Monday, February 27, 2017

A Trip to the Desert

Palm Springs midcentury modern architecture, which effortlessly blends desert and design, is all the rage. When Hollywood stars were contractually restricted to a residential radius that allowed for spontaneous meetings, Palm Springs, just over 100 miles east, offered both escape and access, drawing A-list residents like Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra.

Today Palm Springs and the surrounding communities offer a cool and classic vacation break. Though many travelers spend weeks reveling in Palm Springs modernism, surrounding communities from soak-centric Desert Hot Springs to Indio, site of the growing Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, expand the appeal of the valley, which, like the best midcentury modernist buildings here, effortlessly blends desert and design.

There are few better ways to get acquainted with the wealth of modernist architecture in Palm Springs than to ride around in the six-passenger minivan of Robert Imber, owner of Palm Springs Modern Tours. Leading three-hour tours ($85 per person), Mr. Imber covers about 35 miles of drive-by gaping at structures from the 1946 Kaufmann House by Richard Neutra to modernist banks and the 1952 Palm Springs City Hall. Tours start at the Palm Springs Visitors Center, in a dramatically cantilevered former gas station designed by Albert Frey, and offer acquaintance with the valley’s hero architects of the period like E. Stewart Williams and William F. Cody, as well as contemporary architects such as Lance O’Donnell and Sean Lockyer. Don’t leave without perusing the $2 vintage postcards of resorts and pools in the visitors’ center.

With a serious concentration of retailers selling curvy period couches, starburst-shaped lighting fixtures and other retro appointments, Palm Springs is a shopping mecca for fans of midcentury interiors. Hit the shop-filled Uptown Design District to indulge in fantasy home-feathering, beginning at Just Modern, dealing big-ticket furniture as well as more souvenir-friendly artwork, design books and dishware. Stop by the sprawling Trina Turk boutique featuring Ms. Turk’s sunny signature women’s wear collection as well as kicky shopping totes, notecards and swimwear. Across the street, Bon Vivant, Retrospect and A La Mod offer wonderfully curated collections of vintage housewares.

Given its legacy of Rat Pack steakhouses, country club surf-and-turf dinners and seniors’ early-bird specials, Palm Springs’ food scene has been conservative compared with its maverick taste in design. But earlier this year, the Italian chef Giacomo Pettinari, who previously earned a Michelin star at Valentino’s in Los Angeles, moved to the desert, attracted by the newly renovated luxury resort L’Horizon with the offer to lead its restaurant, Sopa. Mr. Pettinari’s menu surveys the Mediterranean from Turkish red pepper dip and roasted Spanish octopus starters to squid ink gnocchi and mushroom risotto. All seating is outdoors on a romantic terrace with lights dangling from the trees, ideal for sipping palomas. Dinner is about $100 for two, without drinks.

For after-dinner drinks and a retro spin on the dance floor, stop by Melvyn’s Restaurant. One has only to take in the wall of celebrity photos in the lounge to know Melvyn’s has a long history in Palm Springs. Known as a hangout of Frank Sinatra, the old-school restaurant has a new-school following, especially during the Coachella music festival, when parties frequently buy out the place. In its lounge, a pianist plays American standards and other pop numbers beside the dance floor.

Golf and tennis are perennial draws in the area, and the latter has been accented by the expansion of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in down-valley Indian Wells. Now owned by the Oracle Corporation founder Larry Ellison, who also owns the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament held this year on March 7 to 20, the tennis facility recently added a second stadium court and 16 more acres. The benefit to visitors is that they can play on many of the 29 courts on the club grounds. Keep your eye on the ball while taking in the mountain-ringed vistas (most clinics and drop-in classes start at $25). We especially like the Mountain Course at the La Quinta Resort for great vistas and a challenging round of golf.

Quench your thirst at the one of the best sports bars in the area, The Beer Hunter in La Quinta: good food, cheap drinks and plenty of televisions.

Those looking for an early-morning calorie burn might prefer the uphill battles of Gastin or Araby Trail, but a hike through Tahquitz Canyon (500 West Mesquite Avenue; 760-416-7044; offers a leisurely alternative. An entrance fee of $12.50 gets you access to a 1.8-mile loop and the sights and smells that come with it: desert plants, lizards aplenty and a stunning, 60-foot waterfall. Unless you have an intense interest in beavertail cactus and white sage, skip the two-hour ranger-led tours and explore the trail at your own pace.

