All About Thunderbird Heights in Rancho Mirage

Playground of the Rich and Famous

Thunderbird Heights is a gated hillside just across from Thunderbird Country Club. The neighborhood, established in the 1950’s, offers a diverse mix of classic Mid-Century Modern homes, remodeled classics, and new construction, most of which were built in the sixties and seventies.

Centrally located in Rancho Mirage makes Thunderbird Heights a very desirable neighborhood. Rancho Mirage’s restaurant row is just down the road, and the popular River shopping dining and entertainment complex is nearby. Most homes have panoramic valley and desert views with large lots and living quarters.

A convenient tunnel under Highway 111 directly connects residents with the Thunderbird Country Club. Thunderbird Country Club offers a par-71 classic course.  Although one of the oldest courses in the desert (remodeled in 1987), it is still THE place to be for the rich & famous, including celebrities.

Homes in Thunderbird Heights vary widely in price. You should expect to pay between 1 and 10 million for some of the most elite homes in a famous area.

While many neighborhoods can boast new construction and different amenities, you will find what you need and want in the “playground of the Presidents”.  It comes with charm from years past, from its older style homes to many rich and famous inhabitants that sometimes spread scandal throughout the community. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were instrumential in forming the exclusive Thunderbird Heights tract in Rancho Mirage, once the home of President Gerald Ford and his wife Betty.

In the early 1960’s, Frank Sinatra was outraged over a scheduled trip to Palm Springs by President John F. Kennedy. Peter Lawford, rat pack crony and brother-in-law to the President, told Sinatra that the President would be staying at Bing Crosby’s residence.  Sinatra’s  links to organized crime and other disreputable people concerned Bobby Kennedy, the President’s brother and attorney general, who did not want the President to stay with Sinatra as a result.

Sinatra was livid with the decision of the Crosby residence – the “other” singer and a Republican.  Sinatra had also installed a heliport and extra phone lines in his home in preparation for the visit.

Bing Crosby’s legendary guarded enclave in Thunderbird Heights has been well preserved and updated for today’s living.  The “Crooner” himself enjoyed desert living, including his love for golf.  The actor-singer helped establish the Thunderbird Country Club. Bing Crosby sold his golf course lot in 1952, and purchased the first house in what became Thunderbird Heights with his first wife Dixie Lee. After Dixie Lee’s death in 1952, Bing Crosby and his four sons (Gary, twins Dennis and Phillip, and Lindsay) continued to enjoy the estate until moving to a ranch home in Palm Desert and his marriage to his new wife and actress, Katherine Grant.

Howard Lapham was a modernist architect who designed homes for California’s wealthy and movie elite. Many Lapham homes were in Thunderbird Country Club and Thunderbird Heights. Architectural Digest has featured Lapham: Hyatt von Dehn Residence (1960, Thunderbird Heights), Kiewit Residence (1960, Thunderbird Country Club), Clarke Swanson Residence (1961, Thunderbird Country Club), and the remodel of the Thunderbird Country Club clubhouse (1961).

Lapham’s most famous renovation was the ultra-modern facade of the Chi Chi nightclub in 1959. In 1970, Lapham built the Cook House, known as Ichpa Mayapan for its Mayan theme, atop Thunderbird Heights. The Cook house was featured in the film Desert Utopic, Mid-Century Architecture in Palm Springs.

Homeowners Association fees in Thunderbird Heights are very affordable. If you’re looking for a name gated community, Thunderbird Heights must be on your list.


One Reply to “All About Thunderbird Heights in Rancho Mirage”

  1. My father worked here for over 20 years at Thunderbird as a gardner to the rich. I personally worked and grew up here at Thunderbird Country Club as a child. Even enjoyed some of the ammendities! The years are from 1968 to 1976.My father worked for the Swansons, Waycotts, Kennistons, Smarts,Ericksons, Cook, etc. Im hoping the President Obama moves to the desert to Thunderbirds Country Club. I a teacher in the Moreno Valley/Perris ca school districts. I have a lot to share about the heydays and heritage of Thunderbird Country Club. By the way I am African American Chowtaw heritage. Have A great day!

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