Palm Springs Modernism Week – “Welcome Aboard – The Pan Am Experience”

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The tour of the Royal Hawaiian Estates was the main draw for me for this year’s Palm Springs Modernism Week, but there were a few other interesting things we were able to check out during our quick trip.

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I was glad there was an event that gave us an excuse to see the rainbow spectacle that is The Saguaro. One of the ballrooms at the hotel was hosting an exhibition entitled “Welcome Aboard –– The Pan Am Experience.”

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These days it’s hard to imagine air travel as anything but a hassle, but Pan American World Airways aspired to make it exciting and glamorous, as emphasized by this photo of Marilyn Monroe climbing aboard one of their planes.

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Pan American Airways started in 1927 as an airmail service from Key West to Cuba and was America’s largest international airline, reaching its zenith in the Jet Age of the 1950s and ‘60s. According to the exhibit’s information: “Pan Am introduced the Boeing 747 creating the favorite airline of the rich and famous and was renowned for its stylish stewardesses, first-class amenities, including the first sleeper seats, fine dining and Clipper cocktails.”

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The airline ceased operations in 1991 when I was still pretty young, so I don’t remember any personal experiences with it. Aside from the short-lived TV show in 2012, I’m probably most familiar with Pan Am from those blue and white bags with the iconic logo. They’re still so covetable that reproductions of those retro styles are still sold today.

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The exhibit was all from the personal collection of actor Phillip P. Keene (“The Closer,” “Major Crimes,”) who has been amassing Pan Am memorabilia for 20 years. A wide variety of items were on display, including travel posters, uniforms, wing pins, toys, books (even a cookbook) and ephemera like matchbooks.

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I was particularly amused by these lighters shaped like the Pan Am Building. This New York skyscraper opened in 1963 and was the headquarters for the airline. It was sold in 1981 and is now known as the MetLife Building.

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We spent quite a bit of time browsing through the binder full of vintage travel brochures. Some had wonderful, over-the-top poetic descriptions like: “From the mists of Time, from the illimitable blue vastness of the Pacific, came the Polynesians. Searching for new homes eastward beyond the wide ocean, guiding their frail craft by the glittering pinpricks in the heavens, they came at last to Hawaii.”

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I loved the juxtaposition here of the tattooed Maori native having his picture taken by the buttoned-up tourists, who look like Don and Betty Draper on vacation in New Zealand. Another brochure tempted travelers with this text: “A thrilling excursion into the primitive past, the ancient ceremonies of the Maoris, their little villages with beautifully carved meeting houses, are easily within reach through the magic of the Flying Clipper.”

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Meanwhile, this Bermuda brochure (false advertising, much?) looked like something we would have seen at the “Mid-Century Mermaids: A History” presentation by Vintage Roadside at least year’s Modernism Week.

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The collector himself was on hand during our visit. He was guiding around a few former Pan Am flight attendants that I believe were Scandinavian. It must have been an interesting sort of trip down memory lane for them…

Related Posts:
Modernism Week 2013 – Tour of Royal Hawaiian Estates
Modernism Week 2012 – Mid-Century Mermaids Lecture
Modernism Week 2012 – Architecture Bus Tour

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