The Charred Ruins of the Palm Springs’ Playground where Marilyn Monroe was Discovered

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.

Decapitated palm trees jut from concrete in front of a boarded up building.

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.

Patches of concrete are scattered with overgrown grass peeking up through the cracks. A building with signs of fire damage stands to the left.

A boarded up one story green and white building sits among patches of concrete with overgrown vegetation.

A single story bungalow is boarded up with graffiti on the side. Tall grass grows in front.

A boarded up one story green and white building sits among patches of concrete with overgrown vegetation.

A roadrunner peeks from behind a bush.

Tall palm trees stand in front of a shuttered green and white building.

A boarded up one story green and white building sits among patches of concrete with overgrown vegetation.

Three single story bungalows sit among overgrown grass. Each are boarded up, some have been vandalized with graffiti.

Close-up of a battered little cupola.

A boarded up one story green and white building sits among patches of concrete with overgrown vegetation.

Small green flags, tattered from years of fluttering in the wind cling to the shambling roof of a green and white single story building. Wildflowers and weeds cover portions of the land in front.

An mid-century modern bungalow with curved corners has boarded up windows. Tall grass lines the front.

A decapitated palm tree juts from concrete in front of a boarded up building.

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.

Sources
DiPierro, Amy. “Racquet Club owner doesn’t want Palm Springs to make ex-Hollywood hangout a historic site.” Desert Sun 2 November 2017. Web. Accessed 10 March 2019.
Gostar, Reza. “Fire destroys Palm Springs’ historic Racquet Club hotel.” USA Today 24 July 2014. Web. Accessed 10 March 2019.
Greer, Gloria. “Creating a Racquet (Club).” Palm Springs Life 18 December 2012. Web. Accessed 10 March 2019.
Mai-Duc, Christine. “Fire destroys part of historic Racquet Club in Palm Springs.” LA Times 25 July 2014. Web. Accessed 9 March 2019.
TDS. “Historic Racquet Club hotel destroyed in Fire.” USA Today 24 July 2014. Web. Accessed 10 March 2019.

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