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Palm Springs Retro The New Ingleside Inn
by Carolyn Proctor

Gazing out through covered arches to the shrubbery and swimming pool beyond, I sipped my iced tea and listened to Mel Haber talk about one of his favorite subjects, Palm Springs' Ingleside Inn.

"When I arrived here there was an ambiance about this place. What I did was, I didn't destroy it. I kept it, maintained it. But it was already here."

The Ingleside Inn has been Haber's life since he discovered the place in 1975. He was instantly charmed by the history of the secluded estate, located just one block from the tree-lined avenues of Palm Springs.

"I don't have a clue what I'm doing. I put my foot in my mouth and somehow it works out." Haber adds that he doesn't think he could repeat his success building the Ingleside Inn in today's market.

"A Frenchman and his wife who stayed here said they've traveled millions of miles and this was the best place they'd ever been," he says with a disarming smile. "I don't have a clue why he would say that."

'Haber's modesty belies his accomplishment. Some of the things hes "maintained" over the years include orchid trees and 70-year-old vines. The latticed ceiling over our heads is laced with pothos vines.

The tangled trunk of a mesquite tree dominating the grassy front yard looks like it could have been planted by the Humphrey Birge family, who built the original Spanish-style estate at the foot of Mt. San Jacinto in 1925. The Birges owned the Pierce Arrow Motor Company. Haber says they traveled a lot and lovingly filled their home with antiques and priceless furniture from around the world.

Ten years later, at the demise of the Birge matriarch, the property was sold to Ruth Hardy, a lady from Indiana who turned the estate into a little hotel just for the "invited." Operating it as a private club and closing six months of the year, she held high standards for both her establishment and her guests. If you were invited by one of the guests, you had to first obtain Mrs. Hardy's approval.

Thus began the veritable "Who's Who" of show business, finance, and political guests. Haber says Ruth Hardy also left her mark on Palm Springs as a City Councilwoman, responsible for lighting the trees on Palm Canyon Drive, and a park in town was named after her.

"She passed on in 1965. When I discovered it, the property was owned by a former guest from a prominent San Francisco banking family." Haber, a New York businessman at the time, discovered the Inn during a stroll around town.

After purchasing The Ingleside Inn, Haber completely renovated the entire property, but not without consulting the people who already worked there. "I put great value on objectivity," Haber explains. "I listened to everybody who had anything to say, because I had no knowledge."

Haber cared as much about the people as the place. Many employees stayed on "because of the environment and working conditions."

Last fall (2003) saw the completion of a $400,000 renovation that included new furnishings, wall treatments, bathroom updates and many additions. "It's basically a new look for the new season," says Haber.

Sweeping views of Mt. San Jacinto and the Santa Rosa Mountains and the surrounding desert landscape notwithstanding, The Ingleside Inn provides a tranquil spot to relax or explore Palm Springs. While the town has morphed into a sophisticated tourist destination since Hollywood discovered it in the 1930s, the quaint charm of a "village" is still intact. Staying at the Ingleside Inn is like staying at a friend's country estate.

The landscaping on the two and a half acres of manicured grounds is old and lush in a way that you won't find in a new development. The main house (it's so comfortable, it's hard to think of as an inn) sits in a garden setting behind wrought-iron gates. The narrow front driveway often hosts a limousine, a Rolls, or a Bentley. Many of the antiques that decorate the thirty suites, mini suites, and villas came with the property when Haber purchased it years ago.

We're staying in the Lily Pons room, so named because the diva came to visit for a weekend and stayed on for 13 years. This Louis XV room in pale gold has a king-size bed and French doors leading to a patio edging a semi-private grassy yard. As I settle in, I notice a faint, pleasant aroma of wood smoke from past fires on crisp desert evenings in the wood-burning fireplace. Our bags are stored in two separate walk-in closets, where I imagine Lily Pons' party dresses lined up on hangers. An interesting (and practical) design touch is that in the bathroom green towels are provided with a note that they can be used when removing makeup.

Leaving our room to explore the nooks and crannies of the grounds, I notice a woman reclining in a lawn swing, reading a book. Facing the fountain in the center of the garden, she's the epitome of relaxation.

The pool area is surrounded by lawn, and an outdoor ceramic bar provides self service ice tea and ice water all day. It all looks so unlike any hotel pool area I've ever visited that I feel like I'm really in the host's back yard.

Haber isn't shy about admitting, "I don't like to travel." He sees the questioning look on my face and adds, "I'm a creature of comfort. Give me a good book and let me lay by the pool."

This leads to a book discussion. Haber says he reads only non-fiction, typically biographies. Over the years, he says, "Palm Springs became the literary capital of the world." He names two major writers who live here: Herman Wouk and Sydney Sheldon.


Carolyn Proctor, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent. Join the Travel Writers Network in the logo at