Pack a Bag: The Monkey Tree Hotel, Part I

Jamie and I took a friendship roadtrip from southern California destinations up to Napa. We went sideways, you could say. Our first stop on our friendship roadtrip?

A bucket list destination for both Jamie and I has always been Palm Springs. Fun fact: Jamie and I met in graduate school, where we were both at the Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. While he was in the architecture and I was in the preservation and real estate development programs, it took a second for our paths to cross but thanks to my social nature, it would not be soon before long.

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It was fate that brought us to the Monkey Tree Hotel, a sixteen guestroom boutique hotel established in 1960 and designed by the father of desert modernism, Albert Frey. After checking in I read about the hotel’s history, which included a brief bio of the owners. I was so jazzed to learn that the wife of the husband-wife ownership team also went to school for architecture and worked for Gensler. The grind and the monotony of the eight-to-five (but realistically twelve hour days) that are of the norm to the fields of architecture and finance, drove Kathy and her husband Gary to leave their New York City routines for a change of pace in Palm Springs, and purchased the Monkey Tree Hotel in 2015.

Kathy’s background in architecture informed their decision to procure the Monkey Tree Hotel but it was the location and history of the hotel that directed the renovation; as a preservationist with a pragmatic point of view, I appreciate the hospitality model to preservation but particularly their approach that bypassed purchasing sixteen sets of West Elm furniture in favor of curating pieces that are true to the OG era and salvaging and refurbishing pieces that are original to the property. For instance, the vivid yellow lounge furniture at the pool and courtyard are original Brown Jordan pieces circa the 1970s era of the hotel.

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Aside from authentically furnishing the hotel, the time constraints were the biggest challenge in renovating the hotel. The Monkey Tree Hotel has a storied timeline which includes rebranding in the 1980s and 1990s to the Legacy Hotel and the Terra Cotta respectively. The latter of which was a – are you sitting down? – nudist resort! Kathy and Gary officially purchased the property in December 2015, effectively establishing it as a clothing mandatory establishment, and concluded renovation in February 2016, just in time for a soft opening for Palm Springs Modernism Week.

Kathy and Gary acted as the general contractor on the project, but the majority of the renovation was cosmetic: paint, landscape, FF&E (furniture for the uninitiated to the built environment), commercial kitchen, and a Scandinavian spa. The FF&E included architecture books in the breakfast nook bookcase which largely came from that of Kathy’s collection from graduate school. I was confident that the Monkey Tree Hotel was the real deal upon check in, but it was when I spotted two books that were required reading for the History of Modern Architecture at the University of Maryland as taught by Dr. Richard Etlin, that cemented the Monkey Tree Hotel as my go-to as my Palm Springs accommodations going forward.

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Sincerest thanks to the Monkey Tree Hotel for sponsoring our stay.

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