Palm Springs Places: The Monkey Tree Hotel

This week on an unusually windy day, I had the pleasure of checking out another unique hotel.

I was told that the vista looks much more inviting when the umbrellas are opened up, however how lovely is this?  Photo: d. king

Kathy, the gracious owner, escorted me around her delightfully large one-acre property and filled me in on the history surrounding the private 16 room boutique hotel nestled against the backdrop of the dramatic San Jacinto Mountains.   After all, what’s a good hotel here without a story?

Photo: d. king
Photo: d. king
A bathroom in one of the rooms. btw, all the rooms are different.   Photo: Jake Holt Photography

Originally designed by renowned modernist architect Albert Frey and built in 1960, the hotel re-opened in 2016, after a restoration by its current owners, Kathy and Gary Friedle, to its original mid-century modern design.  The space is very charming and makes you feel at home.  I think you might want to stay for more than one night. The outdoor space includes a lovely heated saltwater pool, the only Scandinavian Spa in the area including dry sauna, hot tub, seating areas and a Smeg retro fridge where guests are welcome to help themselves to the contents. A complimentary continental breakfast and sangria happy hour every day for guests.  What’s not to love?

Bonus: I love that Gary concocts his own teas which guests also have the privilege of sampling from the cart. There’s even a Palm Springs blend which smells heavenly.

Make your selection.  Just a few samples here.  All teas are carefully created in the property kitchen by Gary.  Photo: Jake Holt

The Monkey Tree is located less than a mile from the hustle and bustle Charlie Farrel’s famed Racquet Club. The hotel is a classic example of mid-century modern design and was a get-away for the celebrities who wanted to have some time away from the public.  Palm Springs lore has it that celebrity guests at The Monkey Tree Hotel have included: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Eric Clapton, Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder, and even a JFK and Marilyn visit (guarded at the private entrance of their suite by the secret service).

Entrance to the boutique.
Photo: d. king
Photo: d. king

In 1995, Albert Frey contacted the then owners of the hotel to ask if he could come by for a visit.  At the time, Frey was 92 years old and said that he had not visited the property since it was built.  He rode his bike the four miles from Frey House II where he was living to the hotel in a white polyester pantsuit and burnt orange shirt, arriving dapper as always.  As he toured the property, he shared his inspiration for the layout and design of the hotel with the current owners.  Frey was fascinated by the San Jacinto Mountains and found great inspiration in them. He intended the dramatic slanting roof lines to be in harmony and pay homage to the mountains and the Indians.

Photo: Kathy Friedle

ABOUT THE OWNERS (Kathy & Gary):

After obtaining her Master of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis in 1992, Kathy began her architecture career in New York City.  She worked for Gensler for 20 years in both design and management roles.  Her clients in New York included many prestigious law firms, a well-known California based talent agency and numerous advertising agencies.

Gary has been in the field of financial management for 25 years. He started his career working on a trading desk in New York City then worked with private wealth clients and most recently was the Chief Operating  Officer of a private wealth management firm.  Gary has a passion for long distance running and has participated in several (100-mile) ultra-marathons.

In 2015 an opportunity arose to purchase a boutique hotel in Palm Springs, and the timing and career change seemed right for them and their two teenage sons to try a new adventure on the west coast.  After seeing the great architectural bones of The Monkey Tree hotel they dove in to the restoration of the mid-century modern property which had been largely closed to the public since 1988.  Their first decision was to re-establish the original 1960 name of the hotel and to re-brand, and re-invigorate the property.

Outside the entrance.  Photo: Kathy Friedle

They did just that. I would definitely recommend this hotel.

For bookings:

https://www.themonkeytreehotel.com/