The Pereira and Luckman-designed Robinson’s department store in Palm Springs, 1958.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
One of the most active proponents of Greater Palm Springs and its architectural treasures lives in Alberta, Canada. Erin Lawrence, a journalist and TV producer, has been visiting the desert a couple times a year for two decades, and now she’s sharing her knowledge and passion for the area in driving tours that you can download and experience at your own pace.
“When you find a place you really love and feels like home,” she says, “you want to share it.”
To that end, she and husband, Roger Kingkade, launched Modern Tours Palm Springs, which offers five tours available for download:
• Modern Architecture 101 leads to hidden gems, such as the J.W. Robinson Department Store, Ship of the Desert, and the Schwartz Residence.
• Modernism Top 10, perfect if you have limited time to tour, includes a stop at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House and E. Stewart Williams’ Edris House.
• Celebrity Home stops by the properties of the stars, from Frank Sinatra to Leonardo Dicaprio.
• Palm Springs Door Tour is a 60-page e-book loaded with photos and addresses of cool doors and modernist facades around town.
• Seriously Selfie Tour leads you to only-in-Palm Springs backdrops for your next round of Instagram posts.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY ERIN LAWRENCE
Erin Lawrence and her husband, Roger Kingkade, started Modern Tours Palm Springs.
“We’ve always loved the desert and wanted to live there,” says Lawrence, who writes about the destination for the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau and Visit Palm Springs. “I started going down 20 years ago. I had an aunt who lived in Palm Desert and took us around to show us the houses, which looked like nothing I’d seen growing up with brick houses in Ontario, Canada. They were so beautiful, light, and airy.
• READ NEXT: Yes, We can Have Modernism Week.
“I started going out on my own to explore and look for unique houses, and I learned about why it was I liked them so much. I learned about midcentury modernism. I started coming down with friends to check out the houses, and was always trying to get people to into the homes and architecture of Palm Springs.”
Two years ago, she and Kingkade decided to relocate — although they haven’t yet moved — and started thinking about what they’d do when they settled in here. That’s when the idea struck to create a tour company.
They were setting up the business when COVID-19 shut down tourism and the rest of the economy. Their vision for in-person experiences went dark, but Kingkade, a former radio personality who now operates a golf marketing company, handles the technical side of their fledgling business and knew how to create a satisfying driving tour.
“The tour is a hybrid experience,” Lawrence says. “You get to be in front of all these homes — minus a guide. Integrated mapping leads you to your stops. When you get there, you press play, and there’s a narration component that runs 2 to 5 minutes plus photos and historical documents. You can finish the audio, get out of the car, and take pictures — but not too close; we tell people to stay in public spaces.”
At press time, Lawrence and Kingkade were waiting for travel restrictions to end so they can return to the desert for a couple of months. They stay in different places to learn about a variety of experiences. They often rent a house in Palm Desert or stay with her aunt in the Silver Spur Ranch community.
“You can go to L.A. and Vegas but you won’t see anything like Palm Springs — the way the mountains hug the city and the way architects have situated houses to cradle that view."
— Erin Lawrence
They’ve also stayed at Orbit In in Palm Springs. “I love the small inns,” she says. “I became hooked on them when my aunt and uncle took us along to the annual Walk of the Inns one year.”
The distinctive charm and style of Palm Springs keep her coming back — and now looking for a home of her own. “The architecture looks like nothing else,” she says. “You can go to L.A. and Vegas but you won’t see anything like Palm Springs — the way the mountains hug the city and the way architects have situated houses to cradle that view.
“The people, also, are so friendly — absolutely happy to make your acquaintance. It’s such a warm city in every way.”
Mod Tour? There’s an App for That!
You can safely tour more than 80 famous and architecturally significant modern homes and commercial buildings, guided by the Palm Springs Modern: Mid-Century Modern Architecture app.
Created by the Palm Springs Modern Committee (PS ModCom) and Palm Springs Life, the easy-to-navigate multimedia app highlights the best of the desert’s modern structures and offers a treasure trove of photos and historical background.
• a narrated audio and virtual tour of three different sections of Palm Springs — North, South, and Central — featuring high-definition video and photography to enhance the tour experience
• in-depth profiles of 12 leading modern architects whose contributions have shaped the architectural landscape of Palm Springs
• a self-driving tour connected to Google Maps for easy navigation to notable homes and buildings.
The tour focuses on important works by architects A. Quincy Jones, Albert Frey, Donald Wexler, E. Stewart Williams, Hugh Kaptur, John Lautner, John Porter Clark, Paul R. Williams, Richard Neutra, Robson C. Chambers, William F. Cody, and William Krisel.