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Architects Who Built Palm Springs: Dan Palmer & William Krisel

Twin Palms home exterior

Palm Springs owes much of its unique charm to the vision and creativity of architects Dan Palmer and William Krisel. Among their notable contributions stands the iconic Twin Palms Estates, a testament to their innovative designs and enduring legacy.

Meet Dan Palmer

Dan Palmer was born in Los Angeles in 1920. His journey into architecture began with a degree from the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture. Palmer’s career flourished in the post-World War II era when he found himself drawn to the burgeoning architectural scene of Palm Springs. His affinity for the desert landscape and modernist principles laid the foundation for his partnership with William Krisel, a collaboration that would leave an indelible mark on Palm Springs’ architectural legacy.

Two men wearing glasses and dress shirts with ties, one holding architectural plans, standing together in a room with wooden framing in the background. The image is in black and white.
William Krisel (left) and Dan Palmer (right)

Meet William Krisel

William Krisel, born in Shanghai in 1924, grew up in Beverly Hills and pursued architecture at the University of Southern California. Krisel’s early career saw him working for renowned architect Victor Gruen before establishing his practice.

A close personal friend of developer Bob Alexander and his family, Krisel, came to the desert at his request to design a tract of modernist houses dubbed Smoke Tree Valley (now known as Twin Palms for the pair of Palm trees that graced each of the homes).

Krisel’s fascination with modernist design and his innovative approach to residential architecture caught the attention of Dan Palmer, leading to their influential partnership in shaping the architectural landscape of Palm Springs.

william krisel of palm springs
Architect William Krisel at one of his Twin Palm homes.

Unique Architectural Style

Palmer and Krisel’s architectural style was deeply influenced by the desert surroundings of Palm Springs and the modernist principles of the time. Their designs emphasized simplicity, functionality, and a profound respect for the natural landscape. One of the defining features of their work was the incorporation of elements such as butterfly roofs, floor-to-ceiling windows, and expansive patio areas, blurring the boundaries between interior and exterior spaces.

Their use of innovative building materials, including steel, glass, and concrete, not only lent a contemporary aesthetic to their designs but also ensured durability and sustainability in the harsh desert climate. Moreover, Palmer and Krisel’s designs often prioritized privacy without sacrificing openness, allowing residents to enjoy panoramic views of the desert while maintaining a sense of seclusion.

A modern single-story building with a flat roof surrounded by tall palm trees under a clear blue sky. The landscaped front yard features gravel, shrubs, and cacti. Shadows from the palm trees are cast on the ground in the foreground.

Alexander Construction Company: Developer

The relationship between Palmer & Krisel’s architectural team and the developer Alexander Construction Company was pivotal in the history of midcentury modern architecture in Palm Springs. George Alexander and his son Robert, the founders of the Alexander Construction Company, were instrumental in transforming Palm Springs into a hub of modernist residential architecture.

Palmer & Krisel began working with the Alexanders early in their careers, and their collaboration was marked by a shared vision of creating affordable, stylish homes for the growing middle class. Their first project together was the Corbin Palms neighborhood in Woodland Hills, built from 1953 to 1955.

The partnership flourished when they moved on to Palm Springs. Krisel & Palmer were responsible for designing a large percentage of the homes built by the Alexander Construction Company. One of their most notable joint projects was the development of Twin Palms Estates.

Their collaboration was highly successful, constructing over 2,200 homes across the Coachella Valley, including the Racquet Club Estates and other subdivisions. The Alexander homes, particularly those in Twin Palms Estates, are celebrated for their architectural significance and remain highly sought after to this day.

A modern mid-century house with turquoise accents surrounded by palm trees under a clear blue sky.

Twin Palms Estates

Palmer and Krisel met while working for architect Victor Gruen in Los Angeles. Their collaboration with Gruen likely involved various residential and commercial buildings, as both were interested in modernist architecture and affordable housing developments.

Palmer and Krisel’s partnership was marked by a shared vision of creating modern, functional, and visually striking homes seamlessly integrated with the desert environment. Their collaboration yielded numerous projects, but none as iconic as the Twin Palms Estates. Completed in 1957, Twin Palms Estates included approximately 90 homes. They showcased their mastery of midcentury modern design, featuring clean lines, open floor plans, and a harmonious connection between indoor and outdoor spaces.

