Mel Haber, Owner of a Legendary Celebrity Hotspot in Palm Springs, Dies at 80

Mel Haber - Publicity -Photo By Ethan Kaminsky- P 2016
Courtesy of Ethan Kaminsky

He presided over the Ingleside Inn and Melvyn's Restaurant, where Frank Sinatra held his wedding reception in 1976.

Mel Haber, the owner of the Ingleside Inn and Melvyn's Restaurant in Palm Springs who spent four decades welcoming celebrities to his classy, old-school establishment, died Tuesday, one day after his 80th birthday.

Haber died of lung cancer and complications from pneumonia, his publicists announced.

Since Haber took over the place in 1975, his inn and its restaurant have attracted such luminaries as Lucille Ball, Dinah Shore, Cher, Bob Hope, Debbie Reynolds, Liberace, Liza Minnelli, Gerald Ford, Goldie Hawn, Shelby Lynne and Nas. Frank Sinatra and his fourth wife Barbara picked Melvyn's to host their wedding reception in 1976.

The Spanish-style inn was built as a private estate in 1925 before being transformed into a 20-room luxury hotel in the '30s. Back then, Howard Hughes, Clark Gable, Salvador Dali, Norman Vincent Peale, Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner were frequent guests.

Haber — a Brooklyn native who had been in the business of manufacturing dashboard figures and other automotive accessories — purchased the inn, which had fallen into disrepair, for $300,000. He refurbished it for another $500,000, added the restaurant (named for the new owner) and opened it anew. It was an overnight success.

The Desert Sun newspaper noted that on 60 Minutes in 1979, Morley Safer quoted Haber as saying that Palm Springs was the home of the "creme de la creme." That made the folks who dined at Melvyn's "the creme de la creme of the creme de la creme."

Haber also was profiled in The London Times, The New York Times and on TV's Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

"I am everything that’s wrong for this business," he said in an interview in March. "I am not a foodie. I am not a wine connoisseur. I can’t cook a hamburger, make a Bloody Mary or open a cash register drawer. And I’m not into quaint, charming hotels. However, this property happens to be unique by itself. There’s a magic ambiance about it that I’ve come to appreciate."

In 1979, Haber launched a popular Palm Springs disco called Cecil’s. After selling it in 1994, he opened Touche, a dance and dining club in nearby Rancho Mirage.

The irrepressible restaurateur documented his Hollywood encounters in a 1995 book, Bedtime Stories of the Legendary Ingleside Inn. In 2009, he followed with Palm Springs a la Carte: The Colorful World of the Caviar Crowd at Their Favorite Desert Hideaway, co-written with Marshall Terrill.

Haber for years served as president of the Angel View Foundation, a charitable organization that aids children and adults with disabilities. A great ambassador for the city, he has a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars and was known as "Mr. Palm Springs" around town.

Melvyn's maitre'd Brian Ellis told the Sun that the inn and restaurant is being sold to a group of investors that include California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Haber's survivors include his daughters Autumn and Shani and son Gary Haber. A memorial is planned for 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 3 at Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs, and then a procession will pass Melvyn’s and the Ingleside Inn on the way to Desert Memorial Park.