John Lautner, Architect of the Elrod House

Modern Architect John Lautner's Elrod House in Palm Springs, CA
John Lautner’s Elrod House in Palm Springs, CA
Architect John Lautner in Palm Springs, CA
Architect John Lautner in Palm Springs, CA

John Lautner apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright in his early career. He had no appreciation of the cool severe geometry of his midcentury minimalist peers. He spent his life as an iconoclast. John Lautner was overlooked and miscast by his critics. Many of his best-known design projects such as the Googie Coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard have been criticized as Atomic Age or Hollywood ketch.

John Lautner was born in 1911 in Marquett Michigan. He worked under the direction of Frank Lloyd Wright from 1933 – 1939. John Lautner began his private practice in 1946 in Los Angeles where he boldly experimented with new industrial processes. He would call this his search to answer total basic human needs, physical as well as emotional in shelter.

John Lautner was fascinated with new shapes and structures, but this had nothing to do with the Space Age of the future, Hollywood glamour, or virtuoso engineering, but came as a determination to humanize the spaces of the built world and create endlessly varied organic places. To John Lautner this was a profound and serious agenda. Continue reading “John Lautner, Architect of the Elrod House”

Palm Springs Modernist Architect, Albert Frey 1903-1998

Modern Architect Albert Frey's Loewy House in Palm Springs
Modern Architect Albert Frey’s Loewy House in Palm Springs, CA
Albert Frey, Palm Springs Architect
Albert Frey, Palm Springs Architect

Albert Frey was a believer in modern architecture, a political and social liberation through affordable machine-made designs. His chosen materials were aluminum, glass, and cables. He eventually used boulders and sands of the desert where he lived.

Albert Frey’s career spanned more than 65 years. He believed in the principle that architecture should make the most of the least. Some of his best known works were the East Coast houses that he designed with Lawrence Kocher in the 1930’s and there were many other notable buildings he created in Palm Springs in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. Continue reading “Palm Springs Modernist Architect, Albert Frey 1903-1998”

William Krisel, Mid Century Modern Architect, 1924-2017

Twin Palms Estates 1957 by Architect William Krisel, Palm Springs
William Krisel, Twin Palms Estates 1957, Photographer Dan Chavkin
William Krisel Architect in Palm Springs
William Krisel Architect in Palm Springs

Renowned architect, William Krisel, has designed tens of thousands of homes throughout his long and extensive career. He was a visionary, and his designs represented the defined and spatial sensibility of the geometric style of the modernist design.

William Krisel was born in Shanghai, China in 1924 where his father was a career diplomat. He learned Mandarin and the local Shanghai dialect as a young boy. When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, his family moved to Beverly Hills. He enlisted in the Army at the beginning of World War II. Because of his knowledge of Chinese he became one of General Joseph Sidwell’s Chinese interpreters. He returned home after the war, and completed his studies at the University of Southern California, where he received his architectural training. He graduated in 1949 and earned his license in 1950. Continue reading “William Krisel, Mid Century Modern Architect, 1924-2017”

Donald Wexler – Iconic Mid Century Modern Architecture 1926-2015

Donald Wexler Steel House in Palm Springs
Donald Wexler Steel House, Palm Springs

Famous Palm Springs Architect

Architects Donald Wexler and Lance O'Donnell
Architects Donald Wexler and Lance         O’Donnell in Palm Springs

Donald Wexler practiced architecture during what he calls the “golden age” of California architecture from the immediate postwar years through the 1970s. This was a time when architects enjoyed considerable freedom to employ new materials and technologies in their search for functionally beautiful architecture.

The extremes of the desert climate forced Wexler to develop a sustainable architecture, which was not only successful functionally, but achieved a timeless aesthetic appeal. During a career that spanned almost six decades, he designed numerous houses, condominium complexes, as well as banks, office parks and schools.

Donald Wexler moved to Palm Springs in early 1953 to work with William Cody, a high-living socialite with a sense for solid design. He had intended to only stay about six months, but like many people, Donald Wexler fell hard for the Coachella Valley immediately upon arriving in Palm Springs!! After living here for six months “I didn’t want to live any where else.”

Donald Wexler lived and was educated in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and graduated from the University of Minneapolis. He also did a tour in the Navy in World War II. He still considered himself a mid-westerner.

Donald Wexler House in Palm Springs
Donald Wexler House in Palm Springs

Donald Wexler is about logic and efficiency. His architectural designed buildings fit together tightly, like machine parts. Nothing seems out of place and his details rarely distract from the whole design. Donald Wexler’s approach dates back many decades when architecture and design was supposed to be part of research and good thinking.

