Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Is it possible—just possible—that the coronavirus has peaked, at least for now, in the Coachella Valley?

Maybe. Maybe not. But maybe.

The county’s just-released District 4 report—District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and points eastward to the state line—shows that hospitalizations, case numbers and the weekly positivity rate are all inching downward.

This is very good news … but don’t break out the party hats just yet.

First: The weekly positivity rate is still 12.8 percent, which, while lower than last week’s rate, is still too high. The state’s overall rate is below 8 percent, and in order for things to reopen open, the county would need to get its rate below 8 percent.

Second: We lost 24 of our neighbors to COVID-19 last week. That’s simply awful.

We need to keep up the fight, folks. We need to wear masks and wash our hands and avoid crowds. If a contact tracer contacts you, for crying out loud, work with them. (More on that below.) If you think you might be sick, STAY HOME. Please.

Today’s news:

• The state shut down “indoor operations” of salons and barber shops last week—a distinction which confused the heck out of some shop owners, because outdoor operations are largely prohibited anyway. Well, Gov. Newsom today clarified things, and explained that under new rules, salons and barbershops can indeed operate outside if they follow certain rules. Now, if it just weren’t 109 degrees outside …

More good news on the vaccine front was announced today, this time coming from the joint effort by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca: Early testing showed the vaccine “increased levels of both protective neutralizing antibodies and immune T-cells that target the virus” in human test subjects, according to Bloomberg News via SFGate. Keep your fingers crossed …

However, Bloomberg News also threw a little cold water on vaccine hopes, in a piece pointing out that the leading vaccine candidates—the aforementioned Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and the Moderna Inc. vaccine—may wind up requiring two doses. This, of course, makes it harder to make sure as many people are vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Yet more encouraging-but-take-it-with-a-massive-grain-of-salt news, courtesy of The New York Times: “A British drug company said Monday that an inhaled form of a commonly used medicine could slash the odds of COVID-19 patients becoming severely ill, a sliver of good news in the race to find treatments that was met by scientists with equal measures of caution and cheer. The drug, based on interferon beta, a protein naturally produced by the body to orchestrate its response to viruses, has become the focus of intensifying efforts in Britain, China and the United States to treat Covid-19 patients.”

Delta Air Lines is keeping middle seats open, while most of its competitors are not. Is it because Delta Air Lines “cares” more? No, it’s because it’s good business, posits this ZDNet article. Key quote: “Why this sudden decency? Because, (CEO Ed) Bastian explained, those empty middle seats are the ‘No. 1 reason’ travelers are booking with Delta.”

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino announced today that all concerts in its Special Events Center slated for 2020 are being postponed.

• Modernism Week today said that its Fall Preview series of in-person events, scheduled for Oct. 15-18, will not take place. Instead, according to a news release: “The Modernism Week team is developing unique virtual programs to be offered online during Fall Preview. Tickets for these virtual events are planned to be released by October 1.” Watch the Modernism Week website for details.

Also announced today, by the California Interscholastic Federation: The start of high school sports in the state will be delayed until at least December or January.

• From the Independent: How will the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the economic downturn effect the local results on Election Day? We crunched the numbers in terms of recent voter-registrations—and it appears the Democratic Party is on the upswing. Kevin Fitzgerald also talked to local party leaders and some others regarding what they’re seeing on the ground.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise published a piece on the problems contact tracers are having in Riverside County—and specifically in Riverside County, where, for some reason, more than half of the people being contacted aren’t cooperating. Key quote: “San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties also have teams of tracers in the field but haven’t had as many problems.” Sigh.

This New York Times interview with freelance journalist Robert Evans is a couple of days old, but it’s worth a read if you want to better understand what in the heck is going on in Portland, Ore. After more than 50 nights of mostly peaceful protests in a small part of the city, the federal government has swooped in with a mysterious force—a force that Portland officials and state of Oregon don’t want there. 

• After seven months of existing with SARS-CoV-2, scientists are still trying to determine the true fatality rate of the virus. Two experts, writing for The Conversation, explain the process—and offer their best estimates based on the data so far.

Also from The Conversation: A University of Oregon journalism professor writes about the devastation the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn have wrought on the country’s newsrooms. Key quote: “COVID-19 has ripped through the industry. In the United States alone, over 36,000 journalists have lost their jobs, been furloughed or had their pay cut.”

As previously reported in the Independent, live music events have been against state rules since the shutdown began—although some restaurants have gone ahead with them anyway. Well, Riverside County is beginning to crack down.

