By Denise Ortuno Neil
They were a winning combination. Ernie Dunlevie was a successful Palm Springs real estate business man, and Ray Ryan was an oilman, developer and well known gambler, and also known as Mr. Palm Springs. Together, they embraced a vision to take a vast, desolate, desert plain and turn it into a glamorous country club. They must have seen the future of the Coachella Valley, and decided to gamble on it.
It was 1958, and Ryan had long since re-opened, along with other investors, the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs. Bringing it back to life after it was used as a P.O.W. camp during WWII. He had already rolled the dice on east valley developments such as the North Shore Yacht Club in Salton Sea. So when Dunlevie approached Ryan about his dream to build a development between Hwy 111 and Highway 99 (what is now the 10 Fwy), Ryan was all in. Their focused attention was on the area that we all know as Bermuda Dunes.
Bermuda Dunes, was formally called Myoma, a name that is still carried on by the areas water company. The unincorporated area is residentially concentrated, but does have a mixture of zoning, not really conforming to other desert cities cookie cutter developments. Large estates (some with horses) are mixed with single family homes, and of course, Bermuda Dunes Country Club. For neighborhood drinking and dining, there is Murphs Gaslight. The area even has its own well trafficked airport, catering to private jet setters, and hobby aviators.
That is Bermuda Dunes today, imagining what it must have been like when Dunlevie and Ryan delved into it, is to envision a blank slate of desert dunes that obviously to Dunlevie and Ryan, had extraordinary potential. Without their vision, Bermuda Dunes would be very different indeed, or possibly not at all.
The duo started development on Bermuda Dunes Country in early 1958. The impetus of their foresight came when they had recognized that the golf facilities in Palm Springs were less than adequate to meet the demands of not only residents, but vacationers as well. The development was an ambitious one, and initially had much more than just the country club in mind. Promotional maps indicate that the development intended to take over almost all of what Bermuda Dunes is today, with a proposed 200 room hotel that was to be named the “Star of the Desert”, slated to be built inside the country club by an interested syndicate. The luxury hotel had a price tag of $4,500,000, but never came to fruition.
However, the Bermuda Dunes Country Club, as well as the Bermuda Dunes Airport and adjacent Racquet Club (now Murphs Gaslight) were completed and greeted with rave reviews.
Built on an expansive 1000 acres, Bermuda Dunes Country Club had started with 11 miles of streets, 14 miles of water mains, and a fresh water lake nourished by a 75 foot high waterfall. The 160 acre, 18 hole golf course was designed by William F. Bell, and was considered one of the largest courses in Southern California at the time. It was well received by golfers and praised for its rolling sand dune contours and palm-lined course, which was in stark contrast from the flat courses that were the norm in California and Arizona deserts. With its high undulating dips, the course had players reminiscing about courses on the Monterey Peninsula and the British Isles. The course would go on to serve in 50 Bob Hope Classic Tournaments.
The “Top O’ the Dunes” clubhouse was designed by architect Chris Choate and built by builders Jerry Apelby and Virgil Garland, atop a 60 foot high sand dune at a cost of $300,000 overlooking the lake. The clubhouse had commanding views and was set to serve as the social center for all of the Coachella Valley.
Home sites within the club were initially clustered around the golf course to take advantage of the stunning views. The luxury home sites ranged in size from 10,000 sq. ft. up to ½ acre lots. Fairway sites started at $9,000 and view sites at $3,150. In the first year, the club had almost $4,000,000 in home site sales. It was the new and fashionable place to live in the desert.
The Bermuda Dunes Country Club had a who’s who list of celebrity residents, including Clark Cable and his wife Kay Williams, Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Cary Grant and William Holden, Patti Page, plus many more.
Dunlevie and Ryan created many developments in their time here in the Coachella Valley. They gambled on the desert sand, and had a vision that has secured their legacy. With their dedication to their imagination, Bermuda Dunes Country Club and the city that bears its name continues to thrive.
Photo credit to cardcow.com