Tour Buses Regularly Stop at This A-Lister-Owned Home. But They're Not There for Him

FROM THE OUTSIDE IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE MUCH. Certainly not a place currently owned by one of the most famous actors in the world.

Palm trees crane skyward from behind a low brick wall; the lighting is almost otherworldly when we pull up just after sunset. This is my dinner venue for the night—a house, but not just any house—a desert modernism classic. Built in 1964 by famed architect Donald Wexler, the home was commissioned by the recording artist and nine-time Emmy winner Dinah Shore. And sometimes, when he’s in town, current owner Leonardo DiCaprio stays here.

Wexler—who also designed the Palm Springs Airport— is known for his steel post-and-beam designs. Here, an entryway framed by beams that mimic spider legs direct traffic to front doors, the entryway to a lush 1.3 acre property boasting 7,000 square feet of living space. The one-story ranch home includes six bedrooms and seven and a half bathrooms, but there’s also a pool house, and tennis courts. One time, Diana Ross performed on them.

Formally known as the Dinah Shore Palm Springs Estate, 432 Hermosa sits in the aptly-named Movie Colony neighborhood, which along with its adjacent Old Las Palmas neighborhood was once the refuge of stars like Cary Grant, Elvis, Sammy Davis Jr., and Marilyn Monroe, among many others. The home itself has been purchased and preserved by a string of celebrities, including Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, (Hello Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles) and screenwriter and producer David Lee (The JeffersonsCheersWings, Frasier).

And prior to DiCaprio purchasing the house in 2014 for $5.2 million, it was rarely seen by the public. Now it’s a truly rare vacation rental, and a travel-worthy destination unto itself.

If you’re going to play pretend in a true mid-century home, this would be an excellent choice. Though Palm Springs has the largest concentration of preserved mid-century modern architecture in the world, with their flowy open concepts, flappy butterfly roofs, and massive windows bringing the surrounding San Jacinto range indoors, only a few are designed by architects we would consider significant today. Even fewer had notable owners, and out of those, there is only one other that will let you check in for the night and roam around like you own the place.

Walking into the house feels like stepping back in time: Floor to ceiling windows shed light on a sunken living room with low slung furniture, helmed by a roaring fireplace. A rounded cocktail bar sits near a baby grand piano with views of the outdoor pool. I immediately regret not opting for vintage wear. It’s the ideal setting to cosplay Mad Men-era coiffed nostalgia, a common occurrence when it comes to guests who want to curate an immersive throwback experience.

“It's fun to see the different outfits,” says Richard “Kip” Serafin, who manages the estate for photo shoots and events. “If they don’t bring clothes with them, some people go downtown to the vintage shop, which is great for business in Palm Springs.”

Lacking the proper attire, I instead decide to pick out my own bedroom. Down a hallway (“Dinah Shore Avenue,” capped with Warhol-esque portraits of the actress), there’s one themed in blue, another in lime green, and another in red. The master bedroom is neutral, but its bathroom is sage and bigger than my apartment in Brooklyn. In the corner a deep Japanese soaking tub is set by a wall of glass, framing a garden and the desert mountains.

The Dinah Shore Estate can all be yours to stay in for about $5,000 nightly for up to 16 people. Or you can work with Serafin for an event or photo shoot. He’ll make sure all your permits are in order and property and city rules followed whether you want to crane some BMWs in or just set up some tables. “Sometimes people want to put a big table by the pool,” he says, “That’s wonderful in theory, but they don't think that when a person slides out in the chair, they're going to be too close to the edge and will fall into the pool. Some people just don't think.”

If you want to fill the pool with synchronized swimmers, he can help you do that, too. And if you want a DiCaprio lookalike, that can be arranged as well. “His name is Ben Cornish. He mingles, talks to people, and they ask him questions,” says Serafin. “He knows a lot about Leo’s film history and his life, but he looks so much like Leo.”

TODAY PALM SPRINGS IS SYNONYMOUS WITH MIDCENTURY MODERN DESIGN, but it took some work to get there.

The first non-tribal settlement came in the 1880s, by those hoping the hot springs and crisp desert air would cure their tuberculosis. Hotels were built to heal those with respiratory ailments; disease put Palm Springs on the map. The celebrity draw was originally a product of the 1920s Hollywood studios’ “two hour rule,” which mandated that actors could be no further than a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, in case they were needed on set. The Coachella Valley was especially alluring because it was away from the prying eyes of the press.

In the decades that followed, in addition to glamorous names Palm Springs drew architects like Wexler, Williams, Albert Frey, and Richard Neutra, whose house for department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann was captured by Slim Aarons in Poolside Gossip, a symbol of modernism as famous as the house is today. The city thrived with culture, stardom, and fantastic hairdos. But in the early 1980s a recession took hold, and when the economy crashed it prompted an exodus downvalley. Storefronts were empty, with “for rent” signs in the windows. The city leaned into its reputation as a party destination; streets were overrun with spring breakers, culminating in a pivotal riot. But still, luckily, the architecture remained.

At the time, the land was so inconsequential that it wasn’t even considered worth bulldozing for development. And so, like perfectly preserved ruins, the city remained a near fully intact shadow of what it was until 1990, when then-mayor Sonny Bono pledged to bring glamor back to the city, and launched the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The first year there were 17,000 attendees; today it attracts 135,000, over 11 days. By the late 1990s architectural preservation efforts had begun.

Some of those behind the scenes are a group of volunteer architecture and history enthusiasts who make up the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, of which Serafin is a member. The nonprofit's mission is “to educate and promote public awareness of the importance of preserving the historical resources and architecture and other historic elements of the city of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley area.” But more importantly, they work to allow these functional pieces of art to be enjoyed by more than those that have the means to purchase them.

In 2001, the PSPF co-launched the wildly popular Modernism Week, which has evolved into 11 usually sold-out days of lectures, themed parties, and home tours. The preservation efforts have also brought Hollywood back to the desert: Don’t Worry Darling and Behind the Candelabra have used its setting for time travel; countless others have used it because the architecture is just so sleek (See: Ocean’s Eleven).

Serafin manages a portfolio of six houses, but he can help you secure events in many others, including the Frank Sinatra House. It may seem like a risk, opening these significant homes to the public. But Serafin says that thanks to the restrictions on who can rent the spaces (for example, no Coachella afterparties), so far there’s been no problem. “We wanted to bring tours and let people see the different homes and experience the architecture,” he says. Those who drop serious cash to rent out the spaces are usually fans of the architecture and thus would be appalled if anything happened to the structure under their watch. And besides, his events are mostly corporate; the rowdy ones you have to watch out for are the weddings and bachelorette parties.

The property doesn’t advertise who owns it, and they don’t need to; there’s enough interest in the house as is. “We get enough tour buses, private tours, architectural tours, and walking tours in the neighborhood,” says Serafin. “And then people that Google it on their own.” He says the tours do get distracting at times—especially for the people that reside in the neighborhood full-time. But it's also a nice reminder that tourists are into this stuff.

He will, however, station a security guard out front when they’re setting up for events. “People aren’t standing outside to disrupt, but most haven't been behind the gates and are just curious,” explains Serafin. “Even some of the neighbors have never been in the backyard. They just want to sneak a peek.”

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