Meet Michael Stern, Owner of The Modern Tour - Visit Palm Springs tag-img

Meet Michael Stern, Owner of The Modern Tour

The Architectural Luxury Modern Tour

Conventionally, buildings are constructed to protect us from the elements. Roofs keep out the rain, walls battle back the cold, and our respective abodes create a shelter from the dreaded world outside. But in Palm Springs, the architecture is designed to amplify our wondrous surroundings.

“Weather has such an impact on human behavior,” muses Michael Stern, founder and owner of The Modern Tour. “Because we have 35

0 sunny days a year, it puts everyone in a good state of mind. In Palm Springs, people are here because they want to be here, not because they have to be here. So everyone’s in Palm Springs for basically the same reason, which is to have a good time. Y’know, it’s a party town. The locals indulge as well as the tourists!”

Michael Stern

Putting a rosy flourish on his heartfelt sentiments, Stern asserts, “It’s a happy place because everyone’s in a good mood.” And we have reason to be joyous: Michael has been ushering visitors through the luxe landscape of our hometown for eight glorious years. Hailing from New York (but resenting the hail), he quips, “We moved here from Tribeca in lower Manhattan, and I hate cold weather. So that really predicated the move.”

An Architectural Historian

Upon arriving in the gleaming Shangri-La of SoCal, Stern discovered a newfound perspective on his own classic training. “I’d done a lot of architectural tours, being an architectural historian, as you can imagine. Very often it’s exteriors only. And I thought, for the modern tours we do, we’re going to go inside the houses. Inside private residences. So people can have an idea of what it’s like to live in Palm Springs as opposed to just visiting here.”

Summoning up his boundless enthusiasm for the access he is thrilled to give his tour guests, Michael concludes, “I can’t think of another place in the world where you can go inside private, fabulous architectural houses on a routine and daily basis. I literally don’t know of anyplace else in the world.”

While he is gleefully verbose on most matters, Stern answers the next question with one word. When asked how he would characterize Palm Springs architecture, he quickly responds, “Understated.”

Cody Glass House
Cody Glass House

Discreet To The Street

After a savory pause, Michael is happy to elaborate. “There are some buildings that have a lot of oomp on the outside, but typically, I call Palm Springs architecture ‘discreet to the street.’”

When that clever turn of phrase elicits a reaction, Stern proudly requests, “Put a little TM with a circle around it!”

While creativity is indeed Michael’s trademark, he tempers it with a healthy dose of expertise for the architectural flair of Palm Springs. “Street presence is understated. Very often these houses are very unassuming from the outside. Once you go through the gate, however, everything changes and it completely opens up.”

Franz Alexander House
Franz Alexander House

Craving the embrace of the homes he loves so much, Stern explains, “So that was another reason why I wanted to show interiors because in Palm Springs particularly, everyone has a pool. Everyone wants privacy in their backyard, so people often hedge out the house. Palm Springs houses are typically fairly opaque to the street. They open up to the poolside or the view side.”

The Modern Tour’s Perspective Through Art

Pivoting deftly from analytical to amiable, Michael asserts, “The Modern Tour is not a hardcore architectural tour. We talk about the Hollywood history of Palm Springs, we talk about the geology of Palm Springs; we give context to provide for the architecture. Like why did this architecture occur at this place at this time? It’s something we answer by coming at it from a variety of perspectives.”

Drawing from his passion and his past, Stern continues, “My background is in studio art, so I can see things in some of these buildings that many of my tour guests don’t see. I’m able to point out little details that are significant that they would never have noticed if they weren’t on our tour. There are a lot of observations that I make coming from an art background. So you get to look at architecture through the eye of an artist.”

Some artists paint with watercolors, other with oils, but Michael’s medium is smiles.

“The Modern Tour is really fun! They’re fun for me, they’re fun for our tour guests, and we do a TON of corporate tours. We do a lot of big group tours. We have tours with 150 people on them, and it’s become a substantial part of our business.”

Frey House II
Frey House II

Business equals pleasure for Michael Stern, who takes capital-p Pride in his role in the architectural Renaissance of our desert community. “We like to discuss preservation and how important it is to a city like Palm Springs. I always say, ‘What art deco had done for Miami, mid-century modern has done for Palm Springs.’ It’s put it back on the cultural map after it had been forgotten for decades.”

It’s a map he is proud to illuminate, every day with every tour. Stern’s romance with Palm Springs deepens as his words reach a crescendo. “The desert is seductive, and it improves with time. The longer I live here, the more beauty I see.”

We’re running out of TM’s, Michael – you’re brimming with originality! To experience his wit, wisdom, and whimsy for yourself, book a Modern Tour today…

The Modern Tour | Official Tour of the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture + Design Center

