By Denise Ortuno Neil
With Halloween just a couple of weeks away, I thought it appropriate to throw in a local haunted tale of Palm Springs. There are many to tell. However the validity of the stories are always left to the reader and will most likely be debated by who believes in ghosts and who doesn’t. The choice is up to you….but the story is still fun to regale…believe it or not.
This story has to do with one of Palm Springs most elite boutique accommodations…Korakia Pensione. The Moroccan styled Inn is located in the Historic Tennis Club neighborhood area of Palm Springs on Patencio and was once known as Dar Marroc.
The now famous Korakia Pensione was built in 1924 by Gordon Coutts, an internationally known Scottish artist. The artist studied in his native Scotland as well as London and Paris.
He lived in Tangiers, Morocco for many years, where he gained success with his art through his paintings of celebrities and desert landscapes. Along with his second and much younger wife Gertrude, they traveled the world together while making their home base Morocco.
The Coutts eventually came to visit the Palm Springs area and decided to make it their new home. An advantage for Gordon Coutts to move to the desert was the healing dry climate which he thought would benefit his bronchial illness.
He constructed the house and named it Dar Marroc. The house looked as if it had been transplanted from a Moroccan oasis; complete with Moorish style towers, grand doorways, fountains, and landscaped with romantic bougainvillea and citrus trees…it was to be a constant reminder of his beloved Tangiers.
Gertrude and Gordon often entertained at their castle. The guest list read like a movie premier roll call of the time with greats such as Rudolph Valentino and Errol Flynn gracing their parties. It is also said that Winston Churchill was a frequent guest as well. It is easy to envision party goers floating around the grounds, ladies in elegant glittering gowns and the men looking dapper in their tuxedos…all drinking martinis of course with a gently speared olive happily intoxicated in the glass.
So where is the ghost story you may ask? Well, the story goes like this, but I must note that this ghost story, is not at all corroborated by the city of Palm Springs or the current owners of Korakia Pensione in anyway (disclaimer).
It is said that one night, the wife of the former owner (not necessarily Gertrude), had too much to drink at a party at the house and stepped onto the road outside. The roads back then were devoid of any street lights. As she stumbled on the road, the blackness of the night revealed two blinding headlights paralyzing her from movement. The driver, most likely impaired by the darkness himself, struck her down, driving over her body…killing her instantly.
She is now said to roam the street of Patencio and Korakia Pensione itself. She is known as the Lady in Red. It is said that guests have encountered cold spots and even seen the Lady up close. These ghostly occurrences happen mostly in the summertime, when the accident eligibly took place.
It is unknown exactly who this woman was. There is no record of Gertrude’s death or on how she died; so to say that it is her who deserves the Lady in Red title would be unsubstantiated. The house did change hands after Gordon’s death in 1937, so the “former wife” part could be anyone.
After some time the house had additions made to it and was even used as an apartment building. Neglect eventually fell upon Dar Marroc, but rejuvenation was in its future when it was purchased in the late 90’s. It has since become Korakia Pensione…an upscale eclectic hideaway for Hollywood royalty, artists, writers and those looking for an exclusive Palm Springs get-a-way.
Every town has their own ghost stories, and Palm Springs is no exception. What makes them true or not is really up to those who believe in them or not. But the best way to really believe in ghosts is to see one. Who knows, maybe the Lady in Red will accommodate you….Happy Halloween!
For more information about Korakia Pensione visit www.korakia.com