Ol' Blue Eyes' First Modern Home
Walls of gleaming glass incorporated into the desert landscape mark this shining architectural gem of Palm Springs.
Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms
Each year, visitors flock to Palm Springs to view the iconic former homes of Hollywood legends, and there are few more so than Frank Sinatra. Sinatra loved the desert and spent a good deal of time in his homes in both Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.
Frank Sinatra’s home: Twin Palms
Designed by the famed architect E. Stewart Williams, the Frank Sinatra Twin Palms Estate was built for Frank Sinatra and his first wife, Nancy. Natural elements paired perfectly with angular constructs of aluminum and steel and these are Williams’s calling cards, and those of the mid-century modern architecture movement of the mid-1900s in Southern California.
Bringing the outside in: Modernism in the desert
Walls of gleaming glass were incorporated to bring the desert landscape into the living area of Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms home. This shining gem in Palm Springs, California eventually became a standard for mid-century modern design and has been recognized for seven decades as a star in the desert landscape of Southern California.
The house was completed at 1148 East Alejo Road in Palm Springs in 1947 and Sinatra lived here until 1957. It was then sold to a couple from Texas and it deteriorated somewhat until it was sold again in 1997.
E. Stewart Williams: Modernist architect
Before Frank Sinatra waltzed through his door, E. Stewart Williams was an expert in modernism. He came late to joining his family’s design firm, since after college he taught, and then worked for a retail store.
Eventually, E. Stewart Williams became known for his works exhibiting the “desert modern niche,” and this iconic Twin Palms home enjoys prestige as the architect’s first residential property in what has come be known as timeless yet modern desert architecture.
He is also known for other private residences including the Edris, Koerner and Kenaston homes as well as commercial fixtures such as the Palm Springs Art Museum. Even though Twin Palms was not his last extraordinary work, the home itself, its famous first owner, and the history of Hollywood elite guests keep visitors eager to live the life of Tinseltown glamour from its 1950’s heyday.
When Frank asks, you listen. Then change his mind.
The Williams-Sinatra pairing was unusual. Sinatra had ideas for a grandiose Georgian mansion in Palm Springs when he entered William’s offices, holding an ice cream cone and wearing a sailor’s cap, as the story goes.
This idea was a way for Sinatra to show off his newly found wealth and prestige after he made his first million dollars. In an incredible act of foresight, Williams was able to convince Sinatra that the site of his planned home would instead be the perfect landscape for a mid-century modern offering.
Williams had a vision and knew this location needed to be used for something special, but even so, it never pays to tick off the client by ignoring his wishes, so he provided Sinatra with designs for the requested Georgian-style design as well as Williams’ mid-century design. To his great relief, Sinatra chose the second design. The house would eventually become a 4,500 square foot design with sleek lines, spacious living areas and open concept indicative of mid-century modern style.
Sinatra’s Twin Palms home in Palm Springs
The front elevation of the home presents a gently sloping “shed-style” roofline that nestles its angles into the natural environment of the desert landscape. Framed by the shallow foothills of Mt. San Jacinto State Park, the two palm trees that sit poolside were known to be the tallest in the area during Sinatra’s tenure (hence the name “Twin Palms”). While the crooner’s original Georgian request would have stuck out against the views, Twin Palms looks as if it was a natural fit against the stark beauty of the Palm Springs desertscape.
The home is intended for indoor/outdoor living and entertaining, as walls of windows invite guests to relax in its spacious interior, or saunter outside for a dip in its piano-shaped pool.
The now famous piano-shape was a coincidental result of the design that needed to bring two wings of the home into a cohesive unit.
The straight steel columns as well as stone and wood facades function as intended, providing a clean and spacious-feeling residence in the California desert. Opening the wall-sized sliding glass doors truly brings the veranda into the home and would give Sinatra the feeling of openness and serenity he sought while escaping the pressures of Hollywood fame and its prying eyes. As Sinatra intended, the retreat allowed him “to get away from it all, but not too far away.”
Sinatra did bring a bit of Hollywood to the desert. He invited his friends to stay in one of the four bedrooms, creating a Hollywood home away from Hollywood home. The comfortably designed but well-appointed rooms served visitors and the host well both when his wife and children made Twin Palms a family residence, and when he was living the solo party life. With seven coral-colored and desert inspired bathrooms, guests would never need to wait to freshen up or slip into a suit for a late night dip.
Sinatra family leaves its mark on Twin Palms with cracked sink
The guests seem to have avoided leaving a mark on the home during their visits, but the same is not the case with the Sinatra family
In a now famous and well documented story about the home, actress Ava Gardner cracked a bathroom sink after hurling something (a champagne bottle? A rocks glass? Ashtray?) at Sinatra. Some versions of the tale have Sinatra doing the hurling, but regardless of whose errant aim cracked the porcelain vanity, the mark stays as testament to just one of the wild and historic nights Twin Palms has seen.
Twin Palms : Historic home
Today Twin Palms is a Class 1 Historic Site as designated by the City of Palm Springs in 2001. The home epitomizes all that’s right and beautiful about desert modernism. The home’s application to the National Registry of Historic Places was accepted as an architectural gem which “embodies the distinctive characteristics of mid-century residential architecture as interpreted by E. Stewart Williams.”
If you’re looking for a swank place to stay during a visit to Palm Springs, this home can be rented out, sleeping eight people for about $2,200 a night. Guests can still party like the Rat Pack with the use of a vintage 1950s recording system built into the main living area by Valentino Electronics.
Frank Sinatra’s songs may still waft through the air on any given night, but it is the architectural design of E. Stewart Williams’ Twin Palms that carries the melody of desert modernism in the heart of Palm Springs.