Tennis Club and Sunnylands – Architect A. Quincy Jones Work Continues Relevant in This Century


Tennis Club Pool Part of Palm Springs Art Museum  Symposium November 21; Sunnylands Undergoing Restoration as Art and Education Center

The Palm Springs Art Museum at,  is sponsoring a two-day education event, Backyard Oasis Symposium: The Swimming Pool In Southern California Photography, 1945-1980, Nov. 20 and 21.  A tour of significant Palm Springs pools on the second day of the symposium concludes with a reception at the A. Quincy Jones-designed Tennis Club pool.

The event is sponsored by the museum’s Architecture and Design Council, but is open to the public.  Cost is $125 for non members.  For information, contact Brooke DeVenney at (760) 322-4818 or

In 1947, Jones and associate Paul R. Williams collaborated to redesign the Tennis Club, then owned by Palm Springs pioneer Pearl  McCallum McManus.  Initially, the project was to renovate and expand club’s kitchen, swimming pool and tennis courts.  But it grew to include creating a new dining room — the Bougainvillea Room which is literally carved out of the mountain’s rock face –as well as a snack bar, cocktail lounge and terraces for outdoor dining and relaxing.

For Jones and Williams, the challenging hillside project with falling rock, extreme temperatures and a difficult site became a “test laboratory” to find solutions while preserving and  incorporating the impressive desert view.

In a 1947 Southwest Builder and Contractor article, Jones said, “Natural stone found at the site provided the opportunity for a fresh handling of an ancient material as well as a medium for tying the structure into its natural setting.”  Concrete,  durable and plastic enough to mold to the rock, was used extensively as was glass to dissolve the boundaries between interior and exterior.

The Tennis Club became  “an interesting and successful example of contemporary architectural concepts at their best” for incorporating old structures with new and combining interior function with exterior environment

Although the Tennis Club building has since been remodeled, the huge oval pool remains a focal point in the oasis-styled landscape. A gallery of Julius Shulman’s iconic photos of the Tennis Club and grounds in the 1940s compared to recent photos may be viewed at

The successful Los Angeles-based architect and educator continued to use concrete, glass, stone and steel into his work that bridged the gap between custom-built and developer built homes.

“While in private practice in Los Angeles from 1937, his houses set a standard of excellence that affected all house design of the postwar period, especially the tract house, to which he was one of the few to give architectural consideration,” according to authors of

Jones was a pioneer in “greenbelt” planning, raising the level of the tract house in California by surrounding them with gardens integrated into the landscape,” according to Cory Buckner in her book A. Quincy Jones, published by  Phaidon

During his 30-year association with building magnate Joseph Eichler, Jones and another partner, Frederick Emmons, designed thousands of homes, reflective of Eichler’s objective to “exceed the quality provided by ordinary builders, but affordable to middle-class American home buyers.”

Among Jones’ signatures, coffered ceilings and courtyards that create openness, were prescribed in a 1948 remodel of Town and Country Restaurant in downtown Palm Springs in 1948.  A coffered ceiling lounge overlooked a garden courtyard and while a dramatic wooden trellis that mimicked the ceiling divided the outdoor space.  The coffered ceiling was patterned after one Jones had designed for his own first home in Los Angeles.  See early Julius Shulman photos of the property at

Jones’ larger projects grew out of his solutions for smaller residences, particularly integrating mechanical systems into the roof for better efficiency.  Some examples are the 1959 Biological Sciences Building on the UC Santa Barbara campus and the 1967 Chemistry Building on the UC Riverside campus:   Both roofs are dominated by  a continuous cap that contains mechanical systems.  The interior concrete coffered ceilings carry conduits for wiring, air conditioning and so forth.

Jones’ penchant for multi-level plazas and open court yards was adapted  for the 1972 Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California at which Jones was a professor and dean of architecture from 1951 through 1967

In their commercial as well as residential projects, Jones and Emmons dissolved boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces through atrium gardens, courtyards, sliding glass doors and floor to ceiling glass walls,  and clerestory windows providing natural  light in working or living spaces . Perforated metal panels, exposed masonry block walls, obscure and clear glass, as well as wood and stone were some of the innovative building materials they used in their projects.

Jones’ work in the desert gained even more prestige when in the mid-1960s, Ambassador Walter Annenberg commissioned him  to design Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, a 25,000 square foot Mid-Century Modern house located in the middle of Annenberg’s 200-acre landscaped estate and private golf course. The project was completed in 1966.

For nearly 40 years afterward, the Annenbergs typically spent about five months at Sunnylands where they entertained United State Presidents, British royalty, international political figures, and cultural and entertainment icons.  Walter Annenberg died in 2002 and Lenore in March 2009.

In keeping with the Annenberg bequest, the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands is building an education center on a15-acre site adjacent to the Sunnylands estate and renovating and restoring the original property.

In November 2011, the new Sunnylands will open a 215-acre public attraction with a visitor center, desert garden, historic house, golf course, solar farm and other 21st-century environmental upgrades.  The new Sunnylands will be both an historic house museum as well as a site for retreats and summits.

“Sunnylands is one of about 150 parks, and residential, commercial and civic developments across the country which have been designated as pilot projects of the Sustainable Sites Initiative or SITES, a new rating system aimed at promoting eco-friendly land developments,” writes K Kaufmann in Desert Magazine, Sept. 2010.

Jones’ innovative work continues to be relevant into the next century as appreciation for the modernist movement grows.  Palm Springs area has one of the highest concentrations of Mid-Century Modern homes in the world.

Pamela Bieri

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