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Advocates and Allies for Preservation
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Advocates and Allies for Preservation

Palm Springs Visitor's Center - Former Tramway Gas Station - Albert Frey
tramway gas station visitors center

A Community Develops: Support for Modernist Preservation Grows
By the mid 1990’s, the high profile renovations taking place in Palm Springs encouraged community activists interested in preservation to begin organizing, and civic leaders began to look more closely at the Modernist architectural heritage of the region. The Palm Springs Preservation Foundation was founded in 1997 by a group of concerned citizens interested in preservation through education and in an effort to coordinate responses to preservation issues. The all volunteer organization produced educational literature and provided grants to groups for activities including production of websites and sponsorship of historic markers. The group worked collaboratively with government officials at all levels to preserve historic structures of any type. The foundation also played a key role in putting on the annual Modernism Week, held every year in Palm Springs as a celebration of Modernist architecture and design. The work done by the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation and the Palm Springs Modern Committee(1999) was instrumental in providing support to work in the realms of policy, preservation, restoration and advocacy for the Modern architecture of the Palm Springs area by identifying sites worthy of protection and actively working to protect sites from demolition. The groups worked together and were successful in saving numerous structures, including a fire station designed by Albert Frey in 1955. Palm Springs preservationists also coalesced around the preservation of the Albert Frey designed Tramway gas station. Seen by some, including real estate developers, as nothing more than an abandoned gas station, the building became a symbol in the late 1990’s of what was special about Palm Springs. Frey designed the angular form of the canopy to mirror the desert sightlines at the northern gateway to the city and the entrance to the top of a mountain. The effort, which included letter writing campaigns and issue advocacy, resulted in the designation of the site as a Class-1 tramway gas station historic site, preventing its destruction. Other preservation initiatives included an unsuccessful attempt to save the Albert Frey designed Alpha-Beta Market, which was ultimately demolished in 2002. That effort did lead to a commitment by a developer and the city to fund an updated historic resources survey. The work done by these private preservation entities began to change the conversation and continued to shift the perception of the worth of Modernist structures and design by attracting attention and focus to the style, which in turn increased desirability and value for these properties.

Lost Properties
Not all efforts at preservation have been successful. In 2002, the Richard Neutra designed Maslon house in Rancho Mirage was purchased at auction for $2.45 million. Within 30 days, the house had been reduced to a pile of rubble. The son of the architect, Dion Neutra, stated in a 2004 interview that the broker who sold the house worked diligently to find a buyer interested in preserving the home. "We were assured by the buyer," Neutra said, "that it was not endangered. He flat out lied to us." (Christie) The Biltmore Hotel was demolished after bankruptcy proceedings in 2003. The hotel lay dormant for years prior, after being built in 1947 as the grandest resort in Palm Springs. Huddle’s Springs restaurant was the premier example of Googie architecture in Palm Springs, torn down in the 1990’s to make way for a project that was never constructed. By no means is this list comprehensive, nor does it address properties that have been remodeled beyond recognition.

Maslon House - Before and After
maslon before maslon after

 

 
Down Long Enough to Be Cool Again