Del Marcos Hotel: A mid century modern icon in Palm Springs
This article was first published on MoneyInc, June 2019.
Just like the stars who fled Los Angeles since the 1920s for some privacy, solitude, and warmer temperatures, we were fleeing 60-degree LA weather in late spring for 90-degree unwavering sunshine in the desert. Natural hot mineral springs, dry heat, and the arrival of the train all may have been reasons the city of Palm Springs popped up in this desert oasis, cupped by the shadow of the San Jacinto Mountains. There are many reasons we have found ourselves returning to the lure of the desert but this time the two-and-a-half-hour drive was to unwind and soak up the heat poolside at one of Palm Springs mid-century modern icons – the Del Marcos Hotel.
Palm Springs has the largest concentration of mid-century modern architecture. Twentieth-century architects and developers designed sleek, modern homes to fit the desert environment. The dramatic geographic surroundings of the Coachella Valley inspired a design aesthetic in the middle of the 20thCentury during post-war optimism, notable for its use of glass, clean lines, indoor-outdoor spaces, proud colors, deep overhangs, angular roofs, and adaptive use of inventive materials.
How can YOU experience this Desert Modernism? Stay at a retro retreat. At first glance, the boutique Del Marcos property – designed by architect William F. Cody in 1947 with its redwood and natural stone wall growing up from the desert soil – reminds me of a home from the 1970s. Situated in the historic Tennis Club neighborhood, the 17-room property surrounding a courtyard style pool with carefully placed cacti and asymmetrical entrance became a popular destination then and remains so today. Said to have been inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Arizona architecture, it was Cody’s first independent commission in Palm Springs (originally designed for the Marcus family) which launched his solo career in the desert. The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) named Palm Springs, California to its 2006 list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, an annual national list of only 12 cultural tourism destinations for architecture.
Besides loving the nostalgic feel of an old school haunt with history, each hotel room has its own name and is designed with its own simplistic retro feel, a sort of jet-set sentimentalism with California modernism. The two-story Del Marcos offers many rooms with their own patio while most open to the courtyard pool. Book the Don Wexler Room with a vintage kitchenette that looks like my former pink tiled kitchen in the Hollywood Hills or the Eames Poolside Suite donning Eames era furnishings that conjure up memories of my neighbor’s living room in Connecticut in the 1970s. I yearned for the past just being at Del Marcos – when life seemed simpler and people connected pre-social media.
We adored our hotel “living” room outfitted by prolific designer Christopher Kennedy in bold hues of teal and aqua with shades of lime. The pink door let us know our room had been stamped by “the Ralph Lauren of the west coast” while the bold orange kitschy kitchen chairs matched the hues throughout the property and was a fun contrast to our petite mint SMEG fridge. At night we couldn’t wait to return to our room to soak in our outdoor standalone bathtub on our oversized patio with personal firepit, although it was too hot in June for any fire. Even a contractible awning on our patio could be rolled back by the push of a button, which felt so early Americana. The mod mint and white bedroom with low ceilings came with flat screen TV, a comfy king size bed, and a petite newly tiled bathroom with terrazzo flooring.
There are a plethora of hotels to choose from when in the Greater Palm Springs area, but what made this stay more unique than our other stays was not only the property, historical architecture, and hotel design, but the overall vibe. The pool, set against the towering mountains and poking palm trees, was peaceful and one of camaraderie. The layout encourages socializing amongst guests. At 4 pm guests are treated to complimentary Happy Hour with a signature drink of the day plus unlimited wines, beer, and sodas. A generous charcuterie board is brought out in the mini glass breezeway for guests to mingle and nibble and relish over how lucky they are to be sharing this moment in time. No need to worry about mingling with children in this adults-only hotel. And during our stay, we are happy to report no annoying Instagram influencers were spotted. It was a truly relaxing experience.
One couple with a teeny dog dressed in sunglasses and fedora had rented the whole hotel for three days for their wedding a few years prior while another couple divulged how they return yearly making sure to rent the same room – while their daily regimen begins with early morning biking and court time at the historic Palm Springs Tennis Club. A mom and daughter who joined our poolside lollygagging were celebrating the girl’s recent graduation from USC. Another older couple whizzed around town on the hotel’s complimentary beach cruisers and was just as elated as we were in discovering this gem of a hotel.
The beauty of a perfect hotel stay is never having to worry about finding a spot to unfurl the stresses of the day, whether that is poolside or beachside. We never had a problem at any time finding a shaded area at the pool to unwind or a couch with chaise tables to work. We found ourselves floating on a raft in the refreshing saltwater pool or playing board games left for guests. The misters surrounding the pool provided a welcome cool spritz. Each morning breakfast was served in the mini lobby for guests as part of the room price. Guests can choose to nosh poolside or take the fresh juice and coffee back to their room plus yogurt and fruit, toasted bagels, hard-boiled eggs, and assorted baked goods. Other hotel perks included free parking, bottled water, and communal fire pits for evenings under the stars. Some rooms are pet-friendly.
This mid-century classic is also set in the best location. Right in town, you can easily walk a few minutes to countless bars, restaurants, and other hotels. La Serena Villas, Del Marco’s adjacent sister property, is an Instagram-worthy spectacularly-decorated boutique dream with cool little personal touches throughout the property. After a day lounging at the pool, mosey on up to La Serena’s Boho chic rooftop Sugar High bar with gas fireplace and dangling lights for a Mezcal cocktail, Blood Orange Margarita, and watermelon feta salad. Also, lunch can be delivered poolside to Del Marcos straight from Azucar’s kitchen at La Serena Villas. Feeling the need for a spa treatment? A few feet away you can retreat to Whispers Spa and breeze away an afternoon at a different pool, the spa pool at La Serena Villas.
Enjoy the endless sunshine and serenity of the desert. Do it in style and comfort at a unique boutique. Delve into the past by staying at the Del Marcos, but be prepared to never want to leave.