Iconic, Cool Desert

Celebrate Palm Springs’ architectural heritage during Modernism Week

Arianna Sloane Attractions 0 Comments

Architect William “Bill” Krisel waves to modernist enthusiasts on the Double Decker bus tour in Palm Springs. This year Palm Desert has been added to the bus tour.
Photo courtesy of James Schnepf: Palm Springs Project / Palm Springs Modern Living


If you’re wondering why the valley is more crowded than usual, and you’re spotting midcentury fashions everywhere, you’re not living a Throwback Thursday — you’re witnessing Modernism Week. The annual festival has become a signature event that attracts modern architecture lovers from all over the country and the world. 

From the mid-1940s on, luminaries, celebrities, and wealthy entrepreneurs chose the sunny resort town of Palm Springs as the perfect getaway destination. The inviting weather and stunning desert landscape presented the ideal conditions for a new playground, a blank canvas to experiment with new design, style, and glamour. Those with a certain vision and aesthetic found in their contemporary architects formidable allies, true pioneers that were not afraid to push the boundaries.

Albert Frey, John Porter Clark, E. Stewart Williams, William F. Cody, Richard Neutra, and Donald Wexler’s architectural techniques, applied to countless commissioned structures, originated a design movement specific to Greater Palm Springs known as Desert Modern.

Their buildings feature groundbreaking post-and-beam supports, floor-to-ceiling glass walls, and colors that match the surrounding mountains and desert sand. The architects embraced harmony and continuity with nature by creating an inside and outside flow in their designs.

Entire neighborhoods were built with interesting variations to the standard design, rapidly expanding this iconic dwelling style to middle-class homes. Modern architecture continued to thrive in Palm Springs until the mid-1970s but rapidly lost its appeal over the next two decades. 

Things began to turn around when collectors and dealers throughout the country began re-evaluating these architectural treasures; they purchased neglected midcentury homes and restored them to their original splendor. But it is the Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale, started in 2001 by international art and antique expert Jacques Caussin, that ignited the current resurgence. The successful show refueled the Palm Springs economy and brought thousands of visitors to the area. In 2006, a group of local modernist enthusiasts decided to create weeklong programming to coincide with the event, and Modernism Week was born. 

Each February, Modernism Week offers popular programs spanning 11 days. The festival calendar (Feb. 12–22, 2015) is filled with home tours, garden tours, lectures — given by top architectural and design experts — exhibits, films, music, and elegant soirées. 

This year, the festival’s central hub is at C.A.M.P. (Community and Meeting Place) centrally located at 555 N. Palm Canyon Drive. The new 15,000-square-foot headquarters consist of a courtyard of connecting tents where visitors can enjoy films, design talks, vintage fashion shows, accessory trunk shows, and demonstrations. There will also be live entertainment with bands and DJs, cocktail parties, pops-up specialty shops, and special events — something new every day.


photo by david a. lee

Visitors peruse items at the Modernism Yard Sale, one of the many "not-to-miss" activities taking place during Modernism Week.


Mod-Fix Tips

Have you missed the chance to sign up for a lecture or a tour? No worries: Here is a list of activities to keep you in the flow of festivities. 

Hop on your bicycle and join the Hot Purple Energy Bike Ride for a great excursion through North or South Palm Springs. 10 a.m-1 p.m. The north loop bike tour departs Saturday Feb. 14, from the Expo Village, 384 N. Indian Canyon Dr., Palm Springs. The south loop bike tour departs Saturday Feb. 21, from the Saguaro Hotel, 1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs.

Get enlightened at Illuminated Modern, a nightly exhibition along Palm Canyon Drive showcasing modern buildings radiant with special lighting. 5 p.m. to midnight daily.

Join Palm Springs Preservation Foundation board member Gary Johns as he presents Lost, Saved & Endangered: Modernist Architecture in Palm Springs. This popular lecture, complete with amusing anecdotes and rarely seen vintage photos, takes place Feb. 18 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-837-7117. Reservations are required. www.pspreservationfoundation.org

Search the Modernism Yard Sale for midcentury treasures from local and national vendors. Meet Palm Springs homeowners and collectors who have emptied closets and trunks to share their finds with you on Feb. 22, from 8 a.m. to noon. Paul Kaplan Group, parking lot, 1701 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs.

View more than 60 classic cars from the 1930s through 1980s at the Vintage Car Show on Feb. 16 from noon to 3 p.m. Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, Palm Springs. 

Download the PS Modcom app on your iPhone, iPad, or Android. Watch an informative and entertaining presentation about Palm Springs’ best architects or take a comprehensive tour through Palm Springs neighborhoods. www.psmodcom.org

Don’t miss the St. Theresa School Student Project — Modern Architecture Model and Art Exhibition showcasing students’ projects inspired by local and international modern architecture. This event, presented by the Palm Springs Modern Committee, takes place Feb. 19 from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the St. Theresa School, 2800 E. Ramon Rd., Palm Springs. 

Visit www.modernismweek.com for a schedule of Modernism Week events. For complete coverage of events and nightly parties throughout the festival, visit www.palmspringslife.com and our social media channels. 

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