Palm Springs Day 1: Architecture & Art

We jetted off to Palm Springs for an overnight. We have a date with my big brother for lunch, tomorrow, so today we hit the ground running in search of a history lesson in this Desert Oasis' unique architecture... Desert Modernism.

Palm Springs boasts one of the best collections of modernist architecture in the world. Wealthy clients and celebrities from nearby Los Angeles and across the country commissioned villas in the resort city, as part of the movement's boom during the mid-20th century and we were here to try to see as many as possible, so grab a beverage and enjoy a tour with us.
Our first stop was at the Tramway Gas Station which is now the Palm Springs Visitors Center. Built in 1965 by Albert Frey and Robson C. Chambers, this groovy space is the perfect welcome to begin our discoveries.
Since the 1920s, visionary modernist architects have designed sleek, modern homes that have embraced the desert environment. The dramatic geographic surroundings of the Coachella Valley inspired a design aesthetic in the middle of the 20th Century now called Desert Modernism. Notable for its use of glass, clean lines, natural and manufactured resources and indoor/outdoor spaces, Desert Modernism evoked a lifestyle of simple elegance and informality. Influenced by the dictates of desert living and the intense climate, the style grew out of the architects and designers' adaptive use of inventive materials, modern construction techniques, new (post-war) technologies...and served an enthusiastic and willing clientele.
Our first stop was at one of the older neighborhoods “Old Las Palmas”. It's a long story of how it came to be from its 1920 beginnings. And the architecture has evolved into an eclectic mix of custom homes ranging from single family homes, situated on moderate sized lots, to large estates covering a complete block. It has grown to include homes built in a variety of architectural styles including Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean and even Mid-Century Modern. Historically, the residents who live here have been as diverse as the architectural styles of the homes in which they live.  Entertainment producers, Hollywood moguls, movie stars, musicians, industrial tycoons, interior designers as well as doctors, lawyers and local business owners have called Old Las Palmas home.
The neighborhood organization boasts that it has the largest number of celebrity homes in Palm Springs. Celebrities who have lived in Old Las Palmas include Dinah Shore, Liberace, Kirk Douglas, Ann Miller, Mary Martin, William and Mousie Powell, Edward G. Robinson, Bob Howard and Andrea Leeds, Gene Autry, Jack Warner, Samuel Goldwyn, Debbie Reynolds, Glen and Vivian Austin and many more. I am sitting in front of the Dinah Shore Residence, built for her in 1964 by Donald Wexler. A side note is that a stay in this home was the prize for the winners of The Instant Hotel. Its current owner is Leonardo DiCaprio. Fun fact right?
I was enamored with all kids of architectural features. There was a lot of "Stop the Car" demands.
Around every corner is a must see, architecturally speaking. The Alexander Construction Company (run by father & son team, George & Robert) almost single handedly changed the face of Palm Springs between 1955-1965, building nearly 2,500 post & beam mid-century modern homes and doubling the city’s population in the process.
These houses have since been dubbed the “Alexanders,” a majority of which were spearheaded by architect William Krisel (Palmer & Krisel) including their very first tract, the Twin Palms Estates neighborhood (1956-59). Krisel’s use of standardized building elements, switching up footprint orientations and rooflines, and integrating indoor with outdoor living, made the “Alexanders” affordable, appealing and highly sought after … even today. Especially today!
Oh man, and when a vintage house has a vintage automobile in the carport, I'm hooked!



The Ship of the Desert, perched high above the town, was build in 1936. Wow, right?
No trip here is complete without seeing stars. The ones we saw happened to be part of the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, a stroll of fame in downtown where Golden Palm Stars honor various people who have lived in the greater Palm Springs area. Among those embedded in the sidewalk are the names of Presidents of the United States, show business personalities, literary figures (authors, playwrights, screenwriters), pioneers and civic leaders (early settlers, tribal leaders, civic personalities), humanitarians, and Medal of Honor recipients.
Here's Lucy! Comedian Lucille Ball appeared in scores of B movies throughout her career in Hollywood. It wasn’t until 1951 when she and her bandleader husband, Desi, appeared together in the television program I Love Lucy that her popularity reached real heights. The couple fell in love with the Palm Springs area and decided to use the desert oasis as a place to relax with friends away from the pressures of their television production schedule. In 1954, Ball and Arnaz moved their family into the informal ranch home architect Paul R. Williams designed for them. The house, on a lot Desi reputedly won in a poker game, was located near the 17th fairway of the Thunderbird Country Club and was the first residence completed in the club’s development. We couldn't see their home but at least I got to sit with Lucy for a bit.
This three storey tower may not look like much but in its day it was. In 1924 construction began on the Oasis Hotel, one of the most recognizable and architecturally distinctive buildings in Palm Springs. Commissioned by Pearl McCallum McManus to be built as a tribute to her father’s legacy. Her father, John Guthrie McCallum, was the first white settler to make his home here and Pearl felt a strong and lasting responsibility to keep Palm Springs a thriving community. The architect she deemed appropriate to bring life to her image was Lloyd Wright, son of iconic Frank Lloyd Wright. The building was to be a handsome high-class hotel. In the end, the Oasis Hotel, as it was called, was a showpiece that boasted Palm Springs’ first swimming pool, lush landscaping, striking interiors and the statuesque tower Pearl dreamed of. Unfortunately, it was not a financial success and in 1953, the hotel portion was turned into the Oasis Commercial Building. So sad, truly.
I liked this sweet downtown gathering place, the 1940 Welwood Murray Library.
A cool repurposing of the Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan (1960) is this, the Palm Springs Architecture & Design Center.
Since the amazing list of accomplished architects is so extensive, we decided to focus on just Albert Frey(1903-1998) for this particular visit.
He was a Swiss-born architect who established a style of modernist architecture centered on Palm Springs. At the end of World War II Palm Springs' population almost tripled, and the city experienced a building boom. Known as an escape for the Hollywood elite and a winter haven for east coast industrialists, the town emerged post-war as a resort community for a broader segment of the American populace with more leisure time than any previous generation. Frey was positioned to capitalize on this, and the city and his firm benefited from an unprecedented period of construction.
Frey did far more than just home design. City Hall was constructed from 1952-1957 by Frey and his team.
Can you see me hiding in the brise-soleil? What a groovy architectural feature that reduces heat gain by deflecting sunlight.
Renamed The Movie Colony, in recent years, the neighborhood was known for decades as Tamarisk. Film stars flocked to area from the 1930s, especially after Darrell F. Zanuck won a Tamarisk Road estate from United Artist’s Joseph Schenck in a poker game. The director introduced many stars to Palm Springs when he invited them to spend weekends at the compound. Today, homes range from modest to palatial with the height of residential star power being  from the 1930s through the 1960.
We couldn't see Twin Palms, also known as the Frank Sinatra House, at 1148 East Alejo Rd but it is a mid-century modern house in the Movie Colony. The house was designed by E. Stewart Williams, as a commission from the American singer and actor Frank Sinatra. The house was Williams's first residential commission. Sinatra lived in the house from its completion in 1947 to 1954, and sold the house in 1957.

