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Design to Work, Live,
and Play
The Tide Turns from Modernism
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The Way to Live:
Modern Residences for Every Budget and Taste
Pride and Joy:
Civic and Commercial Designs in the Public Square
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The Way to Live:
Modern Residences for Every Taste and Budget

Albert Frey House - 1953
frey house addition

Custom Homes and Suburban Enclaves
Some of the most iconic structures in the Modernist canon sit on the rocks in Palm Springs. For the Kaufmann house, Richard Neutra avoided the impulse to make the house blend in with the landscape and instead chose to build “a machine in the garden, juxtaposing a foreign, man-made construct into a wild, unrefined natural setting.” The house included state of the art heating and lighting systems, copious amounts of glass, aluminum, Utah sandstone, and Douglas fir. (Cygelman, p. 52) The second floor addition on Albert Frey’s house emerges as a spaceship atop a rocky outcrop, the house anchored into steep rocks and seemingly absorbed by the hill—a scene in stone, wood, glass, steel and concrete from another planet, when the light hits it right. Famous for being the setting of a memorable scene in the Bond flick Diamonds are Forever, the Elrod house by John Lautner stands out as a symbol of Hollywood glamour, perched to catch one of the most gorgeous views in the country while testing the limits of construction technology. These custom homes set the stage for innovation in other areas of residential design.

Alexander Home - 1950's
alexander home

An important facet of Modernism is the ability to mass produce designs to achieve more widespread use by repeating the form. This practice was adopted in the manufacture of automobiles, restaurants, and retail establishments, but slow to take hold (to this day) in the design and production of housing. In Palm Springs, this idea came to life in the tract homes developed by the father and son team of George and Robert Alexander, working with architects including Donald Wexler, Dan Palmer and William Krisel. Spurred by availability of cheap and versatile structural steel, the houses contained all of the elements of Desert Modernism as it had evolved in Palm Springs. The homes featured exposed concrete block screens, open plans, clerestory windows, carports and a variety of angular and flat roof styles. The houses sold as upscale tract homes to upper middle class families searching for an affordable vacation home. The homes had private pools and air conditioning—amenities that allowed for year round living. Air conditioning also freed up designers from having to use more massive materials like concrete and stone to insulate so that design options increased and cost savings were achieved. Most of the homes came with two bedrooms and two baths and could be easily expanded. Interiors were finished with drywall. The 1400 square foot prefabricated steel homes could be built in less than two weeks with little ornamentation. They were built by the dozen, using production line techniques on a sort of construction assembly line. Architects and builders applied lessons learned in building tract homes in the San Fernando Valley to the Palm Springs climate, sensitive to local tastes.(Stern/Hess, p.153)

El Dorado Country Clubhouse - 1957
el dorado club

Country Club Living
An innovation of Southern California, well adapted in Palm Springs, the country club home offered an expansive, exquisitely manicured landscape, as well as open and flowing interiors that brought the outside in and were ideal for gathering—qualities that suited newly arriving flocks of suburban dwellers as well as vacationers. Palm Springs was a perfect spot for the country club as a residential sales concept, with developers interested in selling lots around the only green space to be found in the desert, manufactured green space. The early 1950’s saw country clubs in Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, and Indian Wells. Celebrities including Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby and the Eisenhowers took up second residence in these enclaves. Commissions to design country club homes and public buildings were ways for architects to gain prestige and business, as their work would be seen by a wealthy elite.

Sandpiper Condominiums - 1958
sandpiper condo exterior

The concept of condominium living started in the late 1950’s and really began to take hold in California in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The opportunity to own a vacation retreat in a resort setting, without the expense or commitment of time required by home and landscape maintenance, held particular appeal for those attracted to Palm Springs. Some of the earliest and most innovative forms of vacation condominiums, complete with resort style amenities, sprang up to respond to a need for getaway spots for the less well-heeled but still discriminating buyer. In complexes like the Seven Lakes Condominiums, the units feature recreational spaces, simple construction with open floor plans and higher end finishes. The complex rests on a golf course, with each residence having a private garden and an outdoor gated entrance. The Sandpiper Condominiums(1958) were conceived as luxury condominiums with resort amenities, intended for winter use. Units surrounded a communal pool. The Royal Hawaiian Estates complex, designed in 1961 by Donald Wexler, offered a whimsical Polynesian take on living in the desert.

Blue Skies Trailer Village - 1955
blue skies trailer village

Trailer Parks
As befitting a resort town, there needed to be an entry point for residents and visitors to enjoy the Palm Springs lifestyle. Trailer parks filled that niche for many. The most famous mobile home park, possibly in the world, is the Blue Skies Village. Bing Crosby was a primary investor in the park and it was named after one of his hit songs. The park was near Crosby’s home and had streets named after his pals and fellow investors including Jack Benny, George Burns, Claudette Colbert and Danny Kaye. Blue Skies went beyond traditional trailer parks by adding amenities such as extensive landscaping, community services, dramatic fountains, a pool and a dance hall. Owners would treat the trailers to extensive additions including porches, sundecks and new wings added to make it difficult at times to even find the original trailer. Mobile homes were a natural extension of the Modernist aesthetic at work. The house as a machine, produced using modern materials and designs—an affordable living concept for the masses. When properly situated and cared for, the settings were true parks in which people lived and enjoyed recreation. Trailer parks were the 'ground floor' at which those seeking to emulate the upper classes could live within a stones throw of some of the icons of the day. In Palm Springs, Modernist expression infiltrated every level of the housing market, serving in some ways to level the playing field between high end and low end by offering each an opportunity to take part in building a new form.

Design to Work, Live, and Play