Palm Springs, Modernist Mecca

An explosion of interest in Modernist architecture in the past five years means it’s not just Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s territory anymore. Palm Springs Modernism Week (February 14th to 24th, 2019) draws architecture buffs from around the world for rare house tours, lectures and cocktail parties (it is Palm Springs after all).

palm springs modernism

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The highlight of this year’s edition is sure to be the private tours inside the never-been-seen 1955 Cree House, known as the “forgotten Frey”. One of two still-intact houses by the renowned architect Albert Frey, it sits perched in the hillside and has been meticulously maintained by the family that has occupied it since the early ’70s. It is recognized as an important example of “siting,” the expression of Frank Lloyd Wright’s belief that architecture should be both in and of the landscape. For the tours, the house will be styled with Knoll.

palm springs modernism

Another huge draw is Desert X, an incredible array of large-scale contemporary art installations on sites throughout the Coachella Valley. The mirrored house by artist Doug Aitken, pictured, was installed on the hillside by the Palm Springs Tram line as part of the last Desert X in 2017, and stayed in-situ for 10 months it was so loved. Definitely worth renting a car and making a day of it (make sure your phone is charged for the ’gram).

palm springs modernism

The double-decker bus tours sell out fast, but walking tours of famous neighbourhoods provide a closer-up look. You’ll see Frank Sinatra’s house in The Movie Colony, and Liberace’s home in Deepwell—along with some fine examples of starchitect Donald Wexler’s steel-frame work. Known as a “modern masterpiece,” the Kauffmann house by Richard Neutra is a highlight of the Vista Las Palmas tour, and yes, you’ll see Leo’s house in Old Las Palmas. Lesser known but perhaps the most dotted with celebrity homes is hillside neighbourhood, The Mesa (Natalie Wood, Sonny and Cher, Barry Manilow and Suzanne Sommers). Insider tip: the ’80s fitness icon is such a local treasure that the popular downtown diner, Tyler’s, invites you to “Sommersize” your burger by ordering it without the bun.

Between Modernism tours, three new places to eat, stay and play:

palm springs modernism

stay. Arrive Hotel is part-owned by a former Facebook engineer (hired at age 19 after he hacked the site). It’s located at the North end of the Uptown Design District, making it a perfect home base for Modernist furniture and decor shopping. New this fall is Wexler’s (no relation to the architect,) with a hipster Jewish deli-type menu from an L.A. restaurant group. The lox plate is fun to share (or not share) and one of the cocktails is served in a grapefruit. Move over to the adorable ice cream parlour for dessert.

palm springs modernism

eat. SandFish, a new sushi-and-whiskey concept in a Scandi-designed room, is fusion success where a disaster could have occurred. Our sampler sushi platter was a perfect snack with very clean flavours. SoCal food trends such as charred shishito peppers and octopus carpaccio round out the menu.

palm springs modernism

play. In and around The Rowan hotel, the downtown revitalization project has seen the arrival of two-blocks’ worth of new stores to explore, including a Starbucks Reserve, a Full Psycle spinning studi, and a huge new Poké Haus. At the hotel itself, we like the ground-level Juniper Table for cold-pressed juices and breakfast burritos, while the lobby’s Window bar, with its well-curated vintage mid-century-modern furniture, is a good perch to watch the comings-and-goings of Palm Springs’ most scene-y crowd. Even if you are not a hotel guest, you can buy a rooftop pool day pass or sip evening cocktails from 5 p.m. at the High Bar.

More on Modernism Week, including ticket sales, here. —Sarah Bancroft

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