Step Back In History At The Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn

Wednesday, 16 Oct 2013, 4:56:00 PM

Brenton Garen

The pool and jacuzzi is open 24 hours a day.
Courtesy Photo
The pool and jacuzzi is open 24 hours a day.

Albert Einstein, Marion Davis, Clark Gable, and Carole Lombard – The Willows just two blocks from the heart of Palm Springs has hosted these luminaries through the years since it was built in 1924, and now has been meticulously restored to recreate the ambiance and elegance of their time.

Since 1996, The Willows Historic Palms Springs Inn has been welcoming only a small number of guests September through May each year to its property that is full of history and luxury to make the perfect weekend vacation in the desert.

The house and grounds are open only to guests, ensuring the ultimate in privacy and repose.

On arrival it feels like a step back in history, but with comfort, class, and understated elegance. It is quiet and serene despite the close proximity to downtown Palm Springs, making for a nice combination for a getaway.

Included in the stay is a nightly reception featuring fine boutique wines from around the world. Guests can mingle in the main living room or poolside. A variety of hors d’oeuvres are served with the wine. Items include the likes of cheese platters, homemade empanadas, artichoke dip, filo triangles, spinach and mushroom quiches, and bruschetta.

Also included each morning is a silver service three-course gourmet breakfast in The Willows’ dining room overlooking the property’s waterfall.

The swimming pool and Jacuzzi are open all hours. Once you check-in all amenities are included; there are no resort fees or charges for iced tea or lemonade served by the pool during the day. There is complimentary WiFi throughout the property and all rooms have individual climate control and TVs, DVD, iPod docking stations, etc.

The property is owned by Santa Monica High School alumna Tracy Conrad and her husband Paul Marut who purchased the property in June 1994, opening The Willows to guests in the fall of 1996 after renovations.

“The fact that Albert Einstein stayed in the house in the 1930s on multiple occasions is what prompted my husband and I to buy it,” Tracy said. “The movie stars are great, but Einstein? Now he is the ultimate!”

The Conrads, who are Emergency Physicians, said they fell in love with the property after taking a week-long vacation to Palm Springs before beginning their first full-time jobs.

Tracy said they had just finished dinner at a nearby restaurant when they came across the property.

“It was for sale,” she said. “The house looked a bit forlorn and forgotten. We walked across the street and read the real estate sign. It listed lots of movie stars who had been in the house, and it listed Albert Einstein. We were curious. We thought of Albert Einstein as being associated with Princeton. He had been in Palm Springs? It seemed a bit anachronistic, Einstein in the desert. The next morning we went to the Palm Springs Historical Society. They told us that The Willows was indeed a very famous house and that they had a whole file on it. We spent the day reading about the history and then thought we would go see the house for real, as we had four more days of vacation.”

She said they made an appointment with the realtor and saw the house.  

“It was in sad shape and had been neglected and poorly remodeled in some cases,” she said. “But it had good bones and we thought it was worthy of trying to save. We are doctors, so the next thing we did was go buy a book. I still have it. It’s entitled ‘So you want to be an Innkeeper’ and we took the class offered by the Professional Association of Innkeepers in Santa Barbara and wrote a business plan and asked AAA for the criteria for being designated as Four Diamond and we hauled off and bought the house and set about turning into a small luxury hotel.”

She said they had to get permission from the City of Palm Springs, but said the process wasn’t very difficult.  

“They liked the idea of the adaptive reuse of such an historic building,” she said. “It seemed logical to us, as others would like to share in the history, just like we were entranced with it when we first learned of it. It was two years to do the renovation and we opened on Oct. 1, 1996 as a hotel.”

She said the house was beautifully designed and built of the highest quality materials.  

“William Dodd of the Los Angeles firm of Dodd and Richards designed the house,” she said. “He is famous for having designed the Hearst Examiner Building in Los Angeles among many things. It was built for William Mead, a major banker and land developer who was also on the Metropolitan Water Board. His housing trust still exists. He stands up extremely well through the decades as a generous man who wanted to make homeownership available for the average guy. He was fabulously wealthy and could afford the finest appointments for The Willows. He liked gardens and water features and for that reason The Willows has both.”

Tracy said the house was built by William Mead, who was an avid horticulturalist and gardener.  

She said his wife Nella was one of the founders of the Los Angeles Botanical Garden.  

“The house is very well constructed,” she said. “It has fine mahogany doors and beams, fabulous wrought iron, the walls are solid cement and in places three feet thick. It is from a different time, a more gracious time, and one of serious craftsmanship.”

Rates start at $375 per night.

The Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn is located at 412 West Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs.

For more information, call 800.966.9597 or visit thewillowspalmsprings.com.

Zin American Bistro

The main stretch of Palm Canyon Drive just two blocks from The Willows Inn has endless dining options from cafés and diners to high-end restaurants.

At the corner of S. Palm Canyon Drive and Arenas Road is Zin American Bistro – a modern new world version of a traditional French Bistro.

Newly renovated and expanded, the inviting patio in the heart of downtown Palm Springs is the ideal spot for great food and people watching.

Owner Mindy Reed’s vision of simple food, fresh local ingredients, and old world techniques are only some of the secrets for the lasting success of this stylish bistro.  

Lunch everyday like you are on vacation with their Build Your own Bloody Mary Bar or enjoy Endless Mimosas or Champagne for only $5.  

Classic American favorites include the XXX ‘Adult’ Macaroni and Cheese, Slowly Braised Prime Beef Shortribs with Chipotle BBQ Sauce, and Buttermilk Fried Chicken.

Feeling adventurous? Consider the Rabbit with Dijon mustard sauce or Belgian Beef Stew.

Finish with homemade desserts and an after dinner drink. The wine list features more than 200 selections.

The restaurant is located at 198 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. Phone 760.322.6300 or visit pszin.com.

Michael’s Pizzeria

If you are looking for one of the best pizzas in the desert, head on out to Michael’s Pizzeria in Rancho Mirage, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs.

The pizzeria insists on staying true to traditional Napoli style pizza, serving its creations unsliced with a set of knives and forks.

“You see, slicing a pie immediately after it comes out of the oven causes moisture to form beneath it,” the pizzeria says. “The folks in Naples are not ones for soggy pizza, and neither are we. So, we suggest you do what we do – use a fork and knife.”

But as they say, if that’s not your thing, they will slice it for you, no questions asked.

For something a little bit different, try the Anatra e Provola served with tomato, duck confit, smoked mozzarella, and caramelized onions.

Michael’s Pizzeria, which also has two locations in Long Beach, was recently given the accolade of #1 Zagat-rated pizza in Los Angeles.

It’s located at 71-800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. Phone 760.341.4222 or visit michaelspizzeria.com.

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