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Architects Who Built Palm Springs: Howard Lapham


Howard Lapham’s Palm Springs Vision

By Kevin Perry & Randy Garner

As part of the collection of architects that helped form the vision of Palm Springs, while lesser-known, Howard Lapham is part of Palm Springs’s architectural history.

He was born in Oklahoma City in 1914 and moved to Palm Springs in 1954. He was a carpenter, draftsman, contractor, land planner, and architect. His offices were at 577 East Sunny Dunes Road.

His son, Lawrence, who would also become a local architect, moved to Palm Springs in 1959. He is best known for the architectural development of the Alan Ladd building.

Over the course of his career, Lapham’s commissions were recognized both locally and nationally. Fortunately, in recent years there has been a burgeoning appreciation of architectural designers like Lapham (Herbert Burns, for one) who were forced to compete professionally with architects like William F. Cody, E. Stewart Williams, Donald Wexler, et al. Despite the stiff competition, architectural designers like Lapham frequently secured commissions, usually by virtue of their own creative designs.

His early works included custom homes in Palm Spring’s Deepwell Estates.

Residence – 1515 S Manzanita

Many of the “starchitects” who helped craft Palm Springs’ signature look were quite active in the Deepwell Estates area. The residences just east of The Curve and just north of Smoke Tree boast a restrained allure that beckoned celebs like Elizabeth Taylor and William Holden. Deepwell’s architectural flair is cohesive yet anything but uniform, a cacophony of muted sophistication at every bespoke turn.

Howard Lapham lent his particular brand of brilliance to the property at 1515 S. Manzanita. The peekaboo rock edifice simultaneously excludes and excites passersby. You want to know more about the splendor simmering just behind those walls. And the zigzag playfulness of the rooftop overhang resembles a lightning bolt when seen from above.

Once inside, guests are treated to a smorgasbord of depth and diversity. Angular interiors give way to the sweeping, curved contours of the outdoor space. A kidney shaped pool dominates the backyard, and quirky landscaping draws your eyes every which way until you’re back inside to marvel at the architecture once more.

1515 South Manzanita Howarrd Lapham

Residence – 650 E. Tachevah

Water features define Howard Lapham’s magnum opus: the Movie Colony mansion perched at 650 East Tachevah. This is located adjacent to Sunrise Park. It was built in 1966 and includes 9 bedrooms and 12 baths. A koi pond greets visitors to the 9,400 square foot estate while a fountain and 50-foot swimming pool etch out the opposite end of the property. There’s also a modest indoor pool for those crisp winter months.

The living room has 13 foot floor to ceiling glass lines the perimeter of Lapham’s midcentury masterpiece, drizzling sunlight on the original terrazzo tiles below. Sliding doors open onto a landscaped garden with views of the surrounding mountains.

Howard Lampham home on Tachevah

Desert Star – 1611 S. Calle Palo Fierro

One of Lapham’s earliest Palm Springs achievements is also one of his most enduring. The Desert Star on South Calle Palo Fierro is a throwback thrill of retro innovation. The canted roofs caress one another as the rugged mountains waltz in the background, as if they are all posing for the perfect pic. Commissioned in 1955 by three couples who wanted to build the ideal resort, the Desert Star consists of a handful of studio apartment style bungalows arranged around a glistening pool.

Fast forward to 2016, when the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation succeeded in designating Lapham’s vanguard vision as a Class 1 Historic Site. But the Desert Star doesn’t merely shimmer in the past; it is currently available to experience firsthand as a vacation rental.

After all, the architecture in Palm Springs isn’t just passively beautiful; it is imminently immersive. You can literally step into history and follow the footsteps of 20th century icons when you cross the thresholds of various Howard Lapham estates. His creativity echoes from the past into a vibrant future.

Howard Lapham Desert Star

Howard Lapham Desert Star

Debbie Reynolds Residence – 6710 West Stevens Road

This was built by Howard in 1957. It is a spectacular 5,000 square foot home perched above one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in all of Palm Springs. Unfortunately, it was completely reconstructed in 2008 and much of Howard’s work was lost.

Other Notable Lapham Designs

Skylark Hotel – 1466 N. Palm Canyon (1956) – expansion. This has also gone through another recent renovation.

Kelly’s Home Furnishings (1956) – 4525 E Ramon Road.

Tranquilla Villa (1956) – 291 Camino Monte Vista

291 Camino Monte Vista Howard Lapham

Store Building (1958) – 1074 N. Palm Canyon – Now DaVita Dialysis

Palm Springs Greyhound Bus Depot (1959) – 311 N. Indian Ave. – currently vacant.

Rackstrom-Reid Building (1961) – 668 N Palm Canyon.

668 North Palm Canyon Lapham

Palm Springs National Bank (1963) – 441 S. Palm Canyon Drive – with Richard Harrison. This is now a retail space across the street from Johnny Costa’s. The side entrances fronting a spacious parking lot featured a porte coachere, under which patrons were able to do their banking from automobiles without dueling with the sun’s rays. These breezeways remain.

441 South Palm Canyon Howard Lapham

Smoke Tree Village (1965) – Hwy 111 & Sunrise Way – with Richard Harrison. Walt Disney has also submitted plans for this project, but was rejected. The original concept was a farmers market open air style of shopping connected by spacious covered arcades. Once completed, Howard also became the first Vice President.

Commercial Complex (1966) – South Palm Canyon & Sunny Dunes

Orchid Tree Lane Estates (1966) – Alejo & Burton Way

Medical Office Building (1969) – 140 Luring Drive. This is off Tahquitz and now holds an attorney’s office.

140 Luring Drive, Lapham

Palm Springs Fire Station #4 (1971) – Corner of La Verne Way and Marion Way. Although Kaptur has received credit for this project (and renovation), The Desert Sun notes “was designed by Kaptur and Lapham” in an October 28, 1971 article.

Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant (1977) – N. Palm Canyon & Steven Road

Professional Offices (1977) – N Palm Canyon & Indian Avenue, north of Tachevah Drive

Las Palmas Plaza (1977) – across from old El Mirador Hotel.

The Chi Chi Club – 217 N Palm Canyon

Palm Canyon Drive has always been the party pulse of downtown. If you listen closely, you can still hear luminaries like Ella Fitzgerald, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Cantor, Jane Russell, Louis Armstrong, Rudy Vallee and Lena Horne rubbing elbows at a hip hangout known as the Chi Chi (now demolished).

In 1959, Howard Lapham was commissioned to give the nightclub a makeover. He employed saturated palettes such as midnight blue and bruised rose to create a Yucatan tableau. The resulting renovation welcomed Hollywood dignitaries from Jack Warner to Cecil B. DeMille to Howard Hughes (who required special disinfection protocols before his arrival to the Chi Chi).

Chi Chi Howard Lapham

Lapham officially retired in the 1980’s, although he continued to maintain an office in Palm Springs until his death in 2008 at the age of 92.

You can learn more about Howard Lapham and the many other architects that helped shape Palm Spring at Palm Springs Modernism Week October and Palm Springs Modernism Week (February). There are also a number of architecture tours.

Palm Springs Tours Guide

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