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Down Long Enough to Be Cool Again

Advocates and Allies for Preservation
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Down Long Enough to Be Cool Again

Rat Pack Room at the Oasis Hotel
rat pack room

Cultural Awakening
Palm Springs' prospects for preservation of its Modernist architecture received a boost that coincided with renewed interest in cultural promotion and tourism in the area. The city began to honor its past with the development of a Walk of Stars in 1992. Nearby, the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, attracting artists as big as Madonna and McCartney, became a focal point and the unofficial start of the music festival season. The festival began as a Pearl Jam concert for 25,000 in 1993 and grew into an annual event. Palm Springs became a backdrop for fashion magazine photo shoots featuring Julianne Moore and Scarlett Johannson in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Shoots for Vanity Fair and Elle took place in Albert Frey homes. Offering tours of celebrity homes became a viable business. Architecture aficionados from around the country flocked to the area as a winter retreat and to explore the renewed interest in mid-century Modern in an authentic locale. The area developed a reputation as a popular destination in the gay travel industry. Successful renovations to resort lodgings including the Orbit In Hotel and later the Horizon Hotel gave new visitors places to stay and experience newly hip Palm Springs style. Not to be left out, the Palm Springs Follies began in 1991 and attracted an audience looking for an old-style revue with their age 50 and better showgirls. The Follies were the subject of an Academy Award winning documentary in 1997 and have been running for nearly 30 years.

Alexander Home - Steel Frame
alexander home

Individual Efforts
Preservation is often brought about when individuals with vision and determination move in and take bold initiatives with particular properties. In 1993, Jim Moore, Creative Director at GQ magazine, bought one of Donald Wexler’s steel houses and did a complete restoration, despite being cautioned that the neighborhood had deteriorated and many of the houses had been altered considerably. Moore consulted Wexler and made interior changes along the way to suit a more contemporary lifestyle. The act showed that the character of the homes could be maintained while adapting them for use in the late-twentieth century and paved the way for further restorations of other Wexler homes, which could be bought relatively affordably.

Interior Shot of Restored Kauffman House
kauffman interior
Kauffman Renovation
Another notable restoration involved the Kauffman house. By the time Brent and Beth Harris purchased Richard Neutra’s Kauffman House it had been significantly altered. The formerly light- filled house was now crowded with over 2000 square feet of additions that closed in spaces. The famous gloriette, open to the desert and constructed in defiance of codes that limited two-story construction, was blocked in by air conditioning equipment. Interior finishes had been markedly changed and architectural details were lost. Owned by singer Barry Manilow for a time, the house had been on the market for four years when the Harrises made their offer in 1993, fearing that the lack of a buyer would doom the house to the auction block and possible destruction. The property was being sold for the land value and the managing broker advised that a Spanish redo might make more sense from a financial standpoint. Lead by Beth Harris, who was getting her PhD in architectural history from UCLA, one of the more painstaking renovations of a Modernist structure to that point was undertaken, guided by the philosophy that a strict historical interpretation is what the house deserved. It now stands as perhaps the signature piece in Desert Modernist residential architecture, and in 2008 was listed for $12.95 million, after a $15 million dollar auction bid fell through. Notably, the property was listed by Christies in an art auction, not for real estate bids. Palm Springs architecture now competes with Van Gogh and Rembrandt for the spending cash of the ultra wealthy collector.(Weinstein)
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