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Inside The Thermal Club: What a $5.2 million membership gets you (and why IndyCar is testing)

Courtesy of Nathan Brown Indianapolis Star - Photos: Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun

The start/finish line of the main race course is seen at The Thermal Club in Thermal, Calif., Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.

The start/finish line of the main race course is seen at The Thermal Club in Thermal, Calif., Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.

NOTE: Sheri Dettman & Associates has our own in-house Thermal Club expert, Betsy Justice. If you are interested in more information or seeing Villas for sale, contact us!

THERMAL, Calif. -- Tim Rogers heard the figure and scoffed.

More than a decade ago, an acquaintance was talking about the prospect of opening a lavish “country-club-meets-car-meet-up,” a one-of-a-kind, exclusive club for gearheads and racing enthusiasts alike. Rogers had spent the last 20 years striking it rich, selling gas to 7/11 across 36 states for $7.5 billion then owning a string of local grocery stores that, he boasts, each sell $2,000 in fried chicken everyday.

“And I told him, ‘You’re wrong, you need $30 million,’” Rogers remembers.

“And I was still wrong.”

Around the time The Thermal Club opened in 2012, Rogers and his wife, Twanna, had spent close to $90 million. By 2018, that had grown to $150 million. And Monday afternoon, as he sipped on his club’s own version of the Coachella Valley’s famous date shake, Rogers wore like a badge of honor the fact they had now poured $275 million into a club that’s grown to 210 members, 75 properties and 135 lots sold.

What was once a $1,200 per month membership fee has doubled over the last five years, on top of a $175,000 initiation fee and the cost of purchasing a lot and building a 30,000 square-foot home within five years of joining, which is now roughly $5 million.

A three-person design review committee that includes Rogers, his construction manager and main architect, hold an unyielding veto over the exterior design of any home on the property. And if, after passing a rigorous, though informal, interview process to gain membership, someone were to run afoul of the Club’s tight-knit, jovial group, Rogers boasts the right to kick a member out, no questions asked.

“I want to make sure we have all the amenities I would expect for a high-end club, because if someone’s going to spend $5 million, they’re going to want to have a nice restaurant, a spa, a hotel for their guests, fitness center, tennis courts, a pool,” Rogers detailed. The grounds of his oasis include 48 guest casitas, three restaurants, a new 1.1-mile go-kart track and a 70-car storage facility for members’ race cars with untold millions worth of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches, Mercedes and LMP2 race cars inside. Next to it, the heir to the Clorox brand houses his own 40-car Ferrari collection in a vault that would make Batman grin.

To top it all off, the grounds feature all the gas pumps, car washes, detailing equipment and full-time mechanics and driving instructors. And when members wish to sell that classic Ferrari for the newest Porsche, Rogers has trusted car salesmen onsite who serve as the middleman to ensure Club members get a fair price.

“I’ve spent over $275 million developing this so far, and we’ve got $500 million in property we’re trying to sell,” Rogers continued. “We don’t advertise. We use word-of-mouth.”

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And IndyCar, he hopes, will help continue to build his 300-plus acre empire inside the 18-foot brick walls. “I always wanted to have a race here, but we didn’t want to until we built things up,” he said. “'Cause you only have one shot at a first impression.”

A pairing 10 years in the making

Rogers is nothing if not welcoming and inviting, but, as he jokes, publicity isn’t often the goal. He occasionally gives media members a hard time, in between grins, before revealing he expects to host more than 70 on Thursday and Friday as he throws his doors open for a never-been-done-before test of his club’s mettle.

Since Rogers hosted then-IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard at his ribbon-cutting ceremony more than a decade ago, and after his numerous phone calls with current series owner Roger Penske to help find the right asphalt consultant, The Thermal Club’s owner has held a distant connection to the premier American open-wheel series. Among its owners include Mike Long, who recently stepped down after more than a decade as CEO of Arrow Electronics – the title partner of McLaren’s IndyCar arm – and Don Cusick, who for the last three years has backed Stefan Wilson’s Indianapolis 500 entries.

A row of houses are seen just beyond the race track at The Thermal Club in Thermal, Calif., Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.

That pair helped push for a formal sit-down between the two sides last spring, as IndyCar made its annual run around the streets of Long Beach, just a few hours down the freeway from Rogers’ racing hideaway. Talks ramped up later that summer about the Club hosting IndyCar’s preseason open test, and by the fall, the makings of a deal were in place. For the series, in need of a consistent, reliable – and most importantly, warm – preseason testing spot for its entire paddock, the deal makes clear sense.

Three years removed from a disaster of a full-field test at Circuit of the Americas in Austin with temperatures rarely above 50 degrees as biting rain fell almost constantly, and without any other permanent tracks on the calendar housed in a moderate winter climate (save for finale track Laguna Seca, where IndyCar will test in September), the marriage was perfect, if not curiously out-of-the-box and slightly inconvenient.

Coming on the heels of IMSA’s Rolex 24 season kickoff last weekend on the other side of the country, nearly half the IndyCar paddock had to juggle flying from Daytona to the west coast Sunday night. Before testing Thursday and Friday, nearly 30 drivers will weather their preseason media responsibilities Tuesday and Wednesday.

IndyCar president Jay Frye told IndyStar he’d heard nothing but excitement from his paddock members about the exotic trip. Privately, however, some of the series’ veteran drivers and successful team owners, who must foot what is said to be a roughly $1 million bill for a three-car team to travel across the country, the mood has been, at times, different.

“We think this is going to be great for the teams,” Frye told IndyStar on Monday. “We see the members here, influential people in the world, and they’re car nuts, and we’re bringing our cars to them. Hopefully, we entertain them for a few days, and maybe our drivers and teams can leave with some new friends. I never got any pushback in any way. It was really the opposite. There’s been enthusiasm because people understand the end game."

IndyCar's potential high-rolling, made-for-TV future at Thermal

As Frye roamed the grounds Monday afternoon, helping his team connect cables, inspect the track and set up marshalling and timing equipment, he couldn’t help but notice the early makings of a lavish high-rolling party around him. Outside homes across the property, he spotted vans bussing in speaker systems and caterers getting the lay of the land.

A lounge seating area is seen on the balcony of a member's home with a sweeping corner of the main track in the background at The Thermal Club in Thermal, Calif., Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.

Though IndyCar’s two-day open test is famously closed to the general public, Rogers is expecting dozens of members’ guests to take in the action. The track owner has permitted each member to invite up to 20 guests onto the grounds Thursday and Friday, from which each member can then rotate through six paddock passes for up-close-and-personal access to the IndyCar world.

“One guy said he’s going to have a head chef, two sous chefs, two bartenders, cleaning people and servers, and I told him, ‘You can only have 20 people!” Rogers said. “And he quickly replied, ‘Oh, I’m inviting other members!”

