Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Four Houses on Three Continents

California is often referred to as the golden state and that has little to do with the gold rush of the 1800s. By its size alone, the state has a lot of everything; the good, the bad and the in between.

The state’s economy is the largest in the United States, boasting a $3.137 trillion gross state product as of 2019. If California were a sovereign nation, it would rank as the world’s fifth largest economy, ahead of India and Germany.

It’s always been a given that many things are simply more expensive here. So it’s of little surprise that along with its size goes the sad fact that 13.3 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In its defense, the state can boast about the near-perfect weather, a cornucopia of diversity in a myriad of areas and technology giants that roam the globe and cyber world far and wide.

Having traveled up and down the Southern California Coast as well as the Central California Coast, I can confirm that housing and commerce are a bit out of the world for most Americans; especially the average Californian. But it is what it is; the state of California.

Spending as much time as we do in the state, Sharon and I have become a bit immured to the sometimes crazy and unworldly things that happen around us. We see it as just part of the Zen of California and our little desert community. There has long been a realization among Palm Springs residents that our little community isn’t like the rest of the state. This came into clearer focus a while back when Sharon and I were docents for a tour of our neighborhood during Modernism Week.

Modernism Week is a signature event held every February in Palm Springs. This year, it attracted over 150,000 modern architecture lovers from all over the country and the world. There were 350 plus events to showcase and highlight the very best of modernism designs and trends. One of the highlights of the week was the neighborhood home tours. Our Indian Canyon neighborhood was included as a part of this year’s home tours.







Our neighborhood, originally known as the Canyon Country Club Estates, was built in South Palm Springs in the early 1960s. Developers created a variety of high-end homes and condominiums with famous architects like William Krisel, Stan Sackley, and Charles DuBois among others. The North Course was built first in conjunction with a 1.5 million dollar stunning midcentury modern clubhouse designed by Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison. To make the opening of Canyon Country Club spectacular, Walt Disney, who owned several luxury homes built along the second fairway, donated a fountain that shot water into the sky from a floating lily pad.

Now known as Indian Canyon, our neighborhood has gone through a subtle yet very real demographic shift over the last ten or so years. Neighborhood parties used to be pretty much fifty-fifty split between straight married and gay couples. That has now changed to probably seventy-thirty in favor of the DINKs (duel income, no kids) which includes gay couples, lesbians, unmarried couples among other arrangements. Most of our neighbors have become great friends of ours. But their economic disposition is different than ours as are their family obligations. In other words, it often puts them in a different economic class than their Midwestern neighbors.

It’s never mattered before nor does it now. But it can sometimes cloud ones perspective of what is normal or average when everyone around us lives in high end homes or is in the process of remodeling and raising their present abode to that level of equity. After a while you begin to think ‘this must be normal. Everyone lives like this.’

It’s like thinking you hit a home run when, in fact, you were born on third base.The temptation is to think that somehow you had something to do with rising home prices or demographic shifts in your neighborhood. It’s a slippery slope of self-congratulations instead of simple gratitude for your good fortune.

This struck home for Sharon and me when we visited one of the homes on the Modernism tour of our neighborhood. The house was a lovely mid-century modern rebuild. The owners had spared no expense in bringing all the rooms and outdoor living areas back to life. It was stunning in its color palette, use of modern furniture throughout, high-end appliances, and expansive use of glass throughout the house.

The owner was a lovely woman anxious to show us around. As we were leaving and throwing yet another compliment back at her (all sincere and honest) she said just as casually that this was but one of their homes. “We have four homes on three continents,” she said matter-of-factly.  I stopped in my tracks, not wanting to let this tidbit of delectable information get away, but Sharon pushed me ahead to keep on schedule. “No surprise” was all Sharon could say as we piled onto our Camry and went on to the next house on the tour.

Thinking back on the recession of 2008, I was a bit surprised by the number of ‘For Sale’ signs that suddenly blossomed in our neighborhood. But as my neighbors pointed out, most of the homes listed for sale were but one of three or four homes their owners owned across the country. They had to sell one or more of them and Palm Springs seemed the most likely spot to move quickly in that kind of down market.

Palm Springs, like several select communities in California and other states, is an island in and of itself. It doesn’t reflect the average suburban town or community in this country. Through a mixture of history, terrain and attitude this desert community has separated itself from the rest of the masses. It’s a bubble; bright and colorful and sometimes quite luxurious. Nevertheless, a mylar illusion of what average means for most folks.

That’s OK, Alice in Wonderland had quite a ride and lived to write about it. Sharon and I get to watch and listen and learn. We’re both out of the Midwest; Minnesota born and raised. We will never close the door on that label above our heads.

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