Palm Springs shines as an oasis of Mid-Century Modernism complete with Rat Pack Flashbacks, Elvis Presley’s honeymoon hangout and everywhere there’s style, style, style. The city oozes “easy,” but is it? Glamorous celebrities still visit. Obama came to golf six times during his presidency, Leonardo di Caprio has a home in the Movie Colony and Ambassador of Americana, Charles Phoenix makes regular appearances. There’s high brow and just enough low to keep things fun. It can be intimidating if you’re looking for a fun getaway with just enough flash and comfort to relax. Let me introduce a sweet little hotel far enough away from the main drag to be discrete. It doesn’t have a whiff of pretension. The restored Monkey Tree Hotel delights anyone who loves the chic nostalgia of modern architecture and interior design.
You can’t miss the sweep of an angled roofline that juts up from East Racquet Club Road. The white overhang spikes in the direction of the San Jacinto Mountains a few miles to the west with just enough character to call for attention without alarm. No austere inn would call itself the Monkey Tree without a sense of humor but it wasn’t always so.
The creativity of Albert Frey
The renowned modernist architect Albert Frey designed and built the Monkey Tree during the 1960’s tourist boom. It originally catered to the celebrity Racquet Club set who didn’t want to go home for the night (stay and monkey around?) There’s a rumor that Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe once rendezvoused in the Presidential Suite. By the 1980’s it was a gay clothing-optional resort. You can still make out the name, Legacy, in blue letters on the pool bottom near an immersed bench. Another decade on it became nationally renowned as the Terra Cotta Inn, a famous nudist resort before closing.
In 2015, new owners, Kathy and Gary Friedle took on the challenge of returning the hotel to its original name and color scheme. The family moved away from careers on the East Coast to make Palm Springs home. Knowing they wanted to settle into hospitality in the city, they were immediately drawn to the hotel’s acre lot and the size of the rooms, which are nearly twice that of downtown hotel rooms. They’ve lovingly lifted all to current standards and kept the best of the original interiors. Two rooms are suites with private patios and several others have kitchenettes.
Enter through the white double doors facing the street and into a bright, broad courtyard. There’s enough lawn to be soothing with curling paths leading to rooms and pools-side tables. The turquoise pool sports a massive inflated pink flamingo. The glass-walled, lobby/office is just below the angled entrance roof. All else is bright white with splashes of yellow and blue but the best design touches are behind the doors of the 16 guest rooms.
Mom would’ve clicked with the chic nostalgia of this place
I walked into a large corner room to a wonderful surprise. A wide kitchen sat to one side with an angled counter and a round table held a basket of snacks near the door. Another few steps in and I dropped my bags onto an avocado green and teal area rug. A broad king bed was piled high with a smorgasbord of pillows, complete with a menu of how to pick out my favorite. I paused and blinked back tears.
There were two teardrop-shaped mosaics over the bed. They were exactly like the ones my mother once made. As I pivoted back to the settee, I noticed a bullfighter hanging in an ornate picture frame. In the bathroom, I found avocado and teal framed album covers above the towel rack and the shower nearly glowed a lime green. A chic nostalgia for my mom’s style plucked at my heart. She would’ve loved the Monkey Tree.
While the room didn’t have a coffee maker, the breakfast bar would have lured her out in one of the hotel’s plush robes to grab a mug of java and sit in the sun reading her ever-present novel until the lounge opened for breakfast at 8 am. I can imagine her reclining near the pool with a glass of complimentary Sangria in the late afternoon. She’d dip into the cool plunge and try out the sauna too.
I’d join her for breakfast and we’d giggle at the petite tarts with their crusts just crispy enough and filled with different savories or fruits each day. If my father were with us he’d love the tea station and have settled into the lounge couch to chat with other guests. The comfy vibe made me miss my parents so much while I was there. But the melancholy evaporated when I dipped into the saltwater pool and worked out before trying the cold plunge.
Later I marveled at the decor of the Jungle Room. The Friedle’s kept the fine bones of the tiled bathroom with its step in tub and wall scale. They burnished the bamboo vanity and added a touch of 50’s style with a leopard print throw on the bed. Don Ho tropical prints covered pillows on the patio lounges. The chic nostalgia clock moved forward a decade in a collage of macrame pieces over the bed and a rattan monkey climbed the floor to ceiling knotted planter near the desk. The space is so fun! (Read about a few of the other small Palm Springs hotels full of personality in this earlier post.)
The Monkey Tree Jungle Room
You should know a few other things about the Monkey Tree.
- No guests under 14 are allowed.
- Swimsuits are no longer optional.
- The refrigerator next to the Sangria bar is stocked with complimentary non-alcoholic beverages 24/7.
- There is a free parking lot in front and plenty of space for your vintage Cadillac on the street.
- The WiFi is fast.
- The Scandinavian Spa includes a sauna and cold plunge.
- It’s a nine-minute drive to downtown and no restaurants or other amenities are in walking distance.
There you have it. I’m full of chic nostalgia and can’t wait for the chance to share the Monkey Tree Hotel with my millennial son and his architect girlfriend.
I was hosted by the Monkey Tree Hotel and the Palm Springs Small Preferred Hotel network but all opinions, as always are my own.
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