Picture a bustling college town on a Friday night, with slightly inebriated revelers roaming the streets, and swap the dingy, sometimes rundown rental homes for $5 million desert villas.

Though IndyCar’s two-day open test is famously closed to the general public, Rogers is expecting dozens of members’ guests to take in the action. The track owner has permitted each member to invite up to 20 guests onto the grounds Thursday and Friday, from which each member can then rotate through six paddock passes for up-close-and-personal access to the IndyCar world.

“One guy said he’s going to have a head chef, two sous chefs, two bartenders, cleaning people and servers, and I told him, ‘You can only have 20 people!” Rogers said. “And he quickly replied, ‘Oh, I’m inviting other members!”

Picture a bustling college town on a Friday night, with slightly inebriated revelers roaming the streets, and swap the dingy, sometimes rundown rental homes for $5 million desert villas.

On Rogers’ potential wish list is a made-for-TV preseason showcase that would be part PGA Tour pro-am, part NASCAR Clash, part MLB home run derby, perhaps with a little SRX flair sprinkled in. Initial talks have been held between the two sides to host a type of pro-am series of races featuring IndyCar drivers, some of the club’s best member racers and a high-stakes pot. In Rogers’ vision, for a $250,000 buy-in, the clubs’ drivers would be randomly paired with an IndyCar driver.

An opening members’ race that might last 40 minutes, typical of the Club’s monthly race series events, would then set IndyCar's starting grid based on their partner’s finish. The IndyCar drivers would then try and beat out the field for their duo’s shot at a multi-million-dollar payday in a preseason non-points-paying event akin to NASCAR’s kickoff just down the road at the LA Coliseum later this week.

It all sounds good on paper, but Rogers is clearly still not nearly convinced.

A row of member-owned Porsches are seen among other member cars in the air-conditioned storage garage at The Thermal Club in Thermal, Calif., Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.

“That’s a lot of pressure on our members to ask them to write a $250,000 check to do each time,” he said. “So we’ll have to see how this goes.”

Though he dances around the topic, it seems clear he was expecting a bit higher level of promotion and publicity for his track’s help in lending a testing home for the all-important start to IndyCar’s season. In the initial plans was a full-test stream of all the on-track action, either to be aired on NBC’s Peacock platform or IndyCar’s YouTube channel.

Rogers’ staff even went through the process of ordering all the cabling that would’ve been necessary to line The Thermal Club with the cameras and equipment. Then somewhat last-minute, a call came in.

“All a sudden, they contacted us and said they’d decided not to,” Rogers said. Though Frye wouldn’t say so directly, the couple-hundred-thousand-dollar cost of a outfitting a robust camera setup with towers, miles of fiber and cords and the use of NBC’s full TV compound and broadcast team – for a series trying to build a deeper marketing budget – is said to have been the downfall. Still, IndyCar has said it will provide wall-to-wall social media coverage of the event, including in-car camera footage, live timing and scoring and post-session video breakdowns on the IndyCar app.

For IndyCar, the execution of a clean, productive couple days of testing would make for a somewhat subjective tell on whether this pairing was a success. For Rogers, things are a bit more cut-and-dry. Within another 10 years, he hopes, The Thermal Club will be full, with all the nearly million-dollar lots and $500-a-month race car storage spots filled or spoken for as he fulfills his initial $30 million dream.

The View, one of three restaurants offered at the club, is seen at The Thermal Club in Thermal, Calif., Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.

The Countdown To Tennis Paradise Is On!

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10 Things to Know About Acrisure Arena

Before you head out to enjoy an event at this new venue, here are tips and insights into what your fan experience will be like.

The main entrance on the east side of the building will focus on creating an indoor-outdoor feel and will feature an outdoor food court.
RENDERINGS COURTESY ACRISURE ARENA

Since construction began in June 2021, you’ve likely driven by Acrisure Arena and viewed the immense structure rising from ground level on the north side of Interstate 10, just off the Cook Street exit. Or maybe you’ve seen the renderings that depict people milling in and out of the multipurpose venue.

It wasn't that long ago that the arena was planned to be developed in downtown Palm Springs as part of a partnership with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. However, when issues like parking and squeezing the arena next to a residential area became problematic, the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation stepped in and offered a parcel of land by Interstate 10.

In less than three weeks, fans will gain their first real look inside Acrisure Arena when comedians Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock entertain in the round (Dec. 14), followed by The Doobie Brothers (Dec. 15), Grupo Firme (Dec. 16), and then the Coachella Valley Firebirds’ first official home hockey game (Dec. 18).

AcrisureArenaAerial

This aerial rendering shows 3,000 parking spaces including 500 for VIP.
John Bolton, senior vice president of entertainment and general manager of the arena, has decades of experience around venues like Acrisure Arena. In fact, he’s helping the parent company, Oak View Group, develop the grand opening and entertainment plans for eight new arena projects. He’s seen Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert go from an architect’s concept to reality, and he likes what he sees.

“Some of the interior spaces are even better than I thought,” Bolton says. “Being in the bowl [the main seating area], you really understand how wonderful this is going to be from an artist’s perspective and a fan perspective. Just knowing that you’re going to be so close to the action, so close to the artist when they’re playing based on that basically one lower bowl design, I think is really, really incredible.

“I’m really impressed with all of the work on the exterior of the building and how it fits in with the landscape around the facility as well, and the beautiful mountains that are there. I think it fits well from that perspective and also from a color perspective, and I think our friends at the Berger Foundation have done a really amazing job in all the parking lots and the landscaping that's coming on board as it relates to that part of the facility as well.”

In his conversation with Palm Springs Life, Bolton addresses many of the facets of the fan experience, and why there is as much attention being paid to what goes on outside the arena as there is inside. Here are 10 things to know about Acrisure Arena.

coachellavalleyfirebirds

Hockey drove this arena to Greater Palm Springs where the Coachella Valley Firebirds will play home games through mid-April.
PARKING

There will be 500 VIP parking spots on the west end of the arena and 2,500 spaces around the south and east ends. If needed, there are 1,000 additional spaces available at nearby Xavier Prep High School with shuttle service to the arena. Kiosks at the arena will allow you to pay after you park, so you won't be held up by an attendant asking for payment.

Using Patriot One’s SmartGateway, fans will walk through screening areas that detect concealed guns, knives, and other related threat objects, giving customers a green arrow to proceed through or a red warning to staff that shows where the detected threat object is located on the customer. “We think this frictionless, smart walk-through system makes it really easy for people to enter,” Bolton says.

TICKETING

All tickets are digital and sent to your cell phone. You won't need a printout, a screenshot, or any other method to get in. The barcode is scanned on your mobile ticket to gain access to the event.

JUST FOR THE HOLIDAYS

You’ll likely see the 54-foot Christmas tree from the freeway that sits by the main entrance.

acrisurearenafood
FOOD

Before you even step into the arena, there will be food court area by the main entrance that will include five restaurants. The specific restaurants will be named this week, Bolton says. “Obviously we’re taking advantage of the weather and extending our indoor-outdoor [offerings],” he adds.