Their partnership lasted until 1964, after which they pursued separate careers. Their collaboration led to the design of roughly 20,000 residential units in the Southern California region.

A mid-century modern house with a flat roof and clean lines surrounded by palm trees and desert landscaping under a clear blue sky with mountains in the background.

Modern house with a flat roof and large windows, flanked by tall palm trees, featuring a landscaped front yard with gravel, green grass accents, and stepping stones leading to an orange front door.

The houses in Twin Palms Estates were designed to offer a sense of individuality within the community. While they share a common architectural style, each home has unique features due to alternating facades, site orientations, and various rooflines. This design approach allowed each house to appear custom-built, contributing to the neighborhood’s distinctive character.

A key feature of the homes in Twin Palms Estates is the breezeway that connects the house to the carport. This architectural element not only provides a shaded passage but also reinforces the indoor-outdoor living concept that is central to mid-century modern design. Including a swimming pool with each property further emphasizes the lifestyle of leisure and entertainment that the neighborhood embodies.

Modern house exterior with desert landscaping including agave plants, viewed at dusk with pastel-colored sky and mountains in the background.

The homes were approximately 1,600 square-foot floor and each originally came with two palm trees, which is how the area got its name.

A mid-century modern house with a flat roof and large windows, surrounded by desert landscaping including cacti, palm trees, and rocks, set against a backdrop of mountainous terrain.

Black and white architectural sketch of a mid-century modern style house with palm trees, large windows, and a carport.

Ocotillo Lodge

Ocotillo Lodge is a notable landmark embodying the midcentury modern architectural style that defines the region. Designed by the architectural team of Palmer & Krisel in 1955 and completed in 1957, the lodge was commissioned by the Alexander Construction Company and Joseph Dunas as a destination resort. The design features over 100 units on 10 acres, each with intimate patios for privacy.  It is named after the Ocotillo plant, a cactus-like tree native to the area.

The lodge’s design includes a central structure with a curved interior side, resembling a lower eyelid, while its linear edge meets the street with a generous porte-cochere extending from the lobby. This central building originally housed the celebrated Candlewood Room, known as “one of the most beautiful rooms in America.” Although the interior has been altered over time, the iconic key-hole shaped swimming pool and patio surrounds remain intact, preserving the vision of its original architects and landscape architect Garrett Eckbo.

A vintage postcard of Palm Springs Ocotillo Lodge featuring people enjoying a sunny day around a large outdoor swimming pool, with mountains in the background, mid-century modern architecture, and a clear blue sky.

A modern resort swimming pool with lounge chairs, surrounded by tall palm trees, with a mountain backdrop under a clear blue sky.

 Las Palmas Estates (Vista Las Palmas)

These homes, built in the late 1950s, are characterized by their clean lines, open floor plans, and integration with the surrounding desert landscape. The Alexanders were known for their ability to create homes that were both stylish and affordable. They were able to produce homes that appeared custom-built but were efficiently constructed using modular concepts and common floor plans. This approach allowed for the rapid development of neighborhoods.

A mid-century modern house with a flat roof and large windows, surrounded by tall palm trees. A vintage car is parked under the carport. The home features a mix of clean lines and geometric shapes, with a desert landscaped front yard.

Kings Point

Kings Point in Palm Springs is a community that features 44 detached mid-century modern homes designed by the acclaimed architect William Krisel. These homes were developed and built between 1968 and 1970.  Krisel’s design philosophy for Kings Point emphasized minimalist concepts with open interiors, expanses of glass, and strong vertical and horizontal lines. The homes are known for their flat roof styles, large windows, and the use of architectural concrete blocks and white stucco. These elements combine to create a sleek, functional aesthetic that maximizes light and views while providing shade from the intense Palm Springs sun.

Krisel adapted the International Modern style to the local environment by increasing window sizes and extending roof eaves for better shade. His designs were pragmatic and affordable, focusing on improving residents’ lifestyles by taking advantage of the surrounding landscape and climate.

