11 Celebrity Homes That Showcase Desert Modernism in Rancho Mirage

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, and Frank Sinatra were just a few of the notable homeowners in Rancho Mirage, a desert resort just east of Palm Springs.

Until 1951 when the Thunderbird Country Club opened its doors in Rancho Mirage, California, the sleepy desert town a few miles east of Palm Springs had been pretty much barren desert. However, the arrival of the first 18-hole golf course in the desert would bring major changes—and herald in an era of new, luxurious living for the town. 

Soon, Rancho Mirage was forever changed, with properties selling to stars such as Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz—and even Frank Sinatra, who relocated to Rancho Mirage from Palm Springs in 1954. The legendary Marx Brothers cofounded Tamarisk Country Club, and the midcentury modern vacation homes that lined the fairways became a glimpse into the "good life"—and a sumptuous slice of American resort style.

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A historic postcard sends greetings from the home of Frank Sinatra.

A historic postcard sends greetings from the home of Frank Sinatra.

Simultaneously, midcentury modernism was reaching the height of its popularity, and since most of these desert homes were second or seasonal, it was only natural that the architecture leaned towards the more decadent. Leading modernist architects such as A. Quincy Jones, Wexler & Harrison, E. Stewart William, William Pereira, William F. Cody, and Wallace Neff all designed lavish homes for clients with deep pockets—many of them celebrities—and the resulting residences were some of the desert's finest. 

Mod Mirage, a new book by Melissa Riche, lovingly details the rich history of Rancho Mirage, and takes a look at its fabulous architecture. Here we have chosen some of our favorite homes with an all-star pedigree.

Sunnylands, the Annenberg Estate by A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons

Sunnylands, the Annenberg estate, was designed by A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons for Walter and Leonore Annenberg—who were major influencers in their time. Friends with presidents, royalty, and more, Annenberg was heir to his father's publishing business, served as U.S. Ambassador to the UK, and later became famous along with his wife for their philanthropy.  

Sunnylands, the Annenberg estate, was designed by A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons for Walter and Leonore Annenberg—who were major influencers in their time. Friends with presidents, royalty, and more, Annenberg was heir to his father's publishing business, served as U.S. Ambassador to the UK, and later became famous along with his wife for their philanthropy.  

The Annenbergs requested that Jones give a Mayan look to the home. To find Mayan influences in modern architecture, Jones only had to look to Frank Lloyd Wright, who repeatedly appropriated Mayan shapes throughout his work. 

The Annenbergs requested that Jones give a Mayan look to the home. To find Mayan influences in modern architecture, Jones only had to look to Frank Lloyd Wright, who repeatedly appropriated Mayan shapes throughout his work. 

The Maranz Residence by Val Powelson 

Designed by a young Californian engineer named Val Powelson, the plans for the Maranz Residence were based on a principle that was the height of engineering innovation in the late 1950s: the hyperbolic paraboloid roof.

Designed by a young Californian engineer named Val Powelson, the plans for the Maranz Residence were based on a principle that was the height of engineering innovation in the late 1950s: the hyperbolic paraboloid roof.

The home was built for the inventor/founder of Tastee-Freez, by Robert Marx (son of Gummo Marx), and is considered to be one of the most iconic homes in the area. 

The home was built for the inventor/founder of Tastee-Freez, by Robert Marx (son of Gummo Marx), and is considered to be one of the most iconic homes in the area. 

The Charney Residence by Wexler & Harrison Architects

Although Sydney Charney, a Milwaukee lawyer, himself wasn’t famous, he employed the most famous designers of the day: Wexler & Harrison architects, Arthur Elrod for the interiors, and Eckbo, Royston, & Williams for the landscape design. 

Although Sydney Charney, a Milwaukee lawyer, himself wasn’t famous, he employed the most famous designers of the day: Wexler & Harrison architects, Arthur Elrod for the interiors, and Eckbo, Royston, & Williams for the landscape design. 

The homes' current owners are the top modernist architect, Steven Harris, and his husband, the interior designer Lucien Rees-Roberts; they are responsible for all the property's recent restoration work. David Kelly was brought in to restore and reinvigorate the landscape design. 

The homes' current owners are the top modernist architect, Steven Harris, and his husband, the interior designer Lucien Rees-Roberts; they are responsible for all the property's recent restoration work. David Kelly was brought in to restore and reinvigorate the landscape design. 

The Firestone Residence by William Pereira

In the early 1950s, the work of architect William Pereira was all over Los Angeles. When Pereira was given the chance to design a home for Leonard Firestone, the head of the Firestone company, and former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, the architect selected high-quality, commercial-grade materials and finishes which have subsequently withstood the test of time. According to Riche, if the home were built today to the same standards, it would cost $15 million.

In the early 1950s, the work of architect William Pereira was all over Los Angeles. When Pereira was given the chance to design a home for Leonard Firestone, the head of the Firestone company, and former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, the architect selected high-quality, commercial-grade materials and finishes which have subsequently withstood the test of time. According to Riche, if the home were built today to the same standards, it would cost $15 million.

