The Miles C. Bates House – The Fog of War?

Walter S. White (1917-2002)
Miles C. Bates house, Palm Desert, CA, 1954-5.
Images courtesy of Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design & Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara.
© UC Regents.

The Desert Sun earlier this month reported a decision by City Council, on advice of City Staff, to formally object to the Historical Society of Palm Desert (HSPD) submission for the nomination of the Miles C. Bates House to the National Register of Historic Places. The general concern was that the City would lose statutory control of the property to the federal designation.

A specific concern was heard that a national designation would tie the hands of the City should a future owner decide the structure prevented the land’s highest and best use, and wish it demolished. This is not the case. According to 36CFR1.60.2, “Listing of private property on the National Register does not prohibit under Federal law or regulation any actions which may otherwise be taken by the property owner with respect to the property.”  If it is an income producing property that has received federal tax preservation incentives, other rules apply. Continue reading “The Miles C. Bates House – The Fog of War?”

The Miles Bates House in Palm Desert  –  More Progress

Following up on our last newsletter, the Historical Society of Palm Desert did raise money in a very short time to have this unique structure nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.  Contributions large and small were received from across the country, showing strong support for historical property preservation.  Big donors included the Board of Modernism Week.

Lawyers Title graciously contributed to the application by providing the required Chain of Title back to 1952.

A professionally drafted application is now in the hands of the  California State Historic Preservation Officer.  Learn more here.  The SHPO is conducting a thorough review of the application for merit and accuracy.  If it meets requirements the SHPO will nominate it to the National Historic Register.  Hopefully it will be so designated this year.

Here is a short excerpt from the application showing the level of and care to detail, replete with a history of ownership, building permits, original and modern drawings and photographs. Continue reading “The Miles Bates House in Palm Desert  –  More Progress”

The Miles Bates House –  A Progress Report

New Publicity

Our last newsletter covered the state of this home and the visit by aficionados to view it, organized by the City and the Historical Society of Palm Desert.

It was Front Page news on June 9th in The Desert Sun, reporting the visit by Palm Desert City Councilors of June 7th.  The article will help popularize the rescue with the headline “Save the Wave”.

Miles Bates House Palm Desert
Miles Bates House Palm Desert


It reports the Historical Society of Palm Desert’s initiative to raise funds to have the house designated a national historic landmark.  According to Prof. Welter of UC Santa Barbara, it is “a rare if not sole survivor that recalls the architectural origins of Palm Desert”   The architect Walter S. White designed at least 48 homes in Palm Desert. This, the Bates home and those would be of great interest to participants of Modernism Week.

It also reports the downside – it could be purchased and demolished so the land could be used for apartment buildings.  The City has no control of what happens to it before or after it is sold as it is not their property, and they do not have the funds to contribute toward designation or restoration. Continue reading “The Miles Bates House –  A Progress Report”

Iconic Miles Bates house in Palm Desert in Danger of Destruction

Miles Bates House in Palm Desert

Miles Bates House in Palm Desert

City of Palm Desert May Allow Destruction of an Iconic Walter S White

Merilee Colton of the Palm Desert Historical Society advised us that the Walter S White wave-roof home built for Miles Bates in 1954-55, on Santa Rosa Way in Palm Desert is in danger of demolition. The City of Palm Desert, in preparation of disposing of its ownership has had it appraised at a value not much more that its land. The condition of this home is reportedly poor, but restorable. The concern is that the land will be sold without regard to the building and it will be torn down for new construction.

We contacted Professor Volker M. Welter, who has published White’s work, of UC Santa Barbara that holds his archive.  Professor Welter gave a presentation on White and his work at Modernism Week, 2016

Here are excerpts from his reply to Ms. Colton, also addressed to us.  Continue reading “Iconic Miles Bates house in Palm Desert in Danger of Destruction”

Modernism Week Discovery: Walter S White

Walter S White – Modernism Week Discoveries

73271 Buckboard Trail, Palm Desert Photo George Gutenberg
Photo George Gutenberg

As we suit up for MW 2017 to learn more about this genre, it might be good to recall that we’ve learned a lot in the past.

One such discovery at MW 2016 was the little-known Mid-Century Modern architect Walter S White who did memorable structures from Palm Springs to Indio, as well as work in Colorado and Los Angeles. He was first introduced to us in a blog by Professor Volker M. Welter, in 2015, who later did a lecture on the architect at MW 2016.

Professor Welter also authored “Projects and Inventions in Architecture”, published by the Art, Design and Architecture, UCSB.  This book provides a thorough review of his work and working life with details, background, drawings, locations and photographs. It can be ordered here. Thus the architect has been moved from being little known to well recognized.

Clicking here will show a map developed by Prof.  Welter showing his known and suspected projects. Continue reading “Modernism Week Discovery: Walter S White”

2016 Palm Springs Modernism Week

Modernism Week 2016

2016 Palm Springs Modernism Week is Almost Here! Plan Your Week

If you plan to attend, buy your tickets soon, as the events are being sold out as we speak – about forty as this being typed.

Tickets remain for the popular Frey House II tours that are about half sold out and there is one remaining Modernism Week Signature Home tour.

There are a number of theme Parties left, which may be a good place to start, or with Neighborhood Home Tours where new neighborhoods are to be seen in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells.

More exclusive home tours may include a reception: Abernathy Residence, Raymond Lowry House, Smoke Tree Ranch, Frank Sinatra Estate, and The Loewe Estate.

Be sure to check out the Lectures, thirty-nine alone at the Annenberg Theater, some by famous names, on topics ranging from architects to architecture, art, fashion, design and even Cuba.  All look interesting and some are very unique. There are also daily lectures at the MW Camp. Some you will not want to miss.

Check out unique events such as an evening at Hotel Lautner, a retro Pinball Tournament and Student Modernism Projects, which is free, and many more.

If you plan to spend a day or more at MW, you should spend a few hours digging into the Whole MW Program. There is way too much for any one person to see.

If you use don’t mind experimenting, and understand what this is, we have created a Calendar File that will place MW events on your personal calendar. It includes only those events not fully booked at it’s creation.

Click this file to download it:  MW 2016 Events.ics

It will load into your calendar automatically. Go to February.  You will need to view each day by itself to see all the events.  Click each one to get more detail and link to the event and buy ticket pages


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?”

Modernism Week 2014

Modernism Week 2016

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.

Modernism Week 2014 Retro Martini Party
Modernism Week 2014
Retro Martini Party


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

Continue reading “Modernism Week 2014”

George and Robert Alexander – Builders of Modernism in Palm Springs

Palmer & Krisel Twin Palms tractr home. Photo by Julius Shulman. Getty Museum
Palmer & Krisel Twin Palms tract home. Photo by Julius Shulman. Getty Museum archives.
Alexander Builders in Palm Springs
Alexander Builders in Palm Springs

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, 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”