Tuesday, March 22, 2016

In the Garden of the Sun

Palm Springs is unique in the world for its growing collection of original, refurbished, and brand new Mid-Century Modern homes.  It’s part of the ambiance of this place along with its growing hipster attractions, Hollywood highlights, the smugness of El Paseo and a cache of consignment stores.  Not to mention the closeness to high desert solitude, mountain culture and an ocean only two hours away.

Photo Credit: Modernism Week Magazine

Actually, this is the third rebirth of a movement that first began in the early forties with a curious assemblage of very talented architects.  These men (sorry, no women) brought with them a passion for mixing the various elements of California-style living within the desert environment.

Beginning in the mid-40s, architects originated a design movement specific to the greater Palm Springs area.  It became known as Desert Modern. Their buildings featured ground-breaking techniques such as post-and-beam supports, floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a wide array of colors to match the surrounding mountains and desert. Now famous architects such as William Krisel, E. Stewart Williams, Albert Frey, William F. Cody, Richard Neutra, and Donald Wexler were among the masters of this design.

The second rebirth began in the seventies when Palm Springs Tourism made a concerted effort to draw gay visitors to the valley.  These DINKs (dual income-no kids) seemed most likely to appreciate the arts, the cultural and musical scene here, the draw of Hollywood nearby (two hours away) and the open-accepting culture that is a major characteristic of the city. It worked.

Not only did gay men and straight couples flock to the desert to enjoy the amenities of Palm Springs they also discovered hidden architectural treasures among the many mid-century modern homes here.  Some of those jewels had grown long in the tooth and cried out for rebirth back to their glory days. Very soon these homes were being picked up for $100,000, remodeled and then sold for upwards to $300,000 to $400,000 dollars. A trend of ‘Valley Fever’ had begun and continues to this day.

The Modernism Week event officially began in 2006.  It was a focused attempt to highlight the many examples of mid-century modern design during a several week period that also added attention to many different aspects of architecture and design.

Following the success of both the 2005 Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale and the annual symposium organized by the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Council, a group of local design and architecture aficionados created Modernism Week’s signature event in February to showcase the world-renowned midcentury modern architecture of Palm Springs.

In 2009 Modernism Week became a California 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.  Since then, the organization has established an annual Scholarship Program for local high school seniors pursuing college educations in the fields of architecture and design; and continues to provide financial support to local and state preservation organizations and neighborhood groups in their efforts to preserve modernist architecture throughout the state of California.

Our neighborhood, Indian Canyons, once again hosted five homes this year on the modernism tour.

What was most fascinating about the homes on display was the unique approach each homeowner took to display their vision of modernism.  Some spoke homage to the garishness of 50’s Hollywood while others took refuge in the quiet elegance of artistic excellence. In their own unique way, each homeowner tried to show an exuberance of color and light and unique design.

We were docents again at a home down the block.  It was a fun way to meet more of our neighbors and get to peak into the ‘lifestyles and furnishings of the rich and stylish.’  Unlike last year when every home was a showcase for designers, the homes this year were more ‘livable’ instead of just being museum pieces.

Still it was an adventure to see how the other half lives.

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