California desert resort with a colorful history
By Rob Springer
The Parker Palm Springs is steeped in both luxury and history. The sun-bathed Coachella Valley desert resort in Southern California stands as a beacon of stylized opulence and as a reflection of the ever-changing nature of Palm Springs itself.
The 13-acre property was actually home to California’s first Holiday Inn back in 1959. It was purchased two years later by Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy,” and became known as The Melody Ranch – a residence for both himself, in a two-bedroom house on the property, and for the baseball team he owned, the Anaheim Angels, while the players were in Palm Springs for annual spring training.
Gene Autry owned the property until 1994, when he sold it to legendary hotelier Rose Narva, who, along with renowned designer Hubert de Givenchy, turned the former ranch-resort into a Versailles-inspired establishment and renamed it The Givenchy Hotel & Spa.
Bordered by some of the most picturesque mountain ranges in the Southwest, the classic architecture and vibrant grounds created a canvas that allowed for the evolving styles that would define entire decades to come. The high, whitewashed walls and lush landscaping served as the perfect means for those seeking privacy. Trained-to-be-tight-lipped staff also helped to create the perfect oasis for the likes of Lauren Bacall, Gregory Peck, John Travolta and Barbra Streisand.
Cut to 1998 when TV Mogul Merv Griffin purchased and also moved into what had evolved into a French-styled resort. Merv Griffin’s Resort Hotel and Givenchy Spa became a go-to resort for more modern-day celebrity visits and indulgences. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Robert Downey Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio and Jessica Simpson are but a few names that are more publicly mentioned as visitors.
Griffin sold the resort to investors in 2002, and it sat vacant until the following year when NYC developer Jack Parker purchased the property. In an inspired move, Parker hired chic-centric designer Jonathan Adler and a team of landscape architects to give the property a $27-million face-lift. The now-named Parker Palm Springs opened in 2004 and became what was then Palm Springs’ only five-star resort. The newly revitalized resort again helped serve as a catalyst to further refine the swanky beat of Palm Springs.
Marisa Zafran, VP of Marketing and Development for the Jack Parker Company, describes the goal of that renovation and the re-opening: “The idea was to build a theme: ‘You’re staying at an estate, not a hotel.’ We set out to create the comfort, look and feel of a visit to your rich old aunt’s estate and not a hotel chain. Everything was designed and branded with that in mind.”
Zafran also puts the eclectic appeal of The Parker Palm Springs this way, “It’s about an experience where luxury is fun. We deliver all the service of a five-star property but without the stuffiness. It’s luxury but in an unpretentious way.”
The Parker Palm Springs’ unique approach to the resort experience brings in visitors not only from adjacent Los Angeles and the rest of the country. It is also a favorite of travelers from Europe, Australia, Asia and beyond. It’s allure and reputation have become international.
The retreat feel of The Parker also comes from the fact that a short walk from your patio along garden paths will bring you to its signature five-star restaurant, Norma’s, the dark, speakeasy feel of the bistro Mister Parker’s, and the dimly lit European indulgence of the just-opened wine bar, Counter-Reformation.
The Parker Palm Springs Yacht Club, or PSYC, welcomes guests with a bright, upscale, nautical-styled facility that goes beyond what you might expect from a resort. A newly revamped lounge reflects extravagant simplicity and also features a gift shop and 24-hour gym. New additions to PSYC include a new indoor pool, steam rooms, and hot tubs. A well-appointed yoga studio and massage and treatment rooms round out a very refined and complete spa experience.
There are two saline pools on the property with umbrellas and nautical-themed cabanas. There is new decking, greenery, and an abundance of chairs to lounge on. As a nice touch, throughout the day guests get small complimentary tastes of items from the kitchen, with beverages of every kind available poolside.
Another part of the Parker Palm Springs’ dynamic is its go-to position as a location of choice for major events like the Palm Springs International Film Festival After-Party. This event and others like it regularly fill the resort with A-list celebrities, both as partygoers and guests.
While parties at The Parker Palm Springs are trendy affairs, Marisa Zafran explains, “One of our differences is that whatever events may be happening in the region, be it the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festivals or private parties at the resort, the Parker Palm Springs prides itself on being a low-key and a peaceful place for all our guests.”
It comes as no surprise that the resort’s evolving nature brought rejuvenation to The Parker in 2017. The resort has once again completed a Jonathan Adler-led refresher, with new updates to the original accommodations. Art pieces, furniture, rugs, coverings and other accessories were selectively chosen to accent the feel of the lobby, guest rooms, and grounds. The new wine bar and spa revamp were also part of the update.
The Parker Palm Springs’ future-forward refresh actually brings it back to its beginnings. The Autry Residence is available to guests who want more than just a room. The Singing Cowboy’s original home consists of two bedrooms and two bathrooms, with a private enclosed patio and a large living room, dining room, terrace, and kitchen. It’s located a few steps from the saline Autry Pool.
The recent Adler renovation completely remodeled The Autry Residence to include bold art pieces, retro furniture and design elements that focus on vivid colors and graphic shapes. There’s even a secret door that leads to a small movie theater with leather recliners and a popcorn machine.
Even when The Parkers’ 13 acres and 144 rooms are at capacity, it never feels full. With expansive, quiet and winding gardens, Maria Zafran finds, “It’s a special experience. There is something magical about the grounds.” A stay at The Parker Palm Springs is very much a relaxing and immersive experience. Time seems to slow down, senses are satisfied, and enchanted memories are easily created in the desert air.
Need a dose of some classic Palms Springs glamor and midcentury chic? Visit hotels.com to book your stay at The Parker Springs Hotel.