Why 1 New Palm Springs Guidebook was Worth My Time


Sixth in an occasional series about stories and ideas worth telling.

When I visit bookstores, in Palm Springs and elsewhere, I often seek the history sections and look for guidebooks and tour books that show old photos of the area compared to what it looks like today. Then I start reading the text, looking for the interesting stories about the area. If I find them, I keep reading. Most of the time, however, I don’t.

As a result, I never thought I would find myself so enamored with a guidebook that I’d want to work on one. Then I met John Stark.

Stark is a former journalist (a man after my own heart) and tour guide who lives full-time in Palm Springs. He has been giving tours of the area since 2018, and he has found that so many people don’t know or remember so many of the famous people who used to live there — Bing Crosby, William Holden, Carmen Miranda, Cary Grant, Dinah Shore, Eva Gabor, Don Adams, Jack Benny, Liberace, Peter Lawford, even Bob Hope.

So, he decided to create a guidebook. The result is “What to See in Palm Springs: Local Tour Guide Tells All.”

Any worthwhile tour book will function as a decision-making resource. Where to go? What to see, and in what order? 

High-quality tour books also tell stories, about the area’s history, people, architecture, quicks, statues, buildings, and sights. One could go online for all that, but that probably would require saving a great many links; a guide book has it all in your hands.

Stark’s book checks all the boxes of what a guidebook should be, and it’s clearly a labor of love and provides lessons in history, celebrity, and architecture, as well as a practical guide of what to see. And just about everything in the book is accessible and available for free.

He covers the history of the area, including much about the native Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and how the government laid out parcels in a checkerboard format to encourage the Southern Pacific Railroad to come through. He details the houses of the rich and famous that used to call the area their playground and tells how and where to best view them. He discusses the physical geography of the nearby mountains. He interviews some of the architects who made the butterfly roofs so famous and ubiquitous. He highlights the quirky: a rock formation that resembles Abraham Lincoln in repose and a 26-foot statue of Marilyn Monroe in the iconic pose from “The Seven Year Itch.”

He debunks myths: Marilyn Monroe didn’t ever live or step foot in that house on North Rose Avenue. Crosby and Dorothy Lamour (stars in the “Road to” movies) were never neighbors. President Eisenhower didn’t die or get abducted by extraterrestrials. He went to a dentist on a nearby air force base.

He provides additional trip suggestions, called “Detours” in the book, which are related places accessible by car. He verified everything by working with the Palm Springs Historical Society and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians to separate truth from fiction and rumor.

And he profiles lesser-known but equally important people who developed the town and made it what it is. People like Zaddie Bunker, who became a pilot; influential City Councilmembers Charles Farrell and Ruth Hardy; Nellie Coffman, who built the Desert Inn there; and sisters Cornelia and Florilla White, whose testimony helped Rudolph Valentino beat a bigamy charge.

My job was the edit his manuscript, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the stories he included. They met a requirement of what is a compelling story: It puts the reader there. I could imagine the Whites testifying for Valentino. I could see the protesters objecting to the Marilyn Monroe statue.

It was really nice to work on such a project.

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