SEATING

Acrisure Arena's capacity is 11,000, with roughly 10,000 seats for hockey games. Twenty VIP suites surround the lower bowl seating area. “It’s pretty clear to me that there's not a bad seat in the house,” Bolton says. “You’re entering at ground level and then going down to your seat.”

One seating area to consider: The very back row of seats is separated by a counter, where the attendee can plant a drink. The seating is similar to a bar seat, but it allows for more space between you and the person next to you when compared to regular arena seating.

ACOUSTICS

Following the Dec. 14 opening night stand-up show, The Doobie Brothers will be the first band to play in the arena on Dec. 15, followed by Grupo Firme on Dec. 16 and Maroon 5 on Dec. 31. Acoustic technology has changed dramatically over the years, and Acrisure Arena is taking full advantage of that. Workers installed 10,000 square feet of acoustic lapendary panels, Bolton says.

“The fact that we don’t have a very high elevated upper bowl, where sound bounces off and then comes back down, will create a much better sound overall for our events. The goal is to make sure the sound system is really awesome. That plays a part into people’s enjoyment.”

AcrisureArenaChairmansClub

Chairman’s Club 29
LED SCREENS

At the west end of the arena, a giant screen will broadcast the action during hockey games and also be utilized during musical and other live performances. In addition, a wraparound ribbon screen will surround the bowl seating, and many of the concession areas will have TVs to keep track of the action.

CHAIRMAN’S CLUB 29

There is a special room located in the arena’s lower level where Chairman’s Club members can hang out, complete with comfy lounge furniture, bar and food offerings, and plenty of TVs to view the event.

ARENA WITH A VIEW

Check out the north and south bars. They are open-space areas that overlook the arena, offering dramatic views during hockey games. (Though they might not be as good during concerts, since the bars are parallel to the stage.)

COMMUNITY SKATING RINK

A community Iceplex is poised to debut in late December, offering the public a chance to enjoy the same rink that the Coachella Valley Firebirds will use for practice. Daily public skating opportunities range from open skating sessions to adult/junior hockey leagues and theme nights.

“I think people haven't totally grasped that 360-day operation that’s under the same roof,” Bolton says. “As we grow and we all go through that first six months, I think that’ll be one of the most pleasant, interesting things that people probably haven't quite realized yet.”

acrisurearenaconcert

And in case you were wondering, there are three Zambonis on property to keep the ice skate-ready.

Six months from now, it’s safe to say many of these areas will be tweaked and adjusted as more shows are held at the arena.

“We’ll be constantly looking at that and making sure that everyone has a good experience," Bolton says. "If there are things that we can change to make better, or things that we haven’t recognized or been able to predict, we have the ability to go in and make those tweaks and changes to continue to improve the operations and really build upon our opening here in a couple weeks."

• READ NEXT: The Doobie Brothers Bring 50th Tour to Acrisure Arena.

The 9 Best Hotels in Palm Springs

The dreamy properties that tell the story of Palm Springs are the same ones you'll want to hole up in for days.

Palm Springs has been through a multitude of incarnations over the last century—from Old Hollywood hangout, to spring break headquarters, to struggling tourist town, to one of California’s most beloved and unique resort cities. That last one is a title it proudly holds today, after reinventing itself as a glamorous desert getaway. To get here, it rode the wave of mid-century modernism's rebirth to become internationally renowned for its architecture, art and design, one-of-a-kind vintage shops, endless outdoor activities, and the hot spots A-listers descend upon during the juggernaut that is the Coachella music festival.

The best Palm Springs hotels are as wide-ranging as the area's visitors; whether you're seeking a tranquil boutique hotel, sprawling resort, or retro design motel with a shiny facelift, it’s as easy to find the perfect place to stay as it is to spend all day sitting by a sparkling pool, in dreamy desert weather with nothing but mountain views for miles. Here's where to find them.

All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

La Serena Villas

$$$

If you’ve done the midcentury thing before, opt for this Spanish hacienda-style property with just 18 private bungalows, a quiet pool, breezy restaurant, and flowing margaritas. The adults-only property draws mainly couples (of all ages) looking for R&R, along with locals who hit poolside restaurant Azucar and rooftop bar Sugar High for evening cocktails under the stars. Bungalows are decidedly design-forward, with a mix of Spanish, Moroccan, and boho styles, and feel even larger than they are thanks to vaulted ceilings with exposed beams. Every room category comes with its own private courtyard patio equipped with a fire pit, bench seating, and clawfoot tub for soaking under the sky and many also come with front porches boasting bamboo swings. Inside you’ll find Frette linens and towels, L’Occitane bath products, and Keurig coffee makers.

Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs Hotel

$$ | HOT LIST 2018 READERS' CHOICE AWARDS 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022

A full-service hotel smack in the center of town, the tallest building (at seven stories) in Palm Springs is also the only hotel in the entire Coachella Valley with a rooftop pool. Thanks to its height, rooftop pool, and plenty of passing foot traffic, The Rowan has more of a real-deal city vibe than most of the resort-feeling properties in town, drawing a crowd that varies in age and demographic, but often skews heavy on business travelers here for onsite meetings and conferences, as well as travelers with pets in tow. It feels modern while still honoring the city’s midcentury roots and desert location, with rooms featuring light-wood floors, hairpin-legged nightstands, leather desk chairs, cool blue accent rugs, framed topographical maps, and the especially novel tiled walls serving as headboards. Bathrooms feel fresh with large, glass-enclosed showers accented by glossy subway tiles. All rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, and many have balconies—with corner rooms offering wraparound options. Once you step out of the lobby, you’re mere yards from the city’s bustling main drag and within walking distance of most of Palm Springs’ highlights—shopping, dining and live music, hiking, museums, and many new public art installations. Those looking for a more private, off-the-beaten-path location will likely want to head elsewhere.

Things to Do This Week in the Desert, Dec. 5–11

Storm Large performs Dec. 9 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY MCCALLUM THEATRE

FABULOUS BINGO + TRIVIA: DEC. 5

Mondays aren't so bad when you spend them at the Ace. Join drag queen Bella da Ball for a laugh-out-loud evening at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs. The night kicks off with bingo at the hotel's King's Highway diner and wraps up with trivia in the Amigo Room bar.

TUESDAY NIGHT ROCK SHOW: DEC. 6

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio launches a brand-new rock show series, with live music every Tuesday night at Lit, the newly renovated bar and lounge. Don’t miss the inaugural night, featuring local band HWY 111, who will cover favorites from Van Halen and Metallica to Sublime.

ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914: DEC. 6

This musical at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert draws on snippets of real-life diary entries, documents, and letters to capture the World War I Christmas when Allied and German forces put fighting on hold to celebrate together.