Last night’s episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, now available on YouTube, broke down why conspiracy theories always pop up around major events (like, say, a certain society-crippling pandemic).

• Because of a testing-supplies shortage, the federal government is encouraging pool testing—where samples from multiple people are combined. If the combined test comes back negative, that’s great; if it comes back positive, then the individual samples get tested to figure out who had the positive results. However, Politico makes the case that this strategy simply won’t work. Key quote: “But the U.S. outbreak is now so out of control that health experts and testing labs say it won’t work here. In areas where the virus is widespread, many pools would test positive—requiring additional tests of each person in those pools.”

CNET helpfully (and depressingly) reminds us that flu season is approaching—and “consulted Dr. Nate Favini, medical lead at Forward to help shed some light on what you need to know about both viruses and what to do if you get sick.” Bleh. Is it time for a cocktail yet?

That’s a lot—I think, you’ll agree, it’s enough for today. Please, if you can, consider throwing a few bucks our way by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep doing what we do—quality local journalism. Stay safe, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

An orange door, gold lettering, glistening white brick and tastefully tall hedges that divide the home from the rest of the world; the owner may very well be outside with a glass of champagne in hand, wearing a caftan, dripping in equal parts jewels and sass. She lifts her head with a laugh that is musical yet mischievous—is she telling an inappropriate joke or regaling you with a tale of her latest European trip? Or both?

Her name is D’Re Stergios, and she is bringing modern art and dance into her living room—quite literally—as part of Modernism Week, on Saturday, Feb. 22. The home is called The Gala House, and the event, “The Gala House—Modern Home for Modern Dance,” is a partnership with the International Dance Festival in Palm Springs/Nickerson-Rossi Dance. Expect an evening of choreographed dance and champagne, as well as a celebration of the fully restored and re-envisioned modern décor of The Gala House, originally built by the Stergios family in 1973. The Gala House is a meshing of midcentury modern, Hollywood Regency and Park Hotel styles, with a 4,825-square-foot interior, designed by Los Angeles architect Cary Bigman.

I sat down with D’Re Stergios over a glass (or a bottle) of champagne to find out more.

How would you define yourself?

I’m a mother-of-five, wife-to-one-believer-that-every-second-counts, allergic-to-mean-people, lover-of-characters-and-the-arts, often-crazy-loud-and-laughing-until-it-hurts-51-year-old glamour girl!

Who were some of your biggest artistic influences growing up?

My artistic influences have to be my mother and Frank Lloyd Wright. My designs are always easy, open and free-flowing. I love incorporating the kitchen, dining, family and formal space into one large room. Growing up in Tiburon (Marin County), I was always in love with the Eichler homes and Frank Lloyd Wright designs because of the organic indoor-outdoor flow.

My beautiful mother designed and built all the homes we lived in. They were often featured in House Beautiful. I always loved her oversized entertainment rooms with solid-glass ceilings, indoor fountains and numerous jungle plants. Were you inside or outside?

What was the restoration process like?

The restoration process was long! I had originally redesigned and engineered the moving of walls, and all interior/exterior surfaces to show the home’s beautiful clean lines. However, it became clear that all the plumbing, electrical, HVAC and walls had to be completely gutted. I basically have a brand-new home! Two years, $2 million, and we’re here, folks! The Gala House.

What do you want guests to “feel” most from the house?

I always want my guests to feel relaxed and at home—after an initial, “Wow!” comment! I must have that “Wow!” or I’ve failed somewhere. My homes are for stilettos or bare feet. I want everyone to have that option in their minds while enjoying the home.

Did you come up with the name Gala House?

The Gala House derived from the “gala performance.” In the genre of dance, the gala is always THE main performance, No. 1, the show to see. Michael (Nickerson-Rossi, the founder of the International Dance Festival in Palm Springs) and I think The Gala House is the house to see!

What sets your estate apart from other properties appearing in Modernism Week?

Glam, glam, glam! I kept the hand-stacked granite, walnut-wood walls and multilevel roof line to honor the original home, but while the original midcentury-modern designs muted down colors, crystals and finishes, I ramped up by adding that Hollywood Regency edge. I’m in love with the midcentury design but have always felt as though there was (at least) one housewife in the ’50s standing in her floral apron staring at her home thinking, “Damn! If I just had the guts to slap some shine, glitter and glam on this before the Beaver gets home!” I feel that what I’ve done with The Gala House is something that they just weren’