breezeblocks and mailboxes
my adventure through Palm Springs
Last week I had the opportunity to go on a weekend trip to Palm Springs, CA for a wedding. After I stopped stressing out about how I was going to look fabulous enough for a fancy event in a very stylish town (I don’t think I actually achieved my desired level of fantastic-ness, I just stopped stressing about it…), I realized that, HOLY CRAP, I WAS HEADED FOR THE MECCA OF ALL THINGS MID-CENTURY MODERN. So, I polished off my iPhone camera lens (I go on lots of unexpected adventures, so it was really dirty) and threw some nice clothes in a backpack and was off.
The first stop was LAX; little did I know I’d be whipping my camera out that early in the trip! I had completely forgotten about the mosaic walls designed by Charles Kratka. And woah, are they awesome up close.
Yes, these walls were featured in Mad Men. They are also featured on these socks that I found, in case you’re a HUGE fan.
Adventure Part 1
The next morning we headed into the desert and towards Palm Springs. I missed Modernism Week by 2 weeks. At first when I realized this, I was a little grumpy that the happy couple couldn’t have scheduled their wedding two weeks earlier. I mean, COME ON. (I got over it. Eventually.) I kind of almost thought there would be some Eames-inspired halo floating above the town with a turquoise-colored warm glow. Instead, there is a glorious old filling station (now it’s the visitor’s center) that now welcomes you to town, and there’s no mistaking that you’re in Mid-Mod Heaven.
We made it safe and sound to the airbnb we’d all rented. It was chock full of Dot and Bo “slope chairs” and other sweet pops of midcentury style (which was awesome, of course), but this house really highlighted the dichotomy of style in Palm Springs: the older Spanish Mission style and Midcentury’s clean lines. It was really cool to see the enthusiasm with which design is celebrated all throughout the town, kind of like Mickey Mouse is in Orlando.
I got out of the car and decided to stretch my legs with a nice run in the 85º weather to see some of this beauty up close. (I do live in Boulder, so it’s not that weird that I like to run and stuff.) I decided to be spontaneous and just head towards the mountains. (That’s always what’s in the background of the pictures of all the gorgeous houses, so it seemed like a safe bet.)
And I was right. They just started popping up like mustaches in hipster coffee shops. The only bummer about the gorgeous houses that were straight out of a glossy coffee table book, is that sooooo many of them were all surrounded by hedges and fences and gates, so it was hard to see much of anything. Although even the gates were absolutely adorable!
I kept running and taking pictures…
This house was getting renovated, so I was able to sneak behind the gate and get a view of the entire thing. I was tempted to peek inside, knowing that I had my running shoes on and could just book it out of there if I saw anyone, but I decided I wasn’t really in the mood for that kind of adventure.
Then I ran into the Palm Springs Art Museum and almost got ran into by a posse of bikers (not the cyclist kind) which totally harshed my mid-mod mellow I had going. They clearly weren’t taking time to check out art and stuff. Geez.
And I realized that I was kind of lost. So, I wound my way back into the neighborhoods and decided to plan out all of the spots I really wanted to see and make a route. Here were the highlights.
Palm Springs’ City Hall is amazing, from the form of the stairs that wrap the front of the building
to the giant cheese grater shade screens (I love the simplicity of the cut steel tubing mounted at a slight angle inside a grid) and the hole in the roof for the palm trees to grow through.
In case that didn’t register, there’s three PALM TREES GROWING THROUGH A CITY HALL ROOF. Wow.
School District Building
Turquoise accents, white stacked brick, and that GORGEOUS sans serif font. Who knew a school district building would be so classy?
Dean Martin lived here and it’s one of the last homes designed by George and Robert Alexander. Word on the street is that Dean Martin’s widow still lives in this house. I almost wanted to knock on her door and offer to help her repaint it and tidy it up a little. The form of it is RAD but it needs a little love.
This one must be the party house. Rumor has it that Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and JFK all partied here. I can see why! This is one classy joint (from what I could see over the huge hedges).
Once I started getting close to the house Richard Neutra designed for the Kauffman family, (the same family also commissioned Falling Water, a home in Pennsylvania designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) I felt like those girls in the audience when the Beatles came to the US for the first time. Pretty sure I jumped up and down and said “It’s a Neutra! It’s a Neutra!” The garbage man who drove by was pretty amused.
In 2007, the Kauffman house was auctioned by Christie’s, not as a piece of real estate, but as a work of art. For $19.1 million. Yowza. Right next to the historical plaque by the driveway was another one that said “private property, armed response security.” Now I understand why…
The middle class beauties
What I was really excited to see wasn’t the fancy, celebrity houses of Palm Springs, but the regular ones. These are the ones I could [more realistically] picture myself living an AMAZING mid mod life in. Complete with a bar cart and a tulip table. I wasn’t sure if this realistic mid-mod utopian neighborhood existed, but then I found the Racquet Club Estates.
I almost plopped down for a picnic on the lawn of one of the houses that was for sale, but I figured that could get reallllllly creepy really fast.
One of the aspects of the houses in Racquet Club Estates that I really liked was the notable absence of hedges, fences, and gates. First of all, I could actually see the buildings and all of their features. Many of the homes had very effective screen treatments that offered privacy without complete isolation. Thus, my next obsession of the day…
Nothing says mid-mod quite like breezeblock. With the afternoon sun overhead and temperatures hitting pool-splashing temperatures in late February, I really appreciate the functionality of breezeblock. Being able to relax behind the privacy of a wall while feeling a breeze in the scorching July heat sounds like a really good idea.
When have you ever noticed how cool mailboxes are? Yeah, well maybe I’m crazy, or maybe I just saw some really inspiring mailboxes on my trip.
Those were just the highlights (well, according to me…). But just to give you an idea of how inspiring the level of design is throughout Palm Springs, this is what their Panda Express looks like.
Yeah, even their Panda Express building is awesome.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I like to run and play music and ride my bike and go camping in addition to doing graphic design and marketing for WORKSHOP8. I’ve done some races before, but I think it’s high time to run my first (and potentially last) marathon this summer. I hope I won’t be stopping as often as I did on my run around Palm Springs… If you see me running around Boulder, wave!
Thanks for reading and I welcome your questions and comments.
8 March 2016