Searching for a home in Palm Springs can be more than an exercise in looking at property; it’s a master class in Mid-Century Modern architecture. There are few places with such a concentration of well-preserved and restored examples of some of the most renowned architects of residential property from the middle of the last century.
Palm Springs grew at a time when suburban tract homes were going up all over Southern California, but whereas redevelopment and sprawl overwhelmed some of the mid-century neighborhoods in more urban areas, Palm Springs remained a rather quiet resort and retirement community. And in the 70s and 80s, when some of the original residents passed away or left, their homes remained, often untouched and some falling into disrepair.
But starting in the 90s, a new generation rediscovered Palm Springs and were drawn to not only the climate and natural beauty of the area, but to the unique collection of once again stylish and hip residences. Buyers from urban areas brought sophisticated design skills and an appreciation for the Mid-Century Modern aesthetic that continues to define Palm Springs.
Palm Springs values its architecture so much that the city hosts an annual Modernism Week every February featuring neighborhood and home tours and related events.
How many places can you know where looking for a home is fun, rather than a chore? Knowing a little something about the architects and architecture of Palm Springs can make the experience much more enjoyable and give you a sense of pride in the provenance of the home you decide to buy.
During his long career in and around Palm Spring, William Cody handled a wide array of both residential and commercial projects, creating his own style of Palm Springs desert modern architecture. He adhered to a whole design concept – in architecture, a concept that includes the landscape, building, furnishings, and any and all other facets required to complete the picture.
His first role in Palm Springs was as the Desert Inn Hotel staff architect. His first solo project in 1947 was another hotel, the Del Marcos, recently tastefully restored on Baristo Road in the Tennis Club area. The L'Horizon Hotel (1952) on East Palm Canyon in Palm Springs is another perfectly restored example of William Cody's design style.
But he may be even more famous as the architect of the modern Country Club. He received a commission to transform the old Thunderbird Ranch into Thunderbird Country Club. After the project's successful completion, Cody designed clubhouses at Seven Lakes, Eldorado, Tamarisk and seven other new country club developments. It is because of these projects that Cody received credit for the Country Club sub-division concept seen in the West.
Cody served as one of the architects of the Palm Springs Spa Hotel and Bathhouse project, as well as the adjacent Spa Hotel (both now demolished much to the consternation of Palm Springs preservationists), along with Philip Koenig, Wexler and Harrison. He is recognized for several contemporary residences in Palm Springs, including:
- Shamel Residence, Eldorado Country Club. 1961
- Abernathy Residence on N. Phillips Rd. 1962
William Francis Cody, fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), was born on June 19, 1916 in Dayton, Ohio. Cody's mother, Anna Elizabeth Shadle, worked as an interior designer, while his father, William F. Cody Sr., owned a haberdashery. His mother's passion for architecture and art was one of the main influential factors that led Cody to his own career in architecture.
Cody attended Beverly Hills High School and was active in extracurricular activities. Along with the son of Jack L. Warner, he designed and built stage sets for plays performed at his school. After his high school graduation in 1932, Cody went to Santa Monica Junior College and later graduated in 1939. A year later he attended the College of Architecture and Fine Arts at USC.
According to those who knew him, Cody's larger than life personality was a perfect fit for the lifestyle in Palm Springs. He was well-known as a frequent visitor to local watering holes and restaurants, and he usually wound up returning to his office after a break to work through the entire night.
When at work, Cody was referred to as a "perfectionist" who was obsessed with the smallest of details. This was true for the plans he created, as well as the execution of his designs. Many of Cody's designs were, according to stories, originally drawn on tablecloths or anything else nearby. His co-workers were impressed with his ability to quickly take ideas and transfer his vision into actual designs and plans. There was even one co-worker who stated there were times when everyone in the office would gather around Cody's drawing table to watch him create a new design. When Cody noticed their presence, he would simply ask them to go back to work.
In 1965, Cody was inducted into the College of Fellows in the AIA. Some of the last projects for which he received credit as the designer include the Palm Springs Library Center, originally designed in 1972 and completed in 1975, and St. Theresa's Catholic Church, designed in 1968.
Quite a few of Cody's creations are now considered classic examples of his ability and genius and have been preserved. Unfortunately, some of his most known projects were lost to indiscriminate development. For example, during the summer of 2014, the poured concrete entrance canopy at the Spa Hotel was destroyed.
