Ownership has its privileges
Palm Desert, Calif.: B. C. snowbirds love their secret oases in the sun
Judy McLeod, a B. C. girl who grew up to farm blueberries and raise dairy cattle with her husband Ken on Delta’s Westham Island, made her way down to Palm Springs, Calif., for the first time a dozen years ago. A fan and player of tennis, she and a girlfriend hit the Coachella Valley to take in the PNB Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
McLeod remembers getting off the plane at the pretty little Donald Wexler- designed, openair Palm Springs International Airport that February day and thinking she had landed on a Hollywood set, so much did the environs with their pretty lowslung Spanish and mid- century modern houses and towering palm trees, all nestled in a mountain- ringed valley, look like the stylish, star- studded movies she loved to watch in the 1950s.
And so much did she fall for the area, for Palm Springs and the tennis and the desert and the balmy weather, that she took her husband back for his first visit the following year.
“I loved it so much that I took Ken the next year, and he fell in love with it, too.”
And, as it seems to happen with so many Metro Vancouverites, it wasn’t long before the couple found themselves buying a sweet little Spanish- style house in a Palm Desert complex in 2006.
The house, says McLeod, is in a relatively small complex by Palm Desert standards. It was built in 1988 and has just 300 houses, as well as several dozen condos and a time- share resort area. There is no attached golf course — even though she and Ken love to golf — but they were attracted by the intimacy and the location, which is right across from the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and close to all the action, including the El Paseo shopping district.
Their desert getaway, says McLeod, needed some work. It had five different kinds of tile, and carpets, and the kitchen needed a do- over. But its 1,800 square feet includes three bedrooms, a fireplace ( that they’ve never used), soaring ceilings, air conditioning throughout and, of course, a backyard pool. To toodle about, they keep a car in the garage, and all in all, their piece of paradise is really rather swell, McLeod says.
The buying process, which included a mandatory house inspection, was painless, says McLeod or, she laughs, “too easy.”
They paid cash, bought at the height of the market before the subprime meltdown and, though she’s keeping the price to herself, the house has certainly held its value as the local real estate market increasingly picks up. Homes recently for sale in the complex ranged from $ 160,000 for a condo up to the $ 500,000- range for a detached house.
The couple fly south off and on over the year, usually for three weeks at a time, from October through April. Farm duties back home and the oppressive Palm Desert heat — temperatures regularly soar to more than 37 C in July and August — have them closing up the house for the summer months, a task that involves chores like leaving garbage cans full of water in various rooms to maintain humidity levels.
McLeod regrets not one second of the purchase, though sometimes “I get that ‘ I need a bigger boat syndrome.’ ” She wouldn’t mind upgrading to a larger Palm Desert getaway, but “thankfully, Ken always talks sense into me.”
And yes, she has noticed that Palm Springs and environs are changing, that there’s a new pep in the California desert step.
“Absolutely. When we first came here, it was, you know, like a retirement place. But now, there are more people, more businesses and more things to do. Now there is a new energy with younger people.”
And even though she’s in a Spanish house, she might just be checking out next February’s Modernism Week, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. “There’s an energy and excitement down there at that time of the year, and I like to be part of it.”
Richmond’s Linda Holden Clode remembers going to Palm Springs with her parents when she was in her early 20s, although her golf- loving folks had been making the trip by car annually for years.
She can still recall driving into town that first time.
“I loved it. The bouquet. The citrus trees interspersed with the date palms. You can still smell it in certain areas. There was nothing like it, just magnificent, and the mountains with the purple hues.”
At that time, however, “I wasn’t enamoured of the architecture.”
That would soon change, and today the retired Vancouver teacher owns her own piece of Palm Springs midcentury modern history in the famed Sandpiper condo complex.
The Sandpiper, a large acreage beyond an unassuming wall in Palm Desert near the El Paseo shopping district, is a mid- century jewel designed by architect William Krisel between 1958 and 1969.
It comprises 17 “circles,” each with a dozen or so homes built in a pinwheel around a central swimming pool and communal area. The homes range from smaller 1,000- square- foot models to luxurious three- bedroom, two- bathroom condos with soaring ceiling and inner courtyards.
It is said to be the first midcentury condominium development west of Chicago, and was luxurious for its time.
Clode’s home was built in 1963 and later decorated by the Indian Wells- based Vee Nisley, who brought her sense of colour and love of luxe to the interiors, resulting in a look that’s more Hollywood Regency than mid- century spare.
Like most vacation homes, Clode’s came fully furnished and while she has made minor changes, she is finding she rather likes the retro look, which includes the original kitchen and its Formica countertops, the apple green wall-to-wall carpeting, Creamsicle-orange front doors and brightly coloured “wallpaper everywhere.”
That wallpaper includes the geometric pattern in the big main bedroom, while a more Asian- influenced fan- style paper covers the dining room walls. In a second bedroom, the wallpaper is orange, yellow and green, with matching bedding.
Clode has not only embraced her Palm Desert community, she has become immersed in it, taking on various volunteer positions with the Palm Springs Art Museum.
Working on the museum’s newsletter, and sitting on its architecture and design board, has seen her become rather enamoured with midcentury, so much so that she’s working on an interior design degree at BCIT.
Her appreciation for her Sandpiper home is palpable. Last year, she opened it up as part of Modernism Weeks and let 250 people wander through.
“That was great fun. And, yes, I wore yellow.”