Hugh Kaptur

A Modern Moment for Hugh Kaptur

The architect’s influence on Palm Springs’ prevailing midcentury style comes 
into focus in a new museum exhibition.

Steven Biller Current PSL, Modernism

Hugh Kaptur
The Holden estate.
PHOTOGRAOHS COURTESY PALM SPRINGS ART MUSEUM

With all due respect to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Tahquitz Canyon Way — the road connecting Palm Springs International Airport to downtown — could justly be called Hugh Kaptur Way. The architect designed several structures along this artery, including the Mexican-modern house for Paul and Kay Selzer, Tahquitz Plaza (now Kaptur Plaza, home of the fourth Koffi location), Caballeros Plaza (Palm Springs Unified School District building), and his own office.

Kaptur — lesser known than contemporaries such as Albert Frey, William Krisel, William Cody, Donald Wexler, and E. Stewart Williams — was influential in the development and prevailing style of Palm Springs. His notable projects include the 1968 post-and-beam home of Steve McQueen and a 1977 home for the actor’s Southridge neighbor, William Holden.

Hugh Kaptur: Organic Desert Architecture, an exhibition opening Feb. 2 at the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, explores Kaptur’s practice through architectural drawings, models, sketches, photographs, ephemera, and new photography. In 2015, Kaptur gifted his archives to the museum, and many of those materials appear in the exhibition.

Born in Detroit in 1931, Kaptur attended technical school in Michigan, enlisted in the Marines during the Korean conflict, and later reconnected in San Clemente with his future wife, Rosemary, whom he had met at Camp Pendleton. He returned to Detroit to work with his father at General Motors and, in 1954, moved to Palm Springs, where Rosemary’s mother lived.

In the desert, Kaptur worked for Wexler & Harrison and others before establishing his own firm. His first Palm Springs project was the Impala Lodge, now the Triangle Inn, in 1957–58, followed by the Pete Seva Residence and the (now demolished) Robert Leaver Residence. He continued working in Palm Springs through the early 2000s.

The exhibition continues through June 17. Visit psmuseum.org.

Musicland Hotel

The Musicland Hotel