Palm Springs Modern Architect Donald A. Wexler


A Closer Look At Palm Springs Modern Architect Donald A. Wexler.

Palm Springs Modern is practically a genre in its own right:  Light, spacious steel-and-glass masterpieces  reflect a “golden era” of Mid-century desert architecture that ingeniously adapted industrial technology into now classic civic and residential buildings.

Celebrated  Palm Springs architect Donald Wexler’s contributions to Coachella Valley architecture are plentiful and exceptional.

While he may be best known for his neighborhood  of steel houses designed for the Alexander Construction Company in the early 1960s (, most of Wexler’s works are found among public and commercial projects including one that first greets Palm Springs  air travelers – the Palm Springs International Airport.

Bold and striking with steel integrated  in every part of the house — walls, roof, fascia, trim — its beams, channels and columns were designed to fit together quickly and securely, to be erected in a matter of hours instead of days. Light weight but strong steel frame homes allowed more floor space and floor to ceiling windows to capture the breathtaking desert and mountain landscapes.  Many of Wexler’s homes featured a folded plate or zigzag roof line that today seems almost a signature “W” for his innovative design.

In an interview by Jack Levitan for CA-Modern Magazine ( ),  Wexler  said, “‘I saw steel as ideal for the desert.  In the desert, steel, concrete and glass are the only materials to build.  They’re inorganic and they don’t deteriorate in the extreme temperature we have.”

Back in the Mid-1950s and 60s, the steel homes were designed to be affordable (when steel was cheap), saving labor and materials, and  low maintenance — a garden hose the only maintenance tool required.

An advertising feature in Home Builder’s Journal, dated August 1962, ( touted steel homes as being termite and fire-proof, longer lasting, acoustically superior, and snugly fitting to keep out dirt, insects, and hot or cold air with “consequent lower maintenance costs.”

This sounds hauntingly like today’s quest for energy efficiency, sustainability, low-maintenance and affordability. The famed architect also designed the Palm Springs Police Department and Jail, the Larson Justice Center in Indio,  the Merrill Lynch Building in Palm Springs, the original Palm Springs Spa Hotel’s Bath House (a joint venture with then partner Rick Harrison, architect William Cody and Pierre Koenig), the Desert Water Agency, El Rancho Vista Estates, Royal Hawaiian Estates (Palm Springs’ first residential historic district), Palm Springs Medical Clinic, Union 76 gas station, numerous schools and celebrity homes (

Wexler’s celebrity homes included the stunning Dinah Shore and Leff/Florsheim houses, actor Alan and Sue Ladd’s home, one that eventually became Ann and Kirk Douglas’, actress Andrea Leeds and her race-horse and Buick agency owner husband Bob Howard, and a project for Frank Sinatra.

“I felt houses were very personal .  You got very involved with people.  It’s different than doing  a public building or commercial job, ” said Wexler in the CA-Modern Magazine interview.

This past January, the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation ( celebrated a three day Wexler Weekend, showcasing his work in honor of his 84th birthday.  The weekend kicked off with a showing of the film “Journeyman Architect: The  Life and Work of Donald Wexler”(available on YouTube)  by Design Onscreen (

The homes tour included 14 Wexler-designed tract home properties in El Rancho Vista Estates, Wexler’s original Palm Springs Home, the Krizman, Douglas and Shore residences.  Visitors toured the 2004 restored Leff/Florsheim house (built 1957) which was taken down to the slab and rebuilt using Wexler’s original blueprint while incorporating modern day conveniences and upgrades.

Some fascinating books on Wexler available through Palm Springs Preservation Foundation include the Wexler Tribute Journal, and Donald Wexler: Architect by Patrick McGrew (

More Palm Springs Modern events coming up:  Modernism Week, February 18-27, 2011 ( ) and the 10th Alexander Weekend, March 25-27, 2011, celebrating the Alexander tract homes’ architectural importance ( .

Pamela Bieri

Home Prices – Will History Repeat Itself?

We see a lot of news about home prices, both good and bad.  Nobody can predict the future, but we might find clues about it in the past.  The Case-Shiller Home Price Index, captured the California home price collapse in 1990, as shown in the first chart – for high-tier Los Angeles homes.  Then the prices had increased by about a factor of two, just like our last bubble, as shown in the second chart.  The scale in the first chart has been expanded to show they were very similar bubbles, even to their relative size, shape, duration and the false recoveries in 1991 and 2007.  Maybe we can use the 1990’s experience to project our current recovery. 

