Hugh Kaptur is the only living renowned Palm Springs modernist architect.
He’s still working at 88 years. And fresh on the heels of a career retrospective exhibition, Kaptur’s star is still ascending.
Kaptur will be featured in not one, but four events during Modernism Week Fall Preview, Oct. 17-20. In addition, his Kaptur Plaza (formerly Tahquitz Plaza) will receive a Preservation Design Award at the California Preservation Foundation’s annual event to be held in San Francisco on Oct. 18, the same day when Kaptur is celebrated with a meet and greet at Kaptur Plaza in Palm Springs.
The exhibition – Hugh Kaptur: Organic Desert Architecture – at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center (which ran Feb. 2 – July 7, 2019) included Kaptur’s architectural drawings, models, slides, and other materials from the archives that he gifted to the museum in 2015.
• READ NEXT: Kaptur Plaza Reaps Preservation Accolade.
With more than 200 projects in Palm Springs and surrounding desert cities including residential, commercial, and institutional, Kaptur’s architecture has had a significant impact on the city’s built environment.
This year has been a well-deserved milestone and recognition of his significant architectural career that has spanned six decades. “I’m so honored; I never in my life thought I’d get recognition just for making a living,” Kaptur laughs. “I’m truly grateful.”
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PALM SPRINGS LIFE ARCHIVES
Hugh Kaptur has designed more than 200 projects in Palm Springs and surrounding desert cities.
Kaptur Plaza: A Rocky History
The Kaptur Plaza has had a long and rocky road to its present status. Demolition of the four-building complex was very narrowly avoided.
Since the early 1970s when it was built, Tahquitz Plaza has housed numerous businesses and had several owners. One of the Tahquitz Plaza owners applied for a demolition permit from the City of Palm Springs Planning Department to make way for condominiums. “I saw the developers’ plan and the height, density and setbacks were out of scale for the site. I spoke against it at the City Council; at the time I was the lone voice,” Kaptur recalls.
• READ NEXT: An Intimate Profile of Hugh Kaptur from 2014.
The city’s Architectural Advisory Committee ultimately denied the design for the condominiums, but the owner continued to pursue the demolition in 2015.
That triggered a groundswell of opposition by local preservation groups including the Palm Springs Modern Committee (PS ModCom) and the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, which advocated for saving the building. The preservation fight played out like a suspenseful movie plot.
On April 15, 2015, a demolition crew went to the city to pull a demolition permit, so Peter Moruzzi rushed over to the city Planning Department.
PHOTOGRAPH © REALTY TRUST
Kaptur Plaza in Palm Springs will be presented with a prestigious Preservation Design Award for Restoration at the 36th Annual California Preservation Awards on Oct. 18.
Moruzzi, founding member of ModCom and author of six books, recounts the chain of events: “Gary Johns and I were literally standing at the counter at the Planning Department while the demolition permit was about to be granted,” Moruzzi recalls. “I called our attorney and she in turn called the Palm Springs’ City Attorney.”
ModCom’s attorney, Amy Minteer, followed her call with an urgent email citing some cases supporting ModCom’s position: “…if the City were to grant a permit for the demolition of any of the buildings that make up the Tahquitz Plaza, the Palm Springs Modern Committee appeals that approval pursuant to Palm Springs Municipal Code section 8.04.340 for all the reasons stated herein. Such permit must be suspended until such time as the Building Code Appeals Board can hear the matter.”
That fast maneuvering saved the day, says Moruzzi.
Fast forward a bit and the embattled complex has been granted a Class 1 Historic Site. “The Class 1 meant it couldn’t be torn down,” adds Kaptur. New owner, Scott Timberlake, hired preservation architect Susan Secoy Jensen, to guide him through the process of restoration. "I consulted both Susan and Hugh before restoring the interior," Timberlake says. Timberlake wanted to pay tribute to Kaptur by changing the complex’s name to Kaptur Plaza, which is now a vibrant community gathering space and viable commercial center once again with a new location for Koffi and a new wine bar, V Wine Lounge.
The California Preservation Foundation with its 2019 Preservation Design Award is recognizing the preservation of Kaptur Plaza for restoration at the 36th Annual California Preservation Awards. The award recipients are selected by a jury of professionals in the fields of architecture, engineering, planning, and history, as well as architecture critics and journalists.
“Kaptur Plaza’s restoration is a testament to the preservation community’s commitment to working relentlessly to save a local treasure from imminent demolition,” says Cindy Heitzman, executive director of the California Preservation Foundation. “The building itself is a fine example of a particular architectural moment, and the restoration breathes new life into the structure. This story of Kaptur Plaza is truly the story of a community coming together to preserve its heritage, and we encourage cities across the state to look to Palm Springs as an example of preservation done right.”
• READ NEXT: See the Best House Kaptur Says He Ever Designed.
PHOTOGRAPH © REALTY TRUST
The California Preservation award notes: “This exemplifies a distinct moment in architectural time, and does a lot with natural cooling. The community rallied to save it, and it’s great that people in Palm Springs are really putting their money where their mouth is, preserving their heritage.”
A Salute During Modernism Week
In addition, Modernism Week Fall Preview will showcase several examples from Kaptur’s notable body of work during four events organized by the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation. Three of the four events are free to the public.
Oct. 18, from 10 a.m. to noon: “Recognizing Modernist Architect Hugh Michael Kaptur”
Enjoy a meet and greet with Hugh Kaptur at this free event that will give the public a chance to tour Kaptur Plaza, which he designed in 1974. The events include a street naming dedication as well as a dedication of an architectural rendering of Kaptur Plaza.
Oct. 19, from 10 a.m. to noon: Palm Springs Fire Station No. 4
This free event gives the public the rare opportunity to tour the newly refurbished fire station and see its new addition, located in South Palm Springs.
Oct. 19, from noon to 3 p.m.: John and Bessie Macy Residence Tour
Take a tour of a private residence designed by Hugh Kaptur in 1961. Kaptur designed this stellar modernist home as a speculative venture utilizing wood post and beam construction. Tickets are $30.
Oct. 20, 11 a.m.-noon: “The Architecture of Hugh Michael Kaptur”
Join Palm Springs Preservation Foundation board member and author Steve Keylon of The Modern Architecture of Hugh Michael Kaptur in this free presentation at the Palm Springs Cultural Center (formerly Camelot Theatres).