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Shadow Mountain Resort: A Historic Gem in the Middle of Palm Desert

We discovered this place quite by accident when we recently booked a last-minute trip to Palm Desert to get out of the late-winter gloom of Portland, Oregon.

Although our condo was inexpensive (about $100 a night, which is highly suspect at that time of year) and predictably shoddy for the at that price point, we soon discovered it was located in a somewhat hidden historic mid-century gem: Palm Desert’s Shadow Mountain Resort & Club, circa 1948.

A visit to the resort’s lobby and website revealed that this place, it turns out, has captivated visitors for decades. Nestled among the breathtaking copper-hued foothills of the Santa Rosa range, this club boasts a setting that is truly heavenly. The magnificent shadow play of the mountains, combined with the backdrop of the snow-capped Mt. San Gorgonio, creates a picturesque and ever-changing scenery that has enchanted guests going back to the post-war years.

The big Shadow Mountain pool in its acrobatic heyday

The big Shadow Mountain pool in its acrobatic heyday

For us the top draw was the swimming.

At the heart of the club lies the enormous figure-eight pool, a tremendous attraction that offers enjoyment for all.

Designed by the renowned landscape architect Tommy Tomson, the mid-40s pool is still a sight to behold.

With a wide, chubby figure-eight shape, and originally boasting “hours more sun” than popular resort pools in nearby Palm Springs due to the placement of the mountains, the pool emphasizes the stunning views that lie beyond. Among other things, according to local historians and photographs in the lobby, these aquamarine waters have hosted Janet Dee’s famed water ballet troupes, who gracefully performed on white surfboards, adding to the allure of this aquatic oasis.

in its heyday, the club also catered to the sports-minded individuals, offering thrilling activities such as tennis, bridge, equestrian events, and even golf during the day.

But the giant pool, which once featured a very high diving board and slide, became the focal point of much activity, particularly during the summer months.

According to the Desert Sun newspaper, the first annual open and invitation swim meet held at the club drew over 150 contestants, breaking two national and seven Southern Pacific records in a two-day swim carnival.

Beyond sports, the Shadow Mountain Club had something to offer for everyone back in the ‘40s and ‘50s: Fashion shows, outdoor barbecues, moonlit hayrides, and Sunday morning breakfast rides were just a few of the many activities available to guests.

In the evenings, elaborate theme parties took center stage, including the renowned Shadow Ball, which became the most significant social event of the season, according to the Sun.

When night fell, the club transformed into a haven of luxury and enjoyment. The exquisitely beautiful Shadow Room, the picturesque Indio Room, and the spacious and colorful lounge provided environments conducive to luxurious experiences. The cuisine was known to be excellent and guests could wander the grounds.

Although it was originally designed to be an affordable alternative to the tinier resorts of Palm Springs, the allure of the Shadow Mountain Club extended far and wide, attracting high-profile guests from around the world, including Leonard Firestone of the tire company bearing his name to R.B. White, President of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and Clarence Woolley, the founder of American Radiator Co., the club played host to many influential figures, according to local historians.

Celebrities such as Jimmy Stewart, Dick Powell, Bette Davis, and Greer Garson were active members or regular visitors, further enhancing the club’s allure. Entertainers such as Bob Hope, Rudy Vallee, and Edgar Bergen graced the stage, providing top-notch entertainment.

The club’s architecture was equally impressive, with the Henry Eggers-designed clubhouse adjacent to the expansive pool, according to the resort archives.

A curtain of glass and sharpened rafter tails punctuated the ceiling, while a massive stone fireplace, reminiscent of the lodge at Firecliff, served as a focal point. Architects A. Quincy Jones, Harold Bissner, Robert Pitchford, and Walter White all contributed their expertise to the club’s design and development, resulting in a structure that blended beauty and functionality seamlessly.

Over the years, the Shadow Mountain Club has undergone changes, with new owners expanding its offerings. Two-story buildings were added around the pool, altering the once sweeping views. Unfortunately, neighboring establishments like the Sun Lodges and the Firecliff Lodge did not survive the same fate, being demolished due to unsympathetic additions.

Today, the Shadow Mountain Club stands as a testament to the original vision of Palm Desert, still enticing swimmers with its remarkable figure-eight pool. Despite the challenges it has faced, this historical gem continues to offer an unforgettable experience, just as it has for decades.

Sources: Shadow Mountain Resort website and lobby exhibit, the Desert Sun and Tracy Conrad,  president of the Palm Springs Historical Society.

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