Mid - Century Modern - A Style That Never Left

From hosting its own biannual Modernism week to inspiring shows like HGTV’s Desert Flippers, Palm Springs has become well known for its love affair with Mid-Century Modern design and for good reason.

Abernathy Residence by William F Cody, 1962 // image credit: Jake Holt

Abernathy Residence by William F Cody, 1962 // image credit: Jake Holt

Historically, Palm Springs has attracted a huge range of stars, including Liberace, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Walt Disney, Leonardo DiCaprio and more. It’s warm weather, palm tree lined streets and close proximity to LA make it the perfect getaway for celebrities looking for some peace and quiet.  The frequent celebrity visitors helped make Palm Springs fashionable during the 1950’s and attracted visitors from all over the world.  Today, tourism is the leading industry in Palm Springs, generating $1 billion in tax revenues in 2017.

Early celebrity visitors stayed at the Desert Inn, and El Mirador Hotel, opening in 1909 and 1927 respectively.  During the 1930’s and 1940’s celebrities began building second homes in Palm Springs, creating what has lovingly become known as The Movie Colony.  This tranquil neighborhood was home to Cary Grant, Dinah Shore, Van Johnson, Tony Curtis, Gloria Swanson, Jack Benny and Frank Sinatra.  Today the Movie Colony is a sought - after neighborhood known for its hip, vintage-glam hotels and cozy restaurants.

Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms - built in the 1940’s, designed by E. Stewart Williams

Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms - built in the 1940’s, designed by E. Stewart Williams

During the 1950’s we saw the development of the Alexander House and the Twin Palms Estates neighborhood.  These developments more than doubled the housing capacity of Palm Springs over a 10 year span.  The aptly named “Alexanders” were spearheaded by architect William Krisel.  His use of standardized building elements, non-traditional rooflines and footprints while integrating indoor with outdoor living, made the “Alexanders” affordable, appealing and highly sought after, even today! 

According to the Independent, “Inspired by the stark desert landscape and modern schools like Bauhaus and the International Style, the architects of the 1950s created in Palm Springs what is now called Desert Modernism - today it's the highest concentration of mid-century modern architecture in the world.”  During the mid 20th century era (1940-1970), there were several notable architects and builders who brought these concepts to life in Palm Springs including, Albert Frey, John Porter Clark , William Cody, David Wexler, E. Stewart Williams, William Krisel, John Lautner, and Richard Neutra just to name a few.

Frey House II, built in and around the natural environment of the San Jacinto Mountain foothills

Frey House II, built in and around the natural environment of the San Jacinto Mountain foothills

Albert Frey, (October 18, 1903 – November 14, 1998) was a Swiss-born architect is largely attributed with establishing the desert modernism style that Palm Springs is known for.  In partnership with John Porter Clark, some of Frey’s most famous buildings include The Cree House II, Frey House I and II, Loewy House, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station, Palm Springs City Hall, Salton Bay Yacht Club, and the Tramway Gas Station with its iconic flying wedge canopy at the foot of the entrance to the tramway, now used as a visitors center. Frey died in Palm Springs at the age of 95 and leaving behind a legacy and design style that has not only never left, but turned the city into the Mid-Century mecca that it’s known for today.



Sources

Desert Sun // Palm Springs History // Albert Frey // The Independent