Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

No annual event is more beloved—and as specific to Palm Springs—as Modernism Week.

The February program, a celebration of the city’s history as a playground and showcase for midcentury modern architecture and design, has long since expanded beyond a week. It actually stirs a few months early, in the form of the Modernism Week Fall Preview, which grows more and more as the years go by.

This year’s Modernism Week Fall Preview will take place Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 17-20, with 50 events taking place over those four days—and some of those events are already sold out.

“Most of the events in October are smaller versions of what you’ll see in February,” said Tom Dolle, creative director for Destination PSP, which “produces unique, originally designed merchandise.” Dolle is the creative mind behind the Modernism Week Fall Preview’s immersive, Instagram-friendly Cul-de-Sac Experience, now in its third year.

The Cul-de-Sac Experience is a compelling hybrid of exhibit, home tour and performance art. On Sunday, Oct. 20, one short block of homes in the famed Canyon View Estates, all designed by William Krisel, will be transformed into a period replica outside and in, complete with antique cars in the driveways and costumed extras. The idea came about when Dolle—a graphic designer by trade and a classic-car lover by nature—considered how best to give back to the city he loves. He looked at the cul-de-sac where he resides, which includes eight identical houses, as well as a condo complex. He was once tasked with hosting a friend’s classic car, which, for space reasons, he decided to park in his part-time neighbor’s driveway.

“It was one of those lightbulb moments,” Dolle said. “It was like stepping into a time capsule.”

This year, the dynamic scene will be set in 1966, two years after the famed Whisky a Go Go opened in Los Angeles, and Carol Doda started dancing topless at the Condor Club in San Francisco. In addition to this year’s selection of period cars (“perfectly curated, all convertibles,” Dolle said), organizers are bringing in a DJ and period go-go dancers to perform as visitors mill about, interacting with the houses and a bevy of models dressed in 1960s high fashion. Guests are welcome to dress to the theme, and photography is more than encouraged.

Included in the experience—tickets cost $75—are guided tours of the pool and garden areas, and a souvenir booklet complete with historical information, photos and vintage ads. There will even be a vintage ice cream cart.

“Everyone gets an ice cream—a Fudgesicle or a Creamsicle,” Dolle said.

The Cul-de-Sac Experience is one of the few Fall Preview events that isn’t replicated at the main February event.

“The Fall Preview is becoming much more important (in its own right), and sort of more lifestyle-oriented,” Dolle said, whereas the main event is “much more architecture- and design- and tour-oriented.”

Dolle added: “February really attracts people from all over the world. The fall event, because it’s a shorter time period, is traditionally more local.”

Of course, the Fall Preview will include Modernism Week staples like the double-decker-bus architectural tours (some of which are already sold out). Also popular is the self-guided tour of Frank Sinatra’s former estate, the E. Stewart Williams-designed “Twin Palms Residence” in the Movie Colony neighborhood. It’s listed as a Class 1 historical site by the city of Palm Springs, and became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. Palm Springs Preservation Foundation board members will be on hand to answer questions and provide informational handouts.

The mini-version of the Palm Springs Modernism Show and Sale will take place on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19 and 20. Those wanting to get a jump on shopping for vintage furniture, lighting, art, jewelry, rugs, fashion and more from 40 different exhibitors can pay to attend a preview party on Friday night, Oct. 18.

Receiving special focus this fall is prolific local architect Hugh Kaptur, perhaps the last living heavyweight of Palm Springs midcentury modernism. Kaptur, 88, will be present at a free event from 10 a.m. to noon at the recently renovated Kaptur Plaza, and the subject of a free talk given by Palm Springs Preservation Foundation board member Steven Keylon at the Palm Springs Cultural Center at 11 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 20. The new Cole Hotel, a thorough rehabilitation of the Kaptur-designed former Bahama Hotel, will hold a celebratory opening party at 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 19; tickets are $55.

The events of the Fall Preview go beyond admiring buildings; for example, those 21 and older can enjoy learning—with a three-drink minimum!—as the bartenders at Mr. Lyons Steakhouse lead a Midcentury Mixology Cocktail Clinic on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 18 and 19; the $62 cost includes the aforementioned three drinks.

