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The warmth of a burning tiki torch (9886)

9886Advocate Travel2003-09-17

The warmth of a burning tiki torch

A Polynesian
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One gay couple's struggle to live their dream by buying a hotel in the gay resort town of Palm Springs, Calif., finds them triumphing over both competition and national tragedy. The end result? A charming and friendly place for gays to escape to.

Cameron Andrews

When Michael Glenner and Steven Rockwell got their first look at the Indianola, a Palm Springs hotel with a dozen rooms arranged around a central pool, there wasn't much to love. The resort had been through a number of owners and fallen into disrepair. Dead plants littered the pool area, ragged carpets covered guest room floors, and paint was peeling everywhere. But the two Chicago men, chasing their dream, saw the potential of this mid-century cozy classic. They pulled together financing and moved in.

Michael Glenner and Steven Rockwell

Two years later, after spending $250,000 in improvements and thousands of hours of "sweat equity," the resort is a true showplace. "We wanted to recreate the feeling of a '50s backyard luau, with lush gardens, hand-carved Tiki gods and thatched umbrellas with an added dash of camp," says Rockwell. "The Indianola is like Ward and June Cleaver visits Gilligan's Island!"

The couple began the process by locating some of the original hotel furnishings, designed by Herb Ritts Sr., the father of the late fashion and beauty photographer, and moving the furniture back home, into the resort's rooms. The couple then repainted the exterior and interiors of the property, built an elaborate cool-misting system in the courtyard, installed new pool decking, added complete window treatments, laid new carpeting in all the rooms, and purchased all new beds and linens.

Just another perfect Palm Springs evening

The Indianola also offers a private courtyard with a heated kidney-shaped pool surrounded by handcrafted Tiki gods, a bamboo fountain, which leads to a tropical Koi pond, generous shady umbrellas, tiki-torches and spectacular mountain views. Two of the biggest additions to the property, a poolside fire pit and a new in-ground 12-man spa, are set for completion in the early fall, while private gardens for all 11 rooms are planned for next year.

The Polynesian-style theme is carried through to the guest rooms with boomerang candy dishes (always filled with atomic balls, root beer barrels, and other classic favorites), grass skirts on the beds, and coconut-style pendant lamps. The resort features four room styles including the Lakanooki Hut, Malihini Aloha suite, 'Okole Maluna suite and the King Kamoniwannalayu suite. Most rooms are available with fully equipped kitchens and feature private baths, king or queen beds, individual climate controls,cable television and phones equipped with data ports.

"We take great pride in our restoration efforts so far," says Glenner, a personal fitness trainer who owned a Chicagoland gay video bar for six years, "The old girl is really shining."

Rockwell, a former corporate technology manager, adds "Our guests say the place is relaxing and brings back the spirit of 'Old Palm Springs'."

Built in 1955, just four years before Pillow Talk, the secluded 11-room courtyard resort--just 90 minutes from Los Angeles--was no stranger to the comings and goings of Hollywood's elite. Doris Day is rumored to have stayed in Room F, now called the Malihini Aloha suite, when trying to avoid the crush of paparazzi in the early 1960s. And Glenner and Rockwell weren't the first to roll out the "pink carpet" for guests: Rock Hudson is said to have visited the property too.

The couple's efforts were recently honored when the property's name, now rechristened Indianola: A Tiki Resort, was listed in the Historic Inns of Palm Springs registry by the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. This distinction is no small achievement, considering the resort community boasts more than 37 gay hotels, bungalows and cottages, as well as 160 non-gay hotels and resorts. "Considering the condition that the property was in when we bought it, this is quite an accomplishment," says Glenner. "[Such a] prestigious distinction in a city of premier resorts and hotels is a source of great pride for us."

Of course, the transformation had its challenges. Glenner and Rockwell bought the Indianola just four days prior to the tragedy of September 11. With travel at a virtual standstill the following winter, the couple faced an uncertain future in the competitive gay travel market. Set on beating the odds, they began an aggressive marketing and branding campaign while continuing to make the resort charming and inviting.

Join in the fun and games during the day

But the real secret to Indianola's success may be the hospitality of the owners themselves. Glenner and Rockwell personally greet each arriving guest and present them with a tropical lei and an exotic Coco Kahini drink served in a coconut glass, reminiscent of the tropical islands. There's a complimentary continental breakfast each morning and a nightly happy hour, where the hosts are happy to share their stories and experiences The two also give guests personalized suggestions for enjoying their time in the Desert, and even free use of retro '50s Schwinn Cruiser Classics for touring the city and getting a cardio workout on the way to nearby World Gym (free passes included).

"Our dream has always been to own a private resort in a destination city that would allow us to have fun while providing extraordinary guest services," says Glenner. "The focus is on comfort and relaxation with an added dash of camp."

The question remains: Would they do it again?

"A big resounding yes," answers Rockwell. "The work has been rewarding, we meet new and interesting people ever day and we're doing what we love!"

Indianola: A Tiki Resort, located at 354 E. Stevens Road, is available for group bookings, private parties, weddings, receptions and corporate events. For more information, room rates and availability, call toll free 1-TOO-HOT-TIKI (1.866.468.8454) or visit

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