All photos are credited to Michael Stern

By Kevin Perry

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A land of ever-present sunshine, blue skies and midcentury architecture galore, the area proved the quintessential backdrop for the storyline. The Storyline The Victory Corporation is building a city called Victory. It is meant to be a suburban utopia complete with sprawling greenbelts, a clubhouse, a sparkling pool and even an onsite boutique. Victory residents will want for nothing and have little reason to every leave. It is the one place to stay and be safe. The storyline follows Alice (portrayed by Florence Pugh) and Jack (played by Harry Styles), who are a married couple with a troublesome relationship. They just moved to Victory, a company town created by and paid for by Jack’s new employer, Frank (played by Chris Pine). While Jack and his colleagues go to work on the “Victory Project”, their wives are left to enjoy the beauty and luxury of their community. Here’s a look at some more specific Palm Springs filming locations in Don’t Worry Darling. The Kaufmann House The Kaufmann House was used was for the home of Victory Corporation founder, Frank, portrayed by Chris Pine. The home is fragile and extremely valuable, so much care had to be take to ensure nothing was damaged. This included bubble wrapping portions of the home and having docents in every room. Department store owner Edgar Kaufmann hired architect Richard Neutra to design a desert home for his family. A decade earlier, Frank Lloyd Wright had built Fallingwater for Mr. Kaufmann. But Kaufmann, having seen Taliesin West, thought that Wright didn’t understand desert design and chose Neutra instead. The home turned out so well, that when Wright saw it, he admitted to that is was beautiful (uncharacteristic of him). The building remains the most famous in Palm Springs in terms of international recognition. The flat roof, steel frame, and glass walls embody one prominent version of Modernism by using sharp, clean, lines and contrasting them to the rugged slopes of Mt. San Jacinto as a backdrop. When photographed by Julius Shulman, the Kaufmann House became an iconic image of modern architecture. The north wing is the guest’s quarters, separated from the rest of the house. The secluded west wing is the service wing. It would be purchased by Joseph and Nelda Linsk. She was the glamorous woman wearing yellow depicted in legendary photographer Slim Aaron’s iconic photograph highlighting the good life in Palm Springs, dubbed “Poolside Gossip.” In 1968, Eugene and Francis Klein, owners of the San Diego Chargers, purchased it. Then in 1973, Barry Manilow purchased the property and owned it until 1993. Beth and Brent Harris become the new owners and were eager to restore the property.They found a home once originally open and light-filled now dense and dark thanks to 2,200 square feet of additions that turned courtyards into interior spaces. The iconic upstairs room visible from the street, an open-air deck that really is one of the house's main features, had its views of mountains and palm trees blocked by air-conditioning compressors. Linsk addition, designed by William Cody, was compatible and relatively seamless, but removed the glass corridor to the master bedroom and drastically reduced the amount of light to the interior. Modernist furnishings selected by Neutra were replaced with those chosen by prominent Palm Springs interior designer Arthur Elrod. The Harris’s dismantled the crumbling fireplaces and numbering each stone for reassembly. To repair gashes in the walls of Utah sandstone, the firm convinced the original quarry in Utah to return to a long-closed portion of its site so the color and texture of the new stone would match that of the old. To find a source for mica, a crystalline sand which workers applied to the house's exterior to provide a subtle, starry-night glow, the architects had to work with the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Can I Visit? The Kaufmann House is privately owned and not available for tours or a rental. However, you can take a peek of the home by driving by 470 West Vista Chino. Canyon View Estates This is where Alice and Jack live in the film. Their residence was on a circular cul-de-sac with their neighbors’ houses facing inwards on the perimeter. For filming at this location, every driveway had to be cleared for blocks and blocks of non-period elements. This affected the daily routine for hundreds of people and property owners. Canyon View Estates was designed by Dan Palmer and William Krisel. These local architects also designed Ocotillo Lodge, Las Palmas Estates, Kings Point and Racquet Club Estates. The “House of Tomorrow” was designed by Krisel for Robert Alexander and his wife Helen. They made it their personal residence and lived in it until their premature death in a plane crash in 1965. The house later gained fame as the honeymoon home of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. The design of these quaint one-story duplex-style condominiums offered floor-to-ceiling windows, and characteristic Palm Springs geometric stonework. It included post-and-beam construction, open floor plans in which the living room, dining room and kitchen flow together. Built in six stages in the 1960s by developer Roy Fey, it has a utopian neighborhood feel, with a shared pool, spa and green space. It includes 180 units with attached carports. Can I Visit? Properties in Canyon View Estates are privately owned and few are available as a vacation rental. However, the neighborhood is not gated, so grab a cruiser bike and explore. Palm Springs City Hall The Palm Springs City Hall was shown briefly in the film. It is centrally located and just steps away from the Palm Springs International Airport, another beautiful midcentury modern style building. Palm Springs City Hall was one of Clark, Frey and Chambers’ most important public buildings, built between 1952 and 1957. Although a collaborative effort with the local architectural firm of Williams and Williams, the building’s initial phase was primarily the design work of John Porter Clark and Albert Frey. An unusual detail of the council chamber is its corner treatment consisting of projecting concrete blocks cut at a diagonal at every other paired row, which allows the blocks to cast light and shadow. Albert Frey was a leading early architect to Palm Springs and left a large design footprint on the city. His own residence, Frey House II, is also an architecturally significant building as was willed to the Palm Springs Art Museum upon his death. It is perched above Palm Springs with sweeping views and is available for tours through the museum. Can I Visit? Palm Springs City Hall is a popular spot on Palm Springs’ midcentury modern design tours, but visitors are also welcome to walk around and take photos. It is located at 3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way. Palm Springs Visitor Center Look for the Palm Springs Visitor Center, which was also shown briefly in the film. Like City Hall, it was also designed by architect Albert Frey. In 1965, it began as an Esso gas station situated in North Palm Springs. With a swooping and wing-shaped roof, it immediately captures the attention of visitors as they arrive in the city. In the 1990s, the building was converted into an art gallery, and subsequently taken over by the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism.

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