It was blue skies and sunshine during Modernism Week in Palm Springs, California, February 16 through 27, 2017. Design enthusiasts from around the world attend the weeklong event celebrating mid-century architecture and design. Tickets to lectures, tours and gala events are sold out as soon as they’re posted on the Internet.
|Downtown Palm Springs mid-century style
Seeking warmth and sun after a long, grey Seattle winter was my primary reason for visiting Palm Springs. Modernism Week coinciding with the trip was an exciting bonus. One way to overview mid-century architecture in Palm Springs is on a bus tour with a knowledgeable guide. At Modernism Week’s visitor’s camp, all the tickets for the double decker architecture tour were sold out. I was advised to come early next morning to add my name to a wait list. Following their advice, I arrived at camp shortly after the crack of dawn. Sure enough, the first bus was full, however, the desk staff pointed to a man on the sidelines looking to sell his ticket. He accepted my offer and I was in luck. I boarded the bus and spent 2 ½ hours winding though historic neighborhoods. Seats on the top deck offer bird’s eye views of houses designed by rock star architects Richard Neutra, Andrew Frey and Donald Wexler (to name a few). Palm Springs was a get away for Hollywood stars. Their houses were designed by some of the most famous architects. We drove past many of the celebrity houses, Swiss Miss style houses, butterfly roof houses, steel houses, and were alerted to form follows function architecture at every turn. Awareness raised about mid-century architecture and landscaping by the excellent tour guide (well worth the price of admission), I spent the rest of the week on my own tour of discovery, sketching as much as possible. Once you know the lay of the land, it’s a free ticket for an Urban Sketcher.
|Black and white Hollywood Regency home
The tour bus zigzagged through a neighborhood where all the buildings are long, low and white, just the way they liked them in Palm Springs back in 1960. The tour guide said if you tried to paint a house in this particular neighborhood a color other than white, the home association would take your brush and paint you with the color. All the homes must remain bright white. Bright white with black trim, this Hollywood Regency style home is built around a pool, as all proper Palm Springs homes should be. Bougainvillea lines the edges of the house bringing a pop of color to contrast with the white and black color scheme.
Although white prevails on the walls of the homes in some developments, doors can show the owners personal color preference, as long as the color is pastel. In one complex, a mint green door was neighbor to a tangerine colored door. Carports were trimmed in rugged natural rock and vaulted rooflines created a pretty pattern. Concrete lace accents the front wall and enclosure.
|Fan palms and San Jacinto Mountains
The San Jacinto Mountains loom large over Palm Springs providing a dramatically staged backdrop. The sun moves like a spotlight across the mountain range creating a movie theatre experience when the mountain turns blue accented by dark shadows, or when it’s pale in the strong sun, and then suddenly it’s shrouded in clouds. Apparently after the sun goes behind the mountain it’s cocktail time. At that precise moment, if you see a house with a door open six inches, that means come on in for a drink. Very friendly!
|Drought resistant landscaping
The bright desert sunlight creates dark, crisp shadows. Drought resistant landscaping is a wonderland of cactus, palms and various spindly, spiky plants. Beautiful specimens in their own right, they cast equally gorgeous shadows across pebbly lawns or up textured stucco walls. White walls are a perfect foil for the inky shadows.
|Palm Springs house built around a pool
Most of all, for those who visit, Palm Springs is a retreat, a place to relax and enjoy what nature, history, and retail have to offer.