Cool Things in Palm Springs: Inside Frank Sinatra’s House

At first glance, it seems like a rather plain and unassuming home. There’s a low roof line, with a clipped row of hedges and some desert landscaping out front. But this minimalist desert exterior is hiding a pretty big secret: it’s the former home of a world-famous, Rat Pack-era crooner, a home that’s off limits to the general public. I was fortunate to be included in a special group of four that was granted access for a private tour of Frank Sinatra’s former home in Rancho Mirage. And this isn’t the one everyone else knows about.

In this case ‘home’ might be a bit of a misnomer, as it turns out. The simple exterior hides a truly stately estate that’s a sprawling complex of single-story buildings laid out across a wide strip of property adjacent to Tamarisk Golf & Country Club on the appropriately named Frank Sinatra Drive.

img_0936From the main house, there are a series of small guest cottages, and another family sized home in the rear of the property, not to mention a museum quality display of trains and memorabilia next to a caboose that doubles as a man cave, and a garage that probably holds about a dozen cars. Oh, and yes, there used to be a helipad here, but now it’s covered in flowers.

Sinatra’s former home now owned by billionaireimg_0937

Through a friend of a friend of a friend, I’ve been invited to tag along on this private tour. Sinatra’s Rancho Mirage home was purchased as a business retreat by Canadian billionaire Jimmy Pattison. At the time it was bought, Pattison was said to have paid a mere $4.3 million for this sprawling property. But that was back in the 90s. While most modernism lovers know about Twin Palms, Sinatra’s famous Palm Springs abode, almost no one knows about this one.

Our small tour enters through the kitchen after crossing an expanse of driveway and some desert garden. At first look the house is rather low key; the exterior is very unassuming with a low flat roof, long lines of boxy windows, and mixed desert stone with stucco exterior.

The kitchen isn’t what anyone would imagine would be inside a world icon’s home; it’s a massive industrial kitchen, all stainless steel appliances, massive prep tables, cherry-red gleaming floor tiles and bright industrial lights.

There are, however, a few touches that hearken back to the property’s original owner, Ol’ Blue Eyes. One of those is a series of berry hued vintage Dymo labels with phone numbers of famous people and contacts in the Palm Springs area. From the number for Tony Roma’s, to Gene Autry’s personal number, or even one of my personal favorites, Las Casuelas Mexican restaurant, it seems Sinatra had a bunch of people on vintage ‘speed dial’.

The kitchen, we’re told, was installed by Frank to facilitate large gatherings. But he himself was not unfamiliar in this massive space. Mr Pattison’s caretaker tells us it was not uncommon for Sinatra to wander into this massive industrial kitchen and make himself a sandwich late at night.

Separate sleeping quarters for Frank & Barbara

Speaking of nighttime, one of our first stops is in the bedroom wing of this massive complex. Sinatra and his wife Barbara maintained separate sleeping quarters, each complete with their own ensuite bathrooms, and various other amenities.
I feel like a bit of a voyeur in Barbara’s massive bedroom and attached beauty salon. The color scheme is light and desert-airy with plenty of mirrors on all sides, and even on the ceiling!

Frank’s room is very spartan compared to Barbara’s, but his closet would have made any woman green with envy. Massive floor-to-ceiling windows in the bedroom are covered by blinds that blocked out most of the daylight. We are told Frank was a bit of a night owl, and would often sleep during the day, so he desperately needed proper window coverings to block out the heat of the desert sun. There’s a sauna, and a large home gym laid out on the shady side of the house. Wraparound windows and a wall beyond let light in but provide maximum privacy.

Fran Sinatra’s desert retreat: made for entertaining

The massive living room is a snapshot in history. Featuring an eye-catching sunken bar area, natural stone, a collection of model airplanes, and vintage fabrics, it looks as though the home has not been touched since Frank moved out and Mr. Pattison assumed ownership. img_0944

One of the most amazing and surprising aspects of this little tour, is that the home is absolutely filled with original Frank Sinatra paintings. I had no idea frank Sinatra was an artist, let alone someone who had painted so prolifically. There are canvases grasping onto nearly every vertical surface, some quite abstract, others more subdued. Sinatra obviously loved linear forms and bright colors, and I’m amazed at the quality, caliber, and number of pieces in this private collection.
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A gorgeous backgammon table takes up one area of the main living space. With brass  director chairs at the ready, and gorgeous oversized board with giant tiles tucked into this sunny corner just off the patio area, this would’ve been an amazing place to pass an hour or two at leisurely pursuits.

