In the 1950s, Hollywood decamped to the desert – bankrolling the world’s most daring modernist architects to create ever more experimental boltholes. Welcome to a world of Martian landing pads, clifftop Bond lairs and Flintstones sofas
After your name is checked at the electric gate by a security guard, a private road leads you up into the barren, rocky hills above Palm Springs, past high-walled compounds and their secluded, sparkling pools, until you reach a lush green outcrop – where a gigantic concrete bird appears to have come in to land.
Its curving wings billow out above the driveway, before swooping down over a waterfall and flaring out again above a patio, large enough to seat 300 people for dinner. The concrete canopy rises to a great dome, pierced by a central oculus that frames a circle of deep blue California sky. From inside this voluminous tent, it feels like looking up at the gaping mouth of a volcano.
“If the Martians ever come to Earth,” said American comedian Bob Hope, who commissioned this sprawling residence in the 1970s, “at least they will know where to land.”
The 25,000 sq ft home, replete with six bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, two swimming pools and its own putting green, was the most lavish vision ever concocted by architect John Lautner, the supreme conjuror of theatrical hideaways for the stars. Not that Lautner himself ever wanted to be associated with it. He fell out with the client after Hope’s wife, Dolores, decided that his dramatic concrete volumes didn’t quite chime with her own chintzy tastes. She commissioned an interior designer to line the bedrooms with garish floral wallpaper, cover the floor-to-ceiling windows with New England-style wooden shutters, and fit the bathrooms with gold taps and chandeliers. […]