emerson and farrar fine jewelry

Jewelers Find Gems of Architectural History

Original art deco features from architect Lloyd Wright are found during renovation of a downtown space for retailer Emerson & Farrar.

Lydia Kremer History

emerson and farrar fine jewelry
An interior view of Emerson & Farrar Fine Jewelry store shows original frieze and slit window uncovered by the removal of a mirror.

Lloyd Wright’s architectural touches to the historic Oasis Hotel have resurfaced with the opening of the Emerson & Farrar Fine Jewelry store in downtown Palm Springs.

During restoration, the renovation team made an astonishing discovery — original art deco features by Wright reappeared when a mirror was removed from the west wall. An original Wright frieze and a slit window made of rolled glass were discovered with the removal of the mirror after more than half a century.

“The art deco architecture is one of the things that has intrigued me so much about that building,” says Jeri Vogelsang, executive director of the Palm Springs Historical Society. “I think it’s the only art deco building in Palm Springs. And Lloyd Wright really designed it with the perfect sense of scale for Palm Springs; the tower is only two stories.”

The aging beauty underwent a $250,000 makeover after being vacant for four years. Paul and Pamela Emerson, whose son and daughter are also involved in the business, restored a portion of the Class 1 historic site, which served as the hotel’s office/reception area.

Emerson & Farrar Fine Jewelry occupies the reception area of the historic Oasis Hotel.

Store Manager Chris Hannon, who had found the building for the Emerson family, personally removed black paint that obscured the glass window. “I was probably the first person to look out that window in 60 years,” says Hannon. Exposing the glass window also revealed the 12-inch thick walls that Wright created through the slip-form construction, in which concrete was repeatedly poured in place and “slipped” up to create the next level.

The Oasis Hotel is the only building the son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed in Palm Springs. Wright built the Oasis Hotel for Palm Springs pioneers Pearl and Austin McManus in 1923 on the site of an original adobe of John McCallum, an early settler. At the time, slip-form was a new technique.

The Oasis Hotel’s distinctive tower set back from Palm Canyon Drive inspired a trend toward more modern architecture in Palm Springs and a departure from the city’s more familiar Spanish or Mission Revival buildings.

In its heyday, the Oasis Hotel hosted the likes of Hollywood luminaries Loretta Young, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, and Shirley Temple.

When Paul Emerson made inquiries about leasing the building, there were several other interested parties. “The owners of the building clearly have an interest in this property and were not willing to lease it to just anyone,” says Emerson. “The other parties were not as connected to the old Oasis as we are with the work we do.”

The original Lloyd Wright-designed interior frieze that was uncovered during renovation after more than 50 years.

Emerson & Farrar Fine Jewelry specializes in exquisite, one-of-a-kind and custom handcrafted designs that are wearable sculptures. They also sell the legendary Van Craeynest line of die-struck jewelry designs that originate from the 1920s and ’30s art deco era, making their business an ideal fit for the space.

The Emerson family has an affinity for community and historic architecture. Emerson & Farrar’s other location is also housed in a historic building — a 1870s structure thought to be the second oldest in Redlands.