INSIDE SINATRA’S TWIN PALMS ESTATE

Photography by Jeff Mindell

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Palm Springs is ripe with the lore of old Hollywood stars, and few homes brim with as many tales as the Twin Palms estate formerly owned by Frank Sinatra.

Once, only Hollywood’s upper echelon of A-listers was invited past the home’s double doors into the architectural masterpiece tucked in the Movie Colony neighborhood of Palm Springs. As legend has it, during the summer of 1947 a 31-year-old Sinatra unexpectedly dropped in at the office of local architect E. Stewart Williams with an ice cream cone in hand and a sailor hat on his head. Sinatra wanted a house. Preferably a big, Georgian-style brick mansion with columns, which was the measure of success at that time in Sinatra’s hometown of Hoboken, N.J. Williams drew up two designs, hoping to convince Sinatra to go with a more “desert appropriate” style. One design was Georgian as requested by Sinatra. The other was completely opposite. Sleek and understated with a flat shed roof few had seen before in the desert, the now-iconic design featured clean lines with floor-to-ceiling windows and clerestories that gave a light, airy aura to the 4,500-square-foot modular layout. The modern design won Sinatra over, and Williams’ team worked around the clock to get the project finished in time for Sinatra to ring in the New Year at his new home, which was dubbed “Twin Palms” in reference to the two tall palm trees in the yard.

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The Twin Palms estate quickly became an emblem of Williams’ modernist career. Williams, along with his father Harry and brother Roger, practiced under the architecture firm of Williams, Williams and Williams, or as it was nicknamed by locals, “Williams cubed.” In addition to Sinatra’s residence, the firm’s legacy includes many other significant local buildings, including the current location of the Palm Springs Art Museum, which was completed in 1976. A 1960s bank designed by Williams on the main downtown strip of Palm Canyon Drive has recently been converted into the Palm Springs Art Museum’s new Architecture + Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion, which opened in November 2014 with its first exhibition being a retrospective of the work of E. Stewart Williams.

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Sinatra and his first wife, Nancy, divorced not long after the house was completed, and his longtime mistress and future second wife, Ava Gardner, moved into Twin Palms. The couple’s tumultuous relationship played out in stormy scenes at the home. During one of their fights, Sinatra purportedly flung a champagne bottle at Gardner, which hit and cracked the sink in the master bathroom. While the home has been restored, the crack in the sink remains and can still be seen today. The four-bedroom, seven-bath home bears other traces of Ol’ Blue Eyes: The original piano-shaped pool remains, with a covered walkway forming the ‘keys’ (supposedly a fortuitous happening rather than intentional), and the original sound and recording system by Valentino Electronics of Hollywood is housed in a cabinet in the living room. During Sinatra’s residency, he would hoist a Jack Daniels flag up the flagpole to signal the start of cocktail hour to his nearby friends and neighbors like Bing Crosby and Jack Benny.

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Sinatra and Gardner divorced in 1957 and the property was sold that same year, with the crooner relocating to a new home in the neighboring desert city of Rancho Mirage. While ownership of Twin Palms changed hands a number of times over the years and the property ultimately fell into a state of disrepair that almost led to a teardown, thankfully this fate did not befall the home, and it is now beautifully restored and features designer mid-century modern furnishings reminiscent of the original décor.

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The Twin Palms estate is now available as a luxury vacation rental (at $2,600 a night for a minimum of three nights) and for private tours with a minimum of 20 attendees, and the property also serves as a popular venue for weddings and other private events. In recent years, the estate has played host to fashion designer Jeremy Scott’s legendary annual Adidas parties during the Coachella music festival. Scott’s notoriously debaucherous theme parties are laden with celebrities like Katy Perry, Snoop Dog and Jared Leto, and artists including Rita Ora, 2 Chainz and A-Trak have given performances on the property. Sinatra, known for throwing big bashes of his own, would probably be proud.

For information about rentals, tours and private events, contact Beau Monde Villas at 877.318.2090 or info@beaumondevillas.com; sinatrahouse.com.

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Photos © Jeff Mindell for Palm Springs Style; may not be used without express permission.

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