Dunlevie and Ryan Developed Bermuda Dunes Country Club

By Denise Ortuno Neil                                                                          rsz card00707 fr

They were a winning combination. Ernie Dunlevie was a successful Palm Springs real estate business man, and Ray Ryan was an oilman, developer and well known gambler, and also known as Mr. Palm Springs. Together, they embraced a vision to take a vast, desolate, desert plain and turn it into a glamorous country club. They must have seen the future of the Coachella Valley, and decided to gamble on it.

It was 1958, and Ryan had long since re-opened, along with other investors, the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs. Bringing it back to life after it was used as a P.O.W. camp during WWII. He had already rolled the dice on east valley developments such as the North Shore Yacht Club in Salton Sea. So when Dunlevie approached Ryan about his dream to build a development between Hwy 111 and Highway 99 (what is now the 10 Fwy), Ryan was all in. Their focused attention was on the area that we all know as Bermuda Dunes.

Bermuda Dunes, was formally called Myoma, a name that is still carried on by the areas water company. The unincorporated area is residentially concentrated, but does have a mixture of zoning, not really conforming to other desert cities cookie cutter developments. Large estates (some with horses) are mixed with single family homes, and of course, Bermuda Dunes Country Club. For neighborhood drinking and dining, there is Murphs Gaslight. The area even has its own well trafficked airport, catering to private jet setters, and hobby aviators.

That is Bermuda Dunes today, imagining what it must have been like when Dunlevie and Ryan delved into it, is to envision a blank slate of desert dunes that obviously to Dunlevie and Ryan, had extraordinary potential. Without their vision, Bermuda Dunes would be very different indeed, or possibly not at all.

The duo started development on Bermuda Dunes Country in early 1958. The impetus of their foresight came when they had recognized that the golf facilities in Palm Springs were less than adequate to meet the demands of not only residents, but vacationers as well. The development was an ambitious one, and initially had much more than just the country club in mind. Promotional maps indicate that the development intended to take over almost all of what Bermuda Dunes is today, with a proposed 200 room hotel that was to be named the “Star of the Desert”, slated to be built inside the country club by an interested syndicate. The luxury hotel had a price tag of $4,500,000, but never came to fruition.

However, the Bermuda Dunes Country Club, as well as the Bermuda Dunes Airport and adjacent Racquet Club (now Murphs Gaslight) were completed and greeted with rave reviews.

Built on an expansive 1000 acres, Bermuda Dunes Country Club had started with 11 miles of streets, 14 miles of water mains, and a fresh water lake nourished by a 75 foot high waterfall. The 160 acre, 18 hole golf course was designed by William F. Bell, and was considered one of the largest courses in Southern California at the time. It was well received by golfers and praised for its rolling sand dune contours and palm-lined course, which was in stark contrast from the flat courses that were the norm in California and Arizona deserts. With its high undulating dips, the course had players reminiscing about courses on the Monterey Peninsula and the British Isles. The course would go on to serve in 50 Bob Hope Classic Tournaments.

The “Top O’ the Dunes” clubhouse was designed by architect Chris Choate and built by builders Jerry Apelby and Virgil Garland, atop a 60 foot high sand dune at a cost of $300,000 overlooking the lake. The clubhouse had commanding views and was set to serve as the social center for all of the Coachella Valley.

Home sites within the club were initially clustered around the golf course to take advantage of the stunning views. The luxury home sites ranged in size from 10,000 sq. ft. up to ½ acre lots. Fairway sites started at $9,000 and view sites at $3,150. In the first year, the club had almost $4,000,000 in home site sales. It was the new and fashionable place to live in the desert.

The Bermuda Dunes Country Club had a who’s who list of celebrity residents, including Clark Cable and his wife Kay Williams, Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Cary Grant and William Holden, Patti Page, plus many more.

Dunlevie and Ryan created many developments in their time here in the Coachella Valley. They gambled on the desert sand, and had a vision that has secured their legacy. With their dedication to their imagination, Bermuda Dunes Country Club and the city that bears its name continues to thrive.

 Photo credit to cardcow.com


The Story Behind the Wall

By Denise Ortuno Neil                                                                             rsz ground view 8 8b0bd788

It looks like it could be some reminisce of a castle from long ago, or a wall guarding something of great value, or perhaps a look out to the vast desert valley below for a person with means to build it. In a way, the mysterious wall that sits on the foothill of San Jacinto just above the famed O’Donnell Golf Course is all of those things, and a precious part of Palm Springs history. It is the wall that Tom O’Donnell built.

Tom O’Donnell didn’t actually haul the materials up the hill and literally use his hands to build the iconic wall himself, but he did have it built out of his vision. Tom O’Donnell was an oilman man of great wealth who came to Palm Springs along with his wife in the 1920’s, lured like so many before him by the areas inviting serene beauty and warm weather that benefitted his respiratory ailment .