Back to Cul-de-Sac A Go Go!: Dolle said he’s excited about creating a place where guests can “be really happy, and have a great time,” even if it is just for a couple of hours.

“It’s celebrating the concept of modernism,” Dolle said.

The Modernism Week Fall Preview, including more than 50 events, takes place Thursday, Oct. 17, through Sunday, Oct. 20. For tickets and more information, including a complete schedule, visit

Published in Local Fun

The Mod subculture from the 1960s in the United Kingdom involved fashion—but it was also about great music.

Lee Joseph, the founder of Dionysus Records and the bassist for Jesika Von Rabbit, and Bob Deck, also known as DJ Bobby California, love the Mod culture, and started throwing the monthly Mod-themed Desert Soul Club parties at the Tonga Hut over the summer.

They’ll be throwing the first Desert Soul Club of 2017 at 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14.

“One of the inspirations is we were in Palm Springs and hearing the word ‘Mod’ all the time in reference to mid-century modernism,” Joseph said. “We wanted to do something genuinely Mod in Palm Springs.”

The music in Mod culture was generally soul, ska and British rock from bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks.

“We wanted to do the true British kind of Mod sound,” Deck said, “not just the soul stuff that’s popular, but also some of the Mod-rock stuff too. We mix a lot of that stuff in. It’s easy to describe it as ’60s soul and Motown and stuff like that, but we’re doing a lot more. We do ska music, which is basically soul that was misheard across the airwaves in Jamaica on AM radios. We almost feel like we’re teaching a bit about the history of that music. We both have a kind of passion for that kind of music. We wanted to teach what the true meaning of Mod is, especially around here, where we feel it is kind of misinterpreted.”

Joseph explained the lifestyle aspect.

“All the Mods had jobs and money, and they bought records,” Joseph said. “It was a post-war generation of kids who had money, and it was their own money. They didn’t get it from their parents. They spent their money on clothing, Italian scooters and records. They would go out to clubs and go dancing. They had jobs that started really early in the morning, so they started taking speed and would dance all night to American soul records. The movie Quadrophenia explains the whole thing.”

Deck said Mods were influenced by the goings-on in Italy.

“They had a real affinity for what was coming out of Italy at the time: Italian scooters, Italian fashion and Italian art,” Deck said. “With any subculture, it’s not just about one thing. That’s kind of what this movement was, and it does have a tie-in with what’s going on in Palm Springs with modernism.”

Then along came disco.

“The scene broke up because of the popularity of disco music at the time,” Deck said. “A lot of the DJs would start to mix in Donna Summer records, and people were like, ‘No, we don’t want to hear this stuff! We want to hear the old stuff.’ In the ’70s, the purist Mod fans started forming bands, and there was a second era of Mod music in the ’70s like The Jam and power-pop kind of stuff.”

Joseph and Deck play some of that second-era Mod music at Desert Soul Club.

“We play Motown, Stax and New Orleans funk stuff from the ’70s,” Deck said. “We don’t play a lot of down-tempo stuff. A lot of it is high energy, and it’s party music. People respond to the hits, like the Supremes and Smokey Robinson. We like to have fun, and we both learn from each other what we’re playing. That’s something we love to do in our personal lives: learn about music.”

Joseph said he loves to share music with people.

“I’m from Tucson, Ariz., and I collect records from the late ’50s to the early ’70s,” Joseph said. “If you can imagine, every town in America had independent local records released, so there are a lot of records out there from that era. I really like Dyke and the Blazers; they’re from Phoenix. They had a hit in 1969 called ‘We Got More Soul.’

“Being a record collector, I don’t have a lot of people over to my house. This is the way to share our records with people.”

Deck has a history with the Tonga Hut in Palm Springs, and thought it would be a great place for the Desert Soul Club.

“We wanted to do this there, because we really like the owners,” Deck said. “We wanted to help them out, and I was a resident DJ there for a couple of years. That slowed down, and we wanted to do something together. They wanted to do something with us—and it was an easy match.”

Desert Soul Club will start at 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14, at Tonga Hut Palm Springs, 254 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-322-4449, or visit

Published in Previews

As I stepped onto the back patio of Modernism Week’s Christopher Kennedy Compound on Yosemite Drive in Palm Springs, the view of the nearby golf course and the San Jacinto Mountains was breathtaking.

