Dreaming of a retro-Polynesian staycation, or a high-desert retreat steeped in mid-century metaphysics this fall?
These five Palm Springs-area hotels — set to open (or re-open) following extensive makeovers under new management in the months ahead — might have just what you’re looking for.
The properties — designed for urban millennials, architecture fans and health and wellness junkies — range in style from an alpine lodge to a floral-infused motel for the Instagram set. The projects aim to breathe new life into sometimes-neglected spaces dating from the area’s heyday as a mid-century desert playground.
The new owners include a mix of longtime investors in the local market and a few newer faces looking to break into the valley’s boutique hospitality world.
Despite an uptick in infections driven by the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant, these hoteliers are betting that travelers’ desires to experience the area’s first fully open fall season in nearly two years will overcome anxieties about traveling.
Tiki Hotel in Palm Springs
The Tiki Hotel is the second boutique Palm Springs hotel by designer Tracy Turco and her property developer husband, Jerry Turco. The property at 1333 N. Indian Canyon Drive is adjacent to the Art Hotel, which the pair opened in 2019.
Built in the early 1960s and serving most recently as the Carlton Hotel, the newly renovated property features a mid-century modern, “tiki-inspired Polynesian” theme with loud splashes of orange, pink and yellow set against dark brown and tan. It has 11 rooms, 10 of which will have king beds and be covered in wallpaper designed by Tracy Turco. Each room will also feature a ukulele, vintage vinyl records, a record player, a lava lamp and what Turco describes as “a mosh pit of pillows.” The 11th room will have two twin beds in place of the king.
Turco said she chose the tiki theme as a nod to Palm Spring’s mid-century “palm trees and tropical lifestyle” aesthetic.
“Tiki culture was a huge part of that,” she said. “The vintage tropical hibiscus and tiki gods (and) these different pops of color — that Polynesian lifestyle fits here.” She pointed to longstanding Polynesian-themed bars and restaurants such as Bootlegger Tiki and the Tonga Hut as evidence of the style’s history in Palm Springs.
Turco and her husband acquired the Tiki Hotel for less than $600,000 in 2019, according to property records. It was purchased as part of a “bundle” deal along with the adjacent Art Hotel, according to Turco, who attributed the low price to the poor condition of the building.
“There was nothing working,” she said. “We had to install all new air conditioning, all new plumbing, all new electric.”
“It was like a time capsule, but a broken time capsule,” she added.
Turco said the condition of the Tiki Hotel building was the primary reason for the Art Hotel’s year-and-a-half head start. She said she and her husband had poured “hundreds of thousands of dollars” into restoring the Tiki Hotel building since they purchased it, although she noted that the basic structure and layout of the property remained largely unaltered.
A storage space at the front of the property has been converted into a small gift shop and check-in area. In addition to handing out room keys, staff there will sell tiki-themed knickknacks such as cups and hats, as well as household goods designed by Turco such as pastel garden hoses and golden garden trowels (which she notes can double as ice scoops).
Turco, who previously ran a tea company, said the shop will also offer tropical tea mixes she created exclusively for sale on the property.
The Tiki Hotel is scheduled to host a luau during Modernism Fall Preview in mid-October, after which point its owners plan to open for business. Room rates will run between $200-$275 per night through the hotel’s Vrbo page at tinyurl.com/j293nvv2.
Limón in Palm Springs — for groups
Across town, another husband and wife team is turning a collection of 1956 apartments into a seven-room boutique hotel with an “international” take on mid-century modern style, dubbed Limón.
Tim and Amy Brinkman bought the complex at 560 S. Grenfall Road, formerly known as the Stuart Manor apartments, in February for $1.2 million. The couple, who also operate The Twist hotel just off of North Palm Canyon Drive in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood, said the property’s all glass and steel structure made it an ideal target for their newest venture — despite the extensive remodeling required.
“We’ve been in 50,000 properties in Palm Springs and this is unique,” said Tim Brinkman.
The couple is in the process of gutting the property and replacing everything from electrical infrastructure and plumbing to tile, appliances and furnishings. Brinkman said the renovations will likely cost upwards of $1 million.
“The only thing we aren’t doing is basically the pool (and the roof),” he said.
The rooms, which surround the compound’s pool, will each have unique designs, according to Brinkman, and sleep two people for a total of 14 guests. The property will also have a game room with a wet bar and a “commercial-scale” kitchen with a 60-inch refrigerator, large stove. Brinkman said his team could help guests arrange bartenders, chefs or other services that they might want during their stay.