O’Donnell spent his early time visiting Palm Springs at the Desert Inn, owned by one of the town’s most prominent pioneers, Nellie Coffman. O’Donnell and Coffman became fast friends, so much so that when O’Donnell wanted to purchase the land up the hill from Coffman’s hotel to build a home, she struck a deal with O’Donnell, leasing the property out to him for 50 years in exchange for his assistance in expanding her business. The deal was made and construction began, the most beautiful house in the desert at the time was completed in 1925. The 4,100 square foot villa was named Ojo del Desierto, Eye of the Desert and it truly was. The expansive view from the home spanned the desert valley floor as far as ones vision could take them.

The O’Donnell’s were avid golfers, often golfing on a limited green at the Desert Inn. The inadequate make shift course would not suffice and so O’Donnell purchased land below his new home and the O’Donnell Golf Course was conceived. The 9 hole private golf course opened in the winter of 1926 and was the first golf course in the desert. The golf course has hosted an elite group of members throughout the years and continues to be one of the most exclusive courses in the desert and certainly the most historic.

It was later in the 1930’s that O’Donnell set his sights on the star of this story…..his mysterious wall. It is said that the wall was built as assistance to those men who were systematically unemployed by the depression. Although Palm Springs was not as hard hit by the country’s economic plight, the impact still left a mark on valley workers. In his benevolent manner, O’Donnell employed these men to build his wall. The wall, with gothic inspired style, was to be the perimeter for his second home that was to be built on the mountain side not far from his first home, the Ojo del Desierto.

After completion of the wall, O’Donnell’s health declined, and maneuvering up to the new house’s intended site proved difficult. He decided to have his second home on the ground level near his golf course instead. But O’Donnell was not done with the mountain yet, he truly loved the desert and wanted to be buried here…in the mountain. He commissioned a crypt to be built not far from the wall. The crypt was built into the mountain and has an unfinished 12 foot square room with a 10 foot ceiling. The large archway was intended to be fitted with ornate bronze doors, but they never came to fruition. Instead, wooden doors covered the crypt, but over time because of vandals, the wooden doors gave way to a cement enclosure and that is how it stands today. O’Donnell was never buried in the crypt as California law prohibited being buried on private land.

During the time of the walls hay day, radio speakers were placed at the base of the wall, which would play music during the holidays, but unfortunately those also became victims of vandalism.

Tom O’Donnell was one of Palm Springs most revered citizens, donating his efforts to the desert city that he loved with his wealth and his heart. I have had the occasion to go up to the wall many years ago; it is as mysterious in person as it is from afar (massive steel gates forbid entrance now). Perhaps it was because I didn’t know the walls story at the time, and the energy I felt was derived from my imagination, but I definitely felt a presence. It is after all very possible that the energy I felt was real and from O’Donnell’s sincere love for Palm Springs, still loving it from beyond….still having his eye on the desert.

For more information about Tom O’Donnell visit www.pshistoricalsociety.org

Pearl McCallum McManus A Palm Springs Icon

By Renee Brown

When "Auntie Pearl"called during dinner, the most powerful men in Palm Springs got up from their dining tables and came to the phone.

Pearl McCallum McManus was the daughter of John Guthrie McCallum, the first pioneer settler in a little desert town which would later be called Palm Springs. He purchased over 6,000 acres of land and a one-fifth interest in the water company. A 21 day rainfall in1893 washed away his crops and irrigation ditches followed by an 11 year drought that devastated the desert land and drove away settlers. Before he died he learned that the federal government was giving the rights to the water from Tahquitz and Andreas canyon back to the Aqua Caliente tribe.

Palm Springs Pioneer Artists

By Renee Brown

As the twentieth century was dawning on a sleepy, desert town inhabited by the Agua Band of Cahuilla Indians and a few pioneers, a colony of artists came together to create an artistic legacy that is unique to the Coachella Valley.

Author, Robert Louis Stevenson and naturalist, John Muir came to stay at Dr. Wellwood Murray's Palm Springs Hotel around 1900. They led the way for artists like Carl Eytel, photographer, Stephen Willard, cartoonist and landscape painter, Jimmy Swinnerton to follow. The Ramada made from palm frons at the Desert Inn was the place that these early adventurers would meet and share their love of the desert. This "creative brotherhood" was responsible for capturing the desert landscape in drawings, paintings and photographs. These works of art are on exhibit today at the McCallum Adobe Museum, the Palm Springs Art Museum as well as galleries and museums all over the country.

The History of Palm Springs

1921_Palm_SpringsPalm Springs and the weather
Palm Springs is immensely driven by its weather. Its famous climate has brought people to the area for well over a hundred years. It started as a perfect place for those suffering from respiratory illnesses, due to the areas dry climate and healing hot springs. And although it is still a great place to help heal the body, it has since largely become a vacationers paradise. The deserts temperatures can range from as hot as 125 degrees in the peak of summer, and as cold as 30 degrees in the winter. It is in most times sheltered from storm systems by the mountain ranges that guard it, the San Jacinto range to the West, the San Gorgonio to the North, and the Santa Rosa to the South. Although severe storms are not the norm in Palm Springs, we do get our

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