Pereira’s modernist ranch for Firestone combined "the strength of his commercial work with the lightness that desert living demanded." The timeless home still looks every bit as contemporary today as it did when it was originally built.

Pereira’s modernist ranch for Firestone combined "the strength of his commercial work with the lightness that desert living demanded." The timeless home still looks every bit as contemporary today as it did when it was originally built.

The Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Residence by Paul R. Williams

In 1954, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were at the height of their "I Love Lucy" fame and early Rancho Mirage adopters when they built their 4,400-square-foot, elegant ranch-style home as a getaway for their young family. 

In 1954, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were at the height of their "I Love Lucy" fame and early Rancho Mirage adopters when they built their 4,400-square-foot, elegant ranch-style home as a getaway for their young family. 

Architect Paul R. Williams designed the Thunderbird Country Club home with exposed beam ceilings overlooking the 17th fairway. The house was built on a slight curve with two angled wings, one with a floating roof that shaded the carport.

Architect Paul R. Williams designed the Thunderbird Country Club home with exposed beam ceilings overlooking the 17th fairway. The house was built on a slight curve with two angled wings, one with a floating roof that shaded the carport.

Jeff Chandler Residence, Architect Unknown

Jeff Chandler was a movie star in the mid-1950s, with an Oscar nomination for his lead role in "Cochise." His relatively modest home is in Magnesia Falls Cove. 

Jeff Chandler was a movie star in the mid-1950s, with an Oscar nomination for his lead role in "Cochise." His relatively modest home is in Magnesia Falls Cove. 

The house is, thanks to a new owner, in excellent, original condition.

The house is, thanks to a new owner, in excellent, original condition.

Harry Tugend Residence by William Krisel 

A more modest home, at Tamarisk Ranchos, this house was originally owned by Harry Tugend, a screenwriter who wrote many hit films for Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Shirley Temple, as well as having founded what is now known as the Writer’s Guild of America.

A more modest home, at Tamarisk Ranchos, this house was originally owned by Harry Tugend, a screenwriter who wrote many hit films for Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Shirley Temple, as well as having founded what is now known as the Writer’s Guild of America.

Bing Crosby's Home, Architect Unknown

Bing Crosby was an original investor in Thunderbird Country Club. Instead of choosing a lot on the golf course, he was one of the first to purchase at Thunderbird Ranch Estates (now Thunderbird Heights) on the hill overlooking the greens. The house was a modest ranch home with board-and-batten wood siding and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the valley. Rancho Mirage wasn't incorporated until 1973, so the entire area was referred to as "Palm Springs."

Bing Crosby was an original investor in Thunderbird Country Club. Instead of choosing a lot on the golf course, he was one of the first to purchase at Thunderbird Ranch Estates (now Thunderbird Heights) on the hill overlooking the greens. The house was a modest ranch home with board-and-batten wood siding and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the valley. Rancho Mirage wasn't incorporated until 1973, so the entire area was referred to as "Palm Springs."

Frank Sinatra's Home by William F. Cody

In 1954, shortly after Sinatra and Ava Gardner divorced, he bought an existing home located at Tamarisk Country Club. The modest, long-gable home was designed by William F. Cody and featured a rough stone entrance and clapboard siding. Sinatra added to the home over time—notoriously in the 1960s for Kennedy’s secret service men. 

In 1954, shortly after Sinatra and Ava Gardner divorced, he bought an existing home located at Tamarisk Country Club. The modest, long-gable home was designed by William F. Cody and featured a rough stone entrance and clapboard siding. Sinatra added to the home over time—notoriously in the 1960s for Kennedy’s secret service men. 

The Dillman Residence by Charles Barlund

This home was designed by Christer Barlund, a Finnish architect who was the student of Eliel and Eero Saarinen, and the colleague of A. Quincy Jones. The first owners of this house were film star Bradford Dillman and his wife, the beautiful former model, Suzy Parker.

This home was designed by Christer Barlund, a Finnish architect who was the student of Eliel and Eero Saarinen, and the colleague of A. Quincy Jones. The first owners of this house were film star Bradford Dillman and his wife, the beautiful former model, Suzy Parker.

The home was in a very private spot, surrounded by foothills and overlooking the desert.

The home was in a very private spot, surrounded by foothills and overlooking the desert.

Blue Skies Trailer Village by William F. Cody

Developed by Bing Crosby, and designed by William F. Cody, the streets of Blue Skies Trailer Village were named after the movie stars who invested in the development—including Lauren Bacall. This particular trailer has many original elements, including the Cody-designed ramada.

Developed by Bing Crosby, and designed by William F. Cody, the streets of Blue Skies Trailer Village were named after the movie stars who invested in the development—including Lauren Bacall. This particular trailer has many original elements, including the Cody-designed ramada.

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Mod Mirage
Mod Mirage
No longer overshadowed by neighboring Palm Springs, Mod Mirage reveals in photos and stories the historic homes and communities of Rancho Mirage that make up its significant midcentury heritage.  Mod Mirage documents the architecturally innovative homes and communities that were built on and...