FUN HOME: DEC. 6–18

Coachella Valley Repertory puts on Lisa Kron’s theatrical adaptation of an autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The Tony winner is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist.

CATHEDRAL CITY TREE LIGHTING CEREMONY: DEC. 7

Celebrate the most wonderful time of year at Civic Center Plaza from 5 to 7 p.m. as Mayor Ernesto Guttierez illuminates the city tree. The event includes a performance by the Cathedral City High School choir and the unveiling of North Pole Village, a strip of holiday-inspired backdrops for the perfect seasonal selfie.

NATURE WALK AT BLIXSETH PARK: DEC. 7

This half-mile, docent-led stroll welcomes walkers (and their pups) to learn about the native flora and fauna of the desert at Blixseth Park in Rancho Mirage.

MIXED FEELINGS: DEC. 8

Palm Springs Art Museum hosts back-to-back evening lectures on a pair of topics: “2nd Wave Feminist Art” and “The Origins of Life” with speakers Mara Gladstone, deputy director and head of programs at Desert X, and Timothy Lyons, distinguished professor of biogeochemistry in the department of Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Riverside.

GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST: DEC. 8–11

In its first post-pandemic performance, Joshua Tree Philharmonic presents classic and contemporary music selections for the whole family at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center in Joshua Tree.

Palm Springs Portrait Project

Jackie Thomas and Dee Ann McCoy owners of ThomBoy Properties, pose for the Portrait Project in their backyard in Palm Springs.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY ANTHONY-MASTERSON

PS PORTRAIT PROJECT OPENING RECEPTION: DEC. 8

Husband-and-wife photography team Owen Masterson and Christine Anthony set out to capture the essence of Palm Springs through a series of vibrant portraits. View the exhibition on its opening night at Melissa Morgan Fine Art in Palm Desert as you mingle with the photographers and some of their glam subjects. 

PAUL MCDONALD LI’L BIG BAND: DEC. 8

Vocalists Jay Jackson and Hope Diamond join Paul McDonald’s 10-piece band at Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs for soulful songs with holiday spirit.

THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER: DEC. 9

Say g’day to Australia’s hottest hunks. This male revue’s chiseled charmers delight audience members at Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage with interactive dance routines.

THE STORM LARGE HOLIDAY ORDEAL: DEC. 9

Pink Martini vocalist Storm Large nearly quit music in 2002, but she picked up the mic again at the urging of friends in Portland. See the feisty cabaret artist at the McCallum Theatre. 

YOUNG EINSTEIN: DEC. 9

This all-vinyl DJ set at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs finds influence in Young Einstein’s love of funk, hip hop, and soul.

DO NOT REMOVE LABEL: DEC. 9–11

Desert Ensemble Theatre in Palm Springs presents the world premiere of Jerome Elliot Moskowitz’s holiday play, which centers around mother and son Tammy and Tommy as they face an ill-timed visit from the FBI during Hanukkah.

OFFICIAL LATINO FILM AND ARTS FESTIVAL: DEC. 9–11

This three-day festival, now in its eight year, is the first to focus primarily on U.S. Latinx filmmakers. Over 100 films showcasing more than 200 Latinx actors will be shown at the Annenberg Theater at Palm Springs Art Museum. (The majority of films will be presented in English.) The weekend also features a closing reception and will culminate with an awards ceremony in the theater.

WHITE CHRISTMAS: DEC. 9–23

A song-and-dance duo follow a pair of singing sisters to snowy Vermont in this romantic musical version of the 1954 classic film. Hum along at Desert TheatreWorks in Indio.

CLUEDUPP: ALICE IN WONDERLAND: DEC. 10

Chase curious clues across a topsy-turvy version of Indio in this virtual game inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Grab a few of your favorite people to play, navigating the city with a smart phone app.

CHEAP TRICK: DEC. 10

The fervor that rock band Cheap Trick caused in Japan in 1978 has been compared to Beatlemania. The “I Want You to Want Me” singers perform at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: DEC. 10

Head to the Rancho Mirage Amphitheater at Rancho Mirage Community Park for the city’s kickoff event of the holiday season, an open-air production featuring talented local entertainers and musicians from Desert Theatricals.

LIGHT UP FOR LOVE COMMUNITY CANDLELIGHT VIGIL: DEC. 10

Local nonprofit Ronnie’s House for Hope stands by its mission to provide free grief support for community members with this evening of remembrance at Palm Desert Civic Center Park.

MARGARITAVILLE RUN: DEC. 10

Sprint or stroll toward the finish line in this charity 5K at Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs, where you’ll find Jimmy Buffet–themed swag and a post-run concert.

SECOND SATURDAYS: DEC. 10

This free concert series in downtown Indio happens in a safe, fenced-in “outdoor living room” off Smurr Street, Miles Avenue, and Indio Boulevard. Enjoy family activities, local food and craft beer vendors, and two featured bands: Tom Kenny & The Hi Seas and Salton City Surf Club. Bring your own lawn chairs.

SEE SANTA AT THE RIVER: DEC. 10

Old St. Nick and his elves will touch down at The River at Rancho Mirage from 3 to 6 p.m. for an afternoon photo-op, a raffle supporting Boys and Girls Club of Cathedral City, and a DJ.

YOGA WITH A RANGER: DEC. 10

A Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument ranger leads a beginner-friendly flow filled with tree- and animal-inspired poses at the visitor center.

STARS: A GALAXY OF SONG: DEC. 10–11

Modern Men: Coachella Valley Men’s Chorus brings a musical repertoire inspired by the stars to Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs. Expect numbers from such composers as Morton Lauridsen, Carol Bayer Sager, David Dickau.

THE TEN TENORS: DEC. 10–11

Australian classical-crossover supergroup The TEN Tenors returns to the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert for a holiday show with fun twists on favorites like “Feliz Navidad” and “Winter Wonderland,” all sung in gorgeous 10-part harmonies.

WHITE CHRISTMAS: DEC. 10–22

Local actors at Desert TheaterWorks in Indio present the musical stage adaptation of the beloved 1954 holiday film. White Christmas is a family-friendly holiday show bursting with cheerful dancing, treasured tunes and a generous helping of yuletide cheer.

 


HAPPENING ALL WEEK

 

BEN STEELE: THROUGH DEC. 9

Everyday objects meld with the fantastical worlds of films like The Wizard of Oz in Ben Steele’s exhibition at Coda Gallery in Palm Desert. 

JOSÉ SARRIA POP-UP MUSEUM: THROUGH DEC. 14

Palm Springs’ Welwood Murray Memorial Library celebrates the 100th birthday of the late drag queen and activist José Sarria with documentary screenings and an exhibition.

DAVID DORNAN: THROUGH DEC. 16

Stop by Coda Gallery in Palm Desert to browse David Dornan’s photorealistic paintings of flowers, oilcans, and other subjects, which take on new depth under his observant eye. 

