Tucked away behind a tarp covered chainlink fence sits the remains of what was once one of the most glamorous spots in all of Palm Springs, The Racquet Club.
The motion picture industry changed Palm Springs from a sleepy health resort town to a getaway for Hollywood’s elite by the 1920s. In 1934 actors Charles Farrell and Ralph Bellamy decided to open an exclusive, members only tennis club, simply titled The Racquet Club. Originally the place only had two tennis courts, but soon expanded to have a pool, bungalows, the “Bamboo Room” bar, and even more tennis courts. Overall, the club sprawled over ten acres.
On New Years Eve it was the place to be, where “it was so crowded you could barely move” and it was crowded with movie stars. Basically anyone who was anyone could be found here…Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, Natalie Wood, Kirk Douglas, Errol Flynn, Spenser Tracy, Mary Pickford, Ginger Rogers, Douglass Fairbanks, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, and Judy Garland, just to name a few. Gloria Greer was a child who was lucky enough to have known television legend Ed Sullivan as a close family friend, and upon her first visit, as a guest of Sullivan, whispered to her mother “Is there anyone here who isn’t famous?”
The following decade, a blonde, lounging by the pool was a gal, who up until the a couple years before had been named Norma Jean, but when Johnny Hyde, a William Morris agent spied her, she was Marilyn Monroe. Even though Monroe had had some acting under her belt, she wasn’t the bombshell everyone knows today quite yet. Hyde got Monroe her role in Asphalt Jungle, which was her real big breakthrough, and by 1950 Hyde scored her a seven year contract with 20th Century-Fox.
Meanwhile Farrell had moved to politics, becoming Palm Springs’ mayor from 1947 to 1955, and in 1959 sold the Racquet Club, and in the following decades it had a rotating door of owners. It shuttered, and reopened, and shuttered again for the last time in 2003. But even after its closure, the property continued to have a variety of owners. Then on July 23, 2014, a fire ripped through the once glitzy movie star retreat, gutting buildings and setting fire to palm trees. Ultimately the heavily damaged buildings were torn down, leaving a handful of buildings, cracked concrete with weeds poking through, and decapitated palm trees.
Despite the fire, the Palm Springs Historic Site Preservation Board voted in October of 2017 to make the Racquet Club a Class 1 historic site, although the current owners’ objects, as any desired modifications would have to be cleared by the city. But as to the current state of things…during my visit the property sported a for-sale sign, however an “in escrow” sticker was slapped on it, and I can’t find any recent articles. So, the fate still appears unknown. In the meantime just roadrunners, butterflies and tumble weeds run and fly about the once star-studded retreat.
The fenced off remains of the Racquet Club can be found at 2799 N Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. Please note that the Racquet Club does have a chainlink fence around the entire property. I took these photos either by holding my camera above the fence, or by shooting through gaps in the fence. At no point in time did I climb over or through the fence.