Mod About Town: Frey and Loewy

An exploration of desert midcentury architecture and design.

Robert Imber

Barry Sturgill

Frey Sentry

On the north end of town, a building with a soaring roof stands alone. Surrounded by steep western mountains, the Palm Springs Visitors Center reaches out from the base of Chino Canyon and its geologically impressive alluvial fan. Where Tram Way meets Palm Canyon Drive, the wide steel canopy flares skyward, serving as the gateway to Palm Springs. Designed by Albert Frey and partner Robson Chambers in 1965, the building was originally an Enco gasoline station. Eventually, the filling station closed and the future looked grim for the boarded-up building. In 1990, with Frey consulting, an art gallery restored the building as a fresh appreciation emerged for midcentury modern architecture. The short-lived gallery was then replaced by the Visitors Center in an adaptive reuse that repurposed the iconic structure once again. Made of concrete, steel, and glass — industrial materials Frey used often — the dramatic corrugated roof is a hyperbolic parabaloid spanning more than 95 feet. Today, this iconic Frey building is a Palm Springs Class One Historic Site with international recognition as an emblem of exuberant post-World War II architecture.

The Low on Loewy

In a rented Palm Springs studio, famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy, working with a small team, created the Studebaker Avanti automobile in 1961 — and in only 40 days. His vast contributions range from housewares to airplanes and logos (BP, Shell, Exxon, U.S. Mail) to automobiles, architecture and countless well known products (Coca-Cola bottle, Lucky Strike cigarette box, Greyhound Bus Scenicruiser, and many more). His elegant 1947 Albert Frey-designed Palm Springs house remains in pristine original condition, down to the free-form pool with a small, deep inlet into the living room under the sliding glass door for easy access. A small granite boulder imbedded into the concrete floor provides the perfect spot to store beach towels while swimming. 

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