GONZO MUNDANE: THROUGH DEC. 18

Check out Matt Wesson’s knack for capturing the strangeness and charm of life in photos in his exhibition at Compound Yucca Valley.

PALM SPRINGS GETAWAY: THROUGH DEC. 18

It’s always sunny in Palm Springs! Local actors portray beloved icons and celebrities from the city’s history in this high-energy musical at Palm Canyon Theatre in Palm Springs. 

HOLIDAY SQUARES POP-UP STORE: THROUGH DEC. 23

Shop for every art lover on your list at the Artists Center at The Galen in Palm Desert, where the Artists Councilvends 8-inch canvases, ceramics, and other gifts.

Beyond Van Gogh Palm Springs

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY BEYOND VAN GOGH
BEYOND VAN GOGH: THROUGH DEC. 27

Step inside 300 famous Van Gogh artworks at this immersive exhibition at the Empire Polo Club in Indio that projects the artist’s paintings on the walls and floor. It was so popular, event producers extended the exhibition by a month.

WILDLIGHTS: THROUGH DEC. 30

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardensin Palm Desert twinkles by night with holiday light displays. Grab a hot chocolate and snap a photo with Santa.

BOXO10X10: THROUGH DEC. 31

High Desert arts initiative BoxoPROJECTS celebrates its residency program’s 10th year with an exhibition of 10 artists’ work.

OUTBURST PROJECTS: THROUGH JAN. 29

Five artists draw upon their cultural histories to create evocative pieces, from woven artwork to cyborg-like sculpted monsters, as part of this residency program at Palm Springs Art Museum.

PETRA CORTRIGHT: THROUGH MAR. 26

The Santa Barbara–born artist known for self-portrait videos composes “paintings” with internet imagery in this exhibition at Palm Springs Art Museum.

LIGHT + CHANGE: THROUGH MAY 21

Palm Desert resident Phillip K. Smith III fills four galleries at Palm Springs Art Museum with installations inspired by the desert’s unique quality of light.

A PLACE AT THE TABLE: THROUGH JUNE 4

View the formal table settings that the Annenbergs set out to entertain presidents and royals at Sunnylands Center & Gardens in Rancho Mirage.

AMERICAN FRAMING: THROUGH JULY 2

The Architecture and Design Center in Palm Springs brings attention to the subtle architectural genius of wood framing through models, photos, furniture, and a full-scale structure.

So you’re thinking of flying out of SBD airport in San Bernardino. Here’s what to know

Breeze has flights to San Francisco and Las Vegas, plus Provo, Utah, and Hartford, Connecticut.

Desert Sun staff
Photos by Julie Making

Passengers can walk directly from the parking lot into the terminal at San Bernardino International Airport.

Perhaps you’ve been looking for cheap flights to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Utah or Connecticut and noted the new low-cost deals out of San Bernardino International Airport. If you’ve been wondering what the experience is like at this airport and whether it’s worth the hour-long drive from Palm Springs, we’ve got you covered.

Where the heck is this airport?

It’s at 105 N. Leland Norton Way in San Bernardino, just north of Interstate 10 and west of the 210, about an hour west of Palm Springs. It's on the site of the former Norton Air Force Base, which closed in 1992, and officials there have been angling to get commercial passenger service for years. It finally started in August.

What airlines fly out of San Bernardino?

Right now, just one airline services the airport: Breeze. It has flights to San Francisco; Las Vegas; Provo, Utah; and Hartford, Connecticut.

The Breeze Airways check-in area at San Bernardino International Airport.

When do the flights run, and what do they cost?

As at any airport, prices fluctuate based on the season and demand, but here's what we found this week:

Flights to Provo generally run daily (though some Tuesdays there are no flights), with fares ranging from $62 to $438.

Flights to San Francisco generally run daily (though some Tuesdays there are no flights). One-way fares ranged from $39 to $279.

Flights to Vegas will be on Sundays and Thursdays starting in February, according to Breeze’s website. One-way fares range from $36 to $116.

Flights to Hartford will run Sundays and Thursdays starting in February and range in price from $119 to $557 each way. There’s a stop (without plane change) in Las Vegas.

How many gates does the airport have?

Three.

Can I get food there?

There are two places to eat. One is a small coffee shop before you go through security. The other is a snack bar near the three gates upstairs. At this time, there is no fresh food to speak of, just packaged items like chips, candy bars, nuts, etc.

How much is parking?

Parking is $5 per day and there are many covered spaces. You can walk directly from your parking spot to the terminal, no shuttle bus needed.

When is the airport open?

The airport is open four hours per day, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Is there Wi-Fi at the airport?

Yes, SBD offers free Wi-Fi.

What’s the security checkpoint situation like?

Lines are minimal and TSA PreCheck is available (though you don’t really need it).

Is there anything of interest to look at in the terminal?

There’s an old Ford Model T in the main concourse. The gate area has nice views of the mountains.

Can I rent a car there?

Only Hertz offers service at SBD right now and is open 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily.

What else happens at SBD?

Mainly known for the Amazon Air jets and firefighting planes, the airport — known by its identifier SBD — has maintained a passenger terminal since 2010, but only for those traveling on charter flights.

Where can I get more info?

The airport website is flysbd.com. Breeze Airways is flybreeze.com.

Dining Around The Desert: New Restaurants in the Palm Springs Area (Fall 2022)

Dining Around The Desert: New Restaurants in the Palm Springs Area (Fall 2022)

Fall is quickly approaching, bringing cooler weather and the pungent notes of pumpkin spice and cinnamon with the changing season. With the arrival of fall also comes a slew of new restaurants in Greater Palm Springs that are sure to delight your taste buds for an unforgettable culinary experience. Whether you’re in the mood for an authentic Spanish meal or homestyle comfort food, look no further than the exquisite variety offered in the Southern California oasis.  Check out the latest and greatest in new restaurants in Greater Palm Springs and get ready to experience this top culinary destination.

SOL Y SOMBRA 

Sol Y Sombra

For a taste of Spain, Sol y Sombra is raising the bar for dining with a delicious paella menu and table sidebar cart. For groups of two to 200, Sol y Sombra’s exciting paella menu offers a version of Spain’s signature dish to please every palate, from seafood lovers to vegetarians. The bar is not the only place for a custom cocktail at Sol y Sombra , as the Tableside Bar Cart service offers custom cocktails featuring top-shelf ingredients, made tableside to order with house specialties including The Paloma Oro, a twist on the traditional featuring gold-flecked tequila and fresh-squeezed Oro Blanco grapefruit juice.

Sol y Sombra’s menu incorporates the desert’s agricultural roots, in which local ingredients like dates, grapefruit, and chilis star in an array of shareable tapas and dinner mains. Tapas options include classics like Croquettes stuffed with serrano ham and cheese, scallops or mushrooms; Papas Bravas with lemon yogurt aioli; and chicken or vegetarian Empanadas. In addition to three kinds of Paella, ‘big plate’ options include richly-flavored offerings such as luscious Braised Spanish Pork Shoulder; Seared Branzino with grilled lemon and fennel salad; and Catalan Rabbit and Sobrasada Stew flavored with chorizo and Aleppo chiles.

