Back in their heyday, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra cavorted about the pool at Peter Lawford's open-beamed home in Palm Springs' Vista Las Palmas. Marilyn Monroe stopped by—and so, people say, did an on-the-make Jack Kennedy. Jackie Cooper and Cyd Charisse lived in the neighborhood, as did George Hamilton and world-class hoofer Donald O'Connor.
How about bodice-busting literary lions? Sidney Sheldon ('The Other Side of Midnight') and Harold Robbins ('The Carpetbaggers') both had pads among the palms.
Tales suggest that the 'National Enquirer' could have served as the hometown paper. A casino owner from Vegas turned his added-on living room into a gambling 'museum' that was much more than a museum. And, as busloads of tourists learn every year, Elvis and his bride Priscilla spent their honeymoon in Vista Las Palmas in a custom home that architect William Krisel provided with spreading, birdlike wings.
Whatever else it may be, Vista Las Palmas is certainly the world's most celebrity-packed neighborhood of modern tract homes.
Vista Las Palmas, which began construction circa 1958, achieved immediate cachet by being built just to the west of one of Palm Springs' most classic neighborhoods, which today is called 'Old Las Palmas.'
Even stars, however, dim. Vista Las Palmas—called 'the Beverly Hills of Palm Springs'—never really hit the skids. But as golf course communities sprouted down valley, Palm Springs lost some of its appeal. "Then all the Rat Pack moved out to Rancho Mirage," says Jackie Storm, a real estate agent who has heard all the stories.
"When I moved here," says Robert Baeten, who arrived six years ago, "practically every house had bars on the windows."
Many residents had lost their faith in the neighborhood's characteristic modern architecture, adding fake adobe fronts and Spanish tile roofs. "You will see houses where the owner has literally declared war on the architecture," says Bob Dickinson, a lighting designer who has illuminated the Olympics ceremonies and the Oscars, and moved into the former gambling museum, which he meticulously restored.
The neighborhood of roughly 375 houses, most of them modern and most developed by George and Robert Alexander, has been on the mend since the late 1990s. Home prices have skyrocketed, dozens have been restored to their mid-century splendor, or modernized in keeping with the style. The renewal has also been marked by an influx of younger families, and by a neighborhood that has organized to fight crime, and handle traffic and other such problems.
And Vista Las Palmas still has its stars—long-timer Trini Lopez, Ruta Lee, Carney Wilson. Most newcomers tend to be well-heeled professionals from Los Angeles, San Diego, Northern California or the East—real estate developers and brokers, people in the entertainment industry, designers and writers. Many are young couples both gay and straight, and many have children. Russ Filice, a broker with Sotheby International Realty, says buyers are getting younger, with many in their 30s.
There are fewer and fewer snow birders, he says, and more year-round residents. Many have pied-a-terres elsewhere, but spend more time in Palm Springs.
Realtor and serial remodeler Mark Anton has restored 11 houses in the neighborhood since 1997. "Whatever I've done," he says, "has been in character with the house." Back then, houses were selling for $300,000. Anton ensured that people knew Vista Las Palmas had returned at the start of 2003 by selling the first $1 million home in the neighborhood—to Bob Dickinson and Bob's partner, Mike Marler.
"People said, 'You're crazy for asking that much money,' " Anton says. When Anton got it, the 'Desert Sun' was impressed, headlining its story: "The sky's the limit." Within a year another home in the neighborhood sold for $2 million. Dickinson and Marler put their house on the market for $1,850,000. Homes with their modern looks are the most desirable, Anton says. "A Spanish house in the neighborhood, nobody wants them," he says. "They're ugly. They're terrible. They sell for significantly less."