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Palm Springs Architecture Tours with Trevor O’Donnell

Kaufman House architecture

Building a Legacy: Tour the Architecture of Palm Springs

By Kevin Perry

We are all time travelers. Every locale we visit, every interaction we experience, and every project we create adds to our cultural landscape. With each action, we connect the past to the future. History continues to unfold all around us, and nowhere is it more vibrant than in Palm Springs.

Meet Your Tour Guide

“We have this extraordinary collection of fine midcentury modern architecture,” narrates Trevor O’Donnell of PS Architecture Tours.

Trevor O'Donnell architecture

Clarifying, Trevor takes a step back and surveys his domain. “It’s what we now call midcentury modern architecture, dating from the forties through the early seventies. All of it suffered when Palm Springs went through its economic downturn in the late seventies through the early nineties. But when midcentury modern style came back into vogue, people like me and hundreds of others came out and found these classic modernist homes.  We began the process of rescuing them or renovating them or restoring them. In the process, we formed a community here of avid modernism fans.”

midcentury architecture

Modernism Week

Meanwhile, a group of design devotees from the Palm Springs Art Museum were also honing their passion for construction. In 2006, they planted their flag in the temperate climate of February and founded Modernism Week, a celebration of the architecture that shapes our city’s unique personality.

Modernism Week_Bus Tour

Events, education, engagement and excitement exploded. Modernism Week became an internationally renowned gathering, drawing experts and observers into its allure. Trevor and his contemporaries helped establish a thriving menu of tours through the intricacies of our infrastructure. From the spark of inspiration to the enduring influence of our retro-futuristic aesthetic, Palm Springs offers eye-popping vistas aplenty.

Modest Modernist Gem, 1962, Albert Frey Architect
Modest Modernist Gem, 1962, Albert Frey Architect. Photo Credit: Trevor O’Donnell

Expanded Palm Springs Architecture Tours

But how can visitors grasp all that sprawls before them? The answer: it’s impossible. That’s why collaboration and coordination are the keys to a successful sojourn into the realm of architecture.

“I approached Modernism Week,” recounts Trevor. “There was more demand for my tours than I could satisfy. I wanted to expand, but I didn’t want do it alone and I wanted it to be a more community-centered process. So I reached out to Modernism Week and said, ‘If you’re at all interested in expanding outside of your festival programming, we should talk about getting together and seeing if we can’t produce these tours jointly.’ And that’s pretty much how it originated.”

The result: a mini-coach tour with maximum impact.

Book Your Architecture Tour by Modernism Week

Classic Custom Home, 1960, Clair Earl Architect
Classic Custom Home, 1960, Clair Earl Architect. Photo Credit: Trevor O’Donnell

Trevor ranks #1 on Tripadvisor’s list of Palm Springs cultural guides. Pair that with the notoriety and cache of Modernism Week that brings scores of style enthusiasts flocking to our fair berg every year and it all adds up to a truly transcendent time.

You will get the star treatment while exploring the stars’ homes. After all, Palm Springs emerged as Hollywood’s Playground during the entertainment industry’s golden age. Some of the Tinseltown’s most luminous celebrities cavorted in homes designed by the sharpest structural minds in architecture.

“We visit the Kaufmann House,” Trevor announces, “Richard Neutra’s modernist masterpiece. The Kaufmann House was commissioned by the same family that asked Frank Lloyd Wright to build Falling Water in Pennsylvania. Falling Water, of course, is one of the greatest works of architecture in the world. That same family built a Palm Springs house. And today that house is considered Richard Neutra’s masterpiece and it too ranks among the greatest modernist houses in the world.”

Kaufmann Desert House, 1946, Richard Neutra Architect cropped
Kaufmann Residence, 1946. Photo Credit: Trevor O’Donnell

His voice brims with excitement as he rhetorically asks himself where to venture next.

“What else? Beautiful tract home developments by the Alexander Construction Company. Everyone in Palm Springs knows these houses, there are over 2,000 of them, but visitors love these neighborhoods that are just filled with hundreds of beautifully renovated classic midcentury modern designs. We explore some lesser known things, some odd balls and ruins of buildings that didn’t make it. There’s a wonderful chunk of an old hotel that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, Frank Lloyd Wright Jr., right in the heart of downtown. So it’s a way to show people the city of Palm Springs through a local insider’s eyes.”

Alexander Company Tract Home, 1958, Charles DuBois Architect
Alexander Company Tract Home, 1958, Charles DuBois Architect. Photo Credit: Trevor O’Donnell

Trevor’s perspective is infectious. His guests are ushered into a Modernism Week that reverberates throughout the year and back through the ages. But as ebullient an ambassador as he is for Palm Springs, Trevor also draws his inspiration from another American city.

“Chicago is known around the world for having developed one of the best architecture tour programs. And it’s a nonprofit and it’s promoted by the city as a valuable part of what it means to visit Chicago. And we feel very strongly that this can do the same thing for Palm Springs.”

Punctuating his point, Trevor explains, “What’s most important to me is that this be a community centered initiative.”

Coachella Valley Savings & Loan, 1961, E. Stewart Williams Architect
Coachella Valley Savings & Loan (now Chase Bank), 1961, E. Stewart Williams Architect. Photo Credit: Trevor O’Donnell

Preserving the Palm Springs Legacy

The word community pops up mirthfully and meaningfully several times during our conversation. It is the cornerstone of Trevor’s life work. He excavates the creative foundations of our hometown and mines fascination from every edifice.

“It’s an exploration of history and architecture in Palm Springs. It’s designed for visitors to give them an introduction to why Palm Springs is here and how this incredible modern architecture emerged in the middle of the 20th century. It involves more than just modern architecture though; it involves all architecture from Spanish colonial revival to contemporary. We talk a lot about some of the talented architects who are carrying forward this modernist idea.”

And with an effortless flourish, Trevor has passed the baton from vintage to vanguard. He is preserving our legacy for subsequent generations of builders and dreamers. Welcome to Modernism Week revisited… welcome to Palm Springs.

Book Your Architecture Tour by Modernism Week

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