Information: Now open. 67670 Carey Road, Cathedral City, CA 92234

BEAUTIFUL DAY

Start your mornings off right when you have breakfast or lunch at Beautiful Day—a farm-to-table eatery that offers healthy, homestyle cuisine. Some highlights of its “Rise & Shine” menu include Granpa’s Waffle made with a buttermilk waffle, pecan maple emulsion, and whipped creme fraiche, or the Breakfast Burrito with farm eggs, crispy potatoes, cheese, and Hot Mami sauce in a Sonoran wheat tortilla. A lunch favorite is the Mushroom Shawarma sandwich, with griddles mushroom confit, pickled onion, shishito sauce, and parsley on homemade flatbread.

Information: Now open. 50949 Washington St Suite 1A, La Quinta, CA 92253

RUBERRY SALSA  

Mole

Once a popular taco vendor that has finally started a brick-and-mortar business, Rubery Salsa is not your average taco shop. Although the classic staples are offered, like Chile Guerito Shrimp tacos topped with onion, cilantro, and Queso Fresco on a flour tortilla, Rubery Salsa also features their unique “fusion tacos,” blending Asian and Mexican cuisine. Try the Stir Fry Taco, with grilled chicken, peppers, onions, and cilantro topped with garlic chili oil, or the Wasabi Taco with chicken, mild wasabi sauce and ginger slaw.

Information: Now open. 73030 El Paseo Suite 103, Palm Desert, CA 92260

MOLÉ 

Soon to be located on El Paseo in Palm Desert, Molé plans to deliver the best authentic Mexican food in Greater Palm Springs. Just like its Sedona, Arizona location, all recipes will be prepared from scratch daily, such as homemade tortillas, salsas, and even their signature molé sauces. Whether you’re passing through town to enjoy the views or a local resident, Molé aims to deliver an incredible experience that will remind guests how the real flavors of Mexico should taste. To indulge your senses, their beverage program has been designed to include a unique selection of wines, hand-crafted cocktails, and tequilas.

Information: Coming soon. 73160 El Paseo, Palm Desert, CA 92260

SHOREBIRD

Shorebird

Another restaurant that will open this fall on El Paseo in Palm Desert is the Shorebird Restaurant. This coastal eatery proudly presents a sophisticated, yet casual, spin on classic Americana flavors with influences from traditional seafood and steakhouses. Featuring a wood-fire grill and rotisserie, Shorebird’s signature dishes include Duroc Heritage Pork Chop with Brussels sprouts and brandy-poached apples, Faroe Island’s Salmon Mignon with a cauliflower purée, and Harris Ranch Prime Skirt Steak served with a red chimichurri sauce. For those looking for delicious, shareable plates, the Avocado Fries with a green goddess dressing, Twice Fried Chicken Wings with a chipotle gastrique, or items from the “Raw Bar " is great to start your meal.

Information: Coming soon. 73-061 El Paseo Suite 8, Palm Desert, CA 92260

WALDO’S RISTORANTE

Hoja Blanca

Founded by restaurateur Waldo Cesoni with the intention of becoming the destination point for a true Italian culinary experience, Waldo’s Ristorante pays homage to the essence of the great Italian American restaurants of the mid-20th century in New York. Waldo’s dinner menu is rife with signature, mouthwatering dishing like the trademark Puttanesca, with caper, anchovy, black olive, onion, and a hint of garlic combined in the most incredible penne sauce. For another culinary classic, try the Rack of Lamb, topped with burgundy wine reduction sauce and mint jelly on the side, served with mashed potatoes and veggies. Waldo's is set to open for dinner in October and lunch in November.

Information: Coming soon. 74970 Country Club Dr, Palm Desert, CA 92260

BAR CHINGONA  

A retro airstream bar where craft cocktails meet Mexico City chic, Bar Chingona is a Greater Palm Springs destination for all things fresh, fruity, and fun. Choose from an exciting collection of classic cocktails and “margaritas chingona” boasting a variety of intoxicating flavors. Try the Brown Derby, a classic LA cocktail with Old Grandad bonded Bourbon, fresh grapefruit and lemon juices, honey water, up with a twist. If you’re feeling adventure, have a taste of the Chingona Diabla— a serrano-infused Tequila, with Ancho Reyes Verde, lime, tajín rim, and a Mexican lollipop on the side.

Information: Now open. 750 N Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262

CHURRASCO BRAZILIAN STEAKHOUSE

Churrasco

With its new location set to open this fall, Churrasco Brazilian Steakhouse will treat guests to an unforgettable Brazilian steakhouse experience through chef-driven cuisine, a world-class full bar, and unparalleled hospitality. At Churrasco , guests are surrounded by an energetic and luxurious atmosphere. The Brazilian “Churrasco” has been a tradition for generations in Southern Brazil, where Gauchos (Brazilian cowboys) pierced large pieces of meat and slowly grilled them over open-flamed pits. Churrasco Brazilian Steakhouse carries on the churrasco tradition with rodizio (all-you-can-eat) dining where you can taste 15 all-you-can-enjoy meats (sliced tableside) and a fresh market table with sides and salads all for one set price.

Information: Coming soon450 S Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262

FREDDIE’S KITCHEN AT THE COLE 

Freddie’s Kitchen at The Cole  is dedicated to becoming a local choice for great food, cocktails, and delicious wines at a reasonable price with personal attention. Serving French California cuisine with global flavors, this restaurant and bar were started by well-known Chef Frederic, who recently arrived from the small town of Mammoth Lakes Ski Resort. Fred was born initially in the Alsace region of France where he was classically trained and graduated with honors from Lycee Hotelier et Culinaire. He recently moved to Greater Palm Springs to open his restaurant. Dishes at Freddie’s Kitchen range from traditional Escargot a la Bourguignon and French Onion Soup to Braised Short Rib Rigatoni Bolognaise and Peppered Elk Medallions. For the sweet-hearted, Chef Frederick offers French Style Dark Chocolate Mouse and Tahitian Vanilla Bean Creme Brule.

Information: Now open. 2323 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262

HOJA BLANCA 

This new modern Mexican-inspired nighttime hotspot brings all the flavors south of the border right here to the oasis. Hoja Blanca features staples like Tostadas with hamachi, avocado, aioli, English cucumber, salsa macha, and peanuts, or Steak Tacos made with rib-eye, burnt eggplant, cilantro chimichurri, allium, and salsa tatemada. For an irresistible seafood option, try the Aguachiles with white shrimp, salsa negra, red onion, radish, english cucumber, grapes, salsa macha, and tostaditas.

