Palm Springs House-Hunting

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Palm Springs is desert modernism and desert modernism is the finest of all 2oth century architecture. In my opinion. The little city, lined with palms and backed by rocky mountains has more: pools, heat, bars with gardens and patios festooned with fairy lights, a history as the numero uno Hollywood playground, shows with leggy lovelies, interior design stores, restored vintage cars, dogs wearing kerchiefs and a big gay population, but the star attraction is the architecture.

Not only are the commercial buildings – the bank, the post office, the visitor centre / center  – eye-poppingly lovely, but there are dozens of houses dotted around the boulder-strewn hills, designed by such inspirational modernist greats as Richard Neutra, John Lautner, E. Stewart Williams, William F. Cody. And a few more worth oggling, conveniently located on the flat grid of central blocks, like the Frank Sinatra Residence.

A photo of the Kaufmann House is on the cover of a book that I’ve been looking at off and on for a decade. It was one of Richard Neutra’s final USA houses, designed in 1946. (easy to find at 470 W Vista Chino Rd). I may be getting confused here, but I think Barry Manilow was once an owner which means I’ll have to recalibrate my thinking about the naff crooner. Another one fairly easy to spot is the also-very-famous Edris House by E. Stewart Williams. Both houses are privately owned which means viewing on a self-drive tour means lurking reverentially at some distance, feeling shifty.

Good luck spotting the Steve McQueen, William Holding and Bob Hope Residences which are on the tour map, but also on a private road with various clear off signs and one saying You are being photographed – a pretty effective deterrent when you don’t like your picture being taken. But you can get a glimpse of the Bob Hope Lautner property from the parking lot just before you turn back to Palm Springs central in despair for a margarita.

I’m in Vegas just finishing off a quick video of a self-guided architecture tour which I’ll upload as soon as possible, but, without wanting to spoil the conclusion, book a place on a guided tour unless your navigational skills are excellent and your nature very calm and patient. Fact is that much of what makes the private houses so attractive to the people that own them, aside from clean, sleek lines, is that the public face is often nothing much more than a low wall; all the inside-outside, walls of glass and design features are revealed on the inside. If you have the cash you can rent a retro retreat, or stay in a mid-century modernist hotel. (I stayed at the Royal Sun Inn which isn’t one of the Special Ones, but is cheap, friendly and has a pool.)

Pick up a map of mid-century modern landmarks or book a tour at the Palm Springs Official Visitor Center, which was once the Tramway Gas Station designed by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers. I’m going back for Modernism Week that starts February 14 1913.

Details can be found at Visit Palm Springs and Modernism Week

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