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Palm Springs: Where the Lion sleeps tonight

You may have forgotten about the scene a long time ago. But now, all of a sudden, you do remember: Standing in the desert some kilometers from Palm Springs, at the entrance to Andreas Canyon, framed by curiously shaped rocks that catch your eye, it all comes back to your mind: At first, the birth of Simba, the jealous Scar figuring out how to get rid of the heir to the throne, Nala and Simba playing in the pride lands of Africa, Simba reproaching himself and grieving over the death of his father and the tears you cried in front of the silver screen. As the story continues in your head, the rock you are looking at in bewilderment assumes the shape of something very familiar. All of a sudden, it becomes the monument of your childhood. This is where King Mufasa shows his newborn son to the folk of animals, it is where Simba makes his first steps, where he confronts and finally triumphs over Scar. It is where Simba and Nala, in the end, present their own son. This is pride rock, home of the Lion King.

At first, the rock just looks familiar. That is, until you realize what shape it has exactly. This is Pride Rock, inspirational source for the Disney movie The Lion King.

When the famous Disney movie was released in 1994, Walt Disney had died a long time ago, yet his successors still found their inspiration in the surroundings of Palm Springs. It is no surprise to hear that Walt Disney himself lived in Palm Springs: He and his wife bought their first house in 1948, at Smoke Tree Ranch. As early as the 1930s, Disney made his first visit to the city that was not much more than the Desert Inn, a shop or two, and some ranches back then. Still, this first visit of a man looking for fun and games marks the beginning of Hollywood’s interest in the oasis. When the movie producer had his first great success with Mickey Mouse, he came back to invest in the desert. The city, situated only about 100 miles from Los Angeles, was soon discovered to be the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. Actors of silent movies whose studio contracts did not allow them to travel further from Hollywood than that distance were lured to Palm Springs for the fun and the exclusiveness of the town. Here, they were in private.

Some years passed, and Palm Springs came to be known as Hollywood’s artist’s retreat. Word spread of the promising party life in Palm Springs was equated with. Actors, musicians, politicians, athletes, and other parts of the American high society followed. Today, the streets are named after the city’s most famous guests and inhabitants: Frank Sinatra Drive, Dinah Shore Drive, Gene Autrey Trail. Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe have their own stars at the Palm Springs Walk of Stars on downtown Palm Canyon Drive, Tahquitz Canyon Way and Museum Drive, a sort of Coachella Valley Walk of Fame. Elvis Presley spent part of his honeymoon in the city, and the honeymoon-house is a well-known, hireable tourist attraction. Built and owned by the famous architect Robert Alexander, Elvis leased the house in 1966 and planned to have his marriage at the estate’s poolside. The onslaught of media, brought about by a journalist living nearby, forced him and Priscilla to marry in Las Vegas instead. Right after their ceremony, they returned to spend their honeymoon in Palm Springs.

The lands of the Lion King: This is the view from Pride Rock with Palm Springs visible in the distance.

For those who favor Frank Sinatra over Elvis, the Sinatra Estate, also known as Twin Palms, is also hireable. The residence is famous for hosting some of the most glamorous parties of the time, and Sinatra is said to have been one of the most entertaining hosts. At noon, every day, he would fly a flag symbolizing that the party was about to begin. Like the Honeymoon house, the Sinatra estate is also a spectacular example of Mid Century Modern architecture.

Apart from partying, golfing came to be a popular pastime in Palm Springs, and golf courses, supplied by water from the hills and several hot springs, sprang up like mushrooms. Actor and entertainer Bob Hope enjoyed the game, as did presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerard Ford.

Soon enough, Palm Springs also had its own local celebrities, mostly those who were closest to the Hollywood pack and the gossip. Such as New York based Mel Haber who came to California in 1974, fell in love with Palm Springs, and bought the Ingleside Inn a year later, without any experience in the business as he says. Lucky Mel, the hotel and the affiliated restaurant Melvyn’s proved to be a success from the beginning, catering to all the rich and famous until today. Mel’s staff has never changed from the beginning. Although they all swear to be secretive, they can tell a lot of stories about their guests, and show pictures as well. “Every celebrity in the world has been at the Ingleside Inn”, Mel vaunts that he, the guardian of the gossip, has become a local hero over the years.

A broad smile spreads on his face when he names his clientele: Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Marlon Brando, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Silvester Stallone, John Travolta, Donald Trump, Madonna, or Liza Minelli. “It might be that some of the younger celebrities have also stayed here. The problem is, your stars I don’t know”, he acknowledges. A Melvyn’s waiter jumps in: “Virginia Madison had dinner at the restaurant last week.”

Jay-Z and Beyoncé have stayed at the Parker, and Lindsay Lohan has also recently been a guest of the luxury hotel. Drew Barrymore likes to relax at the pool of the ACE hotel, and Cameron Diaz had a photo shoot in the Indian Reservation, not far from the place where Pride Rock rises over the entrance of Andreas Canyon. The legend is alive and living: The end to Palm Spring’s hunger for gossip, celebrities and nostalgia is not yet in sight.

About the Author

Anna loves travel, photography, and writing. All at once, everyday. She collects entrance cards, plane tickets, and old atlases and has been searching for the perfect globe for some years. Follow Anna on Facebook or Twitter!

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