Discover Palm Spring’s Mid-Century Modern Architecture

cody house

Palm Springs is a modernism mecca for mid-century architecture and design. In fact, you can’t really avoid seeing and experiencing this special style while in town.

Stay at a mid-century resort

Orbit In is a retro resort with lots of mid-mod style, designed by Herbert Bruns. You can even see the Frey House from the outdoor shower of their Frey Room. Its sister property is The Hideaway located in the historic tennis neighborhood.

orbit in

L’Horizon Hotel is the former vacation retreat of television Jack Wrather who produced shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “Lassie,” designed by architect William F. Cody.

l'Horizon

Del Marcos Hotel was architect Bill Cody’s first Palm Springs commission, setting the tone for post-war modern motels.

del marcos resort

Movie Colony Hotel was designed by Albert Frey. The exteriors still show his style, but interiors are more 21st century modern than mid-20th-century.

The Desert Star looks like a classic 1950s motel, but each one-bedroom unit is individually owned. Some owners put their units up for rent when they’re not using them.

Hollywood came to Palm Springs to play and getaway from the cameras and fans. They came here to be themselves and spend time with their high profile friends; stars, aristocrats, business elite, and artists, among others. At first they stayed at the popular El Mirador Hotel and then the famous Racquet Club. Later, they build winter homes and invited the era’s most visionary architects to build their homes, offering them full artistic reign. Their creations were suited to the desert landscape, with lots of glass and clean lines, using innovative materials to create spaces for indoor/outdoor living.

Vista Las Palmas Neighborhood

The Vista Las Palmas neighborhood came together in the late 50’s when The Alexander Construction Co. hired William Krisel and Charles Dubois (responsible for all the fab Swiss Miss A-Frames) to design over 300 homes that would sit at the base of Mt. San Jacinto. Some of these backyards are literally a giant, rocky mountain (which is hard to see in these photos because it was so rainy and foggy the day I drove through). Famous residents over the years include Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Dinah Shore, Kirk Douglas, Debbie Reynolds and Marilyn Monroe. Now that’s some serious star power. This neighborhood is bordered by Mt. San Jacinto to the West and North Via Monte Vista to the East, Vista Chino to the North and West Crescent Drive to the South. This is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Palm Springs.

Here’s just a few homes to see:

The Alexander/May House – 424 West Vista Chino: Edward Fickett designed this home in 1951 for his friend and colleague George Alexander, of The Alexander Construction Co., who later sold it to Tom May, of the May Department Stores.

The Marilyn Monroe House – 1326 Rose: this ultra-chic bungalow has all the style and glam of Marilyn herself. It is said to be where Marilyn lived several months before her death.

The Dinah Shore Estate – 432 Hermosa: You may not be able to see much of this estate from the street but what you can see is a modernist’s dream house made of glass and stone. This low-profile masterpiece was designed by Donald Wexler in 1964 and sits on 1.3 acres. This is what I call timeless mid-century modern. After Dinah Shore, Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman lived here. Hello, Dolly indeed! Leonardo DiCaprio currently owns the home and when he’s not using it rents it out.

Anne Miller House – 457 Hermosa: Just across the street is a classic, Spanish terra cotta roofed house that once belonged to actress and singer Ann Miller, best remembered for her work in the musicals of the 1940’s and 1950’s. You can’t see much from your street view but admire it quickly and move on!

The Wexler Steel Homes

290 E Simms Road

This stylish-looking house with the accordion-pleated roof was designed by Donald Wexler and Ric Harrison. Combining prefab and on-site construction, they created homes designed to look like they were custom-built but took only a few days to assemble on-site. Seven of the so-called Steel Houses were built in this neighborhood. House Number 2 (3125 North Sunny View Drive) is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Wexler Steel Houses are also the only Case Study houses in Palm Springs. These are private homes and not open to the public.

wexler house

House of Tomorrow

1350 Ladera Circle

The Alexander Estate was built for a local real estate developer and called the House of Tomorrow. The design is based on four circles on three levels. It’s known as the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, the place where Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned in 1967, and it’s open for tours. Whether you’re an Elvis fan or not, this house offers one of the easiest ways to see inside an original midcentury house in Palm Springs.

Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center

300 S Palm Canyon Drive

Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center is in a 1961 Santa Fe Savings & Loan building crafted by pioneering desert architect E. Stewart Williams. The old vault is now part of the gift shop. It’s in the middle of a midcentury business district that’s worth taking a walk around. If you walk about two blocks south from the museum, you’ll pass several other midcentury buildings.

architecture museum

Twin Palms Neighborhood

South of Ocotillo Lodge on East Palm Canyon

Twin Palms Estates was development beginning in 1957 and designed by William “Bill” Krisel of Palmer and Krisel and built by Alexander Construction Company. Most of the houses had private swimming pools, and they all had exactly two palms for landscaping. Tract homes were such a big hit in Palm Springs, about 90 were built in Twin Palms. With a price tag of about $30,000 in 1957, they were within reach for vacation homeowners.

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