Racquet Club owner to restore original 'glamour'

05:00 AM, Sep 05, 2013

A fashion show at the Racquet Club in Palm Springs, Calif., in 1939, courtesy of the Palm Springs Historical Society. Gannett/(Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun/


Written By by Xochitl Pena, The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A framed picture of the famed Racquet Club sits on Judy Dlugacz’s mantel, serving as a reminder of its rich history and what she will need to live up to as its latest owner.

I look at it each day. The community has every right to care. I think the history is so phenomenal,” she said.

Opened by actors Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy in 1934, the Racquet Club was known as a Hollywood hangout frequented by the likes of Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. Marilyn Monroe is said to have been discovered there.

As its new owner, Dlugacz, who splits her time between San Francisco and Washington, D.C., plans to create an “LGBT and friends” housing project that is the latest venture of her Olivia Communities company that organizes lesbian cruises and travel.

Her first order of business, though, is to find the right developer partner.

We have a huge number of developers that are interested, and we have narrowed it down and we are in negotiations,” she said.

But she cautioned that there’s still a lot of work to be done.

It’s really important to understand we are not launching this, yet,” she said.

Her vision is to restore the property to its previous “prestige and glamour,” according to her company’s website at theracquetclub.com/home.html.

It touts Albert Frey bungalows — a hallmark of the club — mid-century style townhomes and the 4,200-square-foot Albert Frey Schiff House, all which would be restored and upgraded. Two-story lofts with 18-foot ceilings would be built.

Amenities would include the revival of the Bamboo Room, the Greta Garbo Tennis Court, Kathryn Hepburn Gym and Java Joint.

Since before Dlugacz purchased the property from the bank in 2011, residents have wondered what would become of the historical property.

Jeri Vogelsang, director of the Palm Springs Historical Society, said she often is asked about it.

It’s really historically significant to us. As Hollywood’s playground, it was one of the main nesting sites where they congregated,” she said.

Its heyday was in the 1950s, when the Bamboo Room lounge and restaurant served as one of a handful of places where the rich and famous could party and unwind at night.

They always had some kind of dance or themed party,” said Vogelsang.

John Raymond, the community and economic development director with Palm Springs, recalls “a number” of different owners over the past two decades.

It’s always been in a state of ‘somebody is going to buy it to bring the Racquet Club back,’” he said.

Elizabeth Balkar, a retired teacher who lives in the Racquet Club Colony immediately south of the Racquet Club, is hopeful the plan pans out — not only for her neighborhood, but for the city, as well.

It really will change everything for all of us. It’s kind of an eyesore,” she said.

With the buildings all boarded up behind a chain-link fence, it may be hard to imagine what it was like in its prime.

Balker remembers, though.

It was a magical place,” she said. She remembers a date taking her to the restaurant there on Valentine’s Day one year.

In its glory, it was the place to come. There are so many people in the movie industry that have fond memories of this place,” she said.

In regard to its plans to market to the “LGBT and friends” community, Balker doesn’t think it should limit itself in that way.

However, because Palm Springs has long been known as a gay-friendly town, many think this is the perfect place for such a resort.

I’m delighted to hear it’s LGBT and LGBT-friendly. This city is certainly on an incredible rebound and renaissance. It’s the gay and straight community working together to make it even more diverse,” said Mayor Steve Pougnet.

Around 2007, several similar projects were proposed – one included an LGBT retirement community that involved Billie Jean King – but none ever got off the ground, he said.

Pougnet is hopeful the Racquet Club plans will not falter.

The Racquet Club property is one of the properties that put Palm Springs on the map. Clearly, it’s an important part of Palm Springs’ history,” he said. ” It won’t be what it was before obviously, but it will still be redeveloped with its history in mind.”