Former hotel with a fire-breathing dragon now an Indian Wells landmark

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For 35 years before being structurally redesigned with a Tuscan Mediterranean theme, the Miramonte Resort & Spa had an Asian design and was known as the Erawan Garden Hotel.

One of its best-known features was a fire-breathing dragon sculpture that sometimes brought firefighters out when the flame got too big.

The luxury hotel officially opened on December 21, 1962, when the city was still about six years away from incorporation.

The hotel paid homage to Thai architecture, with sloping roofs inspired by Thai temples and guest rooms all decorated in an Asian theme. It is named after the famous Erawan Hotel in Bangkok, one of the first modern hotels in Thailand, built to accommodate the expansion of international air travel.

The hotel on the southwest corner of Highway 111 and Indian Wells Lane was dedicated as the city’s fifth historic landmark on April 27 by the Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation.

Adele Ruxton of the Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation presents a plaque to Robert Hatfield of Miramonte Indian Wells Resort & Spa honoring the former site of the Erawan Garden Hotel as a historic landmark in Indian Wells, Calif., Wednesday, April 27 2022.

The Erawan Garden Hotel in Indian Wells was built for approximately $3 million and designed by Willard C. Kruger of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who traveled with hotel company president Thomas McMillan to Bangkok “to stay and study” this hotel. features.

The hotel has attracted celebrities such as Desi Arnaz, Bob and Dolores Hope, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, Arnold Palmer, Steve Garvey and Greer Garson, to name a few.

The Erawan opened in Indian Wells in December 1962, with an event that drew “newly dressed” guests, according to the Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation.

In 1996, the Erawan was closed after it was taken over by Marcus Hotels & Resorts. It reopened a year later as Miramonte Resort & Spa. It has changed owners several times over the years, with property development and management company Lowe buying the Miramonte out of foreclosure in 2020. Lowe is now in the final stages of an estimated $18 million refresh.

A place to call home

Many people with personal memories of the Erawan attended the grand opening, including the son of John Garvin, executive vice president and general manager of the hotel when it opened until around 1966.

A May 1965 newspaper clipping showing former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, left, with John Garvin, general manager of the Erawan Garden Hotel.  Indian Wells was not yet incorporated and was often called "Palm desert."

Garvin, who has spent much of his life in the hotel business, moved his family from Los Angeles to Indian Wells around 1961 when McMillan asked him to join the Erawans, his son Roger Garvin recalled. The two men had served together in the navy, he said.

His parents also took a trip to Bangkok to see his Erawan.

The family lived at the Indian Wells Hotel, in the manager’s quarters, Roger Garvin recalled.

“We lived on the second floor, just above the lobby, for the first two years,” said Garvin, who was about 10 when they moved to Indian Wells and now lives with his wife in La Quinta. .

“Then they rented us a house right behind the hotel…and we lived there,” he said.

“I remember it took a long time to build the hotel,” he said, and the family lived in Rancho Mirage during construction. “My father was on the construction site every day.”

He recalled opening night with Hollywood celebrities and well-known professional athletes, and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower passes.

When it opened, the main building of Erawan Garden included hotel offices and incorporated 11 hospitality units, a spacious dining room, a cocktail bar, six shops and two banquet halls that could accommodate up to 250 people, according to information from the Historic Preservation Foundation.

The main guest accommodations were organized into three 17-unit structures and five 10-unit structures spread over Asian-themed landscaped grounds with on-site parking for 202 cars.

Gas tiki torches adorned each of the bungalow buildings. While today the Thai-inspired design could be considered an example of “cultural appropriation”, at the time the design responded to popular demand for Hollywood-influenced novelty, members of the preservation in the historic dedication program.

The hotel’s design was very different from now, but Garvin said the floor plan was much the same.

“The pool is in the same place and the bungalows (guest rooms) are in the same place, but that’s about it,” he said.

“The Erawan’s decor was Asian…but there was also a Hawaiian influence,” Garvin said.

Development in Indian Wells was rare at the time.

“There were houses behind the hotel, but along (the 111 freeway) there was nothing,” Garvin recalled. “There were either sand or date groves – many, many date groves – but very different” from today.

“Impressive elegance”

The Erawan Garden Hotel opened in 1962 in the current location of the Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells.

The Erawan neighbored the Desi Arnaz Western Hills Hotel, now the Indian Wells Resort Hotel, built by Arnaz, and the Eldorado Country Club, where former President Eisenhower and first lady Mamie Eisenhower lived part-time .

Like Indian Wells, neighboring towns Palm Desert and La Quinta were still unincorporated.

Many of those who attended the historic opening ceremony shared personal stories of experiences at the Erawan, including some who recalled Santa Claus and his live reindeer visiting the hotel to mark the Christmas season in The first years.

Developer Dick and Jan Oliphant were among those in attendance. He served on city council for many years and served as mayor from 1984 to 1992.

“Jan and I went to the soft opening of the hotel on November 1, 1962. It was spectacular but chaotic with many celebrities from the music world in attendance,” Oliphant wrote in the signing program.

“The carpet wasn’t finished and there were workers everywhere. The bar and dining room were full. Everyone was dancing and having a good time,” he wrote.

“Indeed, the features of the hotel were unique. I’ll never forget that fire-breathing dragon at the western end of the dining room and those large palm-shaped fans that swing the length of the room. This hotel was impressively elegant,” Oliphant said.

Growing up in the Coachella Valley, a trip to Erawan was always a treat, said Indian Wells Mayor Pro Tem Donna Griffith.

“I fondly remember looking in awe at the fire-breathing dragon. Some visitors have often referred to the hotel as Polynesian in style, when in fact it was an Asian theme with beautiful murals, silk wallpaper, artwork and garden topiaries,” Griffith said.

As a teenager in the early 1980s, Griffith wrote in the program that she got around town in her 1962 Volkswagen. Bug and would frequent Erawan’s swimming pool.

“The pool had the coolest red bridge over the center, connecting it from side to side. I always felt transported to an exotic place when I was on the grounds of Erawan. It was truly an oasis in the middle of the valley, a place well known to locals and visitors from afar,” she said.

Historic Preservation Foundation President Adele Ruxton became engaged to her husband of 46 years at the hotel.

“Edward Ruxton proposed to me at Erawan Garden in May 1964,” she recalled. “It was quite a surprise. We got married on December 28, 1964. The rest is history.

The other four historic designations of the Foundation for Historic Preservation in Indian Wells are:

  • Number 1: Cavanagh Adobe, built in 1922
  • Number 2: Beck Adobe, built in 1932
  • Number 3: Desi Arnaz Western Hills Hotel (now Indian Wells Resort Hotel), built in 1957
  • Number 4: Crank-Garland House, built in 1961 by architect William F. Cody for actress Beverly Garland and her husband Fillmore Crank

Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherryBarkas


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