Back to School: Donald Wexler Made Imprint on Education

Architectural design enhances learning



Palm Springs architect Donald Wexler is responsible for designing many of the schools that recently opened for another school year.

Palm Springs Life

 

As school bells ring to mark the gathering of kids and teachers for another year of growth and education, do we pay much attention to the buildings housing this important interaction?

Purpose-specific architecture such as religious buildings, hospitals, courts, airports and schools require more than mere design to assure results conducive to successfully accomplishing their goals and objectives.

Got a good education? Thank a teacher…and usually an architect, too.

Donald Wexler, one of Coachella Valley’s most gifted modernist architects, designed a preponderance of area schools throughout the mid-20th century.imber

Maybe you attended one…never aware that the architect of your campus was a prolific innovator in design, construction methods and materials, civic and commercial buildings, homes and a wide variety of building types from gas stations to country clubs.

Live locally but didn’t get your schooling here?

Your Palm Springs water bill is processed in a Wexler building as may any number of your office, banking or medical visits been to Wexler buildings: the Sinatra Medical Center at Desert Regional Medical Center; the Merrill-Lynch Building on South Palm Canyon Drive; Palm Springs Bank, or Hope Square Professional Centre, to name a few.

I trust your visits were routine at his Riverside County Superior Courthouse-Larsen Justice Center in Indio, or the Palm Springs Police Department and jail.

Not from around here? You still have a relationship with his architecture if you landed at the historic 1965 Palm Springs International Airport.

Today, Wexler’s desert contributions are world renown.

But, back to schools. Wexler’s career incorporated a successful partnership (1951-1962) with architect Richard Harrison and resulted in more than 100 educational facilities, including about 30 schools.

Among them: Palm Springs High School projects from 1958-1992; Rancho Mirage Elementary School; Raymond Cree Junior High School in Palm Springs (pictured right); Palm Desert Middle School; Harry Truman Elementary School in La Quinta;  James Monroe Elementary School in Bermuda Dunes; Desert Springs Middle School in Desert Hot Springs; De Anza Elementary School in San Jacinto, and La Quinta Middle School.

In a move seemingly contrary to historic preservation and education, a functional and pristine 6,000 square foot concrete, steel and glass Palm Springs High School administrative building by Wexler (1957) was recently demolished for an ordinary 9,000 square foot replacement. This after professional and public outcry provided ample alternatives to readapt the original for the required new use.   

By virtue of designing buildings, an architect has more often than not been part of our daily lives from conception until we are eulogized, yet we seldom think of it.

Few architects have been more influential to a region’s development, beauty, and success than our own much revered Don Wexler.

Learn more: Books - Steel and Shade, Palm Springs Art Museum exhibition monograph; Palm Springs Weekend, Alan Hess, Chronicle Books; Donald Wexler: Architect, tribute journal, Palm Springs  Preservation Foundation; Julius Shulman: Palm Springs, Alan Hess and Michael Stern, Rizzoli. DVDs: Desert Utopia: Mid-Century Architecture in Palm Springs; Donald Wexler: Journeyman Architect; available at the Palm Springs Visitors Center or www.designonscreen.org

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

Dann Foley: Desert Landscape Can Be Lush, Colorful

Palm Springs designer Dann Foley, who recently appeared on "American Dream Builders", shares tips and trends on what's hot in interior design in a monthly column.

5 Fun Places to Take Your Kids In Greater Palm Springs

Here are five ways to entertain the kids, indoors or outdoors, in the Greater Palm Springs area.

What to Do Labor Day Weekend in Greater Palm Springs

Labor Day Weekend marks the symbolic close to summer, but it's also a long weekend filled with music, food, and a host of activities in Greater Palm Springs.

Explore Palm Springs: Sportsman's Headquarters

In addition to owning Sportsman's Headquarters and its Palm Springs rifle range, Harry Mann and his wife Ruby were quite the hunters.

Ernest Coffee Palm Springs Imports Local Baked Goods

The caffeinated buzz going on about Ernest Coffee in Palm Springs is as much about the coffee as it is about the fresh pastries coming from off-site bakers.

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.
Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter just once for a chance to win tickets to one of the second annual Palm Desert International Dance Festival performances.