If you’ve ever wanted to live the life of a Hollywood star, you need to get yourself to Palm Springs. The town is filled with the former homes of stars such as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant and of course, ol’ blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra spent much of his life in the area, and was one of the first stars to make the move out to the desert town, putting it on the map as the weekend destination of choice for Hollywood’s big players.
At Sinatra’s former home, the sleek stone and glass Twin Palms Estate (named for a statuesque pair of palm trees in the garden), you can even spend the night, an unforgettable experience for fans of the singer, or fans of mid-century modern architecture. For people who love both of these things (and I count myself in this category), a weekend at Twin Palms is a dream come true.
Sinatra first visited Palm Springs looking for a weekend base while under contract to MGM, a contract that required him to be within a 2-hour commute of L.A. in case he was needed on set. In May 1947, he approached the renowned architect E. Stewart Williams with the idea of designing a Georgian-style home in the area. According to an interview Williams gave to Vanity Fair some years later, Sinatra walked into Williams’ office and asked Williams to design and build a home in time for his (Sinatra’s) Christmas party. In the event, despite building crews working on the house day and night at great expense, Williams missed the Christmas deadline, finally completing the house ready for the singer to ring in the new year with his Hollywood cronies.
Williams designed the Georgian home Sinatra wanted, but also produced a second, ultra-modern design. He managed to convince Sinatra to go for the more daring option, cementing his growing reputation as an architect. The house has all the hallmarks of what is now called Desert Modern style: long sleek lines, steel and concrete construction, full-length glass pocket doors, and open breezeways to provide cooling shade. For his part, Williams went on to design several other icons of desert modern architecture, including the Palm Springs Art Museum and Coachella Valley Savings and Loan.
When the house was first built it served as a weekend home for Frank and his first wife Nancy Barbato, plus their three children, Nancy, Frank Jr and Tina. When Nancy and Frank’s marriage came to a rocky end a year later, Frank’s paramour, the Hollywood icon, Ava Gardner, moved in. They were married in 1951 and lived in the house until their divorce in 1957, when Sinatra moved to nearby Rancho Mirage.
The tumultuous relationship of the two stars has been well documented, not least in Gardner’s autobiography, Ava: My Story. She wrote about the home, “lt was the site of probably the most spectacular fight of our young married life, and honey don‘t think I don’t know that’s really saying something…” Evidence of the couple’s many disputes can be seen in the master bath, where one of the ‘his and hers’ sinks has a crack in it from an off-target Champagne bottle that Sinatra reportedly threw at Gardner in a rage. Legend has it that Ava had turned up at the house to try and catch Frank in flagrante delicto with Hollywood bombshell Lana Turner. In the row that ensued, Sinatra threw all of Gardner’s belongings out onto the driveway and sent both actresses packing.
Domestic disputes aside, Sinatra loved to play the host; at one time he even had a Jack Daniels flag (his favorite drink) that he used to hoist on a flagpole between the twin palms to signify to his showbiz neighbours that it was cocktail time. Lavish parties were the norm here, often held around the piano-shaped pool complete with his and hers changing cabanas and shaded lounge area. The pool serves as the focus point of the outdoor space, and Williams made sure it was the best in the area. He placed a covered walkway adjacent to the pool, so when the morning sun hits the walkway it creates the effect of piano keys rendered in light and shade.
Regular guests at the house included stars such as neighbors Cary Grant and Bob Hope, friends like Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, and more nefarious visitors like Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. Rumors about Sinatra’s association with the mob circulated throughout his lifetime. While Sinatra was never investigated for any wrongdoing, it’s widely thought that he acted as intermediary between the Chicago mob and John F. Kennedy, and he even apparently served as inspiration for the fictional lounge singer Johnny Fontane in The Godfather.
As you lounge on the patio at the Twin Palms Estate, with a JD on ice in your hand and your toes in the piano-shaped pool, it’s hard not to imagine the wild parties that once took place here as you wonder about all the Hollywood secrets the four walls must hold.
Find out more about staying at the Twin Palms Estate