Information: Now open. 750 N Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262

I HEART MAC & CHEESE PALM SPRINGS 

I Heart Mac and Cheese

With cheese lovers specifically in mind, the new I Heart Mac & Cheese  is sure to appease your taste for all things salty and savory. This restaurant’s menu features signature items as well as build your own mac & cheese, grilled cheese sandwich options, and even a “tacoroni” option with your choice of mac and cheese flavor stuffed in a crunchy taco shell. Gluten-free and vegan (Beyond Meat) options are also available. For a hot meal that satisfies your cravings, have a taste of the Chicken Parmesan Mac & Cheese, made with your choice of pasta, broccoli, cauliflower, or quinoa as your base, with chicken, cheese sauce, marinara, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, and pesto. If you’re in the mood for something more decadent, try the Lobster & White Truffle Mac & Cheese, made with muenster cheese, and finished with lobster cream, white truffle oil, and scallions.

Information: Now open. 190 S Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262

Dining Around The Desert: Sol y Sombra, Cathedral City

You’ll find a Spanish-fusion tapas menu with locally sourced meats, spices, and produce and indoor-outdoor poolside service.

EMILY CHAVOUS FOSTERCURRENT GUIDE, RESTAURANTS

the paloma resort cathedral city

Sol y Sombra’s pool bar at The Paloma Resort in Cathedral City.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY THE PALOMA RESORT

This article below is written by the author named above. My experience is noted here:

My team and I joined our friend Leslie for dinner at Sol y Sombra on their 2nd night of being open, so we considered that they might not have all the bugs worked out yet. We were right, but overall it was a good experience.

The hotel is tucked away on a side street but was easy to find, and there was a valet and plenty of parking on the street. When we arrived, we were greeted and seated promptly in the cute little dining room as it was quite hot outside. The atmosphere was very festive, and the lighting and ambiance reminded me of being in Spain and visiting the spice shops.

Once a server came over, and we could order cocktails, it took about 20 minutes to get them. This was the situation for the entire evening. Not sure if they just were not prepared, were understaffed, or what the problem was. That being said, the cocktails and wine were all quite good.

We ordered a variety of tapas and enjoyed all of them, especially the muscles and Croquetas de Jamon e Queso. The only disappointing item was the empanadas. For $13 we expected more than the three very small ones, about the size of a half dollar each, that we received.

For our main course, we shared a couple of orders of Seafood Paella. The rice was wonderful, and it was all cooked perfectly.

We will be back!

And now the article from Palm Springs Life...

What’s better than tapas and tequila with friends? Tapas and tequila with friends by the pool.

When a San Francisco–based hospitality group set out to transform a 1930s adobe in Cathedral City into the centerpiece of a 66-suite boutique hotel and spa, they tapped local chef and hospitality guru Chad Gardner as a partner to conceptualize and helm the on-site restaurant and bar.

Gardner, originally from the Bay Area and a Palm Springs resident for about 15 years, is responsible for such hot spots as 533 Viet Fusion, Roly China Fusion, and 1501 Uptown Gastropub in Palm Springs as well as Willie’s Modern Fare in Rancho Mirage and Dash and a Handful, a catering and events company. Each has its own personality. At The Paloma, the same holds true for Sol y Sombra — and the attached 14-seater Poca Sombra tequila speakeasy — where you’ll find a Spanish-fusion tapas menu with locally sourced meats, spices, and produce and indoor-outdoor poolside service.

We spoke with Gardner ahead of the official opening to get the scoop on this splashy new venture.

TASTES FOR ALL PALATES

“I’ve dabbled with Moroccan and Indian spices and Spanish saffrons throughout my career, so I really [wanted] to do a Spanish tapas restaurant. I’m one of those chefs that colors outside the lines, so you’re going to see different influences even though it’s Spanish. There’s going to be something for everyone, [including] vegetarian and vegan options.”

TABLESIDE LIBATIONS

“A mixologist will come around with a bar cart and mix different cocktails. So, if there’s something in particular that you want, you’ll give him or her some flavor profiles, and the mixologist will create a cocktail for you, right on the spot. We’ll have signature cocktails in addition to a full bar and a full Spanish wine list.”

YOU’RE INVITED TO LINGER

“In addition to cabanas, the citrus suite at the foot of the swimming pool is a day suite that we’re going to offer with butler service for food, and bottle service. It’ll include six chaise lounges and be a really VIP experience … and it can be reserved. We really want people to come and enjoy this space. It’s a little bit off the beaten path.”

Whoa Nellie

A century ago, “Mother” Nellie Coffman single-handedly made Palm Springs a visitor destination — but don’t bother looking for landmarks honoring her in the city.

MICHAEL ARKIN CURRENT PSL, HISTORY

nellie coffman

Nellie with her sons, Earl Coffman and George Ball Roberson, in 1926.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY

What’s in a name? When it comes to the Downtown Park adjacent to Palm Springs Art Museum, the question is: What’s not in one? Given that it occupies the land where the famed Desert Inn once stood, many locals wonder why it doesn’t bear the moniker of the dowdy, bespectacled woman who arrived at the dusty Seven Palms train station in 1909 and proceeded to change the town’s destiny. That woman not only built the hotel, but it was her vision and sway that led to America’s love affair with desert vacations and made the village, as the city was then called, a magnet for the rich and famous. Nellie Coffman Park does have a satisfying ring to it.

Despite the nurturing love she bestowed on the town, earning her the sobriquet “Mother Coffman,” there is nary a plaque, a street, or a park commemorating her. It’s not as if doing so would be precedent setting. The swollen ranks of city streets and parks named for celebrities and public servants include Gene Autry, Dinah Shore, Charles Farrell, Frank Bogert, Ruth Hardy, Frances Stevens, and Adolph DeMuth. Even game show host Monty Hall had a street named for him in Cathedral City. While there has been hope that the Downtown Park would be named for Nellie, as of this writing it’s not on the Palm Springs City Council’s radar, let alone its agenda.

nelliecoffmanthedesertinn

Nellie Coffman

Born in Indiana in 1867 to James and Ruth Orr, Nellie moved with her family to Texas, where her father built and managed a hotel in Dallas. That’s where she learned the hospitality business and met George Roberson. They married in 1886 and soon moved to Los Angeles, where he opened a secondhand furniture store. Strapped for cash, Roberson devised an insurance scam and planned to set the furniture warehouse on fire. The swindle didn’t go as planned, and according to former Palm Springs Mayor and Coffman aficionado Will Kleindienst, when Roberson was arrested for attempted arson, he slit his throat with a pocketknife. The police took him home to Nellie where he died during the night of Jan. 22, 1887.

nelliecoffmanshirleytemple

Nellie stands by as child star Shirley Temple christens her cottage at The Desert Inn with a bottle of milk.

nelliecoffmanearlcoffman

Nellie rides in a buggy with Milton Hicks (front left), Earl Coffman (striped jacket), George Roberson, and Alta Roberson on Nellie’s 80th birthday in 1947.