In 1973, William Cody suffered a serious stroke that wound up ending his career as an architect; however, his firm continued working without him for a number of years. Cody passed away in 1978 at the age of 62. His service was held at St. Theresa's Catholic Church, which he designed.
Cody left behind a legacy of instrumental contributions to the design style that is today referred to as Desert Modernism. The career and achievements of William Cody continue to serve as a huge source of inspiration to new generations of architects, something that is predicted to continue for decades to come.
When it comes to tract housing, you likely think "cookie cutter" right away. However, with the designs offered by William Krisel, diversity was added to the desert community of Palm Springs. He offered various paint schemes, different setbacks from the street and various roof lines, ensuring that there are no two tract homes right next to each other that looked identical. But the floorplans are basically the same for each home, sometimes reversed, depending on lot placement. This concept kept the homes affordable.
William Krisel, in partnership with Dan Saxon Palmer, initially built only custom homes. They quickly changed their concept to offer post-and-beam modular designs and tract housing that was so popular at the time. Their initial major development in 1955, Corbin Palms in Woodland Hills, was built under contract with Alexander Construction Company.
The collaboration with the Alexanders continued big time in Palm Springs. Alexander Construction and Krisel built more than 1,200 homes between 1957 and 1963.
The main goal of the Alexanders was to make money; Krisel's focus was to provide a quality design. This arrangement was gold for the architect and the builders as they were able to attract buyers with appealing architecture and offer it at an affordable price.
At the time the houses were being constructed, a buyer could purchase one of Krisel's houses, fully landscaped, with a swimming pool, air conditioning, a modern design and fence, for just $29,900.
His signature look is a contemporary, crisp design that features post-and-beam construction, a large amount of glass, and an open floor plan that allows natural light to cascade through the home. Another feature that helped to set Krisel's tract homes apart was the blended outdoor and indoor living spaces. He was also the man who made the "butterfly roof” popular.
William Krisel was born in 1924 in China to American parents. At the age of 11, William sketched a family home to be built in Southern California, and his father sent the sketch off to an architect, who suggested William pursue a career in architecture.
He attended the University of Southern California to pursue this career and graduated in 1949. While serving in the army in WWII, Krisel quizzed other soldiers what type of homes they would want after the war -- and what they wouldn’t want.
His coloration with the Alexanders concluded when the family business came to a tragic end – father George and son Bob Alexander and their families died in a chartered plane crash in 1965.
Krisel continued designing homes and commercial buildings in the desert and throughout Southern California, including condos and high-rise apartments, various commercial projects, such as hotels, shopping centers, offices and more.
It is believed that Krisel is responsible for the design of more than 40,000 homes in the area.
Today, his homes and designs are seeing a resurgence and are considered a "hot item,” which has resulted in a price surge.
When most people hear the phrase "Palm Springs architecture," they likely imagine rows of perfectly geometric, mid-century homes, with vividly painted accents and uniquely angled windows. There is no question that this city is still linked with the decades of the 1950s and 1960s when it comes to architecture, and most of this is thanks to a small but impressive group of architects, builders and developers whose tract homes helped shape this community. One of these architects is Jack Meiselman.
There isn't much known about Jack Meiselman's early life. He was a local builder who worked with Bob Alexander on a joint venture to create several Alexander Construction homes. During the process, a falling out occurred between the two men, which is when Meiselman, along with his brother, Bernie, saw an opportunity.
Jack and Bernie would follow Alexander to discover where he was purchasing land and then buy up all the adjacent parcels. Jack then developed a "Modified Alexander" layout, building approximately 350 of these homes, all sprinkled throughout the Alexander homes.
While some architects and builders from the period decried this "move" by Meiselman as unscrupulous and that he was merely "copying" other architects, he had his own unique style and touch that stand out.
The homes built by Meiselman are quite similar to the Alexanders: both utilized post-and-beam construction and were built with a number of the hallmarks seen during this era, such as butterfly roofs, tongue-and-groove ceilings, sculpted concrete blocks and clerestory windows. Each of the homes was situated on a quarter-of-an-acre lot.
But Meiselmans feature a master suite on one side of the home and two guest rooms on the other side, considered an attractive option for a vacation home. The homes also have galley-style kitchens that are adjacent to the living area. In addition, the typical home features a back wall of glass, which look out onto a pool in the backyard, and the nearby mountains. And to ensure homeowners could visit their vacation spots year-round comfortably, Meiselman installed central air and heating in his properties.
