By Katy Carrier // Photography by Jeff Mindell
Palm Springs is ripe with the lore of old Hollywood stars, and few homes brim with as many tales as the Movie Colony neighborhood estate formerly owned by Frank Sinatra.
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, New Jersey. Williams drew up two designs, hoping to convince Sinatra to go with a more desert-appropriate style. One design was classic Georgian as requested by Sinatra, while the other was completely opposite. The 4,500-square-foot modular layout was sleek and understated, with a flat shed roof few had seen before in the desert. The design featured clean lines, with floor-to-ceiling windows and high clerestories that would draw the brilliant desert light into the space. The modern design ultimately 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 desert home, which was dubbed “Twin Palms” for the two towering palm trees in the yard.
Sinatra’s Twin Palms estate quickly became the 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 numerous significant local buildings like 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 satellite Architecture + Design Center Edwards Harris Pavilion, which opened in November 2014 with its inaugural exhibition as a retrospective of the work of E. Stewart Williams.
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 basin in the primary bathroom. While the home has since been restored, the crack in the sink still remains 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, legend has it that he would hoist a Jack Daniels flag up the flagpole out front to signal the start of cocktail hour to his nearby friends and neighbors like Bing Crosby and Jack Benny.
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. Ownership of Twin Palms changed hands a number of times over the years and the property eventually fell into a state of disrepair that almost led to a teardown, but thankfully this fate did not befall the home. It is now beautifully restored and features designer midcentury modern furnishings reminiscent of Sinatra’s original décor.
The Twin Palms estate is now available as a luxury vacation rental—at $2,600 a night for a minimum of three nights—and 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 parties held during the Coachella music festival. Scott’s notoriously wild, themed soirées attract celebrities like Katy Perry, Snoop Dog and Leonardo DiCaprio. Sinatra, known for throwing epic bashes of his own, would surely approve.
For information about rentals, tours and private events, contact Beau Monde Villas at 877.318.2090 or email@example.com; sinatrahouse.com.