The springs beneath Palm Springs and surrounding communities have formed the basis of a spa culture built on warm soaks. Immerse yourself in the palm-shaded hot pools of Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs, which recently switched entirely to solar power. The calming effect of the naturally occurring lithium is said to boost moods within 30 minutes (from $65). The spa’s restaurant Essence has been refashioned in organic materials, down to a bark-shorn tree trunk as a centerpiece. It serves tuna Ni├žoise salads ($15) and wagyu burgers ($15) to a damp, robe-clad clientele at lunch.

Walter and Leonore Annenberg, owners of the 200-acre Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, created a destination for world leaders, where Richard Nixon wrote his State of the Union address in 1974 and President Obama recently held a summit meeting with Southeast Asian leaders. In 2012, the property opened to the public, offering tours of the 1966 home designed by A. Quincy Jones. Ninety-minute tours of the 23-bedroom home cost $40, but the 17,000-square-foot visitors’ center, built in midcentury style, and the gardens are free, worth the trip to walk the shaded labyrinth and spy an impressive array of cactus.

If you live in Southern California or in Sudbury, Ontario Canada, Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley offers a great escape from October to April, May through September, a great escape but the ITS’ HOT!

FARM BUST - Soon there will be fewer than two million farms in America for the first time since pioneers moved westward after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

The problem: A multiyear slump in prices for corn, wheat and other farm commodities brought on by a glut of grain world-wide is ... raising concerns that the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s. ...

Key stat: American farmers' incomes will drop 9% in 2017, ... extending the steepest slide since the Great Depression into a fourth year."

What it means: This is another sign of a weakening America: The U.S. share of the global grain market is less than half what it was in the 1970s. ... U.S. farmers sowed the fewest acres of winter wheat this season in more than a century.

BANK TELLERS THE NEXT BLACKSMITHS - The new robo-banks that have no people: Bank of America is working on voice recognition technology called Erica (as in Bank of Am-ERICA) that will allow people to do virtual banking by voice with a computer, much as people use Amazon Alexa ... or Apple's Siri. Scary.

FORTUNE'S LIST OF THE WORLD'S MOST ADMIRED COMPANIES - Among megabanks, we have the usual suspects with JMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley in the top three slots. For superregional banks, U.S. Bancorp, PNC Financial Services Group and Northern Trust lead the pack, with U.S. Bancorp holding the top slot for the seventh consecutive year.  The full list.

WARREN BUFFETT's annual letter -- always worth a read:

Buffett devoted nearly 5 pages to condemning hedge funds for charging high fees while delivering meager results.

Immigration is good: Buffett said that you don't need to be an economist to understand that immigration has been at the foundation of what makes America great. Buffett never mentions Trump by name.

Stocks will continue to go up: "The years ahead will occasionally deliver major market declines — even panics — that will affect virtually all stocks." But don't panic: "Yes, the build-up of wealth will be interrupted for short periods from time to time. It will not, however, be stopped."

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Birthday wishes and thoughts this week to Drew Barrymore (42) Bel Air, CA.; Tricia Nixon Cox (71) Alexandria, VA.; Kate Mara (34) Brooklyn, NY.; Roger Penske (80) Bloomfield Hills, MI.; Sidney Poitier (90) Beverly Hills, CA.; Bob Schieffer (80) Austin, TX.; Maria Suffredini …famous niece.

COLLEGE CHRONICLES - “One of the greatest moral and economic inequities of our time.”

So said JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon, on the number of young people who graduate without the skills to compete.

That is why JPMorgan Chase invested $75 million in New Skills for Youth, a global initiative designed to create new pathways to opportunity, to “align with the needs of growing industries,” says Dimon, “and give young people a chance to succeed.”

