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Give the People What You Want

60's built California Sprawl
60's sprawl

Like so many architectural and cultural movements, Modernism in Palm Springs became a victim of its own success and the natural cycle of tastes. The late 1950’s saw large housing tracts reflecting a mass market take on Modernism filling cul-de -sacs and providing living space for what was an expanding year round population, thanks to the inclusion of air conditioning as a necessary amenity. A period of large scale construction practices and subdivision growth that exploded beginning in the 1960’s continued the expansion of variety in house styles produced by builders. Distinctive regional architecture could thrive in certain settings among those who could afford it and with governmental support, but consumer tastes and builder capabilities were the dominant factor that determined what got built. No less than twenty distinguishable building sub-genres from the Neo-Colonial Revival, to Builder’s Contemporary, Neo-Tudor, Neo-Mediterranean, Nouveau Traditional, Deconstructionist, Neo-Mannerist, American Vernacular Revival, and even Miesien competed for space in the hearts of city planners, builders and ultimately the consumers who could find representations of architecture(or at least, representations of representations, as in the neo-classical revival and many other neo-flavored forms.) These were adapted regionally across the country, with Spanish and Native builder interpretations remaining predominant in Southern California. The city of Palm Springs' leaders, with certain exceptions, slowly became less interested in pursuit of public projects by the renowned stable of local architects, who gradually diverted their talents elsewhere.

Aerial View of Palm Springs - 1965
aerial 1965

In 1964, architect E. Stewart Williams and a group of architects that included William Cody presented a proposal on a twenty square foot model to the Palm Springs City Council that could serve as a master plan for downtown development, featuring plans for shopping, dining, banks, hotels and cultural buildings. The plan was 'filed for reference' and never implemented. Instead of adopting William's plan, Palm Springs began a move to large scale commercial development, residential sprawl and increased devotion to Spanish themed architecture, moving the city away from a distinct, orderly path and onto the same road followed by dozens of other Southern California cities and towns. Williams is said to blame some of the ensuing decline of the region to the lack of foresight at that moment in time. (Danish/Hess p. 83)

The Tide Turns from Modernism