At the time, the goal of these tract homes was to build them as cheaply as possible and then sell them for a profit. Jack and Bernie’s homes originally sold for approximately $20,000, a reasonable price at the time.
Although Meiselman and Alexander Construction were developing these tract homes at the same time, Alexander Construction completed approximately 1,200 of these properties in the Palm Springs area between the years of 1957 to 1960, and the Meiselman brothers only constructed about 350. Due to their scarcity, the Meiselman homes can be bought and sold for more than $500,000 today and are found in neighborhoods such as Victoria Park, Sunrise Park-Central Palm Springs and Desert Park Estates.
While many of the homes – Meiselmans and Alexanders -- fell into a state of disarray during the 1980s and 1990s, there are others that were maintained and even more that have been restored. During these decades, hard times hit the region of Palm Springs, with the economic downturn actually becoming a blessing for preservation. People walked away from their second homes and the loans taken on them. There were foreclosures and short sales. Those who had the houses could not afford to tear them down, so they remained standing. In the late 90s, a time of economic recovery, there was a resurgence of interest in mid-century architecture, and these petrified homes became hot sellers once again.
Buyers snapped up the homes for around $20,000 to $120,000, then fixed them up and resold them for a profit.
There are several locations where perfectly restored or intact Meiselman homes can still be seen today, which include, eponymously :
- 1865 N. Bernie Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
- 1966 Jacques Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
Today, anyone who appreciates the architecture from this period can join tours in the Palm Springs area, especially during Modernism Week in February. This allows those who are a fan of this architectural style to see what was created "up close and personal" and get a glimpse into the minds of past architects.
When prospective home buyers shop for property in Palm Springs – especially if they’re interested in something loosely called “Mid-Century Modern” – they will probably hear the term “Alexander home” tossed about.
That’s because the Alexander Construction Company was the first major builder to construct tract homes in the Palm Springs region.
Not architects themselves, the Alexanders – son, Bob and father, George – were visionaries and hired William Krisel, an architect working in the area, to create drawings and sketches of homes they aimed at the middle-income and second-home buyer market.
Alexander Construction Company Neighborhoods in Palm Springs
There were approximately 1,200 Alexander Construction Company homes constructed between the years of 1957 and 1966 in Palm Springs, California. There are a total of 11 neighborhoods, with houses ranging in price from $300,000 to $1,000,000 today.
Some of the key features of these homes include:
- Streamlined and clean floor plans
- Post and beam construction
- An abundance of windows to make the structure bright and light
- Exposed wood beam ceilings
- Windows that connected the interior and exterior living areas
- No moldings or trim around the doors or windows
- Private pools
- Distinctive rooflines
- Open floor plans
The neighborhoods made up of the "Alexanders," which they are now known as, include:
- The Twin Palm Estates:90 homes, constructed between 1957 and 1958 and located at North Twin Palms Drive, West S. Camino Road and South/East La Verne Way.
- Racquet Club Estates:90 homes, built between 1957 and 1958. These homes are located to the north of Racquet Club Road and east of Indian Canyon Drive.
- Sunmor Estates:Another 90 homes were constructed east of Farrell Drive and north of Tahquitz Canyon.
This is just a sample of the neighborhoods with Alexander-built homes. Each of the homes features innovative design, with strict construction budgets to keep costs down.
Bob Alexander’s own home (1350 Ladera Circle), a Krisel creation, is also a well-known residence in Palm Springs, because of its association with Elvis and Priscilla Presley – their “Honeymoon Hideaway.” No doubt those living on Ladera Circle wish this weren’t so, as the house is open to limited tours for Elvis fans.
Bob, the owner of Alexander Construction Company, with his father George, moved to the desert in the mid part of the 1950s. By the time they arrived in the "playground of celebrities" they were already considered to be somewhat legendary figures.
George Alexander worked as an accountant, and then began to get involved with real estate. This is what led him to begin work as a developer. The shortage of homes that occurred at the end of WWII made it possible for anyone who could finance the development to jump in.
The concept of constructing modern homes -- and many of them at once -- came from Bob, who hired William Krisel. When Bob found the perfect design, the George provided his son with a 3-acre lot, where 10 houses were built -- all of which sold right away. The resulting project was the pair's first major modern housing tract: Corbin Palms, located in Woodland Hills.
This project cost even less to build than the previous homes they had built. Each home sold quickly and provided a higher profit per house than what had been earned before.
