Desert Modernism: What's Old is New Again

Palm Springs architect William F. Cody created the country club look at Tamarisk, Eldorado and Seven Lakes



Palm Springs architect William F. Cody, a member of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Palm Springs, was involved with every design detail of the church down to the hinges, handles and stained glass.

Dan Chavkin

As Modernism Week approaches Feb. 14-24, Palm Springs Life.com is happy to add columnist Robert Imber, whose expertise will bring to life the stories behind some of the structures you pass by every day. We encourage you to interact with Robert, ask questions, send him comments to this email address: desertmodblog@gmail.com.

Coachella Valley has long been a modern kind of place, a region of firsts, one-of-a-kind accomplishments and cultural contributions from the notable to the curious and obscure.

For example, former U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower hit his only hole-in-one on the greens at Seven Lakes Country Club, a stylish golf-course community at the end of Cherokee Way in Palm Springs. Speaking of golf courses, Thunderbird Country Club (Rancho Mirage) began as a dude ranch with Palm Springs architect William F. Cody (1916-1978) designing many of the houses and the original 1950s clubhouse when the rambling 1930s ranch was converted into luxurious home sites along gracious fairways.

One of the first such country club projects in the country demonstrated that what’s older can become new again. In an extensive body of important work, Cody went on to design the clubhouses at Tamarisk Country Club, Eldorado and Seven Lakes.

Construction at Seven Lakes began in the early 1960s with homes designed by another of Palm Springs talented architects, Richard Harrison (1921-1993). A sprawling community of more than 350 graceful homes, they are low profile, rectilinear, flat-roofed buildings artfully angled throughout the golf course to command dramatic views from putting greens to distant mountains and, of course, seven lakes.

Cody’s elegant work covers the gamut of fine residences to schools, civic buildings, hotels, restaurants, churches, and even an innovative gasoline station. An easily visited Cody site is St. Theresa Catholic Church (1968), 2800 E. Ramon Road, in Palm Springs. Viewed from the street, its soaring pyramidal spire is an uplifting experience, beautiful in any given daylight towering in front of the daily drama of the distant western mountains.

Large, graceful sculptural forms are made of gunite, a sprayed concrete such as found in swimming pools and boats. The dramatic curved beams are Glulam - boards glued and laminated into a strong structural beam.

Inside, the encounter richly unfolds under a pagoda like structure embellished with Italian travertine forms, walnut pews, distinctive terrazzo, bronze fittings, remarkable lighting and an enriching sense of space that transcends the desert.

High, narrow clerestory windows draw the eye out to the mountain peaks, while along the floor below mirror-image windows “bring us back” to terra-firma placing the desert floor at our feet from within the building. I call them grounding windows, and am moved by the experience on every visit.

Cody, a member of the church, was involved with every design detail down to the hinges, handles and stained glass. He is one of the prominent and prolific mid-century modern masters whose many works we’ll visit together in this column.

We will also explore the bountiful history of our built environment, focusing on Desert Modernism - the architecture and design of the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s. Mid-century modern buildings of all types and neighborhoods are scattered from the furthermost northern boundary of Palm Springs to the surrounds of the Salton Sea.

If you lived the mid-century dream, grew up in it, or even abandoned it for Victoriana or Craftsman style, share your architectural and design stories from the era. Or if it’s interesting and new to you at any age, what’s old is new again!

Palm Springs resident Robert Imber is executive director of “Desert Utopia”, the documentary on Palm Springs modernism, a board member of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, and a trustee of The California Preservation Foundation, the state’s largest and oldest preservation organization. Imber operates Palm Springs Modern Tours, offering twice daily tours of Palm Springs mid-century modern architecture (www.palmspringsmoderntours.com).

Add your comment:
Desert Guide

Related Articles

10 Things to Do This Weekend in Palm Springs

Palm Springs Life helps plan out your weekend in Palm Springs and the desert resort cities with concerts, events, restaurants, nightlife, clubs and the world of entertainment only found in the desert.

Explore Palm Springs: Jack Freeman Serves Up the Stars

In the 1930s, Jack Freeman's time at the Village Pharmacy in Palm Springs brought him in contact with stars like John Wayne, Rudy Vallee, and William Powell.

12 Places to Dine During Dog Days of August in Palm Springs

August in the Palm Springs area means some restaurants close, but which ones remain open? We've put together a list of a dozen with a table waiting for you.

Color Play

In the tony Thunderbird Heights neighborhood of Rancho Mirage — which has counted Gerald Ford, Anne Rice, and Michael S. Smith among its residents — sits a decidedly down-to-earth classic 1960s ranch house.

Home of the Month: Palatial Retreat

Sitting on 1.23 acres in The Renaissance at Clancy Lane in Rancho Mirage, the 9,500-square-foot home boasts picturesque, 360-degree mountain views.

Promotions + Contests

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

Experience the beauty, romance and excitement of the Palm Springs area when you enter to be the lucky winner of this romantic couple’s getaway
90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Each month, a first place winner will be selected to win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!And, each month, three additional runners up will be selected to win a wonderful Palm Springs area Dining certificate!
2013/14 Best of the Best

2013/14 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Pets on Parade 2014 Photo Contest

Pets on Parade 2014 Photo Contest

Enter your “Cutest Pet” photo in the Pets on Parade 2014 Photo Contest. Online users will be able to like the Cutest Pet photos from six (6) categories.