Architecture & Design — Modern Man
Words with Architectural Preservationist Robert Imber
What attracts you to the midcentury modern vibe?
Mainly the pure design aesthetic, simplicity and how it served a booming nation. Good design is good design, whether Spanish, Japanese, or midcentury modern, but I find the clean lines, unadorned materials, and innovation of the modern era uniquely attractive. And they were particularly conducive to our ancient desert environment, indoor-outdoor lifestyle, and remarkable natural lighting. I see design as a continuum, often taking lessons from the past and incorporating them into new ideas. The midcentury architects embraced decades-old concepts and reinvented them into new ways of designing and living. We were fortunate to have talented, creative architects in the Coachella Valley.
How does your work reflect this attraction?
My work is a reward for my primary passion. I’ve loved architecture since I was a boy in St. Louis, Missouri, drawing floor plans and rummaging through trash bins of architects offices for blueprints and architectural models for my basement “museum” at home. For the past 10 years I've provided daily tours of Palm Springs architecture to appreciative visitors and locals who savor our region’s internationally acclaimed midcentury collection of buildings and neighborhoods. I am gratified by the opportunity to share one of the desert’s greatest assets.
What’s your favorite tour in the desert?
We have such a great array of interesting tours, from rustic canyons and windmills to the San Andreas Fault, there’s a tour for every day and everyone. They are all my faves!
Where does Palm Springs rank in architecture and design?
Palm Springs is considered the “Mecca of Modernism.” It is, in fact, an internationally acclaimed valleywide architectural collection of important sites and exceptional lessons learned from street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood. In the post-war boom, we were fortunate to have copious works by talented local architects including William F.Cody, Albert Frey, Donald Wexler, and E. Stewart Williams, as well as famed masters such as A. Quincy Jones, John Lautner, Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler, Welton Becket, and others. Even preceding the midcentury era, Lloyd Wright, eldest architect son of Frank Lloyd Wright, introduced ultra-modern "thinking" to Palm Springs in 1923 with the innovative Oasis Hotel. Today, Palm Springs is an architectural museum and an ever-growing cultural tourism destination for its collection.
What sort of groovy things are you going to feature in your upcoming Desert Guide column?
I look forward to highlighting modern marvels that dot our valley from Snow Creek to the Salton Sea. Tucked away enclaves and buildings, sites, neighborhoods, and monuments one may have passed for years, never realizing their historic merit. For example, only a tiny remnant of the Lloyd Wright Oasis Hotel remains. Thousands pass it daily and rarely notice it. So I invite readers pick up Desert Guide and go on their own discovery tour.
Robert Imber is a lifelong visitor and 10-year Palm Springs resident. He has been an advocate for architectural preservation for more than 25 years and recognized by several local organizations and businesses for his work in this area. He owns and operates Palm Springs Modern Tours (www.psmodern.comck). Visit www.palmspringslife.com to follow his column on midcentury modern design and architecture online.