Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Middle Class Vanilla

Palm Springs in its heyday was a classic case of heighten expectations meeting self-induced satisfaction. And that was just for the movie stars who came to play out their roles in the sun-drenched playground of their peers. For the average visitor to Palm Springs it was a welcome respite from the normalcy back home and high hopes of seeing one of their favorite stars on the sidewalk instead of the sky.

Saturday nights downtown found plain vanilla visitors intermingling with their raspberry and peach idols under an apricot moon. There were simple sidewalk exchanges which morphed into a strange metamorphosis of actor and audience as one. And it could only happen in that curious museum called Palm Springs.

Unfortunately by the late 60’s things had begun to unravel.  The studio system had lost its power over the stars and most of them found new havens to hide away in. Palm Springs no longer had the panache it had hoarded for so many years. Mexico opened its arms and Europe expanded as the sophisticated playground of the international jet set. By the mid-70s, vacationers migrated down valley and Palm Springs faded like a matinee idol. Old Palm Springs gradually acquired the moniker of ‘God’s Waiting Room.’ The city tried to capitalize on spring break and groom a more youthful image but for the most part, that era had ended for good.

Yet despite the absence of Hollywood’s elite on the streets, Palm Springs still had glorious weather, amenities galore and numerous attractions nearby. Middle class vanilla continued to flock to the valley during the winter months even if most of the stars were in seclusion. But what they gradually found was a town asleep at the wheel. The city fathers had been resting on their laurels until even it’s ‘Frank Sinatra’ image grew tired and was almost forgotten. Several leaders tried to pump life back into the town. Sonny Bono was one of most enthusiastic of that group. The recession of 2008 did little to help the situation.  It was only after a small group of hipsters and music lovers descended on the city that things began to turn around.

Some say that Coachella changed the old image of Palm Springs. Others claim it was a resurgent interest in Mid-Century Modern design that started to once again draw crowds to the desert. It didn’t hurt its image that Leonardo DiCaprio bought Diana Shore’s place in the old community of Las Palmas. Now rumors are rampant about the latest A-lister who is shopping for a place nearby.

Whatever the cause there does seem to be a kind of Palm Springs renaissance going on. There are still plenty of oldsters in their Cadillac’s, Bentleys and Porsches cruising the boulevards. But now crowds of millennials are also taking up space by the pools and resorts and art galleries.

They say time heals all wounds and Palm Springs is no different. Hollywood’s elite of the 40s and 50s have mostly passed on but their descendants are still finding Palm Springs an attractive alternative to the image factory that is Los Angeles. A new audience is rediscovering what Clare Bow stumbled upon back in the ‘20s; a very special place two hours east of L.A.

Palm Springs has slowly regained its panache. The town is a happening place once again. After years of economic stagnation and entertainment limbo, the pinnacle being 2008, Palm Springs has risen like a Phoenix once again. It’s no longer your parents or grandparents vacation spot any longer.

Palm Springs is fast becoming just about the hippest hot spot this side of Brooklyn, Silver Lake and West Hollywood. West Coast hipsters, designers, remodelers, artists, musicians and actors are all rediscovering what their forefathers knew all along.

There is still something magical about the surrounding mountains, desert scape, warm winter months, and hip happening places all over town. But now it is virtual cornucopia of cultural, artistic, sexual, musical and intellectual stirrings for just about everyone from the most ballsy art culture-types to the more modest of minds. It all seems to be happening here.

While the hint of change had been in the air for a long time, it took the turnover of an old motel to kick-start the entire process. Most observers would agree that it was the conversion of an old Howard Johnson motel on Palm Canyon Drive into the new hip ACE hotel that became the catalyst for the hipsters to start coming to town. Next came a whole cache of hotels changing hands and branding themselves as ‘hip.’ The Holiday Inn Express became the Saguaro, the Ramada Inn became The Curve. The (Hollywood hideaway) Parker went through renovations and the fabled Riviera Hotel underwent a 60 million renovation a couple of years ago.

A new hotel on the north end of town will be a Chris Pardo designed modernist 32-room boutique hotel. In the heart of downtown a new Klimpton Hotel will be the central showcase for a brand new downtown Palm Springs beginning in 2015.

The Uptown Design District continues to draw designers, artisans and other enthusiasts of modern style with shops that reflect this growing interest in Mid-Century Modern furnishings, clothing, art, lighting and accessories.


The Palm Springs Art Museum will be a focal point in the redeveloped downtown area with direct pedestrian links to the heart of the activities.

The list of current and upcoming attractions in the city and surrounding area continues to grow.
Film has always played a large part in attracting patrons from around the country. Leading the list is the Palm Springs International Film Festival which annually attracts thousands of film enthusiasts from around the country.  Not to be undone by this huge event, there are other film festivals such as Film Noir, Short Fest, Native America Films and Cinema Diverse.

The Coachella Music and Arts Festival draws thousands of fans from around the country for its two weekend festivities in April. Following on the draw of Coachella, Stage Coach attracts country music fans the following weekend. Tachevah is a Palm Springs block party scheduled in between both events.

In addition to Village Fest which is a street fair in downtown Palm Springs every Thursday night there are a number of specialty events continue to grow in popularity.

There is Modernism Week, Fashion Week, the Food and Wine Festival, Palm Springs Juried Art Show, Restaurant Week, Chili Cook-off, Oktobertfest, Motorcycle Weekend and Pride Festival.

The Humana Challenge is part of the PGA Tour’s early season West Coast swing. This is followed by the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Then there is Palm Springs Power Baseball during the spring months and the world-famous PNB Parabis Open Tennis event.

The changes are coming fast and furious to Palm Springs. It’s a strange new world and yet no different than the cultural, artistic, musical and esoteric philosophical shifting slants on life that I saw with the Hippies and other bohemians of that ilk back in the ‘60s.

My visits to the ACE hotel reawakened memories of hanging out at the Triangle Bar on West Bank and exchanging slants on philosophy with the hippies there

It’s a new era for Palm Springs and I just so happen to be ‘stuck in the middle’ with it.

Nowadays there is a much younger set of participants in town. But I can still observe. I won’t be hustling chicks at Coachella or trading parliaments at the ACE or dropping a lot of green at some foodie’s newest kingdom.

But I can still look and learn and maybe steal a scene or grasp of dialogue that just might end up in one of my books. Not a bad trade for an old wanna-be hipster.

And the weather’s great too.

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