Trevor O’Donnell

Meet Palm Springs Architecture Tour Guide Trevor O’Donnell

In partnership with Modernism Week, architecture tour guide Trevor O'Donnell engages guests in a deep two-and-a-half-hour dialogue.

Lisa Marie Hart Modernism

Trevor O’Donnell

On the Architecture Tours by Modernism Week mini coach, your education in local modernism includes highlights around the city of Palm Springs.

Trevor O’Donnell has just as much fun tapping into his architecture knowledge now as when he stepped in front of his first tour group 11 years ago. “I find new things to talk about. I meet homeowners who tell interesting backstories. So, the tour evolves,” he says. “The more I learn, the more I’m able to include.” O’Donnell’s PS Architecture Tours partnered with Modernism Week to establish Architecture Tours by Modernism Week, now in its third season promoting the history and design of Palm Springs.

IN THE BEGINNING: When I moved to Palm Springs in 2011, I began helping the late Robert Imber with his architectural tours after being seated next to him at a dinner party. Eventually on my own, I had more business than I knew what to do with and I approached Modernism Week about expanding together.  Our Architecture Tours by Modernism Week offers an in-depth introduction to modernist homes and buildings, both well-known and obscure, late October through May.

THE COACH AWAITS: Our 22-seat mini coach accommodates individuals and small groups without needing to use microphones or headsets. It’s intimate enough that it’s kind of a traveling conversation, based on the interests of those on board.

SET THE NAV: Leaving from Albert Frey’s Tramway Gas Station, we visit Donald Wexler’s Steel Houses then wind through beautiful neighborhoods, stopping to consider dozens of outstanding works including E. Stewart Williams’ Frank Sinatra House.

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Palm Springs City Hall, 1952-57, by John Porter Clark, Robson Chambers, Albert Frey, E. Stewart Williams.

HOW FAR WE’VE COME: People hated midcentury modern architecture back in the ’80s. They thought it was tacky and dated and not terribly well-built.

TOUR TRADEMARK: I’m not afraid to go deep. I can get super geeky with historians and academics, but I can be just as excited about the colored doors of Vista Las Palmas and the swinging Dean Martin era.

WHAT IT’S NOT: A lot of people come with a George Jetson, kitschy 1950s idea of what they’re going to see. The reality is that people took modern architecture seriously here. It wasn’t meant to be faddish or a shallow enterprise. Those who came to Palm Springs in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s were sophisticated people who hired talented architects to do their thing. They may have had a traditional home elsewhere, but they were willing to embrace the modern style. There’s a real integrity that goes much, much deeper than that surface-level expectation often reinforced by social media and HGTV.

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An Alexander Company tract home, 1958, designed by Charles Du Bois.

PAST LIVES: I’ve been a marketing and publicity exec for live theatre in New York and L.A., but I’ve been an architecture buff my whole life.

ON THE GO: Wherever I am, I make a point of seeking out, learning about, and admiring architecture. So, I love my job. I live in a city that’s full of really great architecture while getting to meet people from all over the world and share my enthusiasm.