A sprawling Moroccan-spiced midcentury home in Rancho Mirage’s swank guard-gated Thunderbird Heights enclave, once owned by legendary crooner Bing Crosby and rumored to be where Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy secretly trysted*, has hit the market with an asking price of $4.5 million. Tax records peg the sellers as octogenarian Orange County businessman Bob Teller and his wife Rita.
Teller isn’t exactly a household name but anyone who has spent any time on Newport Beach’s once low-key and nowadays high-cost Balboa Island has no doubt eaten one of his tasty frozen treats. He did not invent the frozen banana on a stick but he did pioneer its SoCal popularity when, in 1963, he opened Teller’s Banana Roll-A-Rama stand that became the inspiration for the Bluth family’s frozen banana stand on the cult favorite TV series “Arrested Development.”
Teller sold his frozen banana business in the mid ‘70s to a local insurance broker and turned his business attentions to the mall chain he founded, Bob’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream, which grew to some 70 stores and rather famously sold another wildly popular frozen treat, the Beach Bar (vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts), which later became known as the Balboa Bar. Teller also founded the Orange County Market Place, a permanent weekend swap meet at the Orange County fairgrounds that was taken over five or six years ago by the events and entertainment company Spectra.
Teller sold enough frozen bananas and chocolate covered ice cream bars in the 1960s, ‘70s and ’80s that in 2005 he and Rita splashed out $2.625 million for their Rat Pack-pedigreed and presidentially approved Rancho Mirage hideaway that measures in at about 6,700 square feet with a total of six bedrooms and 5.5 bathrooms. The property is hardly new to the market, having been for sale on and off for more than a decade at a variety of prices that soared as high as $5 million and, last year, dipped to just under $3.5 million.
The main house has four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms, including a 1,400-square-foot primary suite that’s complete with fireplace, walk-in closet, and both indoor and outdoor showers. The roomy attached guesthouse — called the JFK Wing in promo materials because it’s where the married president and his movie star paramour allegedly holed up together* — offers two bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a living room and a complete kitchen.
Like most high-end homes in the cluster of desert resort communities that comprise the Coachella Valley, the home was designed for easy entertaining and to maximize indoor-outdoor living. There’s a large bar in the huge living room; the kitchen is fit for a gourmet chef; a theater room is outfitted with a projection system; and great walls of glass in the living and dining areas slide open to deep loggias that overlook a grassy yard and palm-framed swimming pool. The nearly 1.5-acre estate’s slight elevation allows for spectacular views of the rocky mountains that form the valley’s western edge.
*NOTE: There is some discrepancy about whether it was this house in Rancho Mirage or another of Crosby’s homes, in Palm Desert, where JFK and Monroe allegedly rendezvoused in the early 1960s.