Back to School: Donald Wexler Made Imprint on Education

Architectural design enhances learning

Robert Imber Modernism 0 Comments


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: BooksSteel 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

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 (

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