Idyllic Weekend in the Desert
The Willows Evokes Imagined Memories
Of Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Albert Einstein
By Bob Page
Never would I have ever thought that I’d sleep in the same hotel room where Clark Gable honeymooned oan Academy award-winning screenplay was written or where Albert Einstein spent a few nights.
But such was our good fortune.
As you would surely suspect, this was no ordinary hotel room. To call it a hotel room would be a grave injustice.
This was an escape to a mansion tucked against the very base of the rugged Mt. San Jacinto Mountain in Palm Springs.
The story of how this 1925 home, left to die in its own bones in the late 1980s/early 1990s, is one of how two visionaries brought it back to life.
What began as a celebratory lunch turned into an unexpected real estate investment and a lifetime labor of love.
Tracy Conrad and Paul Marut had just completed their medical residencies at USC in 1994 when they decided to celebrate with a weekend in Palm Springs.
Sitting across the street from Le Vallauris, where they had dined on classic French fare, was a for sale sign on a rundown mansion, known as The Willows and the former home of silent film star Marion Davies.
Davies may be best known for her 30-year affair with publisher William Randolph Hearst but she was very much a savvy real estate investor and brilliant businesswoman.
“The affair with Hearst overshadowed the multi-faceted woman that she truly was and history has not always been kind to her legacy,” Conrad said.
Today, the Willows, after years of a painstaking re-do, and now known as The Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn, is an AAA Four Diamond property, all thanks to the tireless work, energy and smart restoration skills of Conrad and Marut.
If you’re like the two of them were then and looking for an idyllic weekend in the desert, make your first call to The Willows.
The Willows functions somewhat as a B & B but its sophisticated charm is so much more than that.
The Willows was built as a luxurious private home in 1925 and remained so until Conrad and Marut opened its doors to their first guests in 1996.
There are only eight rooms but each has its own unique history.
We stayed in The Library Suite. What fun to think that we were staying in the very rooms where Clark Gable had honeymooned with Carole Lombard, where Hollywood director Paul Thomas Anderson spent four months writing his screenplay for “There Will Be Blood” and where a decade or two earlier Dr. Albert Einstein and Upton Sinclair had also popped in for a few days of desert relaxation.
The eight suites all share the same amenities in this classic and romantic Mediterranean villa. Each room has its own distinct style, charm and design with fireplaces, tamden claw tubs, private balconies and separate entrances, plush linens and king or queen size beds.
There is a heated swimming pool and Jacuzzi, free gated parking, 24-hour security, a delicious full three-course gourmet breakfast served overlooking a stunning 50-foot waterfall and evening wine and ors d’loeuvres.
And one of its best features, among the many, is its free Wi-Fi throughout.
The folks at Le Vallauris will walk over lunch to your room or bring it to you poolside. That’s part of the marvelous experience to be enjoyed during your Willows stay. The distance between Le Vallauris and The Willows is about 75 steps.
Luminaries galore have called The Willows their desert retreat . Actresses Cameron Diaz, Suzanne Somers and Diane Keaton, Arianna Huffington, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are among the many who have pillowed down at The Willows.
You can reserve all eight rooms for a special occasion. Conrad said, “The Inn lends itself well to small gatherings, and the guests seem to really enjoy not having to share the common areas with anyone other than themselves.”
Guests can reserve the Inn in its entirety for $3,400 per night for up to 16 guests. Or, if you want to leave the entourage behind, you can escape to The Willows for four days and receive the fifth night free.
The Willows is perfectly situated for the enjoyment of all that Palm Springs offers. It is only a block from Palm Canyon Drive, the heartbeat of downtown Palm Springs.
So close, yet a world away, says Conrad.
“Palm Springs offers an eclectic of hotels, shops and restaurants . It is unique and has the only downtown in the Coachella Valley. It draws a different crowd than the large resorts down valley. People that appreciate Palm Springs like the quirkiness, originality, art and culture. It isn’t just about the sun and golf,” Conrad added.
The Willows draws guests from throughout the United States as well as from England, Germany, Australia, Japan and Latin America.
The Willows will celebrate its 90th birthday next year , yet the mansion remains a timeless retreat for travelers seeking a respite totally out of the ordinary.
Not sitting still and starring at another incredible real estate investment opportunity, Conrad and Marut bought The Thomas O’Donnell House in 2000, also built in 1925, and located above the hill from The Willows.
The O’Donnell House offers breathtaking views of Palm Springs. It is perfect for corporate retreats, fundraising galas and special events. The 4,100-square-foot O’Donnell House can accommodate up to 125 guests for weddings, receptions and events. It has four bedrooms and four baths.
The Willows books early in season so the word is to jump on the phone or email and make your reservations now. Don’t miss The Willows. There is nothing like it elsewhere in the Coachella Valley. Or maybe in all of Southern California.