We had a great time last year at Palm Springs Modernism Week, but I was even more compelled to come back this year when I found out there would be a tour of Royal Hawaiian Estates, a 1960s condominium community that merged mid-century modern architecture with a Polynesian theme. It’s mentioned in Sven Kirsten’s book Tiki Modern, but I really took notice of it after seeing Bosko’s painting at The Book of Tiki 10th anniversary art show.
Borrowing its name from the famous Honolulu hotel, Royal Hawaiian Estates was initially intended as a Jewish retirement community. It was designed by the architectural firm of Richard Harrison and Donald Wexler (the latter made a special guest appearance the day of the tour). The five-acre complex is made up of 12 buildings, divided into 40 units, surrounding two pools where Moai bask in the desert sunshine.
After checking in at the front, we were given a map with self-guided tour information that highlighted unique architectural elements like the “tiki apex,” the orange flourish at the end of the center beam, and the parallel lines that flank it. These were once all over the property, but as they deteriorated in the 1990s they were removed rather than replaced.
In 2010, the Royal Hawaiian Estates HOA used grants from the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation to commission a new tiki apex prototype from o2 Architecture, who designed one with low-maintenance sheet metal instead of wood. Several of these have already been put in place, and our tour fees raised enough funds to restore the remaining 30 that are missing.
Another signature are the “Flying 7s,” these triangular buttresses supporting the patio roofs. They’re said to have been inspired by the lateral supports on an outrigger canoe.
Several homeowners graciously opened their doors to us so we could also appreciate the interior designs, with their vaulted ceilings, clerestory windows, exposed beams and open layouts.
Some units have been remodeled over the years, but others like this one here still had many original 1960 features, like terrazo floors and this shoji screen divider between the kitchen and living room.
It was also interesting to see how each owner put their own personal stamp on their home, whether it was through collections of vintage barware, Heywood-Wakefield furniture or tiki mugs. (Not surprising as liking tiki often goes along with having an interest in things mid-century.)
One of the units was literally a time capsule. Even though new owners had recently purchased it, they had kept nearly all the original furnishings, including the lush shag carpet, vinyl couches and vintage artwork.
We were really blown away by all the different outrageously patterned wallpapers, which were still in surprisingly good condition. My favorite was the green bamboo in the guest bedroom — it’s a difficult thing to pull off, but I think they did.
Admiration for Royal Hawaiian Estates was apparent in many of the owners we talked to, particularly this other couple who had on their wall an enlarged version of the original marketing brochure from 1961 (as seen in Tiki Modern.)
I took many more photos than I could include here, so head over to Flickr if you’d like to see more. To really get in the mid-century mood, listen to the playlists on the Royal Hawaiian Estates web site, inspired by the music that used to be played at the pool area 24 hours a day.