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Pride of Architectural Preservation

Midcentury architecture

Historic Preservation and Sustainability are Natural Partners.

Preservation and reuse of historic buildings reduces resource and material consumption, puts less waste in landfills, and consumes less energy than demolishing buildings and constructing new ones. Over the past decade, advances in high performance or “green” buildings have been numerous, but primarily have focused on new construction. As a result, the preservation and adaptability of historic and older buildings has not always been at the forefront of the ‘green’ movement agenda.

Historic buildings can be upgraded with new technologies to maximize energy performance. Historic features such as windows can be repaired and restored for higher efficiency. In addition to saving existing resources and historic character, historic preservation means environmental, cultural and economic benefits for Palm Springs.

lvis honeymoon hideaway house

We now have the window technology for floor-to-ceiling glass walls that allow us to experience the beauty of the desert. We can save them, and have them without huge energy bills or cantilevered roof structures. The midcentury modern houses with glass walls were seasonal residences, almost uninhabitable in the summer. Today’s year-round residents can have an updated design that is smart in its use of resources.

Palm Springs believes architectural preservation, progressive design, and sustainable building practices are compatible goals. When we talk about sustainability in architecture, what could be more sustainable than rehabilitating and preserving our amazing catalog of existing, architecturally significant structures?  This can be done incorporating green building technology.

Classic Custom Home, 1960, Clair Earl Architect

Architect Sean Lockyer, part of a new generation of desert designers, admires Frey’s Palm Springs residence (known as Frey 2). “It is a model for more sustainable, affordable small houses that utilize the beauty of their surroundings,” he says. “It’s a house that — through the richness of context, details, and materials — reads and lives like so much more.”

albert frey house II palm springs

The future of the city’s architecture is directly connected to preservation of existing buildings. According to architect Doug Hudson, “What we save and preserve is just as important as what we build,” he says. “One need only look at the success of Modernism Week as evidence. It draws thousands of visitors from all over the world. They come here to celebrate and experience our architectural history. We need to keep that momentum going in historic preservation and our new architecture.”

By architect William Cody

Kaptur Plaza – Example

Kaptur Plaza is a great example of recent Palm Springs architectural preservation. It was the winner of a 2019 Preservation Design Award for Restoration. Award recipients are selected by a jury of top professionals in the fields of architecture, engineering, planning, and history, as well as renowned architecture critics and journalists. In making their decision the jury made note not only of the workmanship, but of the tremendous community involvement, stating, “this exemplifies a distinct moment in architectural time, and does a lot with natural cooling. The community rallied to save it, and it’s great that people in Palm Springs are really putting their money where their mouth is, preserving their heritage.”

Hugh Kaptur building

Palm Springs Plaza Theater – Looking Ahead

Originally built in 1936, the structure was used for film premieres and screenings and was the venue for nationally broadcast radio theatre programs and other performances by Bing Crosby, Amos ‘n’ Andy, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Frank Sinatra, among many others. In its later years, the theater was home to the critically acclaimed and revered “The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies.” Over the decades, the building has deteriorated, so the City of Palm Springs has initiated a capital campaign to restore the beloved structure to its former glory.

Plaza Theatre front

A fundraising campaign was kickstarted by a very generous donation of $5 million from David C. Lee. Recently, an anonymous donor has pledged an additional $2 million and issued a matching challenge to the city.  The City of Palm Springs is contributing $2 million and the state is providing $2.5 million.

Plaza Theater is a Class 1 Historic Site, so city ordinance dictates a careful process for alterations. Any work done to the building cannot significantly impact or materially impair the character-defining features of the historic resource, and must contribute to restoring the historic resource to its original appearance.

When restored, the Plaza Theatre will be the only place available for the entire community to come together and utilize it as an affordable community venue showcasing diverse programming for all people, promoting multi-cultural programming in film, music, live theater, educational, comedy and entertainment for all.

Palm Springs Architectural Preservation Organizations

The Palm Springs Preservation Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and promote public awareness of the importance of preserving the historical resources and architecture of the city of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley area.

The foundation is known for its publication of tribute journals dedicated to various desert architects and builders of the area such as William F. Cody, E. Stewart Williams, and the Alexander Construction Company. The tribute journals also celebrate Spanish colonial revival and Polynesian architecture, popular design styles featured in Palm Springs.

Kaptur book cover CourtesyPSPF

Holding a prominent part in Palm Springs’ Modernism Week, the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation sponsors and holds many events in the area to educate the public on the importance of historical preservation and architectural appreciation.

The Historic Site Preservation Board (HSPB) recommends potential historic sites and districts to the City Council, while fostering public awareness and appreciation of the City’s rich cultural and architectural heritage. Municipal codes made by the Palm Springs City Council are put in place to preserve and protect areas and specific buildings of the city that paint the picture of Palm Springs’ cultural, social, economic, political, and architectural history.

Palm Springs Modernism Committee is a non-profit organization dedicated to the appreciation and preservation of Desert Modern architecture and design. They accomplish this through education, advocacy for threatened buildings, promotion of heritage tourism, and the celebration of successes in preservation and adaptive reuse. PS ModCom has become one of the key players in turning the city into an architectural destination.

Members of the committee also conduct annual modern home architectural tours and assist property owners restoring and upgrading historic buildings.

William Cody’s masterpiece, the Abernathy Residence, a Class 1 historic site built in 1962.
William Cody’s masterpiece, the Abernathy Residence, a Class 1 historic site built in 1962.

More From Art & Architecture

View All Posts “Don’t Worry Darling” Filmed in Palm Springs Palm Springs filming locations. By Randy Garner Don’t Worry Darling is a new psychological thriller film that takes place in a 1950’s fictional California town called Victory. Official Trailer Why Palm Springs? The location plays a role in telling the story. While the neighborhood you see looks too picturesque to be real, in does, in fact, exist in real life. It’s not a tame and controlled conservative suburban life. Victory is a spectacular place full of opulence. It depicts something of a secret society in America, so it doesn’t represent traditional 1950s America or its values. As such, the production team descended upon Palm Springs, the longtime playground of the Hollywood elite, to create their desert utopia. 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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