In the mid part of the 1950s, the Alexanders brought this successful formula out to the desert. Their initial project in Palm Springs in 1956 was Ocotillo Lodge -- it’s still there, but greatly, and sadly, altered. After it was finished, George and his wife, Jimmie Alexander, moved here, using the hotel as a place to entertain business associates and friends from Los Angeles.
George Alexander was the one who financed the firm, finding and purchasing various sites in the Coachella Valley, and his son Bob did all the building. In 1957, the first of several developments, Twin Palms Estates, was completed.
The Alexanders are often compared to Eichler homes in Northern California, due to the similarities in the indoor/outdoor design and the clean lines that the structures contain. While the floor plans in these homes are similar, they all provide unique front finishes, roof lines and the placement of the structures on the actual lots, which makes many of the neighborhoods appear to be a collection of high-quality, custom-built homes.
The Alexander Construction Company dominated construction and development in Palm Springs for years. Unfortunately, on November 14, 1965, Bob and his wife, Helene, along with George and his wife, Jimmie, were among the eight who were killed when their private plane crashed just minutes after takeoff.
That was the end of the Alexander Construction Company. However, the work of this father and son team live on to this day. They helped make Palm Springs into a mecca for the Mid-Century Modern aesthetic.
There's no question that over the years, Hollywood has had quite the "love affair" with John Lautner homes, with countless designs popping up in music videos, cartoons, television shows and even in video games.
In most cases, his exuberant mansions are typecast as a bachelor pad for the most flamboyant of psychopaths, drug dealers or smugglers.
One of his more spectacular homes, the Elrod House, was featured in “Diamonds are Forever,” in which James Bond gets into it with notable villains, Bambi and Thumper, in the home’s half-moon shaped pool/living room. Sitting on a cliff in the Southridge neighborhood (2175 Southridge Drive), the house with its dome-shaped concrete roof has amazing views of the Coachella Valley and surrounding mountains. It was completed by Lautner in 1968 for designer, Arthur Elrod, who plays his own significant role in Palm Springs lore.
Just up the street from Elrod’s place, sits Lautner’s house for Bob and Delores Hope. The gray, mushroom-shaped roof is visible for miles. Lautner washed his hands of the place after it burned down during construction, and Mrs. Hope took over the project. The Southridge neighborhood is gated, but the Araby Hiking Trial goes right past the Hope’s former house.
While Lautner’s work is now seen in movies and television shows everywhere, his history, life and work are quite impressive and have definitely left a mark in architectural history.
For more than 55 years, Lautner practiced architecture, designing unique and unusual residences near and in Los Angeles, which include notable structures such as the Chemosphere, Silvertop, the Levy residence, the Sheats/Goldstein residence and the Elrod residence. He also helped create some of the innovative designs seen in modern restaurants.
Born in Marquette, Michigan in 1911, Lautner’s initial building experience occurred when he assisted his father in the construction of a chalet-style retreat, which his mother designed. It set atop a hill, overlooking a lake.
Lautner graduated from Northern Michigan University, and then became the apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, a position he held for six years, and during which time he joined the first group of Taliesin Fellows. In 1937, Lautner supervised two of Wright's projects, and then in 1939 he developed his own Los Angeles based practice.
The first solo project took on by Lautner was the construction of a house for his family. According to Henry-Russell Hitchcock, a widely respected architectural critic - this was the best house constructed by an architect under the age of 30 in the U.S. Hitchcock would later make the comment that Lautner's work would compare with that of his master, Wright.
Besides being featured in films, Lautner’s work has been the subject of several exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad. His buildings have also been featured in a wide array of publications, and there is a documentary of Lautner's life and work. Other times his architectural successes have been seen include in James Bond films, as well as the Diehard series, among many others.
In the year 1970, Lautner was named as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. And he received a gold medal from in 1993 from the Los Angeles AIA chapter for his life's work.
During his life and career as an architect, John Lautner designed over 200 buildings and his residential projects are still prized today. Besides the two notables in Palm Springs, some of his most well-known projects can be found here:
- The Schaffer Residence (527 Whiting Woods): Featuring a wood and glass design, this residence is located in Glendale, California and was used in the film "A Single Man." This home was originally designed for the mother of one of Lautner's apprentices.
- The Jacobson House (Multiview Drive, San Fernando Valley): Best known for its appearance in "Twilight" as the Cullen's home, this house was designed by Lautner in 1947. The entire house is capped with a hexagonal roof, held up by slightly sinister looking truss-columns.
