The Ace Hotel & Swim Club, in Palm Springs, represents an exponential leap forward for Ace. In addition to its 180 rooms, the hotel is an expansive, self-contained, five-acre resort, the kind of carefree, slightly enchanted place where you could easily while away several indolent days without ever leaving the property.
“For what you pay, you get a lot,” Calderwood says. “It’s a rich experience.”
Unless you want a suite or a room with a private patio, what you pay is $89. And this time around you have your own bathroom.
The first indication that the Ace Palm Springs is no longer a generic, garden-variety motor inn is at check-in, where guests are greeted with a 100-square-foot diorama installed in the soffit above the front desk. Part Salvador Dalí, part Robert Rauschenberg, the diorama is the handiwork of California artists Alice Lodge and Clare Crespo, who were commissioned by Commune to create the piece, called Bower Birds. “We decided to do a sort of traditional-looking diorama, like you might see at a small nature center somewhere, with taxidermy and plants. But, of course, we let it get a bit surreal,” Alonso says. “The coyote is wearing necklaces, the chipmunks are decorating their den with blue objects they have found in the sand, and a flock of monarch butterflies has mysteriously descended on a lavender cactus. I love the idea that when people are not around, animals might be up to some beautiful and magical stunts.”
For the gimlet-eyed, there are additional clues to alert you to the fact that things have radically changed down at the old Westward Ho/Howard Johnson on East Palm Canyon Drive. In lieu of curtains or solar shades for the oversize plate-glass windows in the lobby, for example, Commune tapped artist Michael Schmidt to create a massive macramé installation. Nearby, adjacent to the front desk, there is an ATM and a period-perfect photo booth where, for $3, you can get four quickie self-portraits.
If art and craft are conspicuous in the public spaces, Commune and Ace also did not scrimp on the aesthetic amenities when it came to the rooms, which they all but gutted.
To help support the “urban camping” conceit, two of the rooms’ four walls are hung, floor to ceiling, with loose canvas, which gives the spaces a soft, rippling, tent-like quality. The other two walls are covered with white slatted-wood panels that come complete with S-hooks and clips for hanging clothes and art. For the windows and for the French doors that lead out to the walled-in patios on many of the ground-floor rooms, there is a layer of mosquito netting to blunt the light and, over that, a second layer of canvas to completely block it out. The bedcovers are also canvas, punched up a bit with silk-screened abstract graphics by Free City.
The bedside tables are the work of sculptor and furniture maker Alma Allen, who created a stumplike wooden cylinder for the telephone on one side and a low rectangular four-legged table on the other for a Revlon-red Music Hall turntable and a black amplifier-receiver, complete with five vintage vinyl records handpicked by Ace.
Rather than buy conventional reading lamps, Commune commissioned Los Angeles artist Robert Lewis to design what he calls “love lights,” stubby, baton-like cylindrical white metal fixtures with a high-watt white reading light on one end and a low-watt red bulb on the other end for…mood. In the spirit of the red-bulb end of the mood-enhancing lamps, each room comes complete with a round tin—marked xxx—containing two condoms.
In addition to doubling the size of the existing swimming pool, which they enveloped with rope-and-metal canopied chaise longues, Commune added a second pool and a new 3,000-square-foot building for special events, which features monumental steel-and-glass doors that retract into the roofline to blur the distinction, in the venerable tradition of southern California, between inside and outside. They also erected a long arbor lined with hammocks for taking in the shade, and built a new retail store and pool kiosk that form the base for a “stargazing deck,” complete with lounge chairs.
According to Calderwood, the Ace spa is less about self-indulgence and being pampered, and more about a “holistic” approach to “health and well-being.” To help communicate the difference, Com- mune erected three round canvas Mongolian yurts, with insulated, batik-lined interior walls, for massages. Adjacent to the yurts, a concrete-block building contains a steam room and sauna, in addition to treatment rooms. The spa building also houses a fully equipped gym, which is open 24 hours a day.
Next to the restaurant, just off the lobby, is a well preserved memento of things past: an in-house watering hole called the Amigo Room. It’s a cavelike black-brick bar with upholstered booths, a cork-tiled floor, and Mexican pesos embedded in the transparent tabletops.
Considering what they went through to get their jobs, it was surely welcome news to the Ace staff that the hotel’s “uniforms” are anything but standard issue. Calderwood contacted Levi’s and made a deal for three models of jeans—employees have their pick—and then he hit American Rag and Jet Rag in Los Angeles, buying up scores of vintage cowboy shirts to complete the Ace look.