What do Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, the Marx Brothers, Hoagy Carmichael, and Gerald and Betty Ford have in common?
All these icons had homes in Rancho Mirage, a city filled with midcentury houses and other buildings designed by renowned architects, including William Krisel, William F. Cody, A. Quincy Jones, Edward Durell Stone, E. Stewart Williams, Hugh Kaptur and Wallace Neff.
The nonprofit Preservation Mirage was formally founded in 2017. The organization “celebrates important and historic architecture in Rancho Mirage while promoting its appreciation and preservation,” according to the Preservation Mirage website. To this end, the organization just published an Architecture Map, which was mailed to all city residents in November. It’s also for sale at preservationmirage.org for $5.
“Our first reflex is to tear down older buildings, that newer is better,” says Melissa Riche, Preservation Mirage’s board president. “We need to understand that the significance of these homes and buildings is that they are pieces of art. If we keep tearing them down, we’ll end up looking like Walmart. Our goal is to make people understand what they have, or what is next door; then they are less likely to demolish them or severely remodel them.
“People ask us for advice on obtaining historic designations. A recent example was visiting a Thunderbird Country Club home and discovering it was a previously unidentified house by architect A. Quincy Jones. It now has a historic designation.”
Rancho Mirage has a rich history of famous developments joining homes with golf courses. These country clubs were the first in the United States to put homes on golf courses and led to the invention of golf carts, says Carol LeFlufy, a board member of Preservation Mirage.
Thunderbird Country Club—whose management claims the Ford Thunderbird was named after it—and the Tamarisk Country Club have impressive architectural legacies and interesting claims to fame. Tamarisk Country Club was built in 1952 with 65 original investors, including Jack Benny, George Burns, Danny Kaye and the Marx Brothers. Ben Hogan was the club’s first golf professional, and it hosted the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament numerous times.
Tamarisk came into being, in part, because Thunderbird was a restricted club—in other words, Jewish people and minorities were not allowed. When Frank Sinatra’s great friend Sammy Davis Jr. was denied membership, Sinatra joined Tamarisk, which quickly became known as the Rat Pack’s playground.
The importance of preserving this history and important architecture came into focus in 2002, when a Tamarisk Country Club home that had been owned by art collectors Samuel and Luella Maslon was demolished, with city permission, by its new owners. The home had been designed by architect was Richard Neutra, a Jewish Austrian-American architect considered among the most prominent and important modernist architects. At the time, The New York Times Magazine said: “In a move that has stunned, outraged and saddened admirers of modern architecture, the city of Rancho Mirage, Calif., recently approved the demolition of an important 13-room house designed by Richard Neutra in 1963.”
Preservation Mirage aims to prevent similar cultural vandalism.
“The demolition of the Maslon house spurred the formation of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission,” says Bob Berg, a board member of Preservation Mirage. “Rancho Mirage will not stop a resident from demolishing their home or making changes to an existing known historic resource if the proposed changes are within the city’s building codes; however, they will lose their historic designation. The hope of our Preservation Mirage organization is to grow our membership to such an extent that our voice will be heard when we’re trying to save a historic resource.”
The group currently has 400 members but is growing rapidly, Berg says.
For more information, visit preservationmirage.org.