- Chemosphere (7776 Torreyson Dr, Los Angeles): Featured on the TV series, "The Simpsons," this house has also made appearances on "Body Double." Featuring a UFO-esque design, this is one of the most attention-grabbing homes ever designed by Lautner. Built in 1960, this house is still considered a landmark today.
While Lautner was most known for the designs of residences in the area, he is also known for a commercial genre that was named for his design for Googie's Coffee Shop in Los Angeles (now demolished). The space-age, quirky Googie design was especially popular for diners, motels, car washes and gas stations throughout California in the 50s.
Lautner did more than design house. He had a motto: the purpose of architecture was to improve human life. He lived by this motto, creating amazing structures that are still relevant and admired today.
His work in the area of Palm Springs, and beyond, has had a significant impact on architecture today, and will continue to impact designs into the future. Lautner design also has sealed its place in pop culture.
Internationally known architect, Richard Neutra, Austrian émigré and former Frank Lloyd Wright colleague, designed one of Palm Springs’ most famous structures: the Kauffman residence (470 West Vista Chino). Nearly invisible from the street, this home is featured in numerous photographs, including the iconic images of architectural photographer Julius Shulman, and in Slim Aarons famous 1970 photo, “Poolside Gossip.”
The home completed in 1948 for Pittsburgh department store magnate, Edgar Kauffman, is designated as a local landmark, a protected Class 1 site. Previously owned by local Realtor Nelda Linsk (featured in the “Poolside Gossip” photo mentioned above) and her art dealer husband, Joseph, and then by Barry Manilow, the property was meticulously restored by Brent and Beth Harris. Beth, an architectural historian and ardent preservationist, hired Los Angeles restoration architects Marmol Radziner to undo the prior remodeling and return the home to very nearly the original.
Neutra completed two other homes in the classic Desert Modern style in the Palm Springs area. One, the Miller House, completed in 1937 at 2311 North Indian Canyon, is a small (1100 square feet) glass and steel house and exercise studio built for fitness entrepreneur Grace Miller. The other, the Maslon House, at the Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage was unfortunately demolished – it was an unprotected site unlike the two Palm Springs houses.
Richard Neutra had been designing impressive, modernist homes for more than two decades. He was touted in a Time magazine article in 1949 as being a "prophet of crisp, clean modernism."
While the majority of Neutra's homes were built in California, his work has inspired countless architects, spreading his style and vision across the country.
The Telling Style of Richard Neutra's Buildings and Homes
Any home or building designed by Neutra combined the modernist style with the environment of Southern California. This helped to create the unique adaptation that is now known as Desert Modernism.
Neutra's houses were flat-surfaced, dramatic and industrialized-looking buildings that were carefully placed into a pre-designed landscape. Construction materials consisted of glass, reinforced concrete and steel, finished with stucco.
Born in Vienna, Austria, Richard Neutra came from a wealthy Jewish family. Until 1910, he attended the Vienna-based Sophiengymnasium, then studied under Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos from 1910 to 1918 at the Vienna University of Technology.
He studied at the University of Zurich and worked for a short period of time for landscape architect Gustav Ammann. In 1921 he found work as the City Architect with the Planning Department of Luckenwalde, a German industrial town. For a brief time, Neutra also worked for Erich Mendelsohn, based out of Berlin.
In 1922, he married the daughter of a fellow architect, Dione Niedermann, and the couple moved together to the United States in 1923. While attending the funeral of Louis Sullivan, Richard met Frank Lloyd Wright, who hired him in 1924 to begin working in Wisconsin at Taliesin while Wright was abroad in Japan. In 1925, the work available dried up, and in 1925, Neutra left Taliesin and began working with Rudolf Schindler in California.
While Neutra and Schindler worked on several projects together, one of the most notable was a collaboration on an entry for the League of Nations Competition in 1927. During this same year, they formed a design firm with Carol Aronovici, which they called the Architectural Group for Industry and Commerce.
In May of 1930, Neutra began work for Phillip Lovell to createone of the most important works completed on his own: the Lovell House (4616 Dundee Drive) in Los Angeles. This house is noted for its cable-suspended balconies and glass expanses, as well as the stylistic similarities to the work of architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier in Europe. Throughout the 1930s, Neutra continued designing houses featuring this international style.
After World War II, Neutra began on the Kaufmann House and the Tremaine House, located in Santa Barbara.
Many of the houses created by Neutra have porches or patios that make the outdoors seem to be an extension of the house itself. He held the belief that architecture should work as a way to bring people back in harmony with nature.
