The Racquet Club of Palm Springs
If you were looking for a place in the 1940s and 50s to escape to that was filled with sunshine and ideal weather, swimming pools, sports, and movie stars: the Racquet Club in Palm Springs was the place to be. First opened in 1934 by Hollywood actors Ralph Bellamy and Charles Farrell, for the next 30 years the Racquet Club would serve as an oasis for movie stars. Originally built with just two tennis courts, the Club grew to hold one of the most popular swimming pools in Palm Springs and the local legendary bar called the "Bamboo Room." Stars such as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Dinah Shore, and Marilyn Monroe could often be spotted by the pool or enjoying a round of tennis. Beginning in the 1970s after the glory days of Hollywood had come to an end, the Racquet Club suffered a decline, which was only worsened by a a fire in 2014. Now desolate, the future of the Racquet Club remains uncertain. All that remains are dilapidated buildings reflecting the ethereal glamour that once existed but is now lost.
Visitors lounging by the pool at the Racquet Club, ca. early 1940s.
The two founders of the Racquet Club, actors Ralph Bellamy (right) and Charlie Farrell (left), with singer, actor, and radio host Rudy Vallee, attend the opening of the Racquet Club in 1934.
An interior shot of one of the dining rooms in the Racquet Club.
A fashion show held at the Racquet Club in 1939.
Actress and singer Dinah Shore poses with her husband, actor George Montgomery, at the Racquet Club in the mid 1940s.
A model poses with a tennis racquet in front of the Racquet Club in 1967.
Marilyn Monroe posing on the diving board of the Racquet Club, 1949.
An aerial view of the Racquet Club, 1955.
In 2014, a fire broke out at the Racquet Club, leaving many of the historic buildings in ruin.
Backstory and Context
The legend of the Racquet Club began when actors Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy purchased two hundred acres of land in Palm Springs at just 30 cents an acre. Their goal was to build the two largest and best tennis courts for their Hollywood friends to retreat to in the Desert. The tennis courts were officially dedicated on December 25, 1934 and Farrell and Bellamy decided to charge avid tennis players only $1 to use the facilities. Though on that first day they made under $20, steadily more stars such as Ginger Rogers, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and Spencer Tracy became frequent guests at the Racquet Club.
Eventually, Bellamy and Farrell invested in a whole club, adding a swimming pool, a bar, and bungalows. When the Club was first established, membership cost $50; over the years that price rose to $150. Eventually Farrell bought-out Bellamy's interests and became the sole owner. The Racquet Club continued to serve as a place for fun and relaxation. Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Jack Benny, Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor, Frank Sinatra, and many more could be found lounging by the pool, drinking in the famous "Bamboo Room," playing tennis, or simply socializing. The Racquet Club was a Hollywood haven. However, it was not solely for Hollywood elite. In the 1960s, Robert and Ethel Kennedy would frequently visit the Club for a few rounds of tennis. Also, Henry Kissinger came for lunch, Ronald and Nancy Reagan were even allowed to cook in the kitchen, and famed author Truman Capote was once a guest at the Club's popular New Year's Eve party.
In 1959, Farrell, who had at one time served as the mayor of Palm Springs, sold the Racquet Club to a businessman from Pasadena named Robert Morton. Numerous owners would follow over the years, but there was one constant person always in the foreground: Charles Farrell. He continued to serve as the managing director and the main PR agent for the Racquet Club, ensuring celebrity attraction. The Racquet Club's painful demise began in 1986 when owner Larry Lawrence decided to rid the Club of its "Member Only" policy and make it open to the public. By the time Charles Farrell passed away in 1990, his beloved Racquet Club was vacant.
In the 21st century, the Racquet Club has fallen under even harder times and the future of the historic site remains uncertain. After being reopened with new hands at the helm in 1999, the Racquet Club failed to take-off and closed after just 4 years. In July 2014, a fire broke-out and destroyed many buildings located on the legendary site. As of 2017, the Palm Springs Historic Preservation Board voted to make the now 10 acres of Racquet Club a Class 1 historic site, which would prevent further demolition. Opponents argued that designating it a Class 1 historic site would also disqualify existing buildings and bungalows from undergoing modification without approval from the city council, and would curtail future development. Whatever the future of the Racquet Club, its glory days are long gone, along with the multitudes of stars that graced the premises; all that remains are the legendary tales and memories.
Greer, Gloria. Creating a Racquet (Club). Palm Springs Life. December 18, 2012. Accessed September 09, 2018. https://www.palmspringslife.com/creating-a-racquet-club/.
Mai-Duc, Christine. Fire destroys part of historic Racquet Club in Palm Springs. Los Angeles Times. July 25, 2014. Accessed September 09, 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-palm-springs-racquet-club-fire-20140724-story.html.
DiPierro, Amy. Racquet Club owner doesn't want Palm Springs to make ex-Hollywood hangout a historic site. Desert Sun. November 02, 2017. Accessed September 09, 2018. https://www.desertsun.com/story/marketplace/real-estate/palm-springs/2017/11/02/racquet-club-owner-d....
Visit Palm Springs
Palm Springs Life
Palm Springs Modern Committee
Palm Springs Historical Society
Visit Palm Springs
Palm Springs Life
San Francisco Art Exchange
Digital Collections of the Los Angeles Public Library