Vintage Palm Springs Blog

Getting Lit at the Racquet Club (No Pun Intended)

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Getting Lit at the Racquet Club (No Pun Intended)

By Diana Castellanos.


Who wants to go clubbing?!

Racquet clubbin' that is!

I know that cheesy "attention-grabbers" (if it even grabbed your attention, fingers crossed) are no match for the topic that we about to delve into: The Palm Springs Racquet Club.

Why is the Racquet Club such an integral part to Palm Springs? WELL LET ME TELL YOU WHY.

But first, and per usual, a little history. (What are we in high school?)

The Racquet (pronounced Rack-et, not some crazy French pronunciation like we thought it was) Club of Palm Springs was opened on Dec. 15, 1934 by Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy.


These silent film stars gauged the Palm Springs lifestyle and necessities, especially those of celebrities that were making their way to the desert for either their roles, or to chill out. At least, that's what the Desert Sun is telling us. The intent of the club was to provide-resort style amenities to those the encumbered it, with the special target of celebrities. At first, the club was very nonchalant, providing a place to dine, drink cocktails and play tennis. Unfortunately, if you got too tips, you would have to drive down the road to the Desert Inn or El Mirador to check into a room.  This club changed the lifestyle thematic of Palm Springs forever by challenging the ruggedness it possessed before and merging it with the desert community full of celebrities. The Racquet Club provided a more metropolitan idea to Palm Springs, adapting the celebrity lifestyle and, for lack of a better term, rush to the popular and well-versed city. It is through specific locations like this one that we're noticing that celebrities struck gold in the city of Palm Springs in the era of silent film; as the city was perfect for silent and upcoming sound westerns due to the desert back drop, giving it a Wild West type of feel. Celebrities, from there, took hint and began to find the soothing nature of, well, nature.

Now let’s get to the stuff that you really came here to read: celebrities! Because who doesn't love them!



Regarding famous people, regulars included Judy Garland (but she wouldn't find rainbows here unfortunately), Cary Grant, and ya girl Dinah Shore. Clark Gable frequented the place so much that they named a bungalow after him. Now that I think about, I want a bungalow names after me; that would be cool. the guest-list for the club was not only made up of celebs like Natalie Wood or Bruno Bernard, but there were also political celebrities that frequented the club such as Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman. The only one pretty much banned from the place was Mickey Rooney because "nobody liked him".

Besides that guy, the Racquet Club was the social demigod that called what was known as "Palm Springs Social Season." A well-known tradition to this was that of ringing the bell in the Farrell House, where the wave of socialites just gathered in one place and brought that same group mentality to the next part of the resort.  Most of all, the people that had the opportunity to experience the Racquet Club in its heyday were fortunate enough to know that this was one of the most influential and critical parts of Palm Springs history.



A major role that the Racquet Club played was in the discovery of the dinosaurs! Just kidding, but that would be cool. The club is where Marilyn Monroe was discovered by the William Morris Agency, the one's responsible for starring her in the movie, "Asphalt Jungle" that launched her career and changed her life forever. Ironically, John F. Kennedy also frequented this location, Coincidence? This one we're not actually too sure. Nonetheless, Happy Birthday, Mr. President. As if the club wasn't already the place to discover whether people or things, the famous Bamboo Room Restaurant of the club is where a drink that we know of as the Bloody Mary was invented.



Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. In 2014, a fire blazed the Racquet Club destroying almost three-quarters of the building, only leaving notable structures behind such as the pool and few tennis courts that were still visible. As the news kept getting updated regarding the fire, USA Today interviewed Dan Whittier, the club's tennis director in 1991. Whittier mentioned that the facility was significant then and still we even after the fire. Whittier mentioned the emotional value that the location held in Palm Springs: "This is a loss to everyone in Palm Springs...because this was the birth of Palm Springs."

The Club influenced the founding of the Racquet Club Estates, to which the design was made specifically for weekend getaways. Here again is where we see the common theme of open floor plans, expansive lot sizes, and square footage nearing that of 10,000 or more. These estates also include a distinctive pattern in that each estate has a different orientation and only utilizes 5 rooftop options. You can thank the designer of these estates, Alexander Construction Company, for the catapult of mid-century modern into the eye of Palm Springs that inspired celebrities to build their vacation homes along the lines of the estates; and furthermore, most Palm Springs. As with other homes, these estates are the true fundamental designs that relinquished the Mid-Century modern popularity of the celebrity Palm Springs rush that began in the early 1940s.

Regarding the Club today (because 2014 was almost a decade ago), there are plans for an LGBT Friendly something there. There have been several noted talks of it becoming a housing facility for homeless youth, or other resort style amenities to house the gay-friendly town of Palm Springs. To further add salt to the wound, the city has almost given up on trying to preserve it. USA Today also took to interview Elizabeth Balker, who lives in the Racquet Club Estates, mentions that if the housing projects go through, it would be a change for the community as it has "kind of been an eyesore." there has been mention of the homelessness and drug addiction problem near the burned-down location. One can only hope that the housing project proposal goes through to assist those in need, with specific consideration for the LGBT community.




So, I guess one could say that we didn't get too lit... I mean...well you get the idea. As we continue our journey into the different significant and historical buildings of Palm Springs, it becomes more of a merger to see how different locations catapulted different celebrity rushes into the city. What makes the Racquet Club stand out above the rest is not only its foundation, but as well as the coincidences and relationships that were established within its walls. Without the Racquet Club, there would have been no Marilyn Monroe, Bloody Mary's (not the scary kind) or the episode of the Jack Benny Show entitled, "Murder at the Racquet Club." Little by little we begin to see that Palm Springs not only had major influence on the lives of the stars that inhabited the city, but as well as nationwide. Who knows...maybe Palm Springs will consider a secondary Racquet Club to see who gets discovered next? Or maybe just a bungalow named after us. We’d like that too.



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