arthur-elrod

Elrod Eternal

A decades-old promise has kept the designer’s iconic 
Escape house exactly as he left it in 1964.

Joan McKenna Current PSL, Modernism

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A game table and a set of Martin Brattrud lounge chairs overlook the pool.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LANCE GERBER

Fifty-five years ago, Arthur Elrod and Frances Hamling made a pact: He’d sell her his elegant Escape house, and she wouldn’t touch a thing.

“Elrod was very selective about who he sold the home to. He chose my mother, who told him she wouldn’t even move an ashtray. And she stood by that,” says Deborah (Hamling) Ball. “There was a candy dish on the main table in the living room. Those candies were there for 50 years, from 1964 to 2014.”

Ball lived in the iconic home at 350 Via Lola from 1964 to 1971 with her parents, publisher William “Bill” Hamling and writer Frances. “That era was one of the best times of my life,” she says. “I was on the Palm Springs High School pom-pom squad. We’d get together in the living room and put music on the record player. We’d choreograph what we wanted to do at the football game. Then we had sleepovers, with six girls on that big couch. It was a happy time. The house had great energy.”

A half-century later, the home stands as a testament to Elrod’s genius, with furnishings almost entirely the same as they were when Ball’s family bought it, right down to the massive custom V’Soske rug in the living room, the Jetsons-style mod appliances, and the gilt-edged glassware in the avocado-green butler’s kitchen.

“Via Lola is the most complete Elrod home that exists,” says Adele Cygelman, whose new book Arthur Elrod: Desert Modern Design, debuts at Modernism Week (Feb. 14–24). Elrod fans will get a chance to experience the estate, known as Arthur Elrod’s Escape, first-hand with guided tours; there will also be panels, lectures, and a dedication to Elrod on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Author Adele Cygelman shares highlights from the book.

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The living room features 14-foot ceilings, a custom V’Soske rug, and a 22-foot-long custom sofa from the Prentice Company; the antique Spanish candle sconces mimic a wall Elrod designed in 1959 at Eldorado Country Club.

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A second entry to the home employs antique Moroccan brass door pulls made from a four-poster bed on both the main and interior entry doors.

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A portrait of Arthur Elrod.

“Up to his arrival, everything was brown,
beige, and a little sage green.
He swept all of that away. His base color
was always white. and he loved yellow
and blue as accent colors.”Adele Cygelman

Though almost all of the home’s interiors have stayed intact in the five decades Ball’s family has owned it, there were a few minor concessions early on. Young Deborah wanted a canopy bed, not the original setup that came with the house. She begged until her mother contacted Elrod, who came up with the current iteration — not a true canopy bed, but one with mirrored columns and yellow draped fabric that mimics the style. “It was a big deal. That was the first thing we changed,” Ball says. 

The family added a few other small touches of their own, including statues of dachshunds that remain in the home today as homages to their dogs Hamlet and, later, Hamlet II.

While Ball loved growing up in the home, she says she did sometimes resent all the people coming and going at her parents’ frequent cocktail parties. In a fit of preteen pique, she recalls exacting her revenge in a most unconventional way. 

“My parents’ parties were always catered. So I picked up a beautiful silver tray and went around to all of the guests — and I’m sure Arthur was there — to offer them hors d’oeuvres,” she says. “But they were actually Hamlet’s treats. People ate them, and I thought it was hilarious.” She eventually came clean and confessed her prank, albeit many years later.

By 1971, Ball had set off to college. Even though she hasn’t lived in the Escape house in years, she still considers it home. “When I walk in, I see where my mom sat doing crossword puzzles, and I see where my dad sat. I feel very attached to those great memories. But I’m ready to let other people create great memories, too.”

She and her husband, Bob, now offer the home as a vacation rental catering to midcentury modern fans. They took over stewardship of the home in 2014 when her father moved to assisted living, cleared out personal items, and referenced the 1963 Architectural Digest spread on the house to re-create each feature with as much detail as possible. Today, visitors are greeted by the same chic views the designer himself saw.

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Original Italian patio furniture in yellow, one of Elrod’s favorite accent colors, flanks the pool.

When I walk in, I see where my mom sat doing crossword puzzles, and I see where my dad sat.
I feel very attached to those great memories.” Deborah (Hamling) Ball
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An ebony game table with olive leather chairs is situated in the living room.

