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11 Oct 2013

Our Gay Stories: The LGBT History of Palm Springs Is the Focus of a New Tour

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Two of Liberace's former homes, including this one on Kaweah Road, are stops on Desert Adventures' Gay Icons of Palm Springs Tour Two of Liberace's former homes, including this one on Kaweah Road, are stops on Desert Adventures' Gay Icons of Palm Springs Tour Brian Blueskye

Palm Springs is known for its large, vibrant gay population—and, therefore, for gay tourism as well.

Enter Desert Adventures, and its new Gay Icons of Palm Springs Tour.

Headquartered in Palm Desert, Desert Adventures offers a variety of local Jeep tours to the San Andreas Fault, Joshua Tree and the Indian Canyons. One of Desert Adventures’ guides, Bob Gross of Rancho Mirage, had the idea for the new tour.

“The company was looking to expand our outreach and make sure both locals and visitors knew our tours were fun and available to be led by gay guides like myself or another guide, Carlos Salas,” said Gross, who joined the company about two years ago after retiring from AT&T. “As for the Icons Tour, specifically, things get kind of slow for us during the summer due to the heat, so I went to my boss and said I'd like to create a city tour that included some of the rich gay history of the city, from its earliest days right through the present, including some of the famous gay and lesbian residents and icons of the community who lived here. He said, ‘Have at it,’ so I spent July and August doing the research and creating a tour that I hope will be interesting and fun.”

The first stop is the site where Lois Kellogg, a Chicago socialite rumored to be a lesbian, arrived in Palm Springs in 1914 or so and built a large home that once occupied an area which now includes a Rite Aid store. The home had a Moroccan-Persian-style exterior and a large swimming pool, as well as a stable and guest quarters. That particular block of Palm Canyon Drive at the end of the downtown strip now looks completely different, and one has to wonder what the large home would have looked like there.

The tour also goes through the Warm Sands area. It was a family-friendly area during the ’50s and ’60s, before disintegrating into a high-crime area in the 1970s, and then being revived as a gay-resort area. Howard Hughes once owned El Mirasol Villas; it later became what’s believed to be Palm Springs’ first gay resort, in 1976. Close by is the Vista Grande—the first clothing-optional gay resort, which opened in 1984.

The tour stops at two of the homes that Liberace owned. The home on Kaweah Road has a sign that reads “Plazza de Liberace.” A miniature piano and piano stool serves as the mailbox for the home. Another former home on Belardo Road, where Liberace died in 1987, is currently being renovated to restore it to the state it was in when Liberace purchased it. It was said during the tour that Liberace had a large candelabra on the home, as well as a gate with a big “L” and a music note on it. While those markings are gone, and the home currently is a construction zone, it’s located behind Our Lady of Solitude, the church that was shown in the funeral scene in Behind the Candelabra.

The Gay Icons of Palm Springs Tour is available through Desert Adventures for $59 and runs about 90 minutes. For tour reservations or questions, call 760-324-5337 or visit www.red-jeep.com.

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