Widowed after only four and a half months of marriage, Nellie, then 19 years old and pregnant, returned to Dallas. Her son George Jr. was born six months later. In 1890, the family moved to California, settling in Santa Monica, where her father ran the St. James Hotel. It was there that 22-year-old Nellie met her second husband, an affluent walnut farmer named Harry Coffman. Not a girl to let the walnut seedlings grow under her feet, she and Coffman were married less than three months later. Within two years, they welcomed a son, Earl.

Plagued by a cough that grew more persistent over the years, Nellie’s doctor suggested that she summer in the mountains. She chose Strawberry Valley, known today as Idyllwild. It was from there, atop Mount San Jacinto, that she had her first glimpse of Palm Springs shimmering in the heat on the valley floor below. The innkeeper where she stayed alerted her to the benefits of the village’s endless sunshine and healing hot springs. Intrigued, Nellie vowed to visit it someday, but with two sons and a husband who was preparing to enter medical school, she had to return to Los Angeles.

It would be almost a decade before she finally made the pilgrimage, arriving on a cold December night in 1908. Overwhelmed by a windstorm that kicked up dust from the village’s dirt roads and underwhelmed by the service at Welwood Murray’s Palm Springs Hotel, she wondered if she had made a mistake. But in the morning, with bright sunshine illuminating the majestic mountains and the sound of birds singing in the palm trees, she knew she had found her “garden of peace,” which she later memorialized in poetry. Then, all she had to do was to convince her husband to give up his medical practice and move east.

thedesertinnpalmsprings

The Desert Inn became the center of the action in Palm Springs. In 1938, the resort hosted a diving exhibition.
Having witnessed the challenges her father encountered operating a hotel, Nellie swore that she would never run a boarding house, but that’s exactly what she did. Appealing to Harry’s desire to help the sick, she proposed that they open a sanatorium for people suffering from respiratory ailments. Leaving young Earl to finish high school in Los Angeles, the family arrived in Palm Springs and put down $2,000 to buy 1.75 acres at the corner of what would become Tahquitz Canyon Way and Palm Canyon Drive.

Their presence increased the village’s white settler population to 14 along with 50 Cahuilla Indian residents.

With only three bedrooms in the original house and four in the converted stables, Nellie ordered wood and canvas tent houses and, within a month, hung a hand-painted sign that read “The Desert Inn.” Suddenly, she was in business. It was a risky move considering there wasn’t even a paved road into town until 1916. Even then, a torrential rain washed out the road, and it wasn’t replaced until 1924. But she believed in her mantra: “Give the people what they want — good food, clean lodgings, and warm hospitality, and the roads and the autos will come.”

As luck would have it, her first guests were two reporters from Los Angeles Times. Impressed by her gracious hospitality and the fact that she served them a complete hot meal despite arriving after 9 p.m., they became advocates, spreading the news about The Desert Inn and its remarkable hostess. People came and spent the entire season, paying $5 a day for the inn’s American plan. At the close of the first season, Nellie had $65 in the bank.

newyorkcitymayorjimmywalker1931

Nellie headed a delegaton of locals who wished a heartfelt “happy trails” to the embattled New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, who relaxed in Palm Springs in 1931 amid a corruption scandal.
She added more tents and secretly had William Charles Tanner draw up plans for the hotel’s expansion. Her ambition to build a world-class hotel that, while not the biggest, was the best, was in direct conflict with her husband’s desire to care for patients. Preferring to cater to the infirm than the rich and famous, he opened his own practice in 1918 in Calexico, some 120 miles away. While there is no evidence of a formalized divorce, their marriage was over.

desertinn1938

The Desert Inn became the center of the action in Palm Springs. In 1938, the resort hosted a diving exhibition.

Needing funding for the expansion, Nellie borrowed $350,000 from California oilman Thomas O’Donnell, with the provision that she would build him a house on the mountain overlooking the hotel that he could lease for up to 50 years. Ultimately, she wound up acquiring 35 acres — 27 on the flats and 8 on the mountain. Beautifully landscaped, the new 111-room Desert Inn, designed in Spanish-mission style, opened in 1927.

Featuring Palm Springs’ first art gallery, with works from early desert painters and photographers, the hotel also boasted the Coachella Valley’s first swimming pool and offered its well-heeled guests golf, pingpong, archery, horseback riding, tennis, badminton, bicycling, sun-tanning huts and stargazing — both the celestial and Hollywood kind. For guests more interested in playing the market than the shuffleboard, the inn also featured an on-premise branch of E.F. Hutton.

When not tending to celebrities like Rudolph Valentino, Cary Grant, and Shirley Temple (who had a cottage on the property named after her), titans of industry including Cornelius Vanderbilt, and government officials such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gen. George S. Patton, and J. Edgar Hoover, Nellie was caring for the town that she had come to love. She worked relentlessly to have the village incorporated into a city, to establish the board of trade, a predecessor of the city council, and to help the less fortunate through the Welfare & Friendly Aid Society, which she founded. She served on the school board and, due to her persistence, Palm Canyon Drive is 100 feet wide, and the village was not overrun with gambling parlors.

nellie coffmandesertcircus1940

Nellie participates in Desert Circus Kangaroo Court, circa 1940.

At its peak, the hotel employed 200 workers and was a melting pot of ethnicities and backgrounds. From Chinese cooks, Mexican gardeners, and Jewish painters to Filipino busboys and houseboys and German broiler-cooks, the staff was a virtual United Nations. There are those who say that while the staff was diverse, the guest list was not. Barbara Foster, whose husband Bill served as Palm Springs mayor, remembers reminiscing with Shirley Temple Black over lunch in Washington, D.C., where the former child star served as ambassador to Czechoslovakia. “I was just heartbroken,” she recalls Temple Black saying, “because Mrs. Coffman wouldn’t let Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson stay at the hotel.”

Since the guest registers are no longer accessible, rumors persist that Jews and Blacks were unwelcome. Given those allegations, it’s easy to understand how her well-known motto to “Make Palm Springs attractive to attractive people” could be misconstrued and why, 72 years after her death, people may interpret it as restrictive.

nelliecoffmanlaplazapalmspringscalifornia

Nellie cut the ribbon at the dedication of La Plaza in 1936.

It might also explain the reticence of the city to dedicate the Downtown Park in her name. After the revisionist uproar over the legacy of fellow city pioneer and four-term mayor Frank Bogert, Nellie might be too hot a potato. We may have to leave the tributes to other cities like Cathedral City, which recognized Nellie’s contributions to the Coachella Valley by naming its middle school in her memory. And while each city has the right to honor its famous citizens as they see fit, it seems appropriate that Palm Springs would choose to venerate the memory of a true pioneer with the same level of esteem that has been shown to movie stars, crooners, and game show hosts.

 

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