One of the most popular events during Palm Springs Modernism Week seemed to be the architectural double-decker bus tours. They were scheduled twice a day throughout the week and some sold out fairly quickly since there were only about 50 spots on the top level. (We got our tickets about a month in advance.)
You could venture out to some of these places on your own by purchasing the map produced by the Palm Springs Modernism Committee (available online and at the visitors center for $5). However, you wouldn’t have the higher vantage point where you can peek into walled yards with impeccable pools and mod furniture.
JR Roberts (Boccardo Roberts Architecture and Design) was an invaluable skipper on our three hour tour. Our weather was anything but rough, though. It was 80-something degrees by the time we departed at 9 a.m.
One of our early stops was the iconic Kaufmann house from 1947, designed by Richard Neutra. The history of its restoration is fascinating, including the re-opening of a quarry in Utah to match the original stone. (Sidenote: A print of Slim Aarons’ photo of a 1970 pool party at the house hangs at Hula’s Modern Tiki in Phoenix.)
The Alexander House was dubbed “The House of Tomorrow” by Look magazine in 1962, but it’s more famously known as Elvis Presley’s “honeymoon hideaway.” (The restored estate is open for guided tours — and you could even be like The King and rent it out for a honeymoon.) William Krisel designed it as a series of circular spaces, and it was originally built to be the personal residence of Robert Alexander of the Alexander Construction Company.
The Alexander Construction Company built more than two thousand mid-century modern homes in the Coachella Valley with Krisel’s architectural firm Palmer & Krisel, who designed many more in California and Nevada. Krisel has even consulted on recent restorations, like this Twin Palms house. Apparently that groovy geometric garden was part of the original plans! (Check out the inside on Design Furnace’s blog.)
Our guide was very entertaining, relating celebrity gossip and greeting people at yard sales as we passed. He even showed off a wicked sense of humor when an ambulance drove by with its sirens blaring and he said something like: “Looks like another mid-century house will be on the market soon.”
I was very pleased that he pointed out these three tiki torches on Palm Canyon Drive, which are all that remains of the Palm Springs branch of Don the Beachcomber that opened in 1953. (Jeff Berry‘s book Sippin’ Safari has some great stories about it, like gold-plated chopstick cases for the celebs.) The Royal Hawaiian Estates and the large A-frame of the Caliente Tropics hotel could have been other tiki points of interest, but our route just barely bypassed them.
We’re house-hunting in Los Angeles now, and I’m afraid Palm Springs totally spoiled me with all of its amazing architecture. Even the fast food joints are located in some striking buildings. This one is a KFC!