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The Modern Desert (Palm Springs Then & Now)


Named to its list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, The National Trust for Historic Preservation has recognized Palm Springs as one of only twelve destinations for architectural tourism, and Preserve America has cited it as an important architectural preservation site. For good reason.


Kicking it off in the late 1920s, the Hollywood party moved inland when the grande dame El Mirador Hotel went up (sadly since destroyed) and the famed Racquet Club drew the tennis and cocktails set. More stars followed and the great desert playground migration began along with an amazing story in architecture and design. Racquet Club Alexander is a great example of the period and The Orbit Inn and Sparrows Lodge carry on with the party.



Leading the vanguard of the modern architectural movement, Albert Frey was one of the first to begin construction in the 1930s, while Fred Monhoff’s grand Biltmore Hotel (also sadly destroyed) and William Cody’s Del Marcos Hotel went up at the end of the 1940s and the cultural expansion was on. Check out two of our William Cody’s here!

Inspired by the dramatic environment’s grand scale and vast blinding horizon, a wave of architectural talent emerged and a who’s who of early and mid century visionaries began an unprecedented revolution of residential and civic development and construction.


From Neutra and Lautner, Wexler and Cody, Frey and Krisel, Williams and more, each has left a living museum of masterful design and revolutionary style influence. Adapting to the harsh climate both stylistically and architecturally, you’ll find swaths of neighborhoods and fantastic one-offs scattered throughout the valley. The scale ranges from heroic, outsized proportions and sleek geometric lines to simple, low slung horizontal silhouettes that beat the heat.


Seven of Donald Wexler’s revolutionary steel houses that remain were part of a larger subdivision proposal and feature the iconic folded plate roof design and unique structural composition that no one had done before or since. Here’s one we found.


From city hall to the tramway gas station and sky tram, Neutra’s Kaufmann House, Elvis’ honeymoon hideaway, Sinatra’s Twin Palms, and John Lautner’s epic Elrod house, all are part of the story and have happily survived and been preserved. We were shocked though, at some of the architectural gems that have been lost to the wrecking ball and others that remain threatened.


At Boutique Homes, we’ve always loved modern expression and have discovered some very cool selections that you can experience for yourself and stay in an authentic architectural treasure.


DESERT MODERN-With it’s classic vintage style, attention to detail and groovy recreation of 1960s Americana it’s a fun trip back in time.


PS MOD HOUSE-Delight in the unique mid-century modern architecture by famed architects Palmer & Krisel, with the distinctive, soaring ‘butterfly’ roofline and spot-on period-appropriate renovations.

Modernism Week celebrates everything that’s left and protected and is now one of the most popular and easy ways to tour and experience it all each February (with a preview in October). And, look for the Palm Springs Art Museum to open the Architecture & Design Center beginning in Fall of 2014.


Once a dusty uninhabitable outpost, now a treasured oasis and time capsule of style, the renaissance has come and gone but no where else has so much happened in so little time with the same amazing vision and style.


Contributed by Mary Douris

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  • Rob Walker

    February 12, 2017

    A fun bit of trivia: Neutra’s Kaufmann house was designed for the same family who, ten years previous to its commission, built Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

  • Alisha Paul

    January 14, 2015

    Thanks for sharing your recommendations on travel.I like reading your posts and acquire intention concepts for my next trip. You explored terribly effectively the Palm Springs City Hall and more places.

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