F. Scott Fitzgerald famously remarked that “there are no second acts in American lives,” but the remaking of the Bob Hope house in Palm Springs might be considered an exception to that rule.
Thanks to the drive and deep pockets of billionaire investor Ron Burkle, the restoration of the 24,000-square-foot home — in a manner consistent with the original design of architect John Lautner — is almost finished. The results of the 2 ½-year project are eagerly awaited by architecture buffs, Lautner groupies and residents of the Coachella Valley.
Burkle — who made his first fortune as a supermarket magnate and owns a number of historically important houses — is famously private. This story — like the restoration of the house — is mostly the product of patience and persistence.
As a longtime journalist based in Los Angeles, I frequently covered fundraisers and charity events at Burkle’s Greenacres mansion, a Beverly Hills estate designed for silent film star Harold Lloyd. In 2016, when I heard that the billionaire had purchased the desert home built for Dolores and Bob Hope, I immediately called his office.
One of his top aides told me that Burkle planned to remake the interior of the home completely — but it would take a while. Over the next three years, I stayed in touch with Burkle’s staff and researched the home’s history.
Finally last fall, they said yes to the story, giving the Los Angeles Times the first look at the house. The next step? A meeting with Hope house project manager Tim Gleason and the architect on the renovation, Helena Arahuete.
Arahuete was the site architect at the Palm Springs house during its construction in the 1970s, and she worked as a top architect in Lautner’s office for 23 years. After Lautner’s death in 1994, Arahuete went on to build her own international reputation as an “organic modern” architect.
A few weeks later, I met with Arahuete at her Los Angeles office, where we spent several hours talking about Lautner’s original vision and his disappointment over how the project turned out when it was finished in 1980. Dolores Hope wanted a pink roof on the house and brought in a Beverly Hills society designer to do the interiors. It was not the “organic modern” residence Lautner had envisioned.
I spent much of the winter visiting the Hope house, by then a bustling construction site. Arahuete explained all the plans, as workers installed quartzite on the floors and mahogany on the walls.
Intrusive landscaping was removed and indoor-outdoor spaces were emphasized as the incredible views of the surrounding desert and mountains became a critical part of the home’s interior design.
As construction was wrapping up, I managed an invitation to a party at another one of Burkle’s properties, the members-only Soho house in West Hollywood. Burkle seldom talks to the media, but that night he was in his element, dressed in his casual uniform — black jacket and polo shirt over jeans and Converse trainers. He was holding court, surrounded by admiring attendees of Michael Milken’s annual Global Conference.
I worked my way into the group, and for the first time in all the years of covering Burkle, we had a lengthy conversation about his love for historic architecture. It clearly is his passion, and one of the things that emerged from our conversation was his profound respect for Arahuete.
Burkle said he wanted Helena, as he calls her, to be happy with the result. Mission accomplished.