PSST! — Modern Love

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Juergan Nogai

Joan and Gary Gand founded the appreciation organization Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond and attended modernism shows in the Windy City before they heard about Palm Springs’ modernism show. Having read about architect Albert Frey, they thought the desert event would feed their Frey fix.

At the show, they heard about Robert Imber’s PS Modern Tours, a guided survey of local architecture that fueled their interest in the desert. “We were basically blown away by the area,” Joan says.

When they returned for Modernism Week the following year and checked into Palm Springs’ Orbit In, they recognized famed architectural photographer Julius Shulman at a poolside table (in view of Frey House II).

“He invited us to sit with him,” Joan says. “We spent a couple hours talking about Palm Springs, hearing about his history in Palm Springs, and how much he loved it since he was a teen. He had us completely convinced that Palm Springs was the greatest place on Earth. He really got us to see it through his eyes.”

At the show, the Gands responded to a flyer promoting an open house day among Alexander houses. “We fell in love with the Vista Las Palmas area,” Joan says. In 2003, the couple bought a 1955 “Swiss Miss” A-frame designed by Charles Dubois that they visit monthly.

The Gands have company in their passion. Christy Eugenis and her husband, Stan Amy, developed the Orbit In and The Hideaway because they loved the midcentury design. The Portland couple had a list of criteria for a property they could use as a retreat for family and friends. “The second criteria, after a warm climate, was midcentury modern architecture,” Christy says. Her tennis teacher, a real estate investor, asked, “Have you checked out Palm Springs?”

She did — and found herself in front of a “for sale by owner” sign on a hotel in the historic inns district. “It was so amazing because what was in my mind’s eye was right in front of me,” she says. After 18 months of planning and renovation, she and Amy enjoyed the company of Shulman (who had photographed the original properties) at their opening celebration in 2001. Christy says that from the beginning until real estate sales slowed, more than 100 Orbit In guests bought midcentury houses. “Maybe it reminded them of what their parents had or what they’d seen at [the Museum of Modern Art],” she says, “but they got this bug.”

Like the Gands, Christy and Stan — who once owned architect Donald Wexler’s original house and now own a William Krisel-designed Canyon View Estates condo — visit Palm Springs monthly. Living in a midcentury modern house, Christy says, is about “the ease of indoor-outdoor and the relationship [of the house] with the sun and the desert.”
Christy belongs to several Palm Springs architectural preservation organizations and sits on the Modernism Week steering committee. Last year, the Gands hosted a fundraising party for Modernism Week.

“We look forward to it every year,” Joan says. “We like to educate ourselves more about the furniture, art, and architecture from the period and go to fabulous parties, see fabulous homes, and wear our vintage clothes.”

Modernism Week is Feb. 13-21, 2009

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