During the 1950s and the 1960s, Neutra began expanding his architectural skills by working on churches, buildings for universities and colleges, office buildings, cultural centers, and housing projects. By 1966, he had partnered with his son, changing the name of his firm to Richard and Dion Neutra Architects and Associates.
While Neutra worked on countless projects during his career, some of his best known works include:
- The Bailey House(219 Chautauqua Way, Pacific Palisades): This is one of five bluff houses that sit high above the ocean, built in 1948 by Neutra. The goal was to create a low-budget home, with the possibility of expansion in the future. It was put up for sale in 2016 for $16.5 million.
- The Chuey House(2460 Sunset Plaza Dr., Los Angeles): Designed for poet Josephine Ain and her husband, painter Robert Chuey, this house provides elegance with both spacious indoor and outdoor living areas.
- The Oyler House, constructed in 1959 in Lone Pine, California
- The Rice House, constructed in 1964 in Richmond, Virginia
Born over a century ago, in 1909, the work of architect E. Stewart Williams has helped to shape modern architecture into what it is today.
Even though Williams was raised in the Midwest, during his career, he became inexorably linked with the region of Palm Springs, California. Here, his cool and modernist designs became the foundation of mid-century style. A number of his iconic visions were the homes that pioneered the spacious, open floor plans, along with a relationship between intimate socializing and the outdoors.
When it comes to impressive architecture accomplishments, there are a few projects by Williams that stand out from the rest.
The Frank Sinatra House, also called Twin Palms
Built in 1947, The Frank Sinatra House is still standing today (and available as a luxury vacation rental), located at 1148 East Alejo Road in Palm Springs, CA. Originally constructed for Sinatra and, his first wife, Nancy, when his second wife, Ava Gardner moved in , they apparently became the worst neighbors ever.
Originally, Williams showed Sinatra two drawings, one for a Georgian-style home and the other for a low, long four-bedroom home where each room had a view of the pool, which is shaped like a piano.
Sinatra moved to the Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage after five years at Twin Palms. A blessing to the Movie Colony neighborhood, no doubt.
The Marjorie Main Renovations
Another of Williams projects, from 1947, The Marjorie Main Renovations is located at 276 Palo Verde Avenue, in Palm Springs, California.
The Edris House
Described as being lean and spare, to mimic the stark desert surroundings, this house is considered one of the most gracious and graceful ever designed by Williams. Originally built in 1954 for Marjorie and William Edris, today the site is a historic building in the Palm Springs area and located at 1030 W. Cielo Drive, in Palm Springs, California.
Constructed of mainly glass and wood, the house was a classic example of Williams style, with a V-shaped, wide roof that offered shade for outdoor living, and it had a garden that cascaded into the home's living room. The home sold for a record $3 million in 2018.
Several Williams’ commercial buildings in Palm Springs are considered prime examples of Modernism including:
- The Oasis Building at 101-121 South Palm Canyon Drive. 1952
- The Coachella Savings and Loan I (now a Chase Bank). 499 South Palm Canyon Drive. 1955
- The Coachella Savings and Loan II (now The Bank, an event space) 383 S. Palm Canyon Drive. 1961
- Santa Fe Savings & Loan, now Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center. 300 South Palm Canyon Drive, 1960
- The Mountaintop Station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (1961)
The two largest and most complex projects that Williams has been credited with include the Crafton Hills College (1972), located in Yucaipa and the Palm Springs Art Museum (1976). Each of these further reveals his commitment to creating both people-friendly and inviting spaces. He is to this day considered a dedicated modernist and all his designs showcase elegant details, warmth in the materials used and a clear connection between the exterior and interior.
The Early Life of E. Stewart Williams
Born in 1909, Emerson Stewart Williams lived in an era that was dominated by the ornate look of Victorian architecture. Williams grew up in the Dayton, Ohio area, where his father worked as an architect. In 1932 Williams graduated from Cornell and then spent the years from 1934 to 1938 teaching at Columbia.
After his period of teaching, Williams traveled through the northern portion of Europe, where he met his future wife, who was from Sweden. Upon his return to the United States, he began working in the office of Raymond Loewy.
During his time with Loewy, Williams worked on several projects including the Lord and Taylor department store, and the 1939 New York World's Fair.
By 1941, Stewart had returned to Palm Springs to begin working at his father's architecture firm. Upon joining his father's architectural firm, where his younger brother, Roger, also worked, the name was changed to Williams, Williams and Williams, with the locals referring to the firm as "Williams cubed."
