All About Mid-Century Modern Architecture

Mid-Century Modern Architecture in Palm Springs
Mid-Century Modern Architecture

Why is everyone so interested in Mid-Century Modern Architecture? With all of today’s innovation, technology and design, why are we resorting back to designs that originated more than 60 years ago. There are countless stores and websites dedicated to midcentury modern tastes and many architects and developers have embraced this style when building new homes.

Mid-Century Modernism is an architectural design style that generally describes the mid-20th Century developments in modern design, architecture and urban development between the 1920s and 1980s.

Many consider Frank Lloyd Wright’s principal movement of organic architecture combined with the Craftsman (Arts and Crafts) style to be the jumping off point for the aesthetics behind Mid-Century Modern Architecture. Continue reading “All About Mid-Century Modern Architecture”

What is Mid-Century Modern?

Wexler Roof
Roof and wall detail of a Wexler Steel House. Photo by Greg Felsen

The community of Palm Springs, California is home to one of the highest concentrations of Mid-Century Modern architecture in the world, making our community a famous destination for aficionados of all things modern. In fact, each February visitors flock from all over the world to celebrate this design style during our world-renowned Modernism Week, which offers events ranging from architecture tours to art exhibitions, swanky parties to film lectures, and much more. Let’s take a look back at the history of Mid-Century Modern architecture in Palm Springs and how we’ve earned this prestigious reputation.

Starting in the 1920’s, Hollywood’s elite found that Palm Springs was the ideal location to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city, yet was close enough to get back to the studios quickly if needed – just a two-hour drive. They and other affluent elite would turn Palm Springs into a private oasis of custom homes designed to integrate seamlessly with the beautiful desert landscape and outstanding Southern California climate. Later, during the 50’s and 60’s, architects and builders would experiment with these early designs, taking the new aesthetic into mass production by using a few basic floor plans and several roofline choices. The Alexander Construction Company, for example, would use these plans to build several entire neighborhoods. The development of more than 2,200 homes in this style would effectively double the size of Palm Springs at the time. Continue reading “What is Mid-Century Modern?”

More Palm Springs Modernism Events in March

While Modernism Week just ended, don’t despair.  More Modernism-focused events continue this month with the Beg Borrow and Steal exhibit at both Palm Springs Art Museum locations through June 2;  the Black & White photography exhibit at the Villa Fontana, March 23; the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation’s Leisure Life Weekend, March 22-24; and the Meet the Museum membership drive event March 29, through which members are invited to dozens of art exhibits and special events throughout the year.

Palm Springs Art Museum

Beg, Borrow And Steal

Beg Borrow and Steal is the first exhibition to be installed simultaneously in the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert in The Galen building.   The exhibits are ongoing through June 2. Continue reading “More Palm Springs Modernism Events in March”

Steel Pre-Fab Homes Make Resurgence in Palm Springs

Blue Sky Building’s new pre-fabricated steel home now under construction in Palm Springs

“Today, people think of a large box looking like a trailer when you say ‘pre -fab home,'” said David McAdam of Blue Sky Building Systems. “But pre-fabricated steel homes really started with Don Wexler in 1961 when he built six or seven steel houses in Palm Springs.  The pre-fabricated steel pieces were brought in and assembled on site.” Continue reading “Steel Pre-Fab Homes Make Resurgence in Palm Springs”

Architect Lance O’Donnell Brings Modernism Into 21st Century

A fourth generation Coachella Valley resident, architect Lance O’Donnell understands the California desert from places too deep in his soul to excavate.

From childhood memories of wide open vistas, pristine blue skies against rugged mountains, days flooded with sunshine, and soft turquoise sunsets, Lance has absorbed more than the physical essence of desert living.

He also lived among and absorbed the inspired and innovative architecture created over the last half century by some of the world’s most gifted and notable architects:  Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, E. Stewart Williams, William Cody, and Don Wexler, with whom O’Donnell began an almost decade long collaboration in 2002.    Continue reading “Architect Lance O’Donnell Brings Modernism Into 21st Century”

South Palm Desert Mid-Century Modern Home Expanded, Transformed Into 21st Century Energy Efficient Classic

When Ralph W. Haverkate, a real estate broker specializing in Mid Century Modern homes, came across an abandoned but classic Mid-Century Modern home in south Palm Desert that was facing a short sale, he immediately called his wife Bettina Waldraff to come take a look.

“He wanted me to see the inside of the house with the true mid-century modern beam ceiling and big back yard with pool which our two Entlebucher Swiss Mountain dogs would love,” she said. “We both saw right away the potential of this property.” 

The couple called young up-and-coming architect Lance O’Donnell of O2 Architecture in Palm Springs, a protégé architect working with Donald Wexler.  They previewed several homes with O’Donnell to get his perspective and input. O’Donnell agreed that south Palm Desert house was a great location, within walking distance to El Paseo, and had “great bones and potential.” O’Donnell suggested leaving the existing ceiling and adding on a master suite to increase the house from approximately 1,900  to 2,500 square feet.

Their offer finally accepted, the Haverkates sealed the deal in November, 2009.  O’Donnell began his design that  maintained the house’s original architecture but meticulously reinvented its interior. Rarely is a house able to combine modern and vintage accents into a living work of art.

“Mid-April of last year, our project was underway,” said Bettina. “Moving along, the whole house was gutted down to the studs and just the old concrete floors and wood beam ceilings were left.”The remodel, executed by Barton Construction Palm Springs, kept the original wood post and beam construction and ceiling.  New air conditioning ducts and copper plumbing were installed under the original slab. The new roof and walls were fully insulated and the concrete floors throughout were restored and polished.

