Since Palm Springs has the largest concentration of midcentury design in the world, it’s no wonder that architects, designers, and style enthusiasts alike often flock here to get inspired or to shop for midcentury furniture and unique paraphernalia. For the last nine years, Modernism Week has offered not only the chance for modern era aficionados to come together and mingle, but has proposed interesting programs to everyone who wants to discover the city of Palm Springs through its architecture.
Modernism Week’s walk tours and bus tours offer the most fascinating crash course in Palm Springs’ origins and evolution. Here, are some quick facts I learned through the Tennis Club Walk: The early settlers McCallum moved to the desert in 1884, but didn’t stay long as they were not prepared for the harsh climate and heavy floods. Their daughter, Pearl, though, returned years later and decided to build in 1926 the first hotel, the Oasis Hotel. This hotel, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, is considered the first real modern building and its tower, still standing in the heart of downtown, is a testament of that. Pearl’s vision of transforming Palm Springs into a glamorous resort community came to fruition when she called architects Paul Williams and A. Quincy Jones to build the first ever Tennis Club in 1947. This venue quickly attracted many Hollywood celebrities and the pool area became the most photographed in the world. It’s fair to say that she and other fellow women of that time were de facto the matriarchs, the planning board that influenced and shaped Palm Springs.
The midcentury style became the staple style used by architects to represent the relaxed lifestyle, the easy living, but also the relationship with the environment; the stunning mountain views were taken into account in the design which blurred the distinction between outdoor and indoor.
Each architect contributed to the modern design in his own way: Herbert Burns (who designed 3 resorts the Hideaway, the Four Hundred, the Five Hundred, and Six Hundred) made large use of horizontal — or eyebrows — and vertical lines; William Cody, defined as the organic desert modernist, used colors to match the landscape (see the beautiful Del Marcos Hotel, for instance). Alfred Frey’s spare and simple design featured inexpensive material and an integration into the desert (literally with the creation of the houses in the hills: the Russell home and his own private residence, the 1,200-square-feet “Frey House #2”, whose terrace is inside a boulder).
Of course, Palm Springs has a vast array of different architectural styles, which can all be seen, in the fun Bus Tour — from Spanish to Hollywood Regency Style. And speaking of Hollywood, you’d be surprised to see how many celebrities not only came out and play, but also owned larger than life properties right here in our backyard!