For Palm Springs, Dream Comes True

Times Staff Writer

"No boring ribbon cutting." That's the way Mayor Frank Bogert of Palm Springs visualized the scheduled opening last week of his city's new convention center--a longtime dream finally realized.

A Dixieland band was to lead the public into the 100,000-square-foot building during the afternoon of New Year's Eve, and then--that night--the place was to really rock with 11 signed acts from the '60s that were videotaped for worldwide TV release this year.

Among the acts were some names that will really jog the old memory: Jan and Dean, the Mamas and the Papas, the Grassroots, Tommy James and the Sondells, Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits, Ray Peterson, Terry Stafford, Sonny Bono.

Remember Chastity, Sonny's and Cher's daughter, the toddler who appeared briefly from time to time on her parents' TV show in the '70s? Now 18, she was to make her "first concert appearance" at the convention center opening. (Cher is expected to perform in February at a concert at the Marquis Hotel in Palm Springs to benefit ex-hubby Sonny's bid for mayor.)

The convention center is part of a project that also includes the 410-room Wyndham Hotel, completed in November. The center and the hotel were built on 40 acres being leased from a group of American Indians.

The complicated public/private financing package required the help of 40 lawyers from 18 law firms, an act of Congress to allow syndication of the project into 11 limited partnerships, increase in the city's transient occupancy tax from 7% to 9% and the signing of hundreds of documents.

The city is responsible for repaying the $35-million debt on the convention center, and the three other development partners--G&H; Interests of Houston, the Shale Energy Corp. of America of Denver and the Trammell Crow Co. of Dallas--must repay the $68.2 million in hotel bonds.

The hotel will officially open, along with another gala at the convention center, on Feb. 20, about a month before the California Democratic Convention there.

Still on Palm Springs . . . actor Ralph Bellamy, 83, reminisced the other day about the beginnings of the landmark Racquet Club, which he founded in the '30s with the late actor, Charles Farrell.

For years, Bellamy said, "all the newspapers said that a group of us bought the property, built the club and charged $1 to play tennis."

Instead, he and Farrell, who were each renting houses in Palm Springs, bought the property in 1932, he recalled, and had two tennis courts and a fence built. They then formed a club to help recover some of the costs.

They sent notices to 162 Hollywood friends, announcing the Racquet Club's opening with memberships available at $50 for singles, $75 for families, and $9 in monthly dues. The opening date came and went. "And not one of our 162 friends had the good grace to even acknowledge our notice."

So, he and Farrell sent another notice to the same friends saying that membership fees would go up in a month by $25. They got four members. Each succeeding 15 days, the fees were raised another $25, he said. "And when the fees got to $650, we had a waiting list."

The club became famous as a watering hole to the stars, but the two actors didn't envision that when they bought the property. They purchased the site strictly as an investment, paying $3,500 for 53 acres. They sold 40 of the acres almost immediately for $7,000!

Soon after starting the club, Farrell left Bellamy to run it by himself for a couple of years, and when Farrell returned, Bellamy got out of the business.

"I was not a born club manager," Bellamy said. "When Charlie came back, I told him that he had to let me out (of the club)." Farrell owned and ran the club for years before selling it.

"It's been sold four times since its beginning," Bellamy recalled. The current owner, M. Larry Lawrence (who also owns the Hotel del Coronado, which will mark its 100th anniversary on Feb. 19), just completed renovating the dining and meeting rooms, tennis courts and parking lot.

The club, now a hotel, has 138 suites that rent nightly from $139 to $525 (for three bedrooms, three baths and a private pool).

New Orleans is the latest city to get a Hard Rock Cafe, says Beverly Hills broker Stephen Shapiro of Stan Herman & Associates, who got back a few days ago from the cafe's opening in the French Quarter.

"I was there with Peter Morton (the cafe chain's owner) and Bob Wachs, Eddie Murphy's manager," Shapiro said.

Old-time rock 'n roller Roy Orbison--who has been enjoying a comeback--performed at the opening for 1,200 people, who paid $125 each to attend. Morton, who now has seven Hard Rocks (including the one in West Hollywood), charges for his opening bashes, then donates what he gets to charity, said Shapiro. This time it went to the Louisiana Children's Museum.

Speaking of Shapiro, he notes that the Benedict Canyon house bought by attorney David Rudich was most recently his. Actress Brenda Vaccaro owned it before Shapiro, who says he spent $350,000 in remodeling.

It sold for close to its $1.3-million asking price, Rudich said earlier.

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