Former Erawan Garden luxury hotel with fire-breathing dragon designated an Indian Wells landmark – Desert Sun
For 35 years before being structurally redesigned to a Mediterranean Tuscan-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 occasionally brought firefighters out when the flame got too big.
The luxury hotel officially opened Dec. 21, 1962, when the city was still about six years from incorporation.
The hotel paid homage to Thai architecture, with swooping roofs inspired by Thai temples, and guest accommodations all with Asian-themed décor. It was named for Bangkok’s world-known Erawan Hotel — 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.
The Erawan Garden Hotel in Indian Wells was built for about $3 million and designed by Willard C. Kruger of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who traveled with Thomas McMillan, president of the hotel corporation, to Bangkok “to stay at and study” that hotel’s features.
The hotel drew 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 guests “dressed to the nines,” according to the Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation.
In 1996, the Erawan was closed after it was bought by Marcus Hotels & Resorts. It reopened a year later as the Miramonte Resort & Spa. It has changed ownership a few more times over the years, with Lowe development and property management company 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 with personal memories of the Erawan attended the dedication, including the son of John Garvin, the hotel’s executive vice president and general manager when it opened until about 1966.
Garvin, who 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 be part of the Erawan, his son Roger Garvin recalled. The two men had served together in the Navy, he said.
His parents also made a trip to Bangkok to look at its Erawan.
The family lived at the Indian Wells hotel, in the manager’s quarters, Roger Garvin recalled.
“We lived on the second floor, right above where the lobby was, for the first couple of years,” said Garvin, who was about 10 years old when they moved to Indian Wells, and today 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 that it took a long time to build the hotel,” he said, and the family lived in Rancho Mirage while it was under construction. “My dad was on the construction site every day.”
He remembered the opening party with Hollywood celebrities and well-known professional athletes, and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower coming by.
When it opened, the Erawan Garden’s main building included hotel offices and incorporated 11 guest units, a spacious dining room, cocktail lounge, six shops, and two banquet rooms accommodating up to 250 people, according to information from the Historic Preservation Foundation.
The major guest accommodations were organized in three 17-unit and five 10-unit structures spread out on Asian-themed landscaped grounds with on-site parking accommodating 202 cars.
Gas tiki torches adorned each of the bungalow buildings. While today the Thai-inspired design could be viewed as an example of “cultural appropriation,” at the time the design responded to the Hollywood-influenced, popular demand for novelty, preservation members said in the historic dedication program.
The hotel design was far different from now, but Garvin said the floor plan is much the same.
“The pool is in the same place and the (guest room) bungalows are in the same place, but that’s about it,” he said.
“The décor at the Erawan was Asian … but there was also a Hawaiian influence,” Garvin said.
Development in Indian Wells was sparse at the time.
“There were houses behind the hotel, but along (Highway 111) there was nothing,” Garvin recalled. “There was either sand or date groves – lots and lots of date groves – but very different” from today.
The Erawan neighbored the Desi Arnaz Western Hills Hotel, now the Indian Wells Resort Hotel, built by Arnaz, and Eldorado Country Club, where former President Eisenhower and first lady Mamie Eisenhower lived part-time.
Like Indian Wells, neighboring cities Palm Desert and La Quinta were still unincorporated.
Many who attended the historic dedication 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 early years.
Developer Dick and Jan Oliphant were among those who attended. He served on the City Council for many years, and was mayor 1984 to 1992.
“Jan and I went to the hotel’s November 1st (1962) soft opening. It was spectacular but chaotic with many celebrities from the music world in attendance,” Oliphant wrote in the dedication program.
“The carpet was not finished and there were workmen everywhere. The bar and dining room were complete. Everyone was dancing and having a great time,” he wrote.
“Indeed, the hotel’s features were unique. I’ll never forget that fire-breathing dragon on the west end of the dining room and those large palm-shaped fans swinging over the room’s entire length. That hotel was impressively elegant,” Oliphant said.
When growing up in the Coachella Valley, a trip to the Erawan was always a treat, Indian Wells Mayor Pro Tem Donna Griffith said.
“I remember fondly, watching in awe, the fire-breathing dragon. Some visitors often referred to the hotel s a Polynesian style, when in fact it was Asian-themed with beautiful murals, silk wallpaper, artwork and garden topiary,” 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 the Erawan pool.
“The pool had the coolest red bridge over the center, connecting it from side to side. I always felt transported to an exotic locale when I was on the Erawan grounds. It truly was 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 marriage to me at the Erawan Garden in May 1964,” she recalled. “It was quite a surprise. We married on December 28, 1964. The rest is history.”
The other four Historic Preservation Foundation landmark designations 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 the 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 reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherryBarkas