Ocotillo Lodge interior

Modernism Week Replay: Ocotillo Lodge, Sunmor, and Racquet Club Estates

Home tours replayed the classics with fresh twists and retro fanfare. We look back at a few highlights from Modernism Week 2024.

David Lansing Home & Design, Modernism

Ocotillo Lodge interior

Ocotillo Lodge interior. 

When I arrive at the Ocotillo Lodge, Marilyn Monroe, in her iconic white halter dress, is having her photo taken in front of a cherry red 1956 MGA. She smiles, lifts one shoulder, and breathily says, “I’ve been waiting for you all morning!”

It’s not really Marilyn, of course, but a very good impersonator, Miss DD Starr. When she isn’t being Marilyn, Miss Starr gives ’60s dance lessons. She teaches the Twist, the Locomotion, the Fugue. According to Miss Starr, “The secret to being a good go-go dancer is you have to wear a dress with fringe.”

Armando’s Bar

JC DiStefano as Lucille Ball, Jack Sciore, Chantel Cruikshank, Miss DD Star as Marilyn Monroe.

When I ask Marilyn how things are going, her face lights up. “Oh, swell,” she says.

I love that word. Nobody ever says it anymore, which I think is a shame. She puts a hand on my arm and says, “I wish every week was Modernism Week, don’t you?”

Marilyn joins me for an informal tour of the Ocotillo Lodge with an emphasis on the celebrities who once stayed there — Elizabeth Taylor, Betty Grable, Rock Hudson, Gene Autry. Marilyn doesn’t have any details about their visits, but it doesn’t matter. “Just imagine Elizabeth Taylor. Here!,” she says happily.

Ocotillo Lodge tour postcard

Ocotillo Lodge tour postcard. 

Eventually, Marilyn leads us to an unassuming unit at the end of the complex. She theatrically throws up an arm toward the apartment, as if she is Vanna White, and says, “Ta-da!”

I’m confused. “What are we looking at?”

“Silly! This is where George and Jimmi Alexander lived,” she says. She’s referring to the parents of Bob Alexander. It was really George and Bob Alexander who started the whole midcentury modern look in Palm Springs back in the ’50s and ’60s when they built more than 1,200 desert modern homes around town, many of them designed by William Krisel, who also designed the Ocotillo Lodge for them in 1956.

“They even had their own swimming pool,” Marilyn tells me. “Imagine that!”

Marilyn and I peek over the top of the fence to have a look at the Alexander’s rather modest swimming pool. “It’s kind of small,” I say.

“Maybe,” Marilyn says. “But nobody else had one! That’s something, isn’t it?”

I guess so.

Sunmor House.

Sunmor House.

Soon after the Alexanders completed the Ocotillo Lodge, they enlisted Krisel to come up with the plans for 140 homes in a tract near the Palm Springs Airport whimsically called Sunmor because it got an hour more sunlight than homes built closer to the mountains. The Alexanders didn’t come up with the Sunmor moniker. That was Bob Higgins, a local builder who put up 11 “affordable modernist tract homes” designed by Wexler & Harrison and even sold one to future Palm Springs Mayor Frank Bogert (then manager of the El Mirador hotel) before giving up on the project and selling most of the remaining 200 acres to the Alexanders.

They say that the “crown jewel” of Sunmor is the original model home, built in 1955 by Higgins, but I’m most interested in visiting another jewel on Livmor (the street name puns — Plaimor, Easmor, Morsun — seem cute at first and then kind of annoying, like hearing a 6-year-old repeat a knock-knock joke for the umpteenth time) that I’ve heard harbors an Alexander Easter egg.

Built by the Alexanders in 1958, the Krisel-designed home, with its lava rock entry wall and original tilework and paneling, has had only three owners. Steve Hurley, the current owner, has had it for 21 years. When I ask him if it’s true that there’s a secret Alexander marking in the house, he eyes light up. “Follow me,” he says, leading me through the family room (originally designed to be the carport; the first owners had Bob Alexander convert it) and directs me to a small closet. Like Marilyn at the Ocotillo, he points toward the ceiling and goes, “Ta-da!” There, on the bare wood, is written “Geo Alexander #45.” This is the Easter egg. Steven and I stand there, silent, starstruck. “It’s like finding a baseball bat in your grandfather’s attic signed by Mickey Mantle,” he says.


I ask Jane, a volunteer pouring coffee for people checking in for the Racquet Club Estates home tour, where I should go if I only have time to visit one house in the Estates.

Racquet Club Estates

The Alexander model home in the Racquet Club Estates neighborhood.

Inside Racquet Club Estate.

Bedroom in the Alexander model.

Jane is wearing a color-spackled dress covered by a sunflower-print apron with a silk sash across her chest declaring her to be “Miss Racquet Club Estates.” Did I mention the faux-pearl necklace and green-and-white alien sunglasses?

“Oh, the Alexander’s model home, for sure,” she says. “The boys have done an amazing job renovating it. It’s beautiful.”

Living room in Racquet Club Estate

Alexander model living room.


Alexander model kitchen.

The boys are Cameron Saless and Matthew Allard, who bought the first Racquet Club Road Estates model home three years ago. “It was kind of a mess when we bought it,” Allard says. But after nine months of renovations, they loved the results so much that they decided that rather than make it a vacation residence, they would live there full-time (Saless works in technology and Allard writes “literary fiction,” he tells me).

Armando’s Bar

Alexander model exterior in the Racquet Club Estates neighborhood.

The Alexander’s model home, featured on the cover of James R. Harlan’s book The Alexanders: A Desert Legacy, was originally decorated by architect Krisel’s wife, Corinne, and while those furnishing are long gone, Saless and Allard have redone the place in mostly modern pieces that stay true to her chic but practical elegance.

But what I really love is the backyard’s whimsical elements: a single palm tree bursting through the middle of a slatted shade structure; origami-like outdoor furniture; various-sized circular pavers.

“We call it the Moon House,” Allard says. Once it’s pointed out, you notice the spheres inside and outside the house, from the concrete patio pads to disc-shaped casual tables. It all seems like a vast improvement from what was visible in Julius Shulman’s black-and-white shots of the house from 1958, when landscaping meant a few large boulders in the front yard leading up to the home’s entrance and a vast swatch of river gravel surrounding the pool in the backyard.

Still, you can’t help but wish some of Corinne Krisel’s furniture had survived.