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. 


Hello Merilee

The significance of the Bates house cannot be overestimated. I would call the Miles Bates House the most important surviving WS White building in the Coachella Valley, even before the Alexander House, Palm Springs, which is now on the National Register of Monuments, and the Willcockson House, Indio. The butterfly roof of the latter precedes and anticipates the one on Albert Frey’s gasoline station in Palm Springs.

In addition, this house is one of the earliest in Southern California (and probably beyond) that features a sculpturally shaped roof; an important formal design aspect that modestly “anticipates” such latter designs as J. Lautner’s Elrod House in Palm Spings.

The roof of the Bates House is unique. To the best of my knowledge, White has never used the construction method (wooden dowels with bi-concave intermediate elements) for any other building, even though he held a patent on it with an eye to exploit it further.

In short, the Bates House is important for the early history of Palm Desert, the history of mid-century desert architecture and for mid-century architecture in Southern California.

In case no private buyer steps forward who wishes to restore the house (several potential buyers have already contacted me who wish to do exactly this), I wonder if the Bates house could find a new use as a small events, exhibition, and civic space (perhaps also to be rented out also for private functions)?  The land around the house could in such case become a small public park.

As the Bates House abuts, respectively extends in direction of the senior citizen center at the other, opposite site of the block, this center could perhaps/should become part of a civic solution to preserving the Bates House. For example, as a potential user (if not owner) of the restored Bates House.

I would suggest to speak early with local groups and institutions (churches, museums, art centers, youth groups, history groups, etc.) and also, regional (Coachella Valley) groups, etc. in order to establish what needs such small civic space could reasonably meet.

How to organize a “rescue” of the Bates house if no private person buys it?

It might be worthwhile to start an application to have the house listed as a registered monument. This can open ways to obtain tax benefits etc.    (Editor – Professor Welter went on to give persons and their contact information, able to provide expert assistance.  They include Dr Barbara Lamprecht who wrote the successful application for the Alexander House by WS White in Palm Springs., and Mark Davis from PS Modernism Week)

Even if located in adjacent cities, contact the following for help and guidance how to proceed with preserving the building, how to go about fund raising, etc:

Palm Springs Modernism Week (http://www.modernismweek.com);

Palm Springs Preservation Foundation (http://www.pspreservationfoundation.org);

Los Angeles Conservancy (www.laconservancy.org);

California Preservation Foundation (www.californiapreservation.org).

Some of these groups were at the event in PS during Modernism Week.

Finally, fundraising.

Besides the usual sources and suspects, owners of WS White homes come to mind. I cannot quantify whether the WS White exhibition and catalog has resulted in WS White-designed homes having an increased value.  (Editor – they have)

But if there were a restored WS White in PD that is used by the local/regional community, that would add another piece to the “fame” of WS White and accordingly possibly to the value of homes designed by the man.

One possible way to rally the owners to the cause could be via the argument that they can/should become part of showing broad community support for the rescue of the Bates House. Thus asking for smaller donations might bring results in numbers of supporters rather than asking these owners to come up with a larger amount of money that will be needed.

Finally, once the Bates House is on the market, get the news out to the press. Curbed LA (la.curbed.com) is really good for this.  It might be good to put together a little press kit with some current and historic images (downloadable from the PDHS website), and the ideas of the PDHS for the future of the house.

The ADC/UCSB might be able to help with historic images, PS Modernism Week might be able to help with ideas for further press outlets.

Good luck for this undertaking!  Best, Volker


You will be hearing more on this.

Contact Marilee at [email protected], of the Historical Society of Palm Desert for more information as it develops and your contributions.