Frank Sinatra's Palm Springs
When Frank Sinatra fell in love with Palm Springs in the mid-1940s, he was interested in socializing and living the good life. He was one of many Golden Age celebrities who enjoyed the warmth of the desert when Los Angeles got chilly and rainy in the winter season.
When he discovered the beauty of the desert city that was secluded but also conveniently close to Hollywood, he had just made his first million and had won an honorary Oscar award for a short film on intolerance called The House I Lived In.
Located in California's Coachella Valley, Palm Springs was a mere two hours’ drive or a very short flight by private plane or helicopter from Los Angeles.
Sinatra commissioned his first home in Palm Springs in 1947 and although he maintained his residences in Los Angeles and New York, he made his home in Palm Springs that became not only his haven but also one of the most enduring passions of his life.
He loved the desert community in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains and he loved living the hedonistic life style, including parties with other glamorous stars and politicians, who had also discovered the desert city, and martinis and glasses of Jack Daniels. During daytime, there was golf at one of the many lush golf courses.
And obviously, there were the jams with his talented Rat Pack friends – Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Peter Crawford – for whomever that wanted to hear them, which most likely was anyone who got the chance.
In Palm Springs, the rich and famous could party without attracting too much attention – and even though the rumors of Frank Sinatra’s not always flawless behavior did escape the confines of his houses here, Palm Springs was considered his safe haven.
That did not prevent him from getting drunk and throwing a bottle of champagne at his second wife, Ava Gardner. The permanent crack in the bathroom sink of his Twin Palms Estate reminds everyone who stays in house of his temper to this day.
That’s one reason people love Palm Springs for: The little signs of an era that once was. Today, people want to capture the essence of what it was like in the heydays, when Palm Springs was a glamorous Hollywood playground.
There are still people in Palm Springs who knew Frank Sinatra personally and can tell anecdotes about ‘The Chairman of the Board’ to people who are eager to listen. One of them is Johnny Costa, who was Frank Sinatra's personal chef for many years and could prepare linguine clams just the way he liked them. Once, Johnny Costa was not around and Frank Sinatra was so unhappy that he hurled his dish against the wall in a local Palm Springs restaurant.
Brian Ellis, the maître d at Melvyn’s, doesn’t often tell the less flattering stories about Frank Sinatra, who loved dining at the restaurant. He remembers him fondly, because he was a good tipper and would often show his appreciation by handing out 100-dollar bills. If he was not satisfied, everyone around him would hear about it instantly.
Melvyn’s seems to be in a time capsule – but Brian Ellis only wishes that his clients would wear evening gowns and tuxedoes like Frank, his ladies and the Rat Pack did. Those were the days.
Text: Tina Jøhnk Christensen
Published: February 10, 2016