Ray Lovato is the General Manager of Desert Vacation Villas, former owner and operator of Desert Shadows, an author, and a long time resident of Palm Springs.
Ray, we’ve been buddies for a while–the Palm Springs Hospitality Association luncheons wouldn’t be the same without you–and I’ve always admired your community spirit, involvement and delightful attitude toward life. When I thought about who I wanted to interview next to shed more light on the wonderful town of Palm Springs, you were a natural! As you always say, “The stories I could tell!” It’s my hope that you’ll share a few of them with us in this interview. I know you’re originally from Chicago; what brought you to Palm Springs? Tell us a little of your story.
One of my good friends from grade school reminded me when I was preparing to move that for years in grade school I always said I wanted to visit Palm Springs. I always read about Palm Springs in every story about Hollywood stars and the rich and famous. I remember thinking that the richest people in the U.S. can live anywhere they want, so why do they all own a home in Palm Springs? I just wanted to know what makes Palm Springs so special. I found out. It is a slice of paradise on earth.
And you used to own and operate Desert Shadows–a high end naturalist resort smack dab in this slice of paradise on earth. That must have been a pretty fascinating experience! How did you get into that?
My wife, Sue, and I have always vacationed on nude beaches. I am the firstborn of 11 children and Sue is the firstborn of 9 children. There are no body issues or room for silly shyness when both families have only two bathrooms in the house. What we noticed was we were meeting very genuine, intellectual, affluent and wonderful people at all the places we vacationed. Unfortunately, all of these places were miles away from anything that resembled civilization and the accommodations could be described as primitive at best.
So we had a vision. Build a first-class resort in a world-class vacation destination. We narrowed it down to South Padre Island, San Diego and Palm Springs. We couldn’t be happier with coming to Palm Springs. The city and everyone we met welcomed us as just another niche market business. And we tried to give back to the community whenever possible.
We started with a small 11-room inn in 1992. By the time we sold we had grown the resort to 33 rooms, 59 deluxe condominiums, three pools, a full-service restaurant, full-service spa, tennis court and a bridge! Palm Springs has perfect weather except for a few hot days in the summer. Unbelievable mountains everywhere you look, but it is the people, the attitude of Palm Springs that makes it so perfect. No one judges anyone. Tolerance is a way of life–just as it should be.
Absolutely! Ray, your lovely wife, Sue, is also in the hospitality business. I bet that makes for some interesting stories around the dinner table! Tell us a little about that.
Sue has forgotten more about the hospitality industry and tourism than I will ever learn. Everyone knows that she is the brains and the beauty of our team. She is the reason that Desert Shadows Inn Resort was an unqualified success. After retiring for five months, Sue became general manager at the Villa Royale Inn and Europa Restaurant. The first year she doubled the restaurant’s profit. The following year she doubled that number! There are so many wonderful friends that she made there during her five years. The Hollywood crowd included Tony Shaloub, Brooke Adams, Tim Daley, Amy Aquino, and Mr. Rocky Horror Picture Show himself, Tim Curry.
Now Sue is the general manager of Premier Residential Services in Palm Desert. It is a high-end, full-service residential estate management company. The core of her staff are valley friends who have worked for her at Desert Shadows and Villas Royale. She engenders such loyalty and devotion because of how really awesome she is. And I am not saying that because she is my wife–her client list is so elite that she won’t even tell me who she knows behind those lushly landscaped, gated walls. She is the best at whatever she does.
Ray, I admire your knowledge of civic events and issues affecting Palm Springs. You always seem to know the back story on everything and everyone. What upcoming Palm Springs area project or event are you most excited about?
It was Denise Goolsby, someone I am so very proud to call my friend, who tagged me with the “Mr. Palm Springs” nickname after I was honored by receiving the “Best of the Best” Hall Of Fame tourism award. You get so much more out of life if you participate fully. It seems my talent is what on the south side of Chicago would be referred to as a go-between or a ‘fixer.’ I am referred to as ‘The Godfather’ in my extended family.
My Dad taught all of us to always leave a place better than how it was when we arrived. The best that you can do in life is give back to your community. I have been honored to be on the Board of Directors of the Palm Springs Hospitality Association since 1995. Our proudest moment was negotiating with the city to privatize the Tourism Department and build the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. I have also served on the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce, the Best of the Best and Show Me Palm Springs. I have also had the privilege of being asked to serve on the Executive Committee of the Palm Springs Planning, Budget and Joint Advisory committee for Palm Springs tourism for over a decade.
