Palm Springs’ Modernism Week: The Insider’s Architecture Guide

The Insider’s Architecture Tour: Palm Springs’ Modernism Week

Palm Springs and mid-century modern-everything has basically become synonymous. The two are so inherently linked that Modernism Week, the celebration of architecture that defines this desert city, has become one of the best places to view––and buy––modern real estate.

If it wasn’t already obvious to anyone that’s visited, Matthew Reader, agent at the modern architecture-niche agency, the Paul Kaplan Group, and 10-year Modernism Week veteran, sums up why this event pairs so perfectly with Palm Springs. “ The coloring of our natural environs lends to much of the shadow and light play within details of even lesser buildings,” he says.

These details are what has made this year yet another success for the festival and the real estate. After all, as Reader says, “The buildings are impossible to ignore, even if you’re not a great aficionado of architecture.”

But even those familiar with architecture can run into an obstacle navigating a city this dense with gems; so, here’s Reader’s insider picks for the best Palm Springs’ architecture of Modernism Week 2014:



“The private residence of Albert Frey is always a standout,” Reader says. “The location––on the mountainside behind the art museum––affords it spectacular views, and being built into the mountainside with the rock protruding into the home is an early example of the lines between Palm Springs indoor-outdoor living being blurred.”

Frey has always been an iconic designer of Palm Springs, producing notable landmarks such as the Palm Springs’ City Hall and the Aerial Tramway, but this house is especially recognized for its small, compact space. “I love the built-in furnishings, and the hi-fi is a favorite…the efficient galley kitchen is another great feature of this love letter to compact living.”



Another favorite of this year’s festival is the crown jewel, the 1959 Siva House. Also known as the Russell house, it was envisioned by Detroit-transplant Hugh Kaptur. The residence is truly emblematic of what we think of as mid-century design, in that its focus (like Frey’s), isn’t on what’s inside but rather the perfect marriage of both the indoor and outdoor space.

Carved into a spot above Palisades road, the endless panels of glass look over the assorted Palm Springs landscape, with blocks of color mirroring the bright interiors: golf course, second homes, and mountains abound. The interiors were picked from the Palm Springs’ mid-century furniture scene: think Maloof end tables, a Hans Wegner daybed, and Nakashima barstools.

While the current owner’s didn’t opt to stay exclusively in mid-century style for every option, the home was thoughtfully updated to stay considerably in-line with the selection of 1950s pieces. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if the owners of the Silva home exclusively shopped from the Modernism Week Show & Sale</> to outfit their home.


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Reader also suggests visiting the Edris House, and even the sad, oft-maligned Town and Country Center. “It’s certainly one of the loveliest designs by A. Quincy Jones,” Reader says, “It’s really a disappointment that the owner does not take more of an interest in it or make it available to someone who cares.”

This degradation of P.S. landmarks isn’t uncommon, unfortunately. While many lectures at Modernism Week touch on this subject, Gary John’s talk is the standout. “It’s one of the most eye-opening and informative presentations that I’ve see,” shares Reader, adding that it’s an event he makes a priority to attend each year.

If it’s been tricky to get spots on many of the tours or watch the lectures, there are also resources to either get first draft (sign up as a Palm Springs Modernism Committee member) or download the newest Palm Springs architectural tour app. It details over 80 mid-century landmarks by location, or architect. This app is an important supplement to any Palm Springs’ trip, regardless of season, because like John’s lecture, it really touches on the triumphs (and disappointments) of preservation efforts in the city.

While it is heartbreaking to read about the landmarks that have been destroyed by arson or simply a really horrible re-design, the degradation of some properties make the standout saved ones even brighter. Our favorites include the Tramway Gas Station and Fire Station No. 1, both rehabilitated landmarks in Palm Springs.



Perhaps the easiest way to enjoy the architecture in Palm Springs is to do the obvious: get your own place. Palm Springs is the perfect second-home option, thanks to the year-round sunshine and ability to preserve key mid-century modern architecture. For purchasing, the usual suspects are always stand-outs (think Wexler/Harrison, Albert Frey, A. Quincy Johns, Stewart Williams, Palmer/Krisel), but options such as renovated Alexander Construction Co. residences are also a safe investment.

Note that investing in modern real estate should always be done through an educated agent; many of these homes have been renovated and stripped down to the bolts, so it’s important that whichever piece you do chose to invest in strikes the right balance between modern and thoughtful updates.

Now that Reader has shared his favorite architectural gems, tell us, which sites do you plan to visit (or have visited) during Modernism Week? We’d love to hear.

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