February 25, 2024

Photo Essay: A Celebrity Estate for the Ages, the Kirk Douglas Residence in Palm Springs

Late actor Kirk Douglas hadn't lived in his Palm Springs estate at 515 Via Lola since 1999...

Poster courtesy of SenseiAlan via Flickr (CC by 2.0 DEED)

...but after he spent 40 years' worth of vacations there, it will forever be known as the "Kirk Douglas Residence." 

This year, I got to visit the Donald Wexler-designed Desert Modernist home in the Old Las Palmas (formerly Las Palmas Estates) neighborhood of Palm Springs—on "Millionaires Row"—courtesy of a tour hosted by US Modernist during its "Modapalooza" event. 

The home's famous Palm Springs neighbors include the Dinah Shore house on Hermosa Place (whose backyard abuts the former Douglas tennis court), the Donna Reed estate on Cam Mirasol, Liberace's former house on North Kaweah Road, and the former "Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway" on Ladera Circle.

Some changes to the Douglases' place were made while Kirk and Anne were living there (namely, in 1964 and 1975, by the architectural team of Wexler Harrison & Morrison)—and, of course, after they moved out, like opening up the central living room area.

But their presence can still be felt, thanks to some photographs and pieces of ephemera... a circa 2019 letter from Kirk to current owners Michael Budman and his wife, architect Diane Bald, telling them he hoped they enjoyed the house and what a wonderful time he and Anne had had there.
Completed in 1954 (although the historic plaque says 1953), the house can best be described as post and beam ranch style, with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors...

...a combination wet bar/butler's pantry (also opened up, with a side wall removed)...

...and mid-century decorative touches and built-ins (many of which are not original).

The current owners created a pass-through, made of reeded glass with vertical striping—a new addition to connect the kitchen with the dining banquette, but a feature that would've commonly been found in homes of the 1950s.

The terrazzo floors throughout the home are a new addition, too...

...and while the kitchen features updated countertops and appliances and custom, colorblock cabinets, it retains the footprint from Anne's 1976 redesign of it
The home has a total of five en-suite bedrooms, anchored by "Kirk's Suite"...

...which used to be wallpapered with blue denim fabric to match the curtains. 

There are also eight bathrooms, including some updates to Kirk's (like creating a more al fresco experience, with access to an outdoor patio)... well as to Anne's, whose privacy frosting on the windows was added later.

The Martinique-style banana leaf wallpaper (I can't tell if it's actually Martinique or a copycat) in one of the guest bathrooms isn't from the Kirk Douglas era... 

...but there are many wallpapers throughout that are...

...and you can tell by the gentle aging. 

There are so many famous guests who stayed at the Kirk Douglas Residence over the years, including famously Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. 
But Kirk and Anne also brought up their sons, Peter (born 1955) and Eric (born 1958), while vacationing here. Kirk's famous son Michael Douglas was born in New Jersey in 1944—and spent much of his time on the East Coast, although he would occasionally come to visit his father and stepmother here (until his own career really began to take off).

Michael didn't want to buy his father's house when it come up for sale...

...but he reportedly gave the current owners his blessing to purchase it.  

Of course, any good Palm Springs modernist dwelling needs to have some outdoor space... those patios that were added to the bedrooms. 

This one also has an indoor-outdoor fireplace made of natural stone... to those sliding glass doors, which let plenty of light into the living and dining areas.

An overhang and outdoor bar were added sometime later... was the K-shaped saltwater pool, which was installed not for Kirk, but when the home's builder and second owner, Bob Higgins, was living there in the mid-1950s.

Embed from Getty Images

You can see it in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, in which it played Tiffany Case's pool at her Las Vegas abode (above).

In 1976, a tennis pavilion was erected... home to the "Spartacus Room"... 

...which is wallpapered in movie posters from Kirk Douglas's starring roles, including, of course, Spartacus... well as My Dear Secretary (1948), Ulysses (1954), Paths of Glory (1957), Last Train From Gun Hill (1959), The Devil's Disciple (1959), Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Holocaust 2000 (1977), Tough Guys (1986), and many many others.

And off to the side, there's a small kitchenette—left basically untouched—with family photos and a plaque commemorating some of the Douglases' famous guests, who included other Hollywood elites like Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Warren Beatty, and Natalie Wood as well as political figures like Bobby Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, and Ladybird Johnson.

Kirk Douglas died at the age of 103 in 2020. He was the last of the living actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood. The New York Times called him "one of the last surviving movie stars from Hollywood's golden age."

His wife Anne passed at the age of 102 just a little over a year later, in 2021.

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