The home and its furnishings weren’t bad, either.

Tour guides explain that the home was purchased by Kennedy, with the rooms done by various interior designers, whose credits appear on wall plaques. When I stepped into the living room, the first thing I noticed was strange paintings. One depicted a half-dozen or so people in water—with a few of them looking horrified. Another featured a grinning man who looked like sci-fi author Isaac Asimov. The painting above the sofa? It showed a house in the middle of a flood, of course. (See below.)

Moving down the hallway and into the master bedroom, you’ll find a gargantuan walk-in closet. The retro style, including decorative paper on the ceiling, made the space feel current, yet with a decided nod toward modernism. The bedroom itself was simple and elegant, starring a bed with a canopy that hung down from the ceiling. (See below.)

The front patio of the house shows off a beautiful amoeba-style swimming pool, with a bridge going over a portion of it and a fountain on the far end. When the tour guide asked me if I thought it was beautiful, I remarked that it looked like a party safety hazard, but that it was indeed magnificent.

The kitchen feels more current than modernist; after all, the appliances are all in stainless steel. However, the bowls and cookware offer retro hints.

On the back patio, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to a huge sculpture that resembled a window frame. When I asked about the piece, it was explained that it was created by Warner Bros. prop-builders who were in between films.

While the home does offer some hints of modernism, it equally incorporates modern-day and even futuristic touches—just as modernist homes in the ’50s and ’60s did. Oh, and if you really like the home, good news: It will go on the market after Modernism Week—but, alas, only after the interior decorating is removed.

The Christopher Kennedy Compound, at 2309 S. Yosemite Drive, in Palm Springs, is on display through Sunday, Feb. 22. Tour tickets are $35. For more information, visit

Published in Visual Arts

When it comes to Modernism Week’s various tours, there’s good news, and there’s bad news.

The good news: This year’s 10th-anniversary edition of Modernism Week features more tours than ever before. Mark Davis, the treasurer of Modernism Week’s board of directors (and Modernism Week’s unofficial tour guru), said that more than 20 neighborhood tours are being offered in 2015. That’s up from nine in 2014.

The bad news: A lot of these tours are already sold out. In other words, if you’re interested in learning more about the unique and groundbreaking architecture of the Coachella Valley, you’d better head to and get your tickets now.

The speedy ticket sales are a testament to the fact that midcentury modern architecture is as popular as it’s ever been (or, well, at least more popular than it’s been since the actual midcentury modern era of the 1950s and ’60s).

“During the sad years, people didn’t appreciate what (midcentury architecture) was,” said Davis, who fell in love with Palm Springs and its architecture when he started coming to the area in 1996. “Now, many of these places are being restored.”

In fact, it’s because of Modernism Week and all of these ticket sales that many structures and landscapes are being restored to their original glory: Modernism Week is a nonprofit which turns the money from these tours over to various neighborhoods.

“Last year, $240,000 went right back to neighborhood groups” from ticket sales, he said. “This year, it should be about $500,000. That’s cold, hard cash going back to the community.”

About which tours is Davis most excited? He mentioned a tour of midcentury modern homes in Indian Wells, of all places, adding that he’s been working on it since last August.

Then, alas, he said the tour had quickly sold out.

“We realized, ‘Hey, people really want to see new things,” he said.

Next, he mentioned a tour that, as of this writing, is not completely sold out: a walking tour of the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood, known as the “Rat Pack playground.”

“It’s such a beautiful neighborhood, and it’s mostly intact,” he said.

Finally, he mentioned another new tour, of the 1947 Trousdale homes of Tahquitz River Estates. As of this writing, tickets ($65) remained for this one-time tour, starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21.

“These were the most modern, current homes you could find anywhere,” he said about these 68-year-old Trousdales. (Similar homes can be found in the Trousdale Estates portion of Beverly Hills, FYI.)

Now, if you’re not already a fan of architecture or the modernism movement, you may be asking yourself something to the effect of: Why should I care about a bunch of old, albeit really nice, houses? If that’s the case, Davis said you should consider a neighborhood tour anyway.

