The famed Aluminaire House, Albert Frey’s 1931 experimental modern structure, is poised to become the next big attraction in Palm Springs.
After languishing disassembled in a shipping container in New York for years while the Aluminaire House Foundation searched for a home, a confluence of timing, creative thinking, and passionate dedication aligned in a brilliant solution to give the Aluminaire House a new lease on life in Palm Springs.
The structure will be a topic of discussion at the upcoming Modernism Week, Feb. 12-22. Tickets are still available for a lecture by Frey expert and author Joseph Rosa at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Hilton Palm Springs as well as "An Evening for Aluminaire" hosted by Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Palm Springs Visitors Center.
The Aluminaire House’s journey from New York — where it was first displayed in an exhibition pavilion at the 1931 Exposition of Architectural and Allied Arts — to Palm Springs is a fascinating saga of neglect and perceived irrelevance to redemption and celebration.
After a Modernism Week presentation on the Aluminaire House last year, Mark Davis had a brainstorm to bring the iconic structure to Palm Springs. He collaborated with a group of staunch preservationists — Tracy Conrad, Beth Harris, Brad Dunning and William Kopelk — to raise funds to transport it to Palm Springs, reconstruct it, and prepare it for public viewing.
“The stars aligned and we brought together the right people at the right time – including the full support of Mayor Pougnet — this has been a dream collaborative effort,” notes Davis.
They formed a California registered nonprofit branch of the Aluminaire Foundation that will shepherd the project and raise the necessary funds. The Foundation hosted their first fundraising event recently with Mayor Pougnet, which raised $150,000 toward the $600,000 goal.
Originally designed by A. Lawrence Kocher, managing editor of Architectural Record, and Albert Frey, a then 28-year-old new émigré from Europe, the Aluminaire House was an experiment to explore the use of modern design using new industrial materials in the creation of low-cost housing. More than over 100,000 people toured it while on display for a week as “The Aluminaire House: A House for Contemporary Life” at the 1931 Exposition in New York.
For the next eight decades it was in various locations and was deconstructed multiple times. In 2011, it was sold to the Aluminaire Foundation; since then two architects, Michael Schwarting and Frances Campani, have championed the preservation of Aluminaire and to find a suitable home. Presently stored in a shipping container, it is due to be shipped to Palm Springs within the coming weeks.
Conrad believes Aluminaire House belongs in Palm Springs.
“The entire arc of his career is here– a variety of architecture both commercial and residential,” says Conrad, owner of The Historic Willows and The O’Donnell House.
As the name implies, the Aluminaire House is clad in aluminum; a tiny structure with three stories. The Aluminaire House Foundation has worked with Mayor Pougnet to find a location.
“It will be a freestanding sculpture,” says Conrad. “There has been a tremendous groundswell of support from a diverse group. It illustrates the power of the collective. I’m so proud of our little community that so many people stepped up to the plate.”
Modernism Week, Feb. 12-22, www.modernismweek.com
Lydia Kremer has worked in the architecture and design communities of Palm Springs for more than 10 years. As a publicist, she promoted Palm Springs Modernism Week for seven years since its inception, she served on the Architectural Design Council board for five years, and was a board trustee for the California Preservation Foundation for five years.