The thing that I am most excited by right now in Palm Springs is the steady resurgence of tourism. Palm Springs is trending ahead of the rest of the U.S. in increased tourism and T.O.T. revenue. I am totally supportive of what Jamie Canfield of the Palm Springs Convention Center and Mary Jo Ginther of the Bureau of Tourism have done to increase awareness of our destination, our world-renowned brand. And they are doing it on a budget that is miniscule compared to Las Vegas, L.A., San Diego or Phoenix. They are very in tune with the tourism and business shareholders in our great city.
These are certainly exciting times for Palm Springs, and I admire your commitment to the town we both love. Ray, you’re also a writer–a man of many talents. Tell us a little about that side of your life. Do you derive any of your inspiration from Palm Springs itself?
Thank you for bringing that up. My mother is very proud that I am finally doing something with my BA in English. Just like you, I have been enchanted by words that rhyme and poetry since I was in grade school. I remember writing poems, short stories and even a play in grade school. My good friend recently found a copy of that play, scanned it and sent it to me. I had several poems printed in my college literary anthology. I figured that was the highlight of my literary career.
My oldest friend in the world is Michael A. Black. We met when I was six years old and had just moved to a new neighborhood. He is also an English major and author of dozens of novels and even more short stories. Years ago, I surprised him on our shared Halloween birthday with Chapter One of the exploits of a 1940s adventurer pulp hero. And this was before Indiana Jones. I left the hero, literally, hanging off a cliff! He was quite perturbed to only find one chapter. I then wrote a new chapter every year as a birthday gift, always leaving the hero in peril like a good Republic Pictures serial movie used to at the Saturday matinees. He finally threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t finish the story. So, the following year I finished the first adventure of Doc Atlas, soldier of fortune. It was a homage to pulp fiction heroes like the Shadow, the Spider and Doc Savage.
Last October, I got to edit five of the Doc Atlas stories that we co-plotted and collaborated on and they were published in an omnibus: The Incredible Adventures of Doc Atlas. Then in February of this year, an anthology entitled Tales of Masks & Mayhem, Vol. 4 was published. I had the extreme pleasure of being able to go back and rewrite that very first Doc Atlas adventure and see it in print. My birthday gift to an old pal was now a gift to myself!
Kate, you really know me too well. I’m working on a Doc Atlas plot that takes place in 1938 in Hollywood and in Palm Springs. I am very fortunate to be able to get some fascinating Palm Springs facts from Palm Springs’ historian and mayor, Will Kleindienst. I also have the resources of my mentor, Ralph Thornton , who was actually here in this valley when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Congratulations, Ray! Those are wonderful achievements and we look forward to the newest adventures of Doc Atlas set in our own Palm Springs! When you’re not working tirelessly or writing till the wee hours, I hope you’re able to enjoy some downtime in our beautiful city. Please share with us some of your and Sue’s favorite restaurants, retail stores and hot spots in Palm Springs.
Sue and I love Le Vallauris, Kaiser Grille, and Pomme Fritte. These are the Palm Springs standards of excellence. Now add to that Zin and Trio. There are dozens of new and exciting dinner venues in Palm Springs. Recently we have gotten hooked on Giuseppes in the Albertson Center at Ramon and Date Palm. Unbelievable pasta and pizza. Almost as good as Chicago’s own!
I’ll let you in on a widely known secret. Almost every Friday, the infamous “Liar’s Club” meets in a corner booth at John’s Restaurant on Palm Canyon. There, the erudite and almost-legendary meet and solve the weekly problems of the world. It has been likened to Arsenio Hall meets “The View” meets “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”!
Okay, consider my curiosity piqued. You gotta save me a seat for that next meeting. Fine dining and secret societies aside, what is it that you most love about Palm Springs?
What I most love about Palm Springs is captured in the words etched on the portico of City Hall: “The city is the people.” Sue and I have made so many amazing, creative, sincere friends in this city–enough to fill a lifetime. That is what we both love the most about Palm Springs!
Ray Lovato, thank you so much for sitting down and talking to me today! You’re a fascinating man and a credit to our fair city. And I can’t wait to sit in on the Liar’s Club!
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