It's Palm Springs Modernism Week and we're touring a few of the beautiful buildings open to the public as part of the festivities. First up: Frank Sinatra's old place, which hosted the opening party last night.[Photos by Elizabeth Daniels]
Can you hear it? Look closely at the former desert retreat of Frank Sinatra and you may be able to hear the muted strains of Ol' Blue Eyes himself. The 1947 E. Stewart Williams-designed estate sits on a relatively non-descript block in Palm Springs's Movie Colony neighborhood but contained within is a mid-century time capsule with period-appropriate interiors and the famous piano-shaped swimming pool. To kick off Palm Springs Modernism Week, the house was the site of a cocktail reception last night.
The house was built for Sinatra and his first wife, Nancy Barbato and features four bedrooms, including a master and one for each of his kids, Nancy, Frank Jr., and Tina. The compound, dubbed Twin Palms, reportedly had a flagpole between its two signature trees, which Sinatra used to let friends know it was cocktail hour. When he hoisted the Jack Daniels flag, time for neighbors like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Jack Benny, and Cary Grant to clink martini glasses.
Perhaps the coolest feature is the original sound and recording system installed by Valentino Electronics of Hollywood. Sinatra used that very system to cut records at the house. Another reminder of Sinatra's life there is the cracked sink in the master bath where Sinatra hurled a champagne bottle at second wife Ava Gardner's head during one of their marital bouts. Twin Palms served as the site of some of their most legendary fights, including an argument with Gardner over his affair with Lana Turner, with the Chairman of the Board throwing all of her belongings into the driveway during a screaming match.
Yet the modernist landmark (designated a Class 1 historic site in Palm Springs in March 2011) almost never came to be. According to an interview E. Stewart Williams gave to Vanity Fair, Sinatra originally requested a Georgian-style estate in the desert in may 1947. Oh, and it had to be completed by Christmas for a New Year's eve party. Williams smartly drew up two plans--the Georgian monstrosity Sinatra requested, and an elegant, single-story modern house. Fortunately, Sinatra chose the latter.
Williams built a 4,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, seven-bath estate with a pool house. The estate features a canopy skylight entryway and the main living room's sliding glass doors open to the patio. Williams also included floor-to ceiling and clerestory windows to create a more expansive feel. During the day, the shadows from the walkway canopy hit the pool at a angle that creates the illusion of piano keys--apparently a happy accident.
Today the house is available for rent as a location for photo shoots and special events by Beau Monde Villas. If your dream is to sleep in Sinatra's bedroom, that's an option too, with the house renting for $2,600 per night with a three-night minimum. If that's a little too spendy, groups of 20 or more can schedule a 45 minute guided tour. --Marissa Gluck
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