frank Sinatra bought his very first home at 1148 East Alejo Road (between Caballeros and Sunrise in Palm Springs), and it was his primary residence from 1948 to 1957. Sinatra had been quoted as saying that in his life he always felt the need “to get away from it all, but not too far away,” and the desert estate he built in 1947 seemed to fit the bill. He chose the Palm Springs Movie Colony neighborhood, where names like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Jack Benny, and Cary Grant all had houses at one point or another – but which at the time still felt spacious and fairly unpopulated. Legend has it that the two signature palm trees on Sinatra’s property were the tallest in the valley during his reign, and Frank would hoist a Jack Daniels flag between them to alert to his movie star neighbors every time cocktail hour had commenced.
WHO WAS THE ARCHITECT OF SINATRA’S MIDCENTURY HOME?
E. Stewart Williams recounted to Vanity Fair magazine that one day in May of 1947, Frank Sinatra wandered into his Palm Springs architecture firm. The 31 year-old singer wore a white sailor’s hat and carried an ice cream cone, and informed Williams that he wanted a Georgian-style estate built in Palm Springs. And it needed to be completed in time for a Christmas party. Construction crews labored around the clock, and Twin Palms
was ready just in time for a lavish star-studded New Year’s party.
But the estate turned out a little different from Sinatra’s Georgian fantasy. Abhorred by Sinatra’s choice of styles, Williams tactfully drew up Sinatra’s requested design as well as another modern option far more practical and elegant. Fortunately, Frank agreed to the second design, and the Williams family firm breathed a sigh of relief that wouldn’t have their reputation destroyed by a Georgian monstrosity in the desert. During its era, Twin Palms quickly became well known in national media as a glamorous and cutting-edge home. It was designated a Class 1 historic site by the city of Palm Springs in March 2011.
Although E. Stewart William’s father had already established his local architectural name with the Spanish-inspired La Plaza in downtown Palm Springs, in 1947 the young E. Stewart had yet to build what would become his desert icons: 1955’s Coachella Savings and Loan, 1960’s Santa Fe Savings and Loan, 1961’s Coachella Savings and Loan, 1976’s Palm Springs Desert Museum (renamed later to The Palm Springs Art Museum).
WHAT ARE THE OUTSTANDING FEATURES OF TWIN PALMS?
The 4,500 square-foot, four-bedroom, seven-bath estate is best known for its piano-shaped swimming pool, despite the fact that E. Stewart Williams stated the shape was purely coincidental. The pool house comes equipped with a kitchenette and “his and hers” with cabana showers. The Twin Palms compound includes a canopy skylight entryway past the pool to the house, and the great room’s huge sliding glass doors open up to an expansive patio. Tall floor-to-ceiling windows create an open panoramic feel to the rooms, and Sinatra designed his bedroom in a separate wing in order “to get away from it all, but not too far away.”
The residence has been completely restored with vintage designer furnishings and features a 1950s recording system installed by Valentino Electronics in Hollywood, similar to the one Frank used to record songs at Twin Palms. The snow-white kitchen has kept its original design but is now upgraded with Viking appliances and St. Charles cabinetry. And of course, a property-wide sound system belts out Sinatra tunes upon request. Fun memorabilia and personal photos on the walls highlight Sinatra’s career and his life in the desert.
HOW CAN I VISIT TWIN PALMS ON MY OWN?
By special arrangement, 45-minute guided tours
for groups of 20 people or more can be scheduled Tuesday through Thursday, based on availability. Twin Palms is rentable for private parties, weddings, and photo/film shoots. Or you can stay here overnight by booking the property as a private vacation rental
for $2,600 a night, three-night minimum (if your credit card can handle it).
WHAT SINATRA DRAMA UNFOLDED AT TWIN PALMS OVER THE YEARS?
What would a Frank Sinatra residence be without a some gnashing of teeth along the way? The entertainer described himself as “an 18-karat manic depressive,” and true to form, Twin Palms was the site of both sparkling Hollywood parties and full-throttled private confrontations. Sinatra and his first wife Nancy divorced soon after the home was built, and his longtime mistress Ava Gardner quickly moved in. The pair married in 1951, only to divorce in 1957. Soon after that, Frank sold Twin Palms and got away/not too far by taking up residence in Rancho Mirage.
Of her time at Twin Palms, Gardner said, “It was the site of probably the most spectacular fight of our young married life, and, honey, don’t think I don’t know that’s really saying something . . . Frank’s establishment in Palm Springs, the only house we really could ever call our own, has seen some pretty amazing occurrences.” The master bathroom sink still bears the scars of an off-target champagne bottle hurled at Gardner’s head, and Ava also wrote about how Frank threw all of her belongings into the driveway during a screaming match over his infidelities with Lana Turner. And there are Sinatra’s other questionable Twin Palms houseguests like Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana and other syndicate members.
Sinatra lived primarily in the Coachella Valley for the rest of his life, but drama followed him all the way up to his death in 1998: Fourth wife Barbara didn’t even bother to inform Frank’s children that his end was imminent.
Frank Sinatra is buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, near the grave of his prizefighter father Anthony Martin Sinatra. Frank’s tombstone is marked by a simple sentence: “The Best Is Yet to Come.”