When Sharon and I went looking to buy a home in the desert, our intentions were simple enough. She wanted a place where we could entertain our families. I wanted a quiet place to write. We found both in a stretch of scrub brush south of downtown that happened to come with a storied history of ambition, prejudice, and glorious mountain views. It was to become part of the storied history of this reflective house of mirrors called Palm Springs.
Once upon a time, there was about 550 acres of worthless sand, boulders, creosote plants, orphan road runners, desert flora and fauna on Indian land located just south of the small village of Palm Springs. It had been there for centuries, first traversed by the ancients, then the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians who settled there and lived off the land and prospered. It remained Indian land long after the white settlers and government had divided up their land into checker-board squares of one mile each.
That was the age of subtle, yet very discernable antisemitism throughout the Coachella Valley. Jews weren’t allowed in any of the tony golf course communities down valley or in Palm Springs. But all of that was about to change with the creation of Canyon Country Club.
After more than thirty years as an East Coast custom home builder, Russian-born Boris Gertzen moved to Palm Springs with the intention of retiring and playing a lot of golf. The desolate wasteland south of downtown soon caught his attention. This resulted in his creation of Canyon Country Club finally completed in December of 1961.
The centerpiece of this development was the club house. It was more than 40,000 square feet and cost over one million dollars. After the club house was completed, Boris began building homes on the golf course fairways.
Even by desert and second-home standards, these were large, luxury, custom homes, all of which afforded striking views of the surrounding mountains and conjured up the swanky mid century space-age lifestyle.
Canyon Country Club was designed and marketed to be a magnet for those desiring to live a fairway lifestyle in the beauty of South Palm Canyon. It was open to all demographics, but heavily marketed to the Jewish enclaves in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
To make the opening of Canyon Country Club spectacular, Walt Disney, who had invested in several luxury homes built along the second fairway, donated a fountain that shot water into the sky from a floating lily pad, added to the spectacular view from the clubhouse. It’s still operating there today.
The Canyon Club Inn, later renamed The Canyon Hotel, attracted movie stars and socialites. The golf course became the site of the Frank Sinatra and Chuck Connors Golf Tournaments. Canyon Country Club has evolved and changed over the years. It’s now a public course and changed its name to Indian Canyon Golf Resort several years ago.
Homes have also evolved over the years to the point where the present homes are almost totally indistinguishable from the first ones built here. Bland safe colors have evolved into more muted desert tones. Lawns of green grass have given way to desert-scape. Mid-Century modern design has edged out other designs as the preferred status symbol of the twenty-first century.
The development has aged relatively well over the years. Newer country club developments down Valley have created just as spectacular views from tee-boxes and patios alike. What they don’t have is a long and colorful history from an era long since past into the travel books and fables of old Hollywood. Some of those old Canyon Country Club tales have become legends if only in the minds of the true believers.
As for me; I just like the early morning views with my coffee and tablet in hand. History aside, it’s still a nice quiet place to ponder and write. What more do I need.