“Not everyone cares for (modernism), but I can’t tell you how many people, including personal friends, who have had no interest in midcentury modern architecture whatsoever, go on a tour … and fall completely in love with it,” he said.

Davis, who moved to Palm Springs after 30 years in the travel industry, speaks with a fervent passion for architecture; in part, he credits his upbringing near the architectural haven of Chicago for sparking that interest. He said he hopes locals and visitors alike can find something within Modernism Week to enjoy. Besides the tours, he gave a special shout-out to the 30 or so Modernism Week lectures—which, unlike many tours, don’t tend to sell out.

“It’s exciting to me,” he said about Modernism Week.

Modernism Week takes place Thursday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, Feb. 22. Ticket prices for the tours, lectures and other events vary. For tickets or more information, including a complete and up-to-date schedule, visit

Published in Visual Arts

In Palm Springs, the name “Christopher Kennedy” is essentially synonymous with “modernism.”

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the renowned designer is heavily involved with Modernism Week. In fact, the furniture/interior designer has transformed an Indian Canyons neighborhood home, built in 1964, into Modernism Week’s Show House—aka the Christopher Kennedy Compound.

During a recent interview with the Independent, Kennedy discussed how he was drawn to the Palm Springs area.

“I originally went to school for architecture,” Kennedy said. “I have a five-year degree from Drury University in architecture. I liked the arts approach to architecture, and I guess it was meant to be.

“I came to Palm Springs about 11 years ago. I was born in California, so these kinds of things are in my blood—the afternoons in the pool, the drapes blowing in the breeze and the sprawling ranch houses. I guess it was just fate to end up in Palm Springs.”

Kennedy said he can’t explain where his fascination with modernism came from; it came naturally, he said, although a trip he took to Europe during his college years inspired him.

“(I was) 21 in Paris and going to Corbusier’s apartment and seeing the chaise lounge from 1929,” he recalled. “I actually got to sit in it, and I don’t think you’d get to do that these days. … So I was drawn to modernism back then, and I had sketches and forms I was drawing for school for architecture that have now become a piece of furniture in my furniture line.”

Kennedy was deep into modernism back before it became popular. He also remembers the modest beginnings of Modernism Week.

“My first encounter with Modernism Week was when I was doing a home for a major action-movie star in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. She called me and said, ‘Christopher, we’re going to go shopping at the antique show at Modernism Week, aren’t we?’ I said, ‘Of course we are! Yes! Please come out to Palm Springs’—not really knowing about it. So I first went shopping when (Modernism Week) was kind of only the antique show at the convention center.

“It’s exploded since then. Our trajectories have been about the same: My firm is about 10 years old, and Modernism Week is about 10 years old. To be able to grow together has been really wonderful. To be able to produce the show house that’s affiliated with it, it’s really a dream come true.”

Kennedy has been involved with the redesigns of two modernist homes in the area, one belonging to former Dragnet star Jack Webb, and the first home that Liberace purchased in Palm Springs. However, Kennedy is particularly fascinated by the Kaufmann House, designed in 1946 by Richard Neutra. He’s also amazed at what the Annenbergs did at their Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage.

“When you have people who have the vision and the resources, and (are) willing to invest those resources in creating something cutting-edge and monumental that stands the test of time, it’s pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s especially amazing when you watch MTV Cribs, and you see people who have the resources but don’t have the taste, and they don’t put something together like the Kaufmanns or the Annenbergs, who would hire the best architects in the world.”

Kennedy now has his own line of furniture and home accessories that he sells out of his office and storefront at 1590 S. Palm Canyon Drive.

“It’s expanding all the time,” he said. “We launched Christopher Kennedy Collection furniture about four years ago, and there are inspirations from art-deco to midcentury. It’s about 40 pieces of case goods, and it’s carried at the trade shows across the country. It’s been really fun to do and create pieces that someone can invite into their home and love. We launched the candle line a few years ago, and the scents are based off of all the different scents of neighborhoods in Palm Springs.”

While Kennedy is undeniably a fan of midcentury modern architecture, he’s a bit more relaxed regarding the topic than others. He weighed in on the controversy surrounding two office buildings on Tahquitz Canyon Way that were designed by modernist architect Hugh Kaptur; the current owner wants to tear them down, but the Palm Springs Architectural Advisory Committee scuttled those plans.