The new master suite bedroom/bathroom addition was designed with its roof tilted in the opposite direction of the existing roof line of the house to give it the mid-century modern “Butterfly Roof” look.

The kitchen was designed to be a focal point in the living space.  It features CAESARSTONE kitchen counter tops, white high gloss Wenge wood veneer cabinets and top-of-the-line MIELE dishwasher, oven, steamer, warming drawer, and built in espresso machine, with an energy efficient induction glass cook top and stainless steel hood. A SUBZERO refrigerator and 150 bottle SUBZERO wine fridge complete the kitchen appliances. “A long 10 feet dining table was a must since I like to cook and entertain friends and clients of Ralph’s,” said Bettina. “And a handmade crystal chandelier rounds up the dining area giving it a glamorous feel.” Continue reading “South Palm Desert Mid-Century Modern Home Expanded, Transformed Into 21st Century Energy Efficient Classic”

Tenth Annual Alexander Weekend Continues Modernism Celebrations, Previews New Tribute Journal, The Alexanders: A Desert Legacy

Alexander Weekend tickets are now on sale!

The Alexander Weekend,  March 25-27, 2011, celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation’s inaugural event in 2001 that first recognized the Alexander Construction Company’s significant contributions to modernist residential architecture in Palm Springs.

In conjunction with its first Great Alexander Weekend, the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation published a tribute journal entitled When Mod Went Mass: A Celebration of Alexander Homes. The weekend and tribute journal launched a growing appreciation of the seminal role the Alexander Construction Company played in the creation of Palm Springs’ “built environment.”  It also brought to the forefront the architectural importance of those Alexander-built tract homes designed by architects William Krisel and Donald Wexler.

This year, a new commemorative tribute journal devoted to the Alexanders is entitled The Alexander: A Desert Legacy and written by architect/author Jim Harlan. Continue reading “Tenth Annual Alexander Weekend Continues Modernism Celebrations, Previews New Tribute Journal, The Alexanders: A Desert Legacy”

Indulge Your Passion for Desert Modern Homes at the 2010 Home Tour


Those with a passion for Desert modern architecture can indulge their senses at the Palm Springs Modern Heritage Fund’s 2010 Annual Home Tour ( on Saturday, Nov. 6.   This year’s tour will cover residences in Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs with the rare opportunity to discover magnificent estates behind the gated hillside community of Thunderbird Heights, open for the very first time to tour guests.

The day-long, self driving tour includes eight homes and concludes with a poolside wine and cheese reception.  Cost is $125 and only a limited number of tickets will be available online for purchase at Tour details will be provided to registrants only.

“Home tours like these are a great way to get acquainted with the superb collection of modern homes that we have here in Palm Springs,” said Ralph Haverkate.

“Palm Springs contains one of the largest concentrations of mid-century modern homes and buildings that you’ll find anywhere,” said Haverkate.  “The desert landscape here inspired such world-famous architects as Richard J. Neutra (, Donald Wexler (, Albert Frey, William F. Cody, Bill Krisel and Stewart E. Williams ( who put their own stamp on mid-century modernist aesthetic.  It is so distinctive, in fact, that we now have a separate term for it  — desert modernism.”

Mid-century modern architecture, from approximately the 1940s through the 1960s, was partly fueled by the economic and housing boom of post World War II.  Desert modernism, a regional approach to International Style architecture, capitalized on the sunny skies and warm climate of the Palm Springs area, incorporating rocks, trees and other landscape features into the design.

A haven for captains of industry, Hollywood celebrities, and a burgeoning population of middle-class American families in the mid-20th century, Palm Springs was unique in place and time in that many talented, world renowned architects found their niche creating visionary, innovative civic buildings, custom and tract homes through both private investors and public commissions.

Characterized by open floor plans, extensive use of glass, steel and concrete, and seamless transitions from indoor to outdoor spaces, Palm Springs mid-century modern homes have been enjoying a revival of interest over the past decade or more.

“These day, buyers who have an eye for design are very much in the market for modern homes in Palm Springs,” said Haverkate  “With these homes now recognized for the historic and architectural treasures that they are, it’s no surprise that they are now among the most sought-after properties in the Greater Palm Springs area’s real estate market.”

The Heritage Fund was established as a 501 ( c ) 4 organization specifically to support local political candidates who share preservationists’ views about Palm Springs’ historic modern architectural heritage.  While tickets to the home tour are not tax deductible, funds go toward political endeavors to protect this heritage.

Pamela Bieri

Just Listed: A Walter White Architectural Gem in South Palm Desert

Welcome to Ralph Haverkate’s Real Estate Blog, Specializing in Mid-Century Modern Homes

Just Listed:  Architectural Gem in South Palm Desert by California Modern Inventor, Industrial Designer and Architect Walter White

During the 1950s and 60s when many architects and developers first came to the desert, the area’s unique terrain, climate and rugged beauty provided exciting challenges as well as new vision for a generation of modernist thinkers.  Some gained fame and fortune in the desert; their many contributions are clearly visible in tract and custom developments, public and community projects throughout the area.

Others, such as California Modernist Walter S. White, created only a few precious gems that are still quietly tucked away in quality neighborhoods, just beginning to receive the recognition they deserve.

One of White’s unique homes, built in 1958 in the Silver Spur residential enclave at 73221 Buckboard Trail, overlooking Palm Desert, is now on the market.

Architectural block, glass walls that create a compelling indoor/outdoor relationship, interior floating walls and clerestory windows are a Walter White signature.  The home’s authentic mosaic bath tiles and pebble stone entry have been lovingly restored.  The newer pebble tech salt-water pool and spa are surrounded by spacious lawns, open patio areas and custom decorative block screen. Continue reading “Just Listed: A Walter White Architectural Gem in South Palm Desert”

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