POTUS STRATEGY - The basic mystifying element of this is Donald Trump has an aggressive agenda that includes repealing a health care law whose popularity is growing; he wants to rewrite the tax code, jumpstart infrastructure spending across the country and build a wall on the border with Mexico. He needs support from 218 members of the House, and between 50 and 60 members of the Senate. Several top-level Republican aides in D.C. wondered why they would voluntarily choose to ban outlets, and therefore talk to fewer Americans when they're trying to sell an agenda! Paul Ryan, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi -- the three most recent speakers of the House -- have had their fair share of rough times. But they dutifully come out and talk to the press corps every week -- at least once. At times they don't like it -- Boehner called it "feeding the alligators" -- but they do it.

GOOD READS - "The Librarian of Congress and the Greatness of Humility," by Sarah Larson in The New Yorker: "The values of Dr. Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first person of color in the position, can be seen in every aspect of the institution she runs."

COLLEGE HOCKEY PICK OF THE WEEK – Saturday 3/4, 4:00 PM ET, HGTV:  ECAC Women’s Hockey Tournament - #7 Cornell University Big Red (19-7-5) vs. #5 St. Lawrence University Saints (26-4-4). Saints head coach Chris Wells have the Lady Saints playing at their best, they will need it against Cornell, Saints win 5 – 3.  Season to date (8-8)


(NHL, March 4) Montreal Canadiens (33-21-8) at New York Rangers (40-20-2), Rangers are one of the best now in the NHL, they beat Les Habitants 3 – 2.

(NBA, March 4) Los Angeles Clippers (36-23) at Chicago Bulls (30-29), Bulls are playing better than their record indicates, they win in the Windy City 101 – 90.

Season to Date (25 – 13)

MARKET WEEK - Citigroup (C) is being investigated over its hiring practices, according to a SEC filing by the bank. The probe is focusing on whether preferential treatment was given to foreign government officials.

AT&T (T) has struck a joint venture deal with General Electric (GE) unit Current, aimed at connecting cities to the industrial internet.

Sony (SNE) sales of its virtual reality headset came to just under a million in its first four months on the market. Analysts tell Reuters that pace may be too slow to spur developers to come up with new software for the PlayStation VR.

The bidding for Kate Spade (KATE) is into its second round, with Reuters reporting that Michael Kors (KORS) and Coach (COH) among the companies still in contention to buy the handbag and accessories maker.

Under Armour (UAA) was downgraded to "reduce" from "neutral" at Nomura Securities, with the price target for the athletic apparel maker cut to $16 per share from $27.

DRIVING THE WEEK – Congress is back in town this week with the thorny Obamacare dilemma staring them in the face ... President Trump this morning meets with Nat'l Governors Assoc. members and health industry executives at the White House ... Trump addresses Congress Tuesday night in a defacto State of the Union (which doesn't carry that name the first time a president does it) ... Second estimate of Q4 GDP Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. expected to be revised up to 2.1 percent from 1.9 percent ... Consumer Confidence at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday expected to dip to 111.0 from 111.7 ... ISM Manufacturing Survey at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday expected to be flat at 56.0 ... ISM Non-manufacturing Survey at 10:00 a.m. Thursday expected to dip to 56.4 from 56.6.

Big moment for the Trump presidency Tuesday evening as the bombastic and unconventional commander in chief addresses a joint session of Congress for the first time to lay out his legislative vision for the coming year. For now, Wall Street retains basic confidence that the president can deliver on promises of tax and regulatory reform that have driven stock prices to new records and stretched valuations to their highest point in over a decade.

Next Blog: Jack Ass and Words of the Month.

Until Next Time, Adios

Claremont, California

February 27, 2017

CARTOON OF THE WEEK –“Town Hall Meeting”


  1. - I am sure Robert Imber is a great host for a modernism tour but no one beats Charles Phoenix, no one..,
    - Thank God for Larry Ellison or the BNP would not be the tournament it is today.
    - Sunnylands is a great place to have a latte mid week and take in the beauty of the local mountains.
    - Having lived here a while I know the call of the early bird, "cheap, cheap, cheap". The best early bird is the newly reopened Bernies Lounge and Supper Club, three courses, $28.00. Plus the $50.00 you spend in the lounge listening to live music and drinking.
    - After 30 years I can't believe you are still going to the Beer Hunter...

    Local thoughts

    1. Great comments sir, and yes Beer Hunter is still a good place to go after a round of golf. "Boys" only, not a girl place. RH.