The homes in Kings Point are clustered around common area pools and tennis courts, offering residents a community feel within the private enclave. It is situated on Indian lease land currently extended to 2063.

kings point

Canyon View Estates

Palmer & Krisel worked with developer by Roy Fey, a pioneer in Palm Springs real estate, on Canyon View Estates. It was California’s first vacation home community. Construction began in 1962 and was completed in 1965, resulting in about 160 homes. The neighborhood experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s as a vacation destination and has undergone many changes and renovations over the years.

The community is known for its villa-style condominium units, park-like gardens, expansive lawns, sparkling pools, and putting greens.  The homes are characterized by creative clerestory windows, and a variety of geometric patterns in concrete screen blocks that play with light and cast artistic shadows.

Canyon View Estates Don't Worry Darling Merrick Morton Warner Bros Pictures 1

Racquet Club Estates

The first homes were completed in 1959, during a period of space-age optimism and architectural innovation. The neighborhood was designed by the renowned architect William Krisel and developed by the Alexander Construction Company.

The properties are situated on generous quarter-acre lots, which contribute to the spacious feel of the neighborhood. From the street, open carports connect to the house via a breezeway, and thin roofs appear to float overhead. Inside, walls of glass open to the backyard or private breezeway, often offering breathtaking views of the San Jacinto mountains. The neighborhood’s development coincided with the height of popularity of the nearby Palm Springs Racquet Club, which added to its allure. Over the years, Racquet Club Estates has maintained much of its original charm.

A single-story white mid-century modern house with a flat roof, large windows, a two-car garage, and a landscaped front yard with palm trees, under a clear blue sky.

House of Tomorrow

In the early 1960s, the architectural landscape of Palm Springs was forever changed with the creation of the “House of Tomorrow,” a futuristic residence that epitomized the optimism and innovative spirit of the era. Designed by the visionary architects Dan Palmer and William Krisel, this architectural marvel was commissioned by Robert and Helene Alexander of the influential Alexander Construction Company.

The House of Tomorrow, also known as the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, was a masterpiece that stood out even in a city known for its mid-century modern architecture. The Alexanders, having worked with Krisel on the Twin Palms neighborhood, knew he was the architect to bring their ambitious vision to life.

elvis honeymoon hideaway

Krisel’s design was revolutionary, featuring four circular pods that seemed to float above a rocky foundation, creating a dramatic statement against the desert backdrop. The home’s layout was unconventional, with each pod serving a distinct purpose and collectively forming a cohesive living space.

The House of Tomorrow was not just a residence; it was a statement piece that boldly declared its presence. With its boomerang-shaped roof and walls of glass, the house invited the outside in, blurring the lines between the natural and built environments.

The home gained notoriety when Elvis and Priscilla Presley chose it as their honeymoon retreat, further cementing its place in pop culture and architectural history. It has since been recognized as a Class 1 Historic Site, preserving its legacy for future generations to appreciate.

For those interested in exploring the House of Tomorrow, tours are usually available during Modernism Week, offering a glimpse into the innovative design that continues to captivate the imagination of all who visit.

A modern living room with large stone wall feature, white sectional sofas, a unique central fireplace, glass walls with a view of a pool, and polished decor.

Comparison with Other Local Architects

While Palm Springs boasted a thriving architectural scene during the mid-20th century, Palmer and Krisel’s work stood out for its distinctive blend of modernist principles and desert-inspired elements. Unlike some contemporaries who favored more traditional Spanish or Mediterranean styles, Palmer and Krisel embraced a forward-thinking approach that reflected the spirit of post-war optimism and innovation.

Their designs, characterized by clean lines, geometric shapes, and minimalist aesthetics, differed from the ornate styles prevalent in other architectural circles. Palmer and Krisel’s emphasis on indoor-outdoor living and their sensitivity to environmental considerations set them apart as pioneers of desert modernism in Palm Springs.

Legacy and Influence

The legacy of Dan Palmer and William Krisel extends far beyond the architectural landmarks they left behind. Their innovative designs continue to inspire architects and homeowners alike, serving as a blueprint for sustainable, desert-appropriate architecture. Today, the Twin Palms Estates remain a symbol of their enduring influence on Palm Springs’ architectural identity, preserving their vision for future generations to appreciate and admire.

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