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?”
Old Las Palmas has one of the largest population of homes in Palm Springs that are owned by celebrities. Many of the homes date back to the 1920’s, when it was developed by Alvah Hicks, a builder from New York, and his son Harold. It was a citrus grove before being developed into one of the most prestigious areas of Palm Springs. Back in the 50’s and 60’s Old Las Palmas had many well known celebrities as residents, Liberace, Alan Ladd, Rudy Vallee, Edgar Bergen, and George Hamilton to name a few.
Old Las Palmas is very convenient, and within walking distance to downtown Palm Springs. There are many special advantages to living in Old Las Palmas.
Today, Old Las Palmas is recognized as one of the premier locations in Palm Springs with manicured estates and magnificent views of the San Jacinto mountains.
VISTA LAS PALMAS
Vista Las Palmas – the Beverly Hills of Palm Springs, used to be the place where many Los Angeles Celebrities and Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin known as the “Rat Pack” would vacation in the 50”s and it became known as the Beverly Hills of Palm Springs.
Nestled between the San Jacinto Mountains and downtown Palm Springs, it made it the perfect place to build “Alexander Homes” done by Architect William Krisel. Vista Las Palmas still features many of them in todays so popular mid-century modern era. Alexander architecture is nowadays well known with their roof styles such as butterfly, low-gabled and folded plate, post & beam construction, clerestory windows, center halls and large lots. “Swiss Misses” became also popular with their double A-frame designed by Charles Dubois and still can be found today in Vista Las Palmas.
Mid-century modern rules the Vista Las Palmas area and many of the older original homes have been restored, remodeled and modernized and increased tremendously in value over the last years.
Home prices in Old Las Palmas and Vista Las Palmas range from $750,000 to $10 Million+.
DEEPWELL and DEEPWELL RANCH
This is one of those neighborhoods within the city of Palm Springs that is as rich with history as any, but may not be as well-known.
In 1952 Deepwell was officially started as a subdivision. It is a neighborhood filled with rich history, but it is not as well known as some areas of Palm Springs. It has a colorful and long history as a very important part of Palm Springs.
In 1926, Henry Pearson a scientist, bought the area that is known today as the Deepwell Ranch property. He dug his first well and discovered water as deep as 630 feet. This is the deepest well in the Coachella Valley. This is why the property became known as Deepwell Ranch.
Today, a drive through the streets of this neighborhood is great fun, but better yet, rent some bikes and ride these quite streets and enjoy one the of oldest neighborhoods of Palm Springs.
The price of homes in Deepwell and Deepwell Ranch range from $400,000 to $1,200,000+.
Palm Springs in California has made its name over the years, to attract a lot of people from all over the world to the Palm Springs Modernism Week taking place from February 13th till 23rd, 2014. This yearly event celebrates various cool parties, mid-century modern architecture and designs, special touring of homes and other adventures.
In addition to the Bus Tours showing architectural significant homes which runs on a daily basis four times during modernism week, the famous Estate of Annenberg at Sunnylands is open to the public for touring and the Convention Center in Palm Springs is holding the popular Modernism Show. Another event which should not be missed is the Exposition of expanded Prefab Showcase and Modern Living which include:
Modern Mambo! Modernism Week After Dark Opening Night, February 13, 2014
Palm Springs’ great houses for Kaufman, Frey, Sinatra, Elrod, and others are all handsome expressions of the Modern Era. But as custom designs limited to one site and one incarnation, they lack one significant characteristic of Modernism; repeat-ability.
Embedded in Modernism is the ideal of mass production. The repeatable object, each equal in quality, form and use, is the essence of the twentieth century in contrast with handcrafted artifacts of previous centuries. The impact of the democratization of goods, services, and architecture – from cars to movies to billboards to McDonalds – was tremendous. It is the point where the machine and mass production bring Modernism to the mass audience; it happened in Palm Springs when father and son George and Robert Alexander brought architects Dan Palmer and William Krisel from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley to design the first extensive tract subdivision in Palm Springs. Strikingly Modern with exposed concrete block, butterfly roofs and open plans. Palmer and Krisel’s designs proved pure Modernism would sell in the marketplace. Continue reading “George and Robert Alexander – Builders of Modernism in Palm Springs”
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”
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”
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 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’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 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”
The mid 50’s brought an amazing era of architectural development in the Palm Springs Area. Desert Modernism was born and the term Mid Century Modern architecture was how it was termed. Mid Century Modern homes became very popular and “cool” and there was a high demand for this classic California desert style!! Mid Century Modern homes in Palm Springs are best characterized by some of the following features:
“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.”
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.