The Alexander houses that Donald Wexler designed almost four decades ago in North Palm Springs feature the “folded” metal roof that is his most famous motif design. It epitomizes the no-nonsense straightforward work of Donald Wexler. His designs are considered elegant, innovative, and very aware of climate.

Donald Wexler Steel House in Palm Springs
Donald Wexler Steel House in Palm Springs

Donald Wexler’s buildings have a quiet intelligence for human beings. His classic designs include El Rancho Vista Estates (1960), Alexander steel houses (1962) Dinah Shore House (1964), Palm Springs Airport (1966), plus many dozens more houses, commercial buildings, and schools. Many of them were built of prefab steel which was very innovative. He is thought of as being very detail-oriented, and his designs are very well thought out.

Steel and Shade Architecture

Donald Wexler considers steel, glass, and concretes the most appropriate materials for desert buildings, because they are inorganic according to him. They can take a beating of natural materials and do not require a lot of maintenance. The Alexander’s in North Palm Springs are perhaps the best-known example of Donald Wexler’s preference for inorganic construction materials.

Although, through his long career, which spanned the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, he always listened to his clients’ needs but he never compromised. Donald Wexler is described as being relaxed, pleasant, and open-minded. He believes these decades were the golden age of architecture before we had so many code restrictions on buildings.

Perhaps Donald Wexler’s legacy is still more remarkable because of the constraints he set for himself: To remain a small office and to build almost entirely in the Coachella Valley.

Donald Wexler's latest design in Palm Springs
Donald Wexler’s latest design in Palm Springs

Donald Wexler was disappointed that some of his buildings have been altered without sensitivity to his designs (these are houses that he will no longer enter). Donald Wexlerwas pleased about his career, particularly for the time when Palm Springs was a frontier of modernist building. In his words, “the buildings in the desert have stood up very well the only regret is that I am growing too old”

Heidi O”Neal

Sandpiper Condominium Circles 11 and 12 Designated a Palm Desert Historic District

Sandpiper’s circles are built around pools and green belts amid lush landscaping.

Sandpiper Condominium complex has just become one of Palm Desert’s most significant architectural residential communities.  This past spring, Palm Desert City Council unanimously voted Sandpiper Condominium Circles 11 and 12 – built in 1965 by the renowned architects Palmer & Krisel — as an Historic District.

Sandpiper's circles are built around pools and green belts amid lush landscaping.
Sandpiper’s circles are built around pools and green belts amid lush landscaping.

Palm Springs Preservation Foundation member Jim Harlan authored the nomination with the enthusiastic support of Sandpiper homeowners Barbara and Bernie Cain and Jim West. The process began last December and was successfully given approval this year.

Sandpiper was conceived as a low-density community and designed for maximum privacy and mountain views with pools, spas, a putting green and wide green belts amid lush landscaping.  Located at the west end of now famous El Paseo, today, it is within walking distance to some of the desert’s most trendy restaurants, galleries, shops, and malls.

While all of the buildings within the Sandpiper complex are designed in the modernistic style, they were built over time — from 1958 to 1969 – by different builders so that various circles have different characteristics.  But Circles 11 and 12, consisting of 16 buildings housing 32 units, were determined to “represent the most intact examples of modernist architecture,” according to the Palm Spring Preservation Foundation.

Sandpiper’s architectural features includes a flat roof, expansive use of glass, clerestory windows, and novel uses of then-new concrete screen block and Shadowall, multi-faceted concrete masonry.

In his report, Harlan notes that the complex Circles 11 and 12 are excellent examples of architecture built during the midcentury period with modern methods of construction.  In addition, they are the work of master architects, Palmer & Krisel.

“The architects’ successful site planning, landscape and architectural design create not only a unique but an early example of a multi-unit residential condominium project,” said Harlan in his report.Sandpiper 4

The two sections are a “singularly intact example of the significant modernist architecture for which the Coachella Valley is internationally known.”

Even when it was built, The Sandpiper complex was immediately recognized by the architectural community as an extraordinary effort that combined a sense of proportion, massing, refinement and use of modern materials and technology – a stylistic marker of the modernist movement.

Palmer & Krisel’s building design and site plan created a “built-environment” that attempted to combine the best of city and rural life in a utopian environment.

