Modernism fans flock to Palm Springs once again

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Often described as the “Coachella of architecture,” fans of mid-century modernism are flocking to Palm Springs again this week.

It’s that time of year again for fans of mid-century architecture to converge in Palm Springs for 10 days to experience Modernism Week. Some call it the Coachella for architecture. Lautner, Eichler, Krisel, Wexler and Frey are the headliners for this annual gathering of mod-travelers. There are so many events each day that one could lose track of time.

Modernism Week kicked off with a star dedication for one of the most influential architects of all time. The Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center inducted Paul R. Williams to the Walk Of Stars. Williams is a Southern California native whose work spans decades, from his brilliant work on the Pearl Harbor Memorial, to the iconic LAX Theme Building. Williams’ star is set in front of the Architecture and Design Center along with his former junior architect who worked under him, A. Quincy Jones. If you happen to make it to Modernism Week you have to visit the Williams-Jones collaboration from 1947, an addition to the world famous Palm Springs Tennis Club.

Over the weekend I was soaking in as many events as one could, including making my own time for discovery by hiking through the famed Las Palmas Estates area. This area of Palm Springs is home to some of the best examples of midcentury architecture. By far my favorite home on my adventure was the Alexander Estate, known as “The House Of Tomorrow,” and also known begrudgingly to my architecture friends as the “Elvis Honeymoon House.” This four-pod design by William Krisel is such a statement of creativity and function, it was no wonder that Mrs. Alexander wanted it to become the family home.

Palm Springs was not the only stop for Modernism Week. It stretched out to the Palm Desert community where I took in a lecture by UC Santa Barbara architectural historian and professor Volker Welter. Professor Welter has been studying the work of famed Palm Desert architect Walter White. White was an innovator and artist. He developed and patented unusual roofing and window systems. White also created prefab housing and experimented with solar energy in the 1940s and 50s. Professor Welter went on to talk about one of Walter White’s most famous homes ,”The Bates House,” also know as the “Wave House,” named for its long, curved, rollercoaster roof. The one-of-a-kind home was built for artist Miles Bates. Unfortunately over the years the home has fallen into disrepair, to the point in which the city of Palm Desert took control of it and will auction it off.

The Palm Desert Historical Society and the city are offering $50,000 to anyone who will buy it and restore it to its original beauty. The bones are there along with the famed roof. If anyone wants to bid on this piece of history, the auction is being held at University of California-Riverside Palm Desert Campus Auditorium, 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive in Palm Desert at 2 pm this Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

For further information or to make an appointment to view the property, please contact Cora Gaugush at 760-776-6450 or by email at

Photo Courtesy of the Palm Desert Historical Society 1955 (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
Palm Desert Historical Society volunteers at the Bates House (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

There is still so much to do this week, here are a few suggestions of not-to-miss events at Modernism Week 2018. Please note, events maybe sold out so check the schedule for availability.


Stars and Star-chitects in Deepwell – February 21, 2018 | 9:30 am – noon

Stroll through this pristine midcentury neighborhood with elegant Modernist homes, some designed by the desert’s most renowned architects, including E. Stewart Williams, Donald Wexler, Hugh Kaptur and many others. In these well-manicured properties lived some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Loretta Young, William Holden, Liberace, Jerry Lewis, and Carmen Miranda are just some of the stars who called Deepwell home.

The neighborhood also boasts some of the most attractive desert landscaping in Palm Springs. During the tour, visitors will learn fascinating secrets of the stars along with the history of this lovely midcentury neighborhood.

Presented by the Palm Springs Historical Society.


Historic Home Tour of the 1925 Thomas O’Donnell House February 21, 2018 | 10:00 am – 4:45 pm

Settled on the sheer mountainside, the expansive terrace of the O’Donnell House seems to float above the desert floor. Ojo Del Desierto, or Eye of the Desert, was built in 1925 for wealthy oil-magnate Thomas O’Donnell by famed hotelier Nellie Coffman of the Desert Inn. One of the oldest extant buildings in Palm Springs, the house was incredibly modern for its time.

Meticulously restored, the O’Donnell House and grounds feature original and rare art tile floors and bathroom tiles hand manufactured by Batchelder, Malibu, Taylor, S&S and Gladding McBean. The wrought-iron gates and grilles were famous for their intricacy and craftsmanship. The house boasts redwood ceilings, antique furnishings, and gorgeous period appointments, not to be missed by any architecture buff. The exquisite view from the terrace and gardens of the desert below is unparalleled.

Explore and discover this Palm Springs landmark, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, on a self-guided one-hour tour. Guests arrive at the entrance to the O’Donnell Golf course and are shuttled up the mountainside to the unrivaled views above.

Ticket purchase includes a 1-year individual membership (value $50.00) or if two family tickets, a Family Membership (value $75.00) to the Palm Springs Historical Society.

All proceeds from this tour benefit the Palm Springs Historical Society and The Aluminaire House Foundation.


Palm Desert Double Decker Architectural Bus Tour

The Palm Desert Double Decker Architectural Bus Tour is returning to Modernism Week! A very special “open air” tour has been designed to highlight the unique midcentury architecture in the city of Palm Desert. This enlightening and entertaining tour features treasured homes, newly recognized architectural gems, and historic sites.

The tour will provide an overview of the exteriors of Palm Desert’s finest architecture from a vantage point not often experienced, the upper deck of a modern double decker bus. Tour highlights include the renowned College of the Desert campus with buildings by Wernecke, Clark, Frey, Williams and Williams, Wexler, Frey and Chambers; homes by Krisel, Burns, White, Frey, and Outcault to name a few; as well as the only remaining structure by Rudolph Schindler in the Coachella Valley. Discover the beauty and expansive views that inspired Midcentury Modern development in Palm Desert.

The duration of the bus tour is 3 hours.


Vintage Trailer Show Weekend – Producers Choice February 24, 2018 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Join Modernism Week for the Vintage Trailer Show – one of the most celebrated and exciting events of the second weekend. This year’s show promises to be bigger and better than ever!

This thoughtfully curated collection of vintage trailers, campers, buses and motor homes is arguably one of the largest and most attended vintage trailer shows in the United States. Year after year the Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Show continues to surprise and delight attendees with some of the most stunning, unique and rare vintage RV’s.

Trailer owners and custom restoration craftsmen will be on hand Saturday, February 24th and Sunday, February 25th to meet the public and discuss their trailer’s unique history and travels. The show will also have a fun mix of retail vendors whose products complement the vintage trailer lifestyle and will have you ready to hit the open road!

As an exciting bonus, attendees on Saturday, February 24th will have the opportunity to vote for the prestigious Peoples’ Choice Award and show their love to these one-of-a-kind treasures. Don’t miss this great Modernism Week tradition!


Q&A with Charles Phoenix, Ambassador of Americana February 25, 2018 | 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm

Join author, humorist and tour guide Charles Phoenix as he shares stories from his latest book, “Addicted to Americana,” gives insightful Palm Springs’ best kept secrets, and reveals the backstory of his unapologetic obsession with midcentury style and design. Following the talk and Q&A, Charles will sign books, which will be available for purchase.

NOTE: This event is NOT a slide show performance OR a bus tour.


Charles Phoenix celebrates classic and kitschy American life and style. The author and humorist is known for his live retro slide show performances, festive field trip tours, madcap test kitchen videos, and colorful coffee table books. On TV Charles has appeared with Jay Leno, Martha Stewart, Conan O’Brien, and judging on Food Network’s Cake Wars. His latest book is “Addicted to Americana.”