In the Beginning

Born in 1924 and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, Elrod attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. He worked at Bullock’s in Palm Springs before joining J. Sloane in San Francisco, where he met longtime business partner Harold “Hal” C. Broderick in 1952. The two returned to Palm Springs in 1954, launching Elrod’s firm, which would go on to hire design luminaries like William Raiser, Steve Chase, and Bob Hammerschmidt, permanently reshaping the design aesthetic of the desert.

A custom Prentice sofa in textured linen offers additional entertainment space off the living room.

“Up to his arrival, everything was brown, beige, and a little sage green,” Cygelman says. “He swept all of that away. His base color was always white. And he loved yellow and blue as accent colors.”

Elrod bought his first Palm Springs home in 1955 at 419 Valmonte Sur, a modest adobe that he transformed into a sleek, light-filled residence before selling it in 1965 to the British actor Laurence Harvey.

“He [Elrod] raised the roof, literally, from 8-foot ceilings to 12-foot ceilings and opened it up with windows to the desert, which was not common at the time,” Cygelman says. “He did the same with his second house, Via Lola [the Escape],” another residence that he remodeled into a 4,780-square-foot home with four bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths. “He raised that roof even more, and it became a much more luxurious, elegant residence.

“Via Lola is pivotal,” Cygelman continues. “It’s where he started to experiment with all the different textures and finishes that he became known for. He was also big on very long, sinuous sofas,” often custom-made by the Prentice Company and 
Martin Brattrud.

“He was a huge innovator, not only with fabrics and textiles but with technology,” she says. “He was one of the first to add a recessed kick-space and lighting underneath sofas and concealed speakers into the arms. At Via Lola, there’s a built-in unit that has a television and a stereo.”

Elrod’s design reflects who he was as a person, she explains. “He had great panache, and he was very elegant. He was always dressed impeccably, never a hair out of place. And that’s what this house is, but it’s also a home.”

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A portrait of longtime resident William “Bill” Hamling looks over the vivid blue master bedroom.

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Arthur Elrod at his office studio on Palm Canyon Drive.

“He had great panache, and he was very elegant.
He was always dressed impeccably,
never a hair out of place.
And that’s what this house is,
but it’s also a home.” Adele Cygelman
“He Was a Genius”

Longtime friend Nelda Linsk agrees: “Arthur was the most creative man I’ve ever met,” she enthuses. “He was very dapper and charismatic. And he loved helping people. He was fabulous.” 

In 1963 while Elrod was still living at the Escape, Linsk and her art dealer husband, Joseph, bought the renowned Kaufmann House and hired Elrod to do its interiors. The couple lived in New York at the time and were traveling up to Woodstock to buy art for the house. 

“We left Arthur there after we had decided on the colors and the fabrics,” she says. “I’ll never forget when we came home. It was dark; we walked in the front door and there was Arthur, standing on top of the bar mopping the ceiling. In those days, we were smokers, so he had our brand of cigarettes in all the cigarette urns and my husband’s favorite candy in the candy dishes. He was just so great.”

The Linsks also worked with him on their art gallery. “He was a genius,” she says. “We would let him do anything. He put burlap on the walls of our art gallery so the nail holes wouldn’t show. That was his idea.”

Elrod was often so busy creating that he forgot to bill his clients; Joseph nudged him into having Hal Broderick take over the invoicing. The designer and Joseph soon became close friends, bonding over gardening, which Elrod loved.

“He had my husband build a greenhouse. They would pot for hours, and I would take trays of things out to them. We had orchids all year,” Linsk says. “They had stacks of gardening books 3 feet high. They had the classical music going with the electric toothbrush to vibrate the stems. They had a great time.”

Elrod enjoyed entertaining, especially at Southridge, the spectacular John Lautner–designed home he commissioned in 1966. “We had Bill Blass come in to do a fashion show for Saks Fifth Avenue and I escorted Bill that night,” Linsk says. “Arthur wanted to do a party for Bill, and we had Bill send fabrics out with the BB logo on it. We made tablecloths out of them. You know, Bill Blass has been around a few times. He’s seen some of the finest houses in the world. But when we opened that front door, his mouth fell open. He said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’ ”

At that point, Elrod was getting calls from across the globe — London, Dubai, Paris. “We were in Europe many times traveling together because they would go over on buying trips for the firm,” she says. “And my husband and I would hook up with them and see Paris and go to the finest restaurants. Oh, he was such fun.”

But on Feb. 18, 1974, tragedy struck. A drunk driver hit Elrod and Raiser’s Fiat at East Ramon Road and Farrell Drive. 