While on the subject of those pursuits, Sinatra had his own amazing home theater room, far before it became commonplace.

Frank Sinatra’s amazing home theatre

img_0943-1This massive carpeted and all-white room features an automatic screen behind a decadent floor to ceiling white curtain and a huge movie theater projector that would’ve been state of the art for its day. It was here Frank used to screen all the latest films for his Hollywood friends. A gorgeous gleaming charcoal  baby grand piano takes up space near the front of the room.

img_0950Lining the walls and in the areas over the windows and doors here are intimate portraits of some of Hollywood’s most famous celebrities. The caretaker tells us Frank used to regularly hire an artist to spend the weekend when he would invite famous friends to stay. At some point during the visit, these famous friends would be drawn or sketched, and the portraits would eventually go up in the theatre room where they still hang today.  Photographs and canvases also adorn the walls here, as does a massive wall-filling black and white canvas that has a dual purpose; it’s art, yes, but it’s also motorized, and when the button is pushed  is slides down to reveal windows necessary for the massive film projector in a small hidden room behind it.  Yet another fabulous sunken bar takes up a corner of this room, with glass shelves holding a stocked bar, and comfy seats surrounding it.

JFK and Marilyn trysted here

Beyond the main home, via a winding desert-scaped pathway is the massive rear guest house. Here there are several more bedrooms, and another entire living space, which would no doubt have allowed guests, or even family members, complete privacy during a stay.

“The small room is rather spartan, but in a Hawaiian sort of way. Not at all where you might expect the leader of the Western world, and his megawatt movie star mistress to spend weekends cavorting in the desert.”

On the subject of privacy, we also learned that one of the tiny guest cottages that lines the area near the property’s large pool, was used by Marilyn Monroe and then-President John F. Kennedy for illicit daytime trysts. In a small one-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage, we are told this is where JFK and Marilyn would spend weekends, outside the prying eyes of those in LA and Washington. The small room is rather spartan, but in a Hawaiian sort of way. Not at all where you might expect the leader of the Western world, and his megawatt movie star mistress to spend weekends cavorting in the desert. I stare at the bed, wondering what it must have gone on in this room, and left a bit in disbelief.

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A caboose that’s become a barbershop man-cave for Frank

One of the other aspects of this property that was absolutely stunning, was Sinatra’s obsession with trains. He was so absolutely captivated with the railroad, that he bought a caboose from one of the railroad companies, and turned it into his own private man cave.  At the rear of the car is a personalized barbershop, complete with gleaming white leather barbershop chairs, and vintage tongue-in-groove board on the walls. Frank was said to come here to get away from it all, including the pressures of life and his family, and in this space he could enjoy a shave and some private time. Next door is what may be the world’s largest private collection of miniature train memorabilia, but I’m certainly no expert in this field. Sinatra’s passion for trains also extended to collecting train cars and other memorabilia, and he had hundreds if not thousands of small replica train cars all lining the walls of this building.img_0946

One of our last stops, is a massive garage that still houses several vintage vehicles. While Sinatra was a bit of a car buff, the details of this collection are unfortunately lost on me.

Frank Sinatra’s home has been lovingly preserved

So why this massive time capsule, smack in the middle of the Palm Springs area? A 1990s era magazine article explains that Mr Pattison likes using this space for meetings as an impressive corporate retreat. At that time, Paterson called his decision to purchase this place, “a definite business advantage,” but adds he doesn’t stay here when he’s in town.

Modernism Week attendees would be agog

As far as I know, this home is not one of the ones anyone can tour during Modernism Week, or at any other time, since this home is a private corporate retreat space. Nonetheless it’s been preserved as a bit of a Frank Sinatra museum, allowing a rare glimpse into rat pack history.img_0951

Erin L