“I think it’s a balancing act. I don’t think everything is worth preserving. I’ve been in (one of those) particular buildings, and I have clients who were trying to lease a space in that building, and it had its challenges,” he said. “I think Hugh Kaptur is a wonderful architect, but I’m not sure that’s his masterpiece, and I think we do need progress.”

He also expressed mixed feelings about the demolition of portions of downtown Palm Springs’ Spa Resort Casino. He said not all of it was worth saving—but one thing in particular bothered him.

“I think for them to throw (some of the) sculptures in the trash is just poor business,” he said. “Those sculptures were worth six figures easily, and for them to just throw them into the trash with the stucco, it kind of breaks my heart.”

Kennedy said he’s not surprised that Modernism Week has become such a renowned event, thanks in part to nostalgia for the era that gave birth to modernism.

“It’s been said that I’m sentimental and nostalgic, which is fine, because I own that,” he said. “To me, nostalgia isn’t just about a certain form; it’s about California glamour and an era when things were simple—when there was a certain standard of manners and common courtesy. I miss the days when people would dress up to get on airplanes, and when families would sit down to eat together, and you would talk and not text on phones. As a society, we’ve become increasingly fractured, and we have a collective yearning for the simpler, more-gracious time.”

For more information on Modernism Week’s Christopher Kennedy Compound, visit Below: A rendering of the 2015 Christopher Kennedy Compound, by Victoria Molinelli.

Published in Visual Arts

From Thursday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, Feb. 22, an estimated 45,000 people will descend on the Coachella Valley for Modernism Week, the annual celebration of the architecture and style of the 1950s and 1960s.

If you’re a fan of modernism, architecture in general, or the styles made popular when baby boomers were coming of age … great! You probably already have your tickets in hand for various Modernism Week events and tours.

But what about those of us—your humble scribe included—who don’t know much about modernism? What should we make of Modernism Week? Why should we care?

These are the very questions I asked Chris Mobley (right), the chairman of the Modernism Week board, during a recent interview. Beyond his Modernism Week duties, Mobley is the owner of Just Modern, the amazingly cool furniture store located at 901 N. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 101.

For more information on Modernism Week, or to buy tickets for Modernism Week events, visit

Here is an edited version of our chat.

Let’s start with a very broad question: Why is modernism important and worthwhile?

Modernism culture is trending right now, because baby boomers are coming of age, where they can afford a second home, and they’re looking to retire in places like Palm Springs. Palm Springs is really defined by its architecture and its culture, its fashion and design, and all of that is tied into … modern architecture. Today, you’re finding more baby boomers feeling nostalgic about coming back to Palm Springs and seeing all the stuff they may remember as a child. Maybe their parents had it, or their grandparents had it. So Modernism Week kind of represents everything that’s happening here in Palm Springs.

Why is Palm Springs such a hub for modernism? How did Palm Springs become such a haven for this style?

Palm Springs probably has the largest number of midcentury homes and commercial buildings, built in the 1950s and 1960s, per capita. A lot of those have been untouched; we avoided what happened to a lot of homes (in other places) in the 1980s—slapping stucco on and trying to make (the homes) look like Spanish modern or something. A lot of the homes are still as they were in the 1950s and 1960s. The same goes with a lot of the commercial buildings here in Palm Springs.

Let’s talk specifically about Modernism Week, and use me as an example: I love art, but I’m a little bit younger than the baby boomer demographic. I’m intrigued by architecture, but when it comes to “modernism,” I really don’t know much about it. What would you recommend for a beginner like me in terms of enjoying Modernism Week?

One thing I would recommend for anybody coming to Modernism Week is the Architectural Bus Tour. It’s a double-decker bus, where you can sit on top of the bus with a docent, and you drive around through all the neighborhoods and through the commercial district, and you learn the history of Palm Springs—where Frank Sinatra lived, where Elvis Presley had his honeymoon—and the development of certain neighborhoods by particular architects. That will give anyone an overview of Palm Springs and the modernism culture here.

I also think that going on one of our neighborhood tours … is a good way to get inside of some of the homes, to see what they look like. People have really put a lot into making sure the homes look like they would have back in the 1950s or 1960s, with the décor and art and furniture.