“I’ll never forget the morning he was killed,” Linsk says. “Bill Foster, who was our mayor at the time and everybody’s contractor, came over and rang our doorbell. I’d never seen Bill Foster cry. He was sobbing, and he came to tell us that Arthur and Bill Raiser had been killed that morning. He was on his way to our house that day. 

“I haven’t talked about Arthur for so long, but it seems like it was only yesterday,” she says. “I’m glad we’re honoring him, because he’s so deserving. I wish he could be here to enjoy it all.”

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Arthur Elrod created the faux-canopy bed at the request of the Hamlings.

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The dining room includes another custom V’Soske rug. The walls are bleached and glazed wormy chestnut, an example of Arthur Elrod’s exploration of new textures and finishes.

“He Was Wonderful to Me”

Elrod’s nephew Michael Calloway was 24 when Elrod died, yet he still feels his influence. “He really affected my life. I came to New York and pursued what I wanted to do, and I did it because of his example,” he says. “I miss him a lot.”

Calloway, along with Linsk and others, will share recollections about Elrod during a panel discussion at Modernism Week called “Remembering Arthur.” 

“When I was growing up, I called him Uncle A.D.,” Calloway says. “A.D. stands for Arthur Dea,” his first and middle names. Uncle A.D. was fond of Michael’s mother and mentored Michael, inviting him to spend summers in Palm Springs starting in the early 1960s when he was about 12.

“He took me under his wing. We shared lots of things about growing up in the South — and why he left. He had to do that in order to fulfill his destiny, and he knew it,” Calloway says. “He was probably the most focused person I’ve ever seen. He knew exactly what he wanted, in every job, all the time. He was very intense. He was his work.”

Calloway spent time at Elrod’s Escape, briefly, and then Southridge, where he would rub elbows with his uncle’s famous clients and colleagues, including Bob Hope; the home’s architect, Lautner; and Bill Raiser, who was living at Southridge at the time.

“I can’t tell you how beautiful it was,” he says. “Arthur would come home at night and unwind, have a vodka and tonic, and walk down to the deck around his pool. It felt like a fairy tale.”

Calloway remembers being tasked with preparing the Southridge house for visits from Bob Hope; the entertainer liked Elrod’s home and eventually asked Lautner for ideas. Lautner created a scale model of the now-iconic Bob Hope Estate (“it looked like a spaceship”) for the family to preview at their Burbank home.

“I drove this big Mercury Marquis station wagon all the way to Burbank with the model in the back,” and the family looked it over as it sat on their breakfast table, he recalls. “When we were ready to leave, Arthur said, ‘Michael, Mr. Hope has put me in charge of this house and he really wants to do it.’ And he was in heaven. This was his greatest work.” 

Elrod found design inspiration everywhere, Calloway shares. “Once when we were out driving, he saw a broken windshield. We stopped, and he put it in the car, saying he wanted to do a table with cracked glass. And the last time I saw Hal and Bill was in 1971, when I took them to the airport. Even then, Arthur wandered off waiting for the plane. He was talking to the guy washing the windows. He got the idea of wanting to push a button to open a window or a door around the curve of the house. And so he did it.”

His uncle was always “extremely gracious and gallant,” Calloway says. “He was wonderful to me, and I will never forget it.”

For an excerpt from Adele Cygelman’s new book, Arthur Elrod: Desert Modern Design, visit palmspringslife.com/adele-cygelman-books.

Arthur Elrod
Modernism Week Events

Feb. 15

9 a.m. / Arthur Elrod: What a Wonderful Palm Springs Life! Presentation by Adele Cygelman, author of Arthur Elrod: Desert Modern Design

2 p.m. / Elrod’s Golden Palm Star dedication

Feb. 21

10 a.m. / Arthur Elrod’s Escape home tour with special guest Nelda Linsk 

3 p.m. / Arthur Elrod at Home / A Tale of Three Palm Springs Houses / “Remembering Arthur”
panel with Adele Cygelman, Michael Calloway, Nelda Linsk, Mari Anne Pasqualetti, and Erika Heet

6 p.m. / Cocktail Party
at Arthur Elrod’s Escape

Information: modernismweek.com

arthurelrodmodernismwee

Arthur Elrod’s Escape in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs bespeaks the bright spirit and philosophy of the interior designer and one-time desert resident. The fully intact house opens for tours during Modernism Week from Feb. 14 to 24.