WILLIAM DAILEY, BOOKS, & THE HACIENDA HOT SPRINGS
I was long fascinated with the desert and when I could find time from running my bookshop in Los Angeles I loved to go Joshua Tree to hike and meditate. Often on the way back I would stop in Desert Hot Springs for a soak. Long a lover of mineral springs, I found the waters so wonderful that I began to weekend at DHS hotels.
After a few years I thought, in my impractical way, that I am spending so much time here I might as well buy a hotel. I haphazardly began to look about, but the only one I liked wasn’t for sale. The Hacienda, first titled the Mecca, and later the Royal Palms Inn, drew me with its huge, old mesquite tree and rambling grounds. I met the wonderful owners and after each visit I would casually ask Dave and Mary to “Let me know if you ever want to sell this place.” One day in the fall of 2003 they called to say they wanted to move and needed an answer in just a few days. I immediately agreed, without giving much thought to the complexities of running a hotel, let alone the remodeling that would be necessary. I was guided entirely by romantic ideas of the pleasures of a small resort – ideas formed in my head by childhood stays at dude ranches and sunny lodges, not to mention all of the images from books that were packed in my head of the peaceful simplicity and expansive elegance of resort life.
Also, I had begun to read books on the California deserts which inspired a new regard for the still beauty and deep history of the land. In particular I adored California Desert Trails of 1919 in which J. Smeaton Chase made long solitary horseback rides through Desert Hot Springs, then known only for a couple of palm oases and a few solitary settlers, up through Morongo, across the Joshua Tree expanse, down to the Salton Sea, and back to his base in Palm Springs. His digressions on nature and meditations on the solemn beauty of the desert are awesome. Our Araby, his charming little book on Palm Springs, gives a picture of the people and history of the early days of the resort village. Earlier, George Wharton James also traveled the region and his Wonders of the Colorado Desert, 1906, describes in remarkable detail the history, inhabitants, plant and animal life of the Southern California deserts.
These desert classics led to dozens of other books which led me to the idea of making a collection on the southern California Deserts. An annotated list of some 1000 books is on the Hacienda website under the Desert page. Now every room at the hotel has a case of books, stacks of old Arizona Highways, and Desert Magazines. In the lounge there is also a cabinet for the displays of desert history. The last show was of old postcards of Desert Hot Springs “Spa-tels” from the 1940s and ‘50s to accompany a talk I gave to the Desert Hot Springs Historical Society on collecting local ephemera.
After two long years of remodeling, the romantic idea has now become an ongoing business. Of course nothing is ever as easy as we imagine, and perhaps there is more business than romance, but it has a been delightful education.
In March of 2007 I decided to close my rare book store on Melrose where we had been for 25 years. I will continue to deal in books privately but can now look forward to spending more time in the desert I have come to love.
Exhibition of Desert Hot Springs "Spa-Tel" postcards from the 1950s