If so, the blue bars show that it took seven years from the peak to just get to the point where prices began a true recovery.  Our price recovery may not start until 2013, and this is a worse economic situation than in the 1990’s. In between now and 2013 we may see still lower prices.  It is difficult to tell if the small peak we see today is a false recovery or the reaction to an overshoot in the drop, but from the last bubble it is not likely the beginning of recovery.  Again historically, that increase around 2013 will be at the rate of inflation, which in the long term is around 2.5% a year.  If so, this is relative price stability and isn’t bad news – volatility in home prices is the bad news because neither sellers or buyers know what to expect.  – Wayne Longman

Case-Shiller LA High Tier 1990 Bubble
Case-Shiller LA High Tier 1990 Bubble
LA Case-Shiller High Tier 2006 Bubble
LA Case-Shiller High Tier 2006 Bubble

Historically Significant “Cody” Mid-Century Modern

71388 Country Club Dr in Rancho Mirage

We just listed this historically significant “Cody” Mid-Century Modern in Rancho Mirage. This timeless, captivating Cody mid-century modern has been thoroughly updated without loss of its original style and integrity. The angular walls and roofline; open floor plan with generous amounts of glass, are in his classic style. Although believed to be by William F Cody, this has not been confirmed, but the City has designated this home as historically significant. Wonderful news for golfers the new owners are eligible for nomination for membership in Thunderbird Country Club!

Well located in central Rancho Mirage, on an eye-catching, private (approx.) 1/3 acre desert-landscaped corner lot, it has two solid steel gates that open to the circular driveway with a large parking area and double garage. Stonework (Palm Springs Gold) on the house looks the same as that Cody used on his awarding winning Del Marcos Hotel in Palm Springs.

Visitors are greeted with panoramic view of the pool and patio through eight glass panels. To your right is the dining area with patio access, and the kitchen, which has been completely renovated with Caesarstone Quartz countertops, hardwood maple cabinets and new appliances including a Bosch dishwasher. Find cork flooring in these areas, while the rest of the house boasts laminate wood floors, except for the bathrooms. The kitchen has direct access to the garage and laundry area.

The airy living room has the same glowing stonework surrounding the fireplace as found on the front of the house. South facing, it opens to the pool and patio, as do the first master and the third bedroom with a large closet, which has been opened for use as a den. The living room has double sliders that extend this area to the outdoors.

All the bathrooms have been updated. There is salt and pepper terrazzo for the floor and sunken tub in the first master, and Italian tile in the second master- and third bathrooms. The well-separated second master suite has a walk-in shower and private patio.

A cool-deck patio surrounds the 16 x 32 swimming pool with a 10 deep diving end, a fountain, and overlooks attractive desert landscaping with palms, mature cacti and fruit trees. Shade is provided by overhangs and retractable awnings.

All the windows and sliders have been replaced by Low-E double-paned glass with invisible V-Kool film, and most have Mecho mesh window shades. The original 2 x 6 construction has other updates that include two tank-less water heaters, dual-zone air conditioning, newer pool equipment and crushed stone roof.

It shares the same block as the famed Kenaston Residence, used by many Hollywood stars. An outstanding home at a very reasonable price.

Ralph  Haverkate

Mid-Century Modern Homes


When it comes to mid-century modern architecture, there’s no better place than Palm Springs to view some of the very best homes ever built in this iconic style. Mid-century modern homes in Palm Springs have, in fact, become a significant tourist draw in recent years, attracting just as much attention as the city’s famed resorts, golf courses and spectacular natural setting.

Due to its extensive and well-preserved collection of mid-century modern homes, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the city to its prestigious annual list of “America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations” in 2006. “Palm Springs,” said the Trust’s president, Richard More, “is not a city of architectural re-creations or approximations of previous eras. Instead, it is a remarkably intact and authentic expression of its architectural heritage.”

Mid-century modern homes in Palm Springs were built by many of the movement’s most renowned names – Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, William F. Cody, John Lautner, Donald Wexler, and the builders/developers George and Robert Alexander, among others. What is arguably the most famous piece of residential real estate in the city, the Neutra-designed Kaufmann Desert House, is a premier example of the streamlined, light and airy designs that are characteristic of mid-century modern architecture.

Wexler Weekend


Last night we went to Palm Springs to see the great Film “Journeyman Architect: The Life and Work of Donald Wexler” at Camelot Theatres. A 67-minute film produced by Design Onscreen followed by a brief Q&A with Wexler tribute journal author Patrick McGrew and architect Doug Hudson.


A clip from the documentary “Journeyman Architect: The Life and Work of Donald Wexler” released by Design OnScreen. The mission of Design Onscreen is to document and disseminate in some form of “film media” the work of significant designers and contemporary issues in design.