Within the next two years, he started building ships in Sausalito, CA for Bechtel Marin County and then spent some time in the Navy.
After the end of WWII, the family of architects was offered an array of commissions, with Stewart being the design partner. From William's first project, which was the Frank Sinatra Residence constructed in 1947, until his last, which were done in the 1990s, he successfully designed a large number of residential homes, as well as civic buildings, banks, colleges, schools and hospitals. Each project he took on displays his careful attention to details, functionality and placement.
While Williams was extremely active in his architectural practice, he also remained active in the Coachella Valley, where he lectured on the need for a higher public understanding of city planning to help protect the environment.
Throughout the long and productive career of E. Stewart Williams, he created a wide array of sophisticated and stunning homes for the social luminaries of the Palm Springs region. He also designed buildings that are still, to this day, enjoyed by many.
Donald Wexler originally moved to Palm Springs in 1952. When he arrived in the area, the empty stretches of vast desert terrain served as his inspiration to create minimalist houses out of steel. These houses would eventually define the area that is now Coachella Valley.
Wexler designed houses well into 2007, leaving an impressive body of work when he passed away at age 89 in 2015. There is no question he left his mark on Palm Springs, and his legacy is one that will endure for generations to come.
Throughout his career, Wexler made it very clear that he did not want the work he did to be labeled. He even stated that he never thought of his work in the desert as being "modern." His creations, he said, were built to give people the experience of living within the existing environment.
Several of Wexler's projects are still standing today, with many being worth well over $600,000. His achievements include:
- Lilliana Gardens Glass House, 1954
- Andrea Leeds House, 1954
- Leff House, 1957
- Spa Resort Casino, 1959
Wexler is also known for designing the main terminal in the Palm Springs International Airport, which provides an amazing view of the picturesque mountains, as well as Dinah Shore's home, which was later purchased by Leonardo DiCaprio.
While the steel homes originally sold for approximately $14,000, making them affordable for those looking for homes after the war, in 2013, one of the restored homes was sold for $700,000. Many have made the claim that if the price of steel had never increased like it did, then there would likely be thousands of steel houses in the desert of Palm Springs today.
The Early Life of Architect Donald Wexler
David Allen Wexler, born on January 23, 1926, in Sioux Falls, SD, and in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the time he enrolled at the University of Minnesota, he was unsure what major to declare. It was the score he earned on an aptitude test that finally pushed him in the direction of architecture, and he graduated from college in 1950.
Wexler first trekked to Palm Springs at the request of William Cody, a bon vivant who tasked him with the six-month project of creating the Tamarisk Country Club. It didn't take long for Wexler to become completely smitten with this region.
His architecture, much of which can still be seen in the area, is marked by folded steel roofs, low-hanging eaves and experiments in prefabrication. His style even inspired an adjective, "Wexler-like," that is used by modern architects today.
When Wexler spent a short amount of time in the Los Angeles office of Richard Nuetra, another midcentury architect he worked for early in his career, he discovered that the Coachella Valley was refreshingly empty. This provided him with essentially an empty canvas to mold and create with architectural styles and designs of his own. While there was plenty of opportunity in the area, few had yet to venture into the area. This left him working with extremely picky celebrity clientele whose projects often exceeded time and budget constraints. Due to these factors, he only earned about $5,500 his first year working in Palm Springs.
Structural engineer Bernard Perlin approached Wexler in 1958 with a proposition - he wanted Wexler to design 38 all-steel, flat-roofed homes as part of a project for Palm Springs developers Robert and George Alexander. With several prominent midcentury architects, such as Pierre Koenig and Ray and Charles Eames, already encountering difficulty when using steel in construction projects, Wexler was eager to accept the challenge.
He had a different idea. Instead of putting the steel into an existing structure, he made the whole structure out of it. His steel houses, which were slim and easy to replicate, were a wonderful solution to the postwar housing availability problem.
The steel walls used for Wexler's creations were put together in Los Angeles, then shipped out to the desert. At this point they were put in place and fully erected in just four hours. It took only about a month to complete an entire home. While the homes were technically considered prefab, they were still sleek structures that were able to capture the midcentury modern look perfectly.
The idea was to create these homes on a limited budget. While they were indeed inexpensive to make, the houses were still strong enough to withstand the harsh desert climate. In fact, according to Wexler, unless someone used a bulldozer, the houses weren't coming down.