Prospective guests will need to round up a sizeable group of like-minded friends, as the hotel will only be available for full-site bookings. It will cost around $1,400 per night to rent the compound, according to the Brinkmans. The couple said the full-site booking policy was a result of the property’s layout, which features tightly packed rooms in close proximity to communal areas.
“We think it will be great for family reunions, bachelor parties (or) golf trips,” said Amy Brinkman.
The Brinkmans said the renovations on the property will be completed by an October “hard deadline” in time for the property to be featured on public tours during Modernism Fall Preview. Bookings will not be available until later in the fall or early winter, according to the couple, pending permitting from the city.
The Creekstone in Idyllwild
On the other side of Mount San Jacinto, the Brinkmans have recently repurposed another mid-century building into a boutique hotel — albeit without any signs of traditional mid-century modern style.
Built in 1947, 54950 Pine Crest Avenue in Idyllwild spent most of its history hosting a series of grocery stores and restaurants. It gained brief fame as a filming location in Elvis Presley’s 1962 musical “Kid Galahad” before being converted to a bed and breakfast in the 1980s.
The Brinkmans purchased the property in July 2020 as part of a $1.7 million package deal that included the furniture and rights to the business. They spent another $1.2 million to “completely” gut the building, ultimately selling all the furniture.
“It was a complete demo,” said Tim Brinkman. “We did all the wiring, all the plumbing, all the flooring, all the walls. Basically everything in terms of key infrastructure and cosmetics is 100% new.”
The couple said that they retained the original stonework in the lobby and in the common area fireplace — structures made with local river rock hauled up the mountain to save on timber costs during the building’s original construction. Other features such as the building’s pine staircase and the basic footprints of the rooms have also been preserved, according to the Brinkmans.
The Brinkmans noted that the renovations took longer and cost more than anticipated due to COVID-related labor and supply-chain issues. “It’s not unique to us,” said Tim Brinkman. “It’s really everyone doing renovations under COVID (that experienced this). Prices of things often ended up being double.”
Each of the nine rooms have electric fireplaces with cured local manzanita wood, king-size beds and private bathrooms. Guests will be served “welcome kombucha” from the hotel’s recently installed kombucha machine and can book massages at the Grand Idyllwild Lodge next door. Room rates average roughly $225 per night and are available for booking through the hotel’s website, creekstoneinn.com.
In the future, the hotel plans to host yoga classes on an as-yet uncompleted outdoor deck, according to the Brinkmans.
The Creekstone’s new look and offerings are designed to appeal to urban millennials, according to the couple, taking advantage of the growing interest that that demographic has had in vacationing in locations such as Idyllwild and Palm Springs since COVID hit. It also complements the customer base for the Grand Idyllwild Lodge, which the Brinkmans also own. That property tends to cater largely to a baby-boomer audience, according to the couple.
Fleur Noire in Palm Springs
Back in Palm Springs, a relatively new entrant to the local market — real estate investor Corey St. John — is looking to revive another mid-century hotel for a new generation.
St. John originally moved to Palm Springs from Seattle three years ago to focus on Airbnb-like hotel concept Blackhaus with his business partner Chris Pardo — the designer of the Arrive hotel on North Palm Canyon Drive. Both men are investors in Blackhaus, but St. John said delays on that project due to permitting and other COVID-related holdups drove them to set out on their own venture.
When a former apartment complex across the street from Arrive at 1560 N. Palm Canyon Drive became available in 2018, St. John said he and Pardo decided it was an ideal location for a new boutique hotel. The pair took over the master lease for the property that same year, according to St. John.
The buildings — located on the same lot as the Sandfish sushi and whiskey restaurant — were built sometime in the early 1940s, according to St. John, although property records cite the year as 1934. They served as a hotel called Burket’s Trade Winds for the first several decades of their history before being converted into apartments in the 1970s, according to St. John. The property’s most recent usage was as the Blue Parrot apartment complex, which was foreclosed on in 2011, according to property records.
Despite sitting empty for several years, the buildings were still fully furnished from their use as apartments “down to the dishes” when St. John assumed control. He and his business partners donated or sold essentially all of those furnishings to take the property’s style in a new direction.
Unlike the Tiki Hotel, Limón and The Creekstone, little of the basic infrastructure on the property needed to be redone. Aside from downsizing the 21 living units’ kitchens into smaller, hotel-style kitchenettes, most of the new managers’ remodeling work focused on aesthetics.
