Built in 1956 and finished in 1957, the Ocotillo Lodge history is rich. Set on seven acres of prime Twin Palms real estate, the property was originally designed to attract the celebrity clientele of Hollywood to this premiere luxury destination in Palm Springs. Being just two hours from the movie studios (which was the limit on how far actors and actresses could travel), Palm Springs was the perfect vacation getaway for the elite crowd from Los Angeles and beyond.
The Ocotillo Lodge, with 124 rooms and private bungalows, was a collaboration in 1956 between the Alexander Co. and the architectural firm of William Krisel and Dan Saxon Palmer. Designed by Palmer and Krisel, built by the Alexanders, and landscaped by Eckbo, make this gem in Southern California stand out as a mid-century masterpiece.
The central building at the Ocotillo Lodge originally housed the celebrated Candlewood Room, which was billed as “one of the most beautiful rooms in America.” Today, the interior has been altered, but the panoramic view to the San Jacinto Mountains and the iconic key-hole shaped swimming pool/patio area are still just as stunning as the day the property was opened.
In March of 1963, the Desert Sun newspaper announced that Gene Autry and Angel owners purchased the Ocotillo Lodge. The article stated, “Palm Springs’ Ocotillo Lodge now belongs to the biggest Angel of them all, Gene Autry. The Gene Autry Hotel Co. Wednesday announced purchase of 20 hotels and motor hotels In the West, including the 100-room Palm Springs establishment, for $2O million from the Doric Co.. Hotel Properties. Floyd Clodfelter, Doric chairman, and Robert 0. Reynolds, president of the Angels and KMPC Radio, Inc., were named vice presidents of the newly formed Autry hotel organisation. Paul A. O’Bryan team secretary and general counsel is the firm’a secretary-treasurer and general counsel. Headquarters for the new firm will be in Los Angeles”.
Throughout the 60’s Autry operated the Ocotillo Lodge and brought celebrities and notable guests from around the world. This was an important time in Ocotillo Lodge history, as this notoriety propelled the status of the property tremendously, and kept it ranked as a popular vacation destination for decades. There are numerous stories about celebrities at the Ocotillo Lodge. Some of the most popular stories include details of the Rat Pack performing in the Secret Bar, Frank Sinatra’s girlfriends watching him at the pool through custom-installed windows, and a potential presidential rendezvous during the days of Norma Jean.
Beginning April 1968 and extending through the 1990’s, the Ocotillo Lodge was owned, operated, and redesigned in a Southwestern theme by Jerry Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. Buss purchased the property from Gene Autry, and during this time the resort became a getaway for the team, as well as a place for them to stay during training. These were the glory days of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Naturally, this created a lot of buzz around the property once again. Buss operated his office poolside. The team was able to relax and stay focused while business visitors would speak to Buss’ bikini-clad assistants before meeting with him in his bathing attire.
One of my favorite stories from the days of Jerry Buss’ ownership is the one told by Jonathan Schwartz, a New York radio personality who stayed at the Ocotillo Lodge one summer in the month of June. According to Schwartz, he was awakened in the morning by a blaring stereo playing ‘Honky Tonk Woman” by the Rolling Stones. After tracing the source of the music to a bungalow on the other side of the pool, he found the door ajar, and went inside to find Mick Jagger and the band jamming away.
Jerry Buss eventually sold the property outright, after unsuccessfully trying to trade it for a portion of the San Diego Conquistadors, and the units were more or less converted to condos and offered to individual owners for purchase. The hotel management remained in tact for a number of years. In the early 2000’s, the front desk was closed, the management was converted, and now all of the spaces are leased and managed by individual owners. The next chapter of the Ocotillo Lodge history is still in the making!