One thing we’re doing differently this year is we’re having a festival called CAMP—the Community and Meeting Place. This is a 10-day event where you can come into a 25,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor space with hospitality suites, purchase tickets that are still available, enjoy a lounge where you can sit with like-minded people—and even charge your phone. We have a theater where, with a CAMP pass, you can go in and see lectures and movies throughout the week. There are happy hours every day in our courtyard from 3 to 6 p.m. We’ll have a café and a Modern Marketplace where you can see the latest in modern design. This is a good place to get a feel for the people who are coming in for Modernism Week, and hang out and have discussions between events.

Let’s talk about a different type of person—someone who doesn’t think he or she really cares at all about modernism. Try to convince that person that modernism and Modernism Week are important.

As an organization and an event, we celebrate far more than midcentury modern architecture. We also celebrate our new architects—those who are testing limits, crossing boundaries and doing buildings and homes that are relevant to Palm Springs. … I would say to people who aren’t into architecture: Come for the parties. We have parties and happy hours almost every night, where there are themes—say, you can dress up as a 1960s TV character. That’s our opening-night event, called “Throwback Thursday.” It’s just a lot of fun.

What, in your mind, makes modernism special?

That’s an interesting question. Modernism is a style that is relevant today. There are a lot of young furniture designers and artists and architects who were influenced by the 1950s and 1960s. A lot of the items I carry in my store, Just Modern, are designed by artists who weren’t alive in the 1950s or 1960s, but are taking inspiration from the midcentury modern period or the Palm Springs lifestyle. So modernism is relevant to, say, a young couple who is living in L.A., maybe in an urban development or a condo.

What about a young person who may not have the money to buy a lot of the furniture and other items inspired by modernism? Why should that person care? Or should they care?

Well, they should. Let me back up a little bit: Modernism Week is full of paid events, but we also have a large number of events that are free to the public. It’s great to come to experience the Palm Springs lifestyle … and learn about our history. … Around 45,000 people (will come in for Modernism Week) … but you don’t have to break the bank to be a part of it. For example, the Hot Purple Energy bike tour is free, where you get on a bike and ride around and get to see a lot of the buildings that you would see on the paid tours. … Palm Springs is a hot destination right now for young people, so there is a lot of exposure (to Palm Springs) for the younger generation. They’re here celebrating at the Coachella (Valley) Music and Arts Festival, or Splash House, or any of these other things—and they’re being exposed to what Palm Springs is all about as far as architecture, fashion and culture.

Let’s talk about midcentury modern architecture specifically. What one or two buildings would you recommend that really show off what the style is all about?

The Kaufmann house in Palm Springs is one of the most celebrated buildings here. It was featured in a famous 1970s photograph by Slim Aarons called “Poolside Gossip,” which is one of the most famous photos taken in Palm Springs. You don’t really need to get inside these homes to see their architecture. Another would be the “House of Tomorrow,” which is where Elvis and Priscilla Presley had their honeymoon. … (As for what’s included on Modernism Week tours), I would recommend the Steel House tour, featuring steel homes which were designed by Donald Wexler in the 1950s. The other (recommended tour) would be the Frank Sinatra “Twin Palms” Estate.

Getting beyond buildings: Tell me about some furniture, some items and some trends that show off what’s really cool about modernism.

What’s trending now are clean lines in furniture design. You can see that at almost all of the stores here in Palm Springs. Walnut was a wood that was used in the midcentury modern period, and today, there’s a huge draw for that handcrafted, really solid, clean piece of furniture made from walnut. (Something else) that you might see in Palm Springs that you wouldn’t see so much in other areas: really bright colors—ceramics or art or accessories that are primarily orange, aqua or chartreuse.

One last question for you: Give me the pitch to someone who is on the fence about Modernism Week, on why they should care, and why they should participate.