Wexler was married twice, first to Marilynn Wexler, who passed away in 1988, and then to Nancy Unterman, who passed away in 2007. He had two sons, Brian and Gary, and five grandchildren. There is no question that Wexler's innovative use of steel made his homes and projects stand out from those of other architects of the time, heralding the beginning of a new architectural era in this region.
For more than six decades Albert Frey enjoyed the sunshine of Palm Springs while creating something that is now considered a "desert modernist" style of architecture.
The buildings that Frey contributed to the Palm Springs area worked to establish the city as a progressive and innovative mecca for modern architecture from 1950s to the 1970s. His creations are now considered some of the most prized monuments in the entire valley.
He worked on a wide array of architectural projects ranging from public buildings, most of which are still being used today, to homes and institutional buildings. According to Frey himself, homes were a form of expression, which is clear when you view his unique style.
Some of the most noteworthy local buildings, structures and homes include:
- The Tramway Gas Station is one of the first buildings you see arriving in Palm Springs from the west. Built by Frey in 1965, the distinctive wing shaped roof has real wow factor as motorists drive into town on Highway 111. It served as a gas station originally, fell into disrepair by the 90s, was threatened with demolition, ultimately saved and finally restored. It is now the Palm Springs Visitors Center.
- Frey House II is the second long-term home of Albert Frey which is easily visible perched on a hillside at the far west end of the Tahquitz Canyon Way. The road up to it ends at a gate past the Willows Hotel, so it can only be glimpsed from below (or above on Google). The house was completed in 1964, and at the time it was the highest elevation of any structure in the city.
- The Loewy House that was constructed and designed for industrial designer Raymond Loewy. Originally designed as a bachelor's retreat, this house was expanded when Loewy got married. Today, it still sits in its original spot at 600 Panorama Road in Palm Springs.
- The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station is the launch point for the world's biggest rotating tram car that travels more than two and a half miles along the amazing cliffs of Chino Canyon to an altitude of 8,516 feet. The Valley Station was designed by Frey; the Mountain Station by another renowned Palm Springs architect, William Cody.
- The Kocher-Samson Building located at 766 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. It was built in the famous desert modernism style and originally opened in 1935. Although the building is a Class 1 historic site now, it had been extensively remodeled prior to this designation.
- The Aluminaire House was constructed in 1931, and in 2017 the house, which at the time was disassembled, was removed from its location in storage in Long Island, driven across the country and will be reassembled in Palm Springs as a permanent fixture.
Albert Frey was born in Zurich, Switzerland on October 18, 1903. He studied architecture at the Institute of Technology, in Winterthur, Switzerland, and earned his diploma in 1924. From there, Frey trained in the construction of traditional buildings and rather than receiving design instruction, he received technical instruction in the Beaux-Arts style. Before receiving his diploma in 1924, Frey was accepted as an apprentice with A.J. Arter, a Zurich-based architect and worked in construction during his time off from school.
Between the years of 1924 and 1928, Frey worked on several different projects throughout Belgium, and in 1928 he secured a position aside Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret to work in the Paris. Frey departed Paris in 1928 and came to the United States to begin his architectural work.
In 1930 Frey began to work with A. Lawrence Kocher in New York. Kocher was not only an accomplished architect, but also the editor of the Architectural Record. Their collaboration lasted until 1935. During this time, he worked on a project for Kocher’s brother, who lived in Palm Springs. This introduced Frey to the California desert.
In 1935, Frey began working with Cornell-educated architect John Porter Clark in California. He left briefly to return to New York and work on the Museum of Modern Art. He also got married at this time to Marion Cook, a writer he had met in Palm Springs.
After completing his work at the Museum of Modern Art, Frey and his wife went back to California to work with Clark again, a partnership that lasted for two more decades.
After much consideration, a shopping center that reflected a Frey inspired façade was demolished at the corner of Ramon Road and Sunrise Way in Palm Springs. It was replaced with a new shopping center that also features highlights of Frey's unique style. And more structures being designed in the area are being fitted with various "Frey style" accents, which includes exposed ceilings, rock facings, glass walls and butterfly rooflines.
In 2010, a Golden Palm Star at the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to Albert Frey for all the work and the contributions he made to the architecture in the city.
Even later in life, he was admired for his gusto, life and attitude, bringing something refreshing and light to architecture.
Albert Frey passed away on November 14, 1998, but left behind a legacy that still impacts architecture in Palm Springs and across the country. His features, accents and unique style are something that is still celebrated by modern and traditional architects.