In addition to replacing the furniture, St. John and his team re-landscaped and irrigated the entire property with about 30 new trees and 250 new desert plants. They hired Los Angeles artist Louise Jones to hand-paint every exterior surface of the buildings with flower murals, as well as a wallpaper designer to create matching floral prints for the interior of the rooms.
The hotel operator said the “hard desert landscaping” was intentionally set in contrast to the “soft” flower motif to make “every space Instagrammable.” St. John said he and Pardo decided on the new hotel’s name, Fleur Noire, over lunch at Palm Springs’ Chi Chi restaurant based on the new black flower designs.
A new bar, dubbed La Boisson, will be on the property for hotel guests, according to St. John. Guests can play cornhole on the property or borrow beach cruisers for rides around the town — assuming they haven’t had too much to drink.
All told, St. John estimated that the renovations cost roughly $650,000.
The property will be dog-friendly, but restricted to guests 21 and over. St. John is hoping the design and amenities will draw in an urban millennial audience when Fleur Noire opens for business around late September.
“We think we will probably have a lot of people coming to do photo shoots and things like that,” said St. John.
Fleur Noire will be available for booking through the hotel’s website, www.fleurnoirehotel.com, starting in mid-September, according to St. John, with room rates averaging roughly $200 per night.
Retreat in Joshua Tree
Less than an hour from downtown Palm Springs, a high-desert mid-century modern landmark is being (partially) reimagined as a boutique hotel.
The Institute of Mentalphysics — now known as the Joshua Tree Retreat Center — was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright Jr., son of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, in the 1940s. It was intended as a remote retreat space for followers of Edwin John Dingle’s then-Los Angeles-based quasi-religious “Mentalphysics” movement.
Dingle, who — according to followers of mentalphysics — learned breathing and meditation techniques from Tibetan monks in the early 20th century, had the Joshua Tree Retreat Center buildings designed according to principles of “sacred geometry.” It is the largest collection of Lloyd Wright buildings anywhere in the world, according to the Joshua Tree Retreat Center.
The Institute of Mentalphysics has run the center since its establishment, renting the property’s 46 rooms and three cottages to groups and individuals looking to study mentalphysics breathing, yoga and other practices.
In addition to the original Lloyd Wright buildings, the center also includes a group of bungalows designed by Pasadena modernist architect Harold Zook in the 1960s. These were used as apartments for “long-term stays for serious students” of mentalphysics for the last half-century, according to Joshua Tree Retreat Center Executive Director Terry Taylor-Castillo.
Now, these bungalows are in the process of being converted into a boutique hotel by high-desert short-term rental operator Homestead Modern. The move is a first for the company, which had previously focused only on renovating and operating a portfolio of standalone luxury homes as vacation rentals.
“We’re looking to create a ‘Lonely Planet’ desert experience,” said Homestead Modern founder David McAdam.
His company is pouring $2.4 million into renovating 8 one-bedroom apartments and 6 studio apartments that they have long-term leased from the Joshua Tree Retreat Center. Dubbed “Retreat by Homestead Modern,” these spaces will be largely gutted before being restored to their original ’60s look and feel with the help of designer Brad Dunning.
“We are trying to go back as close as possible to what a guest would experience checking in in 1960,” said McAdam.
The suites will each have private kitchens, bathrooms and patios surrounded by native desert plants. Guests will have access to the Joshua Tree Retreat Center’s pool, nearby hiking trails as well as classes offered by the center, according to McAdam.
Taylor-Castillo said the center had yet to determine the exact programming that would be offered to the new hotel’s guests, but said it would include yoga, qigong, meditation and mentalphysics breathwork classes.
“We’re also going to do spiritual walks on the property,” she said. “You can take a walk and learn about the property and history with a guide” about twice per week.
The Joshua Tree Retreat Center originally owned about 385 acres of the surrounding desert land, although a large part of that was sold to the Mojave Desert Land Trust last year. It now sits on approximately 170 acres of land, according to Taylor-Castillo.
McAdam said he hopes the hotel will attract a broad range of guests interested in health and wellness, mid-century architecture and the high desert landscape. He noted that the property’s close proximity to Joshua Tree National Park’s west entrance could make it an attractive option to people looking to visit the park.
McAdam said his company is aiming to have the properties open sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. He declined to provide rates for the rentals, saying those have yet to be determined, but said that booking will likely open around Nov. 1 through the hotel’s website, retreat.homesteadmodern.com.
James B. Cutchin covers business in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at [email protected]