First, come out for the excitement and the energy that’s created during Modernism Week by all the people coming into town from all over the world. Second, considering the weather in February, it’s the best time to be (out and about) in Palm Springs, when it’s cold and snowy almost throughout the rest of the country. For a local person participating in Modernism Week, you can go into your neighbor’s house and see how it’s decorated! We have (more than 20) neighborhood organizations all opening up homes. What’s great about the neighborhood tours is the majority of money that’s being made through Modernism Week goes back out to the neighborhoods, the neighborhood organizations and our partner organizations. As a nonprofit, Modernism Week is the event that pulls all of these organizations together to improve the neighborhoods and help with preservation efforts. We also have a scholarship program. The money that people are paying for tickets—it all is going to a good cause.

Published in Visual Arts

Renowned local architect Hugh Kaptur will be, in many ways, the star of this year’s Modernism Week, which kicks off this Thursday, Feb. 13.

At 2 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14, he’ll be honored with a place on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, at the corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Baristo Road. This is just one of several Modernism Week events focused on Kaptur.

Hugh Kaptur was born in Detroit in 1931. His father worked as a designer for General Motors and Packard—so you could say that he had some design inspiration from his father. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he moved to Palm Springs in 1956. He interned with Wexler and Harrison before being laid off; he then decided to strike out on his own and went on to design homes for the Ranch Construction Company. He designed the Palm Springs Fire Stations No. 3 and 4, as well as numerous homes, apartment complexes, office buildings and hotels, including the Casa Blanca, now known as the Musicland Hotel.

Matt Burkholz, a local Modernism historian and tour guide, will be giving a free lecture on Kaptur at the Palm Springs Library at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 22.

“Kaptur is the man for not only residential architecture in Palm Springs, but also commercial architecture in Palm Springs,” Burkholz said. “His most famous residential structures are the Steve McQueen house and the William Holden house. In terms of his commercial work, that would be pretty much everything on Tahquitz Canyon, which includes the 600-700 building right across the street from the Regal Cinemas, and the Fragen Building, which is a really early geo-berm building where the lawns go right up to the roof line. In fact, he even wanted grass on the roof.”

Burkholz says that the tour he will be doing at 1 p.m., Friday, Feb. 21 (tickets are $50 and available at will include the Ranch Club Estates, now known as the Desert Park Estates, and Racquet Club South, north of Vista Chino.

“In the ‘50s and ‘60s, (the homes) were really considered out of town—literally in the middle of Saharan-style sand dunes,” Burkholz said. “When the houses were finished, each homeowner was given a shovel to shovel blown sand away from their front doors, because it was that far out of town. Because the houses were out of town, and Kaptur is the kind of architect who is very aware of the area he’s designing for, the homes are extremely substantive and well-insulated—actually, much more so than the resort-style homes that are closer within town.”

While Kaptur’s work is considered part of the Modernism movement, elements of his work put Modernism to the test, and incorporate other architectural designs and a great deal of geometric inspiration.

“He’s not a purist Modernist architect,” Burkholz said. “He is interested in several different aspects of life here. A lot of the other local Modernist architects, like Albert Frey and William Cody, were influenced by Los Angeles architecture. Kaptur realized Palm Springs was an entirely different ecosystem and environment than Los Angeles. A lot of the things that were modern and stylish for L.A., aspects of them could work here. But we are more of a desert climate than a coastal climate, so he looked east of here to Arizona and New Mexico—things like … Santa Fe centennial architecture, and adobe architecture. They’re more substantive, and they can take the great heat, the wind, and can take the super-extreme conditions of our ecosystem here.”

There are some recognizable patterns and elements to Kaptur’s work. For example, he didn’t use that much steel.

“He didn’t think that steel heating up to 125 degrees baking in the sun was quite the right material,” Burkholz said. “He preferred stone, thick wood, and he did incorporate glass as well. He really looked around the area for his inspiration when it came to the mountains, to the east, to the Native American cliff dwellings, and caves. His style is not as sleekly futuristic. He lived so long and worked so long that as fashion and style changed, he moved from Jetsons futurism to more of an organic quality.”

Kaptur’s work is still relevant today, Burkholz said.

“He and his wife, Helen, are kind of an advertisement for life in the desert,” Burkholz said. “They’re older folks, but they’re great-looking; they live a fabulous life; they have a great home off Bogert Trail in the Southern part of town. Pretty much everyone involved in Palm Springs planning and Palm Springs politics knows him, because he’s been here since 1958. He’s part and parcel to the residential and commercial texture of the whole city.”

Published in Features