Home Rise of Desert Modern
Design to Work, Live,
and Play
The Tide Turns from
Renovation and Renewal
The Path Ahead Site Index

“Thus began a trend of actors, agents, writers, directors, producers, and composers fleeing the confines of big-city living for the wide open spaces where, as a result of the Great Depression and the Second World War, they encountered displaced socialites, aristocrats, and dethroned royalty whose lives had been disrupted by the war and were now on permanent vacation. They all, patricians and producers alike, frequented the desert’s cheap lodgings, frolicked in the crystal clear pools, and made uninhibited love under the stars.”
-Howard Johns, Palm Springs Confidential: Playground of the Stars

Palm Springs was uniquely situated to become a setting for a new type of architectural expression. The desert required adaptations to form in order to shelter residents and visitors from the harsh sun. The nearby mountains offered vistas from above and below that would frame the built environment. Proximity to Hollywood provided a population to enjoy the area as a vacation spot, inviting daring architecture fueled by technological advances in building—designed for a clientele that wished to stand apart as they played. A bold and innovative group of architects working from the 1930's into the 1970's, drawing cues from Frank Lloyd Wright, Bauhaus and from the city just a few hours west, were given the inspiration, means and methods to incorporate elements of Modernism, fantasy and the rugged beauty of the desert. Palm Springs was an incubator for a variety of forms, allowing International style buildings to sit next to Polynesian-themed condominums. Each offered Modernism a different voice arising from the creative freedom architects were given to design structures for leisure on a nearly blank palette—framed by otherworldly beauty. Instead of disintegrating into incoherence, the variety of architecture that flourished in Palm Springs created a unique identity that was perfectly recognizable among architectural types playing out in 20th century California.


Early Palm Springs:
Tourist Town on the Make

Gomorrah in Eden:
Hollywood's Weekend Home

Building on the Harsh Terrain: Modernism in the Desert

Desert Visionaries


frey tramway station
Image Gallery