Thursday nights are free admission at the Museum of Art and since it was raining pretty hard, most of Palm Springs embraced the opportunity to be indoors.
We enjoyed the diverse artworks, finding some that really interested us.

 Ed Ruscha's Chocolate Room intrigued us.
First Nations artist Brian Jungen made some statements using various sports equipment, including this mask made with Air Jordans. Wild.
Nicholas Galanin's Things are looking Native, Native's Looking Whiter was quite unique.
I think my favorite piece was Justin Favel's Popocatepetl e Iztaccihuatl vistos desde Atlixco, after Jose Maria Velasco. It's made from piƱatas to create collective views of Mexico.

Steve really liked Chris Burden's gallery-sized installation which consists of 625 identical cardboard models that represent the entire United States submarine fleet dating from the late 1890s, when submarines entered the Navy's arsenal, to the late 1980s. Burden designed this installation as an amalgam of elements rather than as a discrete project: he suspended the cardboard models from the ceiling, placing them at various heights so that as a group they appear, quite aptly, to be a school of fish swimming through the ocean of the gallery space.
We have been fans of Alexander Calder since we lived in Spoleto, Italy where he was displayed throughout the town.




The furniture section surprised us. This table was designed by Albert Frey.
Actor George Montgomery (1916–2000) was an American actor, once married to Dinah Shore and a long time Palm Springs resident. What we didn't know about him was the fact that he was also a painter, sculptor, and furniture craftsman. His furniture and sculptures were on display. I love learning new things and getting surprised.

The designer of this settee, Sam Maloof, seemed familiar to me. I later remembered that a visit to his house, in Rancho Cucamonga, is on my list of "things to do". It is a living museum dedicated to the legendary woodworker and his soulful furniture.
I wish I knew who created this but it is pieces of toast, with some pieces eaten to display the man's outline.
And this melting tapestry blew me away. Such talent.
Home for the night, was Aqua Soleil Hotel and Mineral Water Spa in Desert Hot Springs. It was the perfect place to end our incredibly diverse and interesting day. We can't wait to see what we discover tomorrow.


“I like to travel any chance I get, even if it's just a local vacation to
San Diego or Palm Springs or wherever.
I just like to get out and do stuff and see the world.”
— Christa B. Allen

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Art of the Aloha Shirt: Keoni of Hawaii, 1938–51: Part 1

Nothing says Vacation quite like an Aloha Shirt and in the history of the Aloha Shirt, there has been no more innovative merchandiser, nor better self-promoter than Keoni of Hawaii.

Journalist. Painter. Home designer. Textile artist. In just the first chapter of his amazing life, John “Keoni” Meigs was all of these things.  He began his career designing aloha shirts while living in Honolulu prior to World War II. Between 1938 and 1951, Meigs created as many as three hundred different textile designs, many of which are now recognized as classics.  In his prints Meigs tried to depict, in his words, “what’s really Hawaiian without being pedestrian.”
After a delicious lunch, Karen and I headed to the William D. Cannon Art Gallery to explore the history, artistry, and production of Hawaii’s enduring fashion statement, the Aloha Shirt. This exhibition of sixty objects, including original textile artwork, production sketches and swatches, advertisements, and vintage shirts tells the story of an early innovator in an industry that has left an indelible mark on fashion in the United States and the world.
What I find incredible is that Keoni (John in Hawaiian) kept scrapbooks of all is sketches, paintings and then the finished product. How very, very cool.





This shirt was the most distinct from all the others. It is called the Matson Menu Print. With rich tones and gradients, this pattern is derived from a series of paintings by Eugene Savage which were reproduced on the Matson Cruise Line's menus. In 1950, Keoni- known for his inventiveness and technical prowess- was hired by Mallinson Printing Company to translate Savage's highly detailed, wildly colorful paintings into a repeating pattern. A truly daunting task, the resulting print was a nine-color tour de force that earned the Mallinson Company great acclaim (and some awesome fashions).


This is Part 1 of a series from this amazing exhibit due to the fact that we will be going again and I'll be sharing even more.

"Be the Aloha you wish to see in the world."

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