Preservationists list this 1968 parish among midcentury architect William F. Cody’s most influential designs.
PHOTO COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Leave it to modernism masters to disrupt the orthodox designs of ecclesiastical edifices, challenging opulent ornamentation with a blasphemous onslaught of concrete.
Outright brutalism would prove too severe for the likes of Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, and William F. Cody — their midcentury houses of worship exhibit naturalistic themes to soften the intensity of their favorite cementitious material. This emotive off-shoot of brutalism is known as expressionism. An example: The concave gunite stronghold of Cody’s St. Theresa Catholic Church in Palm Springs, completed in 1968 on a former World War II airfield, evokes a cresting wave, an ascension that culminates in a steeple pointing toward the eternal realm. These upswept contours are internally reinforced by glulam post-and-beam construction, which artfully conjures a billowing canopy above the sanctuary.
As a devout Catholic, Cody sought to fully transpose the virtue of faith onto the earthly plane, which meant designing every element of the church, not just the building. Other symbolic exaltations include gently winged pews, a golden baptismal font bathed in sunlight that pours in through an ocular portal, and oval clerestory windows that illuminate the hallowed hall.
St. Theresa Catholic Church interior.
PHOTO BY DARREN BRADLEY
“Cody wanted people to come into this sacred space and be enveloped by profound religious calm,” says local modernism historian Peter Moruzzi. It would be accurate to say that Cody practiced what he preached: After elevating the architecture to a spiritual experience, he became a loyal parishioner at St. Theresa and was memorialized in the church after his death in 1978.
Thanks to a partnership with PS ModCom, curriculum at St. Theresa Catholic School, adjacent to the church, touches on local architecture. During Modernism Week, students will show midcentury-inspired model homes and paintings of Albert Frey's designs. Learn more at modernismweek.com.