The fabled Hollywood retreat and cradle of midcentury modernism is riding a wave of energy and enthusiasm not seen since the city’s postwar heyday. Some of the world’s most visionary architects moved here to build houses for Hollywood stars in the desert modernism style, developed from the 1920s through the early 1970s. That Palm Springs is having a style moment was cemented by Louis Vuitton celebrating its 2016 Resort Collection with a fashion show at The Bob Hope Estate, a Palm Springs landmark designed by the great modernist architect John Lautner. Here are some of the highlights from the 11-day festival celebrating all things midcentury modern.
hollywood | tab hunter
Palm Springs, two hours by car from LA, has been a hideaway for the Hollywood set since the 50‘s. The studios required their big name stars to be on call and no further than 100 miles from Hollywood. This is why Palm Springs became such a popular spot for the Hollywood elite at that time.
“America’s boy next door” Tab Hunter, pictured, was a frequent visitor. This week, he gave a rare insight into what his life was like as a closeted box office star back in the 50's while doing a Q&A at the screening of his new movie “Tab Hunter Confidential”. This is noteworthy because the festival celebrates all things midcentury including the cars and the stars.
poolside gossip | slim sarons | neutra
No doubt you’ve seen the photo shot in 1970 by Slim Aarons. Two attractive women sit in lounge chairs beside a teal-blue pool looking fabulous and moneyed. A third, all legs and carefree attitude, strides toward them with a drink in her hand. In the background is a modern glass-and-stone house and purplish mountains. That house, the iconic Kaufmann Residence is THE house that kickstarted the whole movement to restore and revive mid-century architecture in Palm Springs; the very house that may have single-handedly transformed Palm Springs from a recreational haven into an architectural-cultural destination. Built in 1946 by architect Richard Neutra, who died in 1970, this unforgettable residence is widely considered to be one of the finest works of residential architecture in North America.
In March 1962, Mr. Loewy, who had a house in Palm Springs, saw the Kennedy presidential plane landing at the airport. He thought the graphics looked terrible and offered to make some suggestions. His color scheme and graphics proved to be timeless, and they survive today on Obama’s Boeing 747 who happened to be in Palm Springs this week while having a pow-wow with leading dignitaries at Sunnylands. Just as Mr. Loewy’s logos and designs helped to differentiate commercial products in the marketplace (Lucky Strike, the Coca Cola bottle), his work on Air Force One helped make the plane a world-famous symbol of presidential majesty and power.
Albert Frey was the father of the Desert Modernism style and one of the small handful of architects responsible for Palm Springs's midcentury look (he designed the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway station, the Tramway Gas Station, Palm Springs City Hall). This week I visited Frey II House, the second of two houses he built for himself in the city. Frey picked out an incredible spot on the side of a mountain (just above the Palm Springs Art Museum). Frey’s Aluminaire House — a 1930s architectural installation — is coming to Palm Springs for permanent residency soon. The feeling is that Palm Springs is the spiritual home for the all-metal house which is currently disassembled in storage.
Don’t miss the Bauhaus exhibition at The Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion (101 Museum Drive). Located in a 1961 savings-and-loan building crafted by pioneering desert architect E. Stewart Williams and renovated by the Los Angeles firm Marmol Radziner, this is one of four imposing bank buildings which were designed to inspire confidence and optimism at a time when pent-up consumer demand was fueling exceptionally strong economic growth in a post war period.
Modernism Week runs until Sunday, Feb 21. Listen to my report on Monocle 24 here