Palm Springs’ Longest-Operating Hotel Has Some Stories to Tell
Charlie Chaplin and Anaïs Nin are just two of Casa Cody's famous guests
Palm Springs was still a few years shy of becoming a Hollywood playground when Harriet Cody arrived by wagon alongside her architect husband, Harold Bryant Cody, in 1916. The cousin of Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody and an accomplished horsewoman, she opened the city’s first riding stable in the Tennis Club district, renting and boarding horses for visitors — including movie star cowboys when they filmed in the desert — before building the modest adobe house that would later become Casa Cody.
More akin to the private estate of a bohemian aunt rather than a traditional resort, staying at Casa Cody is like stepping back in time to a lovely bygone era. Framed by the San Jacinto Mountains but within walking distance of the Palm Springs Art Museum and Palm Canyon Drive, its proximity to downtown belies the sense of sanctuary and seclusion. Protected fruit trees and bougainvillea line the walls; the restful grounds gradually reveal themselves once you step through the small but ornate iron gate on Cahuilla Road. The original adobe, California-style ranch house, and a collection of cottages and studios added over the years, hosted opera singers and movie stars — even officers of General Patton when they trained for the front lines of North Africa during World War II — so there’s no shortage of history.
“We’re always looking for properties that are distinctive in terms of architecture or have a cool story to tell, and Casa Cody just fits perfectly,” says Carolyn Schneider, co-founder and president of hospitality management firm Casetta Group. Her affection for the desert enclave meant she jumped at the chance to restore one of its treasured properties when the opportunity arose two years ago. “Casa Cody is beautiful. It just feels like this little secret garden in the middle of Palm Springs, so we were excited to highlight what was already there and pay homage to its amazing story but also bring a new audience to the site,” she says.
Casa Cody’s eclectic accommodations are dotted across four separate parcels but became unified in 1988 and received a Class 1 historic site distinction by the Palm Springs City Council two decades later. Architectural styles range from adobe hacienda and Spanish Colonial revival to a prefabricated cottage initially built to house athletes for the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. Schneider says part of Casa Cody’s charm and enduring spirit is the quirky melange of buildings that all came along at different times. Setting out to preserve as many historical details as possible while unifying the exterior façades and modernizing the guest rooms, Casetta Group worked with Venice Beach architecture and design firm Electric Bowery to transform the hotel with sensitive upgrades and considered new-look interiors.
“Our design and architecture team worked with the Palm Springs Historic Site Preservation Board to get approval on several exterior renovation items such as paint color, light fixtures, and native plantings,” Schneider says. The board looked closely at materials and color palettes to ensure they blended into the desert landscape, would preserve well over time, and aligned with the property’s history. Blue and green jewel-toned Zellige tile features across bathrooms, kitchens, and kitchenettes, while soft furnishings include Otomi-pattern pillows and upholstery in warm corals and olive greens. Pre-existing Saltillo tile was also brought back to life throughout, underscoring the sense of cohesion and authenticity.
Every Casetta Group hotel has a good luck charm, and for Casa Cody, they chose a horseshoe, placed right-side-up on the door frame of every guestroom, which pays homage to the founder’s horse riding roots.
One of a handful of documented adobes in Palm Springs, Schneider says the Adobe House and Harriet’s Cottage are two of the most requested accommodations. “I love the Adobe the most, you just walk in and feel all of the history, but the Olympic Cottage and Winter’s House are great too, and I love the studios around the kidney-shaped pool. I don’t think there’s a bad room here, but something intriguing about the property is you can come back and experience it a little differently every time. It’s not cookie-cutter the way that a lot of hotels are.”
Opera star Lawrence Tibbett’s piano was stored below a specially constructed stage in the Adobe House and brought out for parties and performances. The piano is long gone, but the stage remains. (It’s where brides like to take their dress photos before saying I do.) Around the south lawn (a popular venue for those wedding ceremonies) are the El Rincon apartments, with original units transplanted from the estate of Francis Crocker, the “father” of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
At this side of the property, a new entryway (draped in bougainvillea but currently under construction and slated to open early next year) will incorporate a reception area and gift shop, the latter stocked with locally made items, plus maybe don’t-need-but-want things like Moroccan slippers. In addition, Schneider says family photos from Harriet’s great-granddaughter will feature at the hotel, in another nod to the estate’s heritage and its founder. “We’re very close with Casa Cody’s previous owner, Frank Tysen, who introduced us to Sharon. She’s fabulous and lives in Los Angeles but came to the property and shared all these old photos with us,” she says. “We’re planning to make prints and postcards to sell in the shop next year.”
A marketplace will also feature drinks and grab-and-go-style snacks that can be purchased and enjoyed anywhere. For now, guests can content themselves picking fruit from the citrus trees (grabbers are provided, and juice kits can be requested from the concierge), sit back beside the pool, soak in the views and low-key ambiance at Palm Springs’ oldest operating hotel — undoubtedly one of its most charming.
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