The Accidental Hotelier
Known only as one of Lulu’s sisters, she is forever this close to diving into what one can assume is a refreshing blue pool. She’s the eye catcher on the outside of the white stucco wall that, once inside, keeps the noise from Indian Canyon at bay, and is the only indication that you have arrived at your destination: Dive.
This 11-room boutique hotel “just has a cool, chill vibe to it,” says April Smith, vice president of Mariners Companies, the private equity investment firm that recently purchased Dive.
Smith is what you might call an accidental hotelier. In fact, just about everything about her career has been accidental. At 22, she had no idea what she wanted to do — she’s one of those people who live to learn, but learn best while living. Since you need a paycheck to live, Smith took a job as a receptionist at a mortgage loan company, and once she saw the bottom line, got interested.
Her dad’s advice always stuck with her: “You just need to know a little about a lot.” So, Smith set out to do just that.
“I asked a lot of questions, and I paid a lot of attention,” she says. “I wanted to be part of a lot of things to understand things.”
Upper management took notice, and Smith quickly climbed the ladder to become a top earner. There were twists and turns from there, always upward, and by the time she met Steve Olson, her current business partner, she had learned a little about a lot.
“We all have our own strengths,” Smith explains. “I’m operations, Ron [Millar, their CFO] is numbers, and Steve brings in the capital. All three of us together triangulate a perfect situation.”
Mariners is the parent fund of many smaller businesses under its umbrella. Operating out of Newport Beach, their office is next to a hotel broker who brought them a deal they just couldn’t refuse.
That was Talavera, a laidback resort on a quiet street situated between the Palm Springs Tennis Club (home to the upscale dining of Spencer’s) and the bustle of downtown Palm Springs. While Dive’s vibes are Saint Tropez fun in the sun, Talavera is about tranquility.
An escape from the crowd offering your own secluded private residence, Talavera has an old world Moroccan charm, and feels more like an exotic VRBO than a hotel (although there is a fully-stocked, attended bar in the works just for guests). Many suites have a kitchen or kitchenette, as well as an outdoor spa, so your space is entirely contained. At night, the courtyard is lit by stars and basket lanterns hanging from sturdy tree branches, with just the whisper of rustling leaves and the crackle of the embers from the firepit.
While Talavera has two pools, Dive has only one, and it is magnificent. It’s a Libott pool, originally built in 1954. The property is très ooh la la, with muralist Gabriella Fash’s playful art adorning the walls of Dive’s entryway and fabulous neon divers outside. (Fun fact — in 2019, the original neon was found hidden on the roof. She was lovingly restored, and they named her Lulu. She lives out by that glorious pool, and so she wouldn’t be lonely, they gave her a few sisters, like the one on the exterior wall.)
The property is as intimate as a French kiss. It’s a large rectangle, with the courtyard artfully divided into small gathering spots — a bench wrapped around a large tree, a set piece with a koi pond. There is always space for quiet conversation away from the pool area.
Inside each of the rooms, designer Vanessa Schreiber has created a whimsical world of immersive art, where swirls and murals accent the Christian Lacroix wallpapers. Every item has been hand-picked to melt into its unique design, creating a fun and playful atmosphere that can only be described as joyful.
Breakfast and lunch are available onsite and can be delivered to you by the pool so you can enjoy the day without having to leave. Dive is located in the residential neighborhood known as Deepwell Estates, one of Palm Springs’ historic neighborhoods filled with $1 million homes. There is a noise ordinance after 10 p.m., however Dive solves that problem with a soundproof room where you and your friends can party until the wee hours and disturb nary a soul.
While both Dive and Talavera are 21+ with 11 suites, Smith says they are adding a third and much larger property to their portfolio that will be perfect for families — and will also be Smith’s first complete remodel. Because the deal hasn’t quite closed, I can only tell you that the hotel started out in 1958 as a weekend hangout for celebrities like Nancy Sinatra, Elvis, and the Rat Pack, and had a very iconic name. In later years, it was purchased and operated by a national brand, and while it’s a very nice hotel, it’s still a chain. Smith intends to inject personality back into the 130-room resort.
Considering that she now knows a lot more than a little about the hotel industry, we’re giddy about the possibilities.