Warm Sands is an older neighborhood, a mix of vintage ranches and glassy contemporaries. There are cactuses and fruit trees, a health food shop, the oldest hardware store in town and -- displayed prominently on one corner lot -- a 5-foot-tall sculpture of a phallus.
Subtlety is not always a hallmark of Palm Springs' gay community. But then, unlike in many towns, it doesn't have to be. As many as half of Palm Springs' 40,000-or-so adult residents are gay; it has become, some locals contend, the gayest city in America.
When Julian arrived in 2006 with his partner, architect Patrick McGrew, he found a community so entrenched that it had its own diversity. Down the street from his house, one boutique was marketed to drag queens and another to "bears," a subculture of gay men who are typically masculine, stocky and hairy.
In Warm Sands alone there were 11 "clothing optional" gay resorts. City Hall paused to care only when tallying up the half-million dollars in occupancy tax revenue the resorts generated each year.
"I fell in love with it immediately," Julian said.
There was one thing missing, Julian decided. He set out to write a book that would do for Palm Springs what "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" did for Savannah, Ga. -- tell its story with an eye toward intrigue and a whiff of scandal.
"It was never meant to be taken personally," Julian said.
But it would be.
The old Hollywood types who declared Palm Springs their "backyard" passed on long ago. Today's glitterati, by and large, are drawn elsewhere in the valley: to Palm Desert's El Paseo, the "Rodeo Drive of the Desert;" to the Bentley dealer in Rancho Mirage.
The increasingly gay community filling the void in Palm Springs represents a remarkable reinvention. Its success has required a complicated two-step.
On one hand, the gay community has been folded into the mainstream through political and commercial success. There have been two consecutive gay mayors; there is a gay majority on the City Council. There are scores of gay-owned businesses, many aimed at older gay couples who have settled here.
On the other hand, the city remains a frisky and playful place. One publication has rated resorts according to their "sexual temperature."
It is a balancing act, conducted with one guiding principle: Do not judge.
"What's the old quote?" asked Scott Brassart, 42, a local writer and former editor at Alyson Books, which publishes works of interest to the gay community. " 'I don't care what you do; just don't do it in the street and frighten the horses.' That's the attitude here."
Robert julian had been many things over the course of his life: Realtor, writer, stage actor. By 2006, after 31 years in San Francisco, he was eager for a fresh start. The desert, he knew, was a fine place for reinvention.
"There was a certain serenity to it," said Julian, who was born Robert Stone but has adopted his middle name as his last.
He dived in, working tirelessly to get a 16-foot-high, looping modern sculpture called "Jungle Red" installed at the entrance to Warm Sands -- a piece of roadway that previously, he said, "had a certain prison yard je ne sais quoi."
Julian was named to the city's public art commission. He was cast in one-act plays that were the inaugural performances at the Thorny Theater, a gay theater. He became a junior celebrity; a few people even recognized him in the grocery store.