At the time, Sandpiper was advertised as “a new concept in carefree desert living” where “each Sandpiper apartment is cleverly arranged around a pool and garden area amid an oasis of tropical landscaping.”

Sandpiper unapologetically catered to the aspiring upper middle class, so that the feeling of the buildings had to exude urbanity but in a more informal resort setting.  Homeowners were promised a “garden apartment with maid, linen and other resort hotel services as your fingertips!”

The late 1950s were a sophisticated, optimistic and open time, a feeling still expressed by Sandpiper Circles 11 and 12’s design.  The buildings and site still retain a high degree of integrity and continues its association with the modernism movement that has made a significant contribution to the community.

Pamela Bieri





Palmer & Krisel Mid Century Modern Architecture Celebrated During Palm Springs 75th Anniversary

“Palm Springs should be very proud that it is known as the capital of the world for Mid Century Modern architecture,” said William Krisel, one of Palm Springs’ foremost MCM architects who designed Canyon View Estates for developer Roy Fey in 1962.

Krisel was interviewed for a Palm Springs Life story this month by Lawrence Karol. The feature focuses on two Canyon View Estates homes that have been refurbished by a younger generation of modernists.

This year, as Palm Springs celebrates its 75th anniversary, its prestige as an architectural center is clearly part of the celebration.  Krisel said that Palm Springs, “is the one city in America that really protects that design, advocated that design, and is proud of that design.”

A New Generation of Modernists

Continue reading “Palmer & Krisel Mid Century Modern Architecture Celebrated During Palm Springs 75th Anniversary”

Los Angeles Design Festival In Full Swing

Now underway through June 30 (2013), the Los Angeles Design Festival is an annual series of design events staged around greater Los Angeles that celebrates how design in — all its disciplines — impacts our quality of life.

A plethora of events are held from the Los Angeles Convention Center, home tours and skyline walks  to small design shops, produced by organizations and companies that have a point of view on design and its role in the LA environs and culture.  The Festival encompasses Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties.  Major sponsors and partners include Dwell on Design, The Lincoln Mercury Company, JC Penney, and the American Society of Interior Designers. Continue reading “Los Angeles Design Festival In Full Swing”

The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands Is a Time Capsule of Past and Future

Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage was the winter home of former US Ambassadors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists Walter and Lenore Annenberg.

Designed by iconic Southern California architect A. Quincy Jones, the 22,500 square foot Mid Century Modern home, completed in 1966, served as an unofficial center for world leaders, US presidents, politicians and celebrities, who were frequent guests of the Annenbergs for more than 40 years.

Situated in the middle of 200 acres of landscaped grounds and a private golf course, all surrounded by pink block walls, anticipation of seeing the magnificent Aztec-inspired glass and stone estate builds as you drive up the winding road to the summit. Continue reading “The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands Is a Time Capsule of Past and Future”

J.W. Robinson Department Store Gains Class 1 Historic Site Status

J.W. Robinson's Palm Springs. Courtesy of the Palm Springs Historical Society.
J.W. Robinson’s Palm Springs. Courtesy of the Palm Springs Historical Society.

Last week, the Palm Springs City Council voted unanimously to designate the J.W. Robinson’s Department Store building a Class 1 Historic Site.

The free-standing building on South Palm Canyon Drive at West Baristo with its dramatic elevated entrance and graceful pavilion style, is an important component of historic trends that have come to define Palm Springs as an epicenter of mid-century architecture.

Designed by the Los Angeles architectural firm of Charles Luckman Associates and William Pereira in 1957-58, the building received a National Honors Award that same year by the American Institute of Architects, one of the most prestigious architectural awards ever given to any Palm Springs project, commercial or residential. Continue reading “J.W. Robinson Department Store Gains Class 1 Historic Site Status”

William Krisel Papers Now Archived at Getty Research Institute

William Krisel and Dan Palmer, 1958; Julius Shulman Photo. Getty Musuem Archives
William Krisel and Dan Palmer, 1958; Julius Shulman Photo. Getty Musuem Archives

The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, one of the foremost libraries of mid-century modern architecture, recently announced its newest archive containing the William Krisel papers.  The collection consists of drawings, photographs and written documents that illuminate one of the region’s most prolific architects.

Krisel and his partner Dan Palmer — in collaboration with such developers as George Alexander, Leonard Drogin and J.C. Dunas — were responsible for some 40,000 homes in Southern California, particularly known for their iconic butterfly roof tract house designs. Continue reading “William Krisel Papers Now Archived at Getty Research Institute”