The Wexler Weekend House Tour is one of the best house tour values ever offered in Palm Springs. Highlights include Wexler tract homes in El Rancho Vista Estates, Wexler’s own Palm Springs home and Wexler-designed celebrity homes. The house tour will include 14 (yes 14!) houses ranging from tract homes to custom residences to spectacular celebrity homes. Architect Don Wexler’s original Palm Springs home is also included on the tour. The tour ends with stops at two rarely seen celebrity homes. The Wexler House Tour is a “must” event for all lovers of great residential architecture. Don’t miss it . click here for tickets:


Listed in Vista Las Palmas Palm Springs

Authentic and architecturally significant 1957 Mid-Century Modern Alexander “Executive”, located in the heart of “Vista Las Palmas” – a sanctuary for Modernism and a premier Million dollar neighborhood also called the “Beverly Hills” of Palm Springs.


Vista Las Palmas embodies Mid-Century Modern design, much sought after by style-conscious buyers who are also seeking the desert lifestyle close to downtown. Most of these homes were built by Alexander and designed by famous modernist architect William Krisel.  Many have been restored or modernized, demanding higher prices.

You will find it extremely well maintained with post and beam construction on a large corner lot, high exposed vaulted beam ceilings and wide expanses of glass and clerestory windows; in near-original condition.  Also discover a circular driveway with an original 50’s carport, low maintenance landscaping and a very private pool.

The generously sized living room is dominated by the original natural rock fireplace. It and the dining area have gallery-size walls for your largest pieces of art. The extensive use of glass throughout the house provides a natural light for your art and views of the pool and mountains.

The master bedroom suite, overlooking the pool, contains a wet bar, a dressing area with teak cabinetry, and direct access to a large den, office, exercise room or artist’s studio.  The two guest bedrooms are spacious and have direct mountain views. All the baths have retained their original tile, countertops and sinks.

The large kitchen with a large pantry still has the Formica countertops and vintage appliances next to the maid’s quarters and laundry. The roof was redone in 2008 and the plumbing replaced with copper.  The current owners have been in possession of this home since 1978.

All About Thunderbird Heights in Rancho Mirage

Playground of the Rich and Famous

Thunderbird Heights is a gated hillside just across from Thunderbird Country Club. The neighborhood, established in the 1950’s, offers a diverse mix of classic Mid-Century Modern homes, remodeled classics, and new construction, most of which were built in the sixties and seventies.

Centrally located in Rancho Mirage makes Thunderbird Heights a very desirable neighborhood. Rancho Mirage’s restaurant row is just down the road, and the popular River shopping dining and entertainment complex is nearby. Most homes have panoramic valley and desert views with large lots and living quarters.

A convenient tunnel under Highway 111 directly connects residents with the Thunderbird Country Club. Thunderbird Country Club offers a par-71 classic course.  Although one of the oldest courses in the desert (remodeled in 1987), it is still THE place to be for the rich & famous, including celebrities. Continue reading “All About Thunderbird Heights in Rancho Mirage”

Vista Las Palmas the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Palm Springs

This neighborhood was once the tramping ground of the “Rat Pack”, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr., and was known as the Beverly Hills of Palm Springs.  In the 1950’s Los Angeles celebrities used Vista Las Palmas as their desert retreat.  Vista Las Palmas is a quiet neighborhood west and within walking distance of downtown Palm Springs.  Situated by the San Jacinto Mountains it is cooler in the summer and warmer in winter.

Architect William Krisel is responsible for the design of most of the Alexander homes.  Alexander Construction, owned by George and Bob Alexander built more than 2000 homes in the Palm Springs area, responding to the growing demand for Modern Architecture.  Vista Las Palmas was largely developed by them during the 1950’s & 1960’s.

The original Alexander homes were $19,000, had no insulation and were built on a concrete slab.  Alexander construction characteristics are clerestory windows, post & beam construction, center halls and large lots.  This architecture became known as Southern California Modern, with roof styles that include butterfly roofs low-gabled roofs and folded plate roofs. You can also find double A-frame homes called “Swiss Misses”, in Vista Las Palmas, designed by Charles Dubois.

Vista Las Palmas embodies the Mid-Century Modern taste for the discriminating homeowner seeking the desert lifestyle of the desert close to downtown. Most of the homes were built by Alexander, and many have been restored or modernized with rapidly increasing prices.

Robert (Bob) Alexander & his wife, Helene, lived in Vista Las Palmas at 1350 Ladera.  It was “The Home of Tomorrow” featured over eight-pages the September 1992 Look Magazine. The $300,000 cost set a new standard in Southern California.  Elvis & Priscilla Presley used it in 1968 for their honeymoon.

In 1965, George & Robert Alexander and their wives died in a plane crash northwest of Indio.  Their work lives on in Vista Las Palmas.