Our Guide to Palm Springs
Places to Go, Houses to See in the Capital of Modernism
By Eric Wills | Online Only | May/June 2008
Traveling to Palm Springs? Whether you fly or drive, you'll be greeted by great modernist architecture. Donald Wexler, an acclaimed local architect who was recently awarded a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, designed the city's airport. And the soaring canopy of the former Tramway gas station, designed by another acclaimed local architect, Albert Frey, welcomes visitors who arrive by car. Frey's gas station (2901 North Palm Canyon Drive) houses the Palm Springs visitor center, which sells maps of the city's modernist buildings, published by the Palm Springs Modern Committee. Pick one up. If you need gas, head to the Shell at 2796 North Palm Canyon Drive, built in 1964 and designed by William Cody.
Then you're off. Drive by the Edris House (1030 W. Cielo Drive), one of the few homes designed by E. Stewart Williams and restored to pristine condition. Williams' father was a Palm Springs architect, and both Stewart and his younger brother followed suit. Williams also designed the Santa Fe Federal Savings building (300 South Palm Canyon Drive), the Frank Sinatra House (1148 E. Alejo Road), and the Palm Springs Art Museum (101 Museum Drive).
Other must-sees: Neutra's Kaufmann House (470 W. Vista Chino Road) and Grace Miller House (2311 North Indian Canyon Drive). The Grace Miller House was dilapidated and even housed vagrants at one point before it was restored. Nearby are Wexler's Alexander Steel homes (off Simms Road). Built in 1961 with prefabricated panels, these homes mark a revolutionary attempt to bring cheap, easy to assemble, steel houses to the masses.
Frey House II, Albert Frey's second home in Palm Springs where he lived until his death in 1998, is open to the public during Modernism Week each February only. But Frey left his imprint on plenty of Palm Springs buildings, including City Hall (3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way), where he artfully used circular sections of metal piping on the building's exterior to help block the sun.
For an informative and lively professional tour, contact Robert Imber of PSMODERNTOURS (firstname.lastname@example.org/760-318-6118). He offers small mini-van and Segway tours, starting at $75/person. The Palm Springs Modern Committee and Palm Springs Preservation Foundation also run annual tours.
If you're staying a few days, book a room in one of Palm Springs' many historic hotels. The Orbit In (orbitin.com/877-996-7248) is located in the historic tennis club neighborhood. The Del Marcos (delmarcoshotel.com/800-676-1214), designed in 1947 by William Cody, won a Palm Springs Modern Committee Design Preservation Award in 2005. Cody also designed the Horizon Hotel (thehorizonhotel.com/760-323-1858), recently refurbished after years of neglect. The Movie Colony Hotel (moviecolonyhotel.com/888-953-5700), designed by Albert Frey in 1935, was also recently restored.
By the pool, crack open Palm Springs Weekend by Alan Hess and Andrew Danish, an authoritative history of the city's architecture. And by all means, order a martini!
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