Palm Springs' Modernism Week Celebrates 'Modern' Style Living
Architect William Krisel waves to a double-decker bus touring during Modernism Week in Palm Springs.
James Schnepf/Palm Springs Project
Each month, we travel Coachella Valley’s “modern roads” together highlighting its mid-Twentieth Century Modern architects, neighborhoods, and buildings.
Desert Modernism, in our case, describes the genre of architecture and design of the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s when America was growing in a nearly euphoric expression of opportunity that gave rise to fresh ideas, new products, and materials that forever changed a nation.
In 1950, Palm Springs’ population was barely 5,000 residents (then the majority population of the Coachella Valley), evolving from a sleepy, elegant Spanish Colonial Revival village to the chic “Madmen” hangout for the Rat Pack and like-minded swells.
Those who savored poolside glamour and the cocktail life flocked to the desert with shiny new toys and tail-finned chariots to relish in the abundance that personified the times.
But “modernism” was more than a trend. Every day, in a rapidly growing population and economy, it influenced how people lived and worked. The way they traveled, shopped and prepared dinner had exciting new elements.
As a middle-class grew, “modern” style shaped American life, nowhere more plentifully than the Coachella Valley. So it stands to reason that our desert would become home to Palm Springs Modernism Week, the largest international celebration of the Modern Era.
Each February, architecture and design aficionados from throughout the world assemble in the desert for a conclave of tours, events, films, music, educational presentations and a seemingly endless array of sales, festive activities and swanky soirees.
In 2006, international art and antique expert Jacques Caussin assembled a group of colleagues and dealers from throughout the country. It seemed that folks with a keen eye and understanding of the principles inherent in Desert Modern design, were buying up Palm Springs forgotten and forlorn mid-century homes.
Caussin and his cohorts started the Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale to supply them with groovy tables and chairs, colorful swag lamps, art and museum quality vintage collectibles that had originally adorned them in the post-war years.And the rest, as they say, is history…
With Caussin at the helm, as modernism was revitalizing Palm Springs economy and tourism, a group of local residents and organizations started Modernism Week in 2009 (www.modernismweek.com) to augment the annual show and celebrate all aspects of modernism: architecture and design; art, fashion and books; films and music; automobiles; Airstream Trailers and more.
Today, Modernism Week (well, 10 days actually) welcomes thousands of international visitors for an overflowing calendar of acclaimed historians, design professionals, exhibitions, home tours, lectures, double-decker bus tours, symposia and swanky soirees.
Of course, there’s always something at Sinatra’s house, so don your bell-bottoms next month for a trip back to the magic of Modernism.
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).