The Edris House in the Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs.
PHOTO BY JAKE HOLT
In February, we fête architecture and design in Greater Palm Springs. With more than 350 property tours and events packed into the 11-day juggernaut that is Modernism Week (Feb. 16–26), it can be difficult to decide which activities to attend.
For the most immersive experience, you’ll want tickets to explore these landmarks with a knowledgeable guide. However, a simple drive through town will also result in serious inspiration as you pass by iconic rooflines, colorful doors, and otherwise gorgeous midcentury exteriors. The question is: Where to start? To help plan a solid self-guided architectural tour, we turned to our local experts.
A historical image of the Kocher-Samson Building.
PHOTO COURTESY BRAD DUNNING
Designer and curator of Palm Springs Art Museum’s upcoming Albert Frey exhibition
For me, the most important and under-recognized architecture in Palm Springs is by far Albert Frey’s 1934 Kocher-Samson Building at 766 North Palm Canyon Drive. It was the first example of the International Style in the desert and was recognized worldwide as a masterpiece. Frey, having only recently immigrated to America, was still very much under the influence of his former employer and mentor Le Corbusier. The building is cubist and severe, European and intellectual. It is miraculously still standing, mostly all there, just suffocating and crying for some help and love under a layer of bad stucco, wrong paint colors, and other ill-advised but correctable modifications over the years. It was the seed and catalyst for all that was to come, which is now known around the world as Palm Springs Modernism.
The Royal Hawaiian Estates Condominiums.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MODERNISM WEEK; JAY JORGENSEN
Real estate agent and founding board member of the Palm Springs Modern Committee
Royal Hawaiian Estates Condominiums by architects Richard Harrison and Donald Wexler is a more flamboyant google-style building. It has been beautifully maintained with many formerly missing architectural elements now restored. It’s a Class 1 Historic District and a fun play on the exotic design theme of Tiki that was so popular in the midcentury but also a serious piece of architecture that demonstrates the master craft of these two greats.
The Architecture and Design Center.
PHOTO BY DANIELA STALING
Fashion designer and board member of the Palm Springs Modern Committee
I like to drive visitors around the Vista Las Palmas and Indian Canyons neighborhoods to see the variety of styles of midcentury homes in our town. Specifically regarding Vista Las Palmas: heading north, go down North Rose Avenue, take a right on West Stevens Road, left on North Via Monte Vista, and then a right on Vista Chino for a view of the Kaufmann Desert House.
In Twin Palms, Apache Road has cool houses, although there are so many throughout the neighborhood! I also like to show visitors the E. Stewart Williams Architecture and Design Center on South Palm Canyon Drive.
LISA VOSSLER SMITH
CEO of Modernism Week
My favorite house to visit in the Movie Colony neighborhood is Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms Estate at 1148 E. Alejo Road, designed by desert modernist architect E. Stewart Williams in 1947. It is a warm and handsome home, situated between two streets, Alejo and East Via Colusa, so you can drive by both sides and see a different exterior view of the home. The home is named for the two palm trees next to the piano-shaped pool. Sinatra lived there from 1947 to 1954. You can also drive by the home he lived in from 1956 to 1995 at 70588 Frank Sinatra Drive in Rancho Mirage.
Frank Sinatra's Twin Palms Estate.
PHOTO BY JAKE HOLT
GO WITH A GUIDE / Many of these properties and neighborhoods open their doors and invite the public inside for tours and cocktail parties during Modernism Week. Organized biking and bus tours are a fun way to see a lot at once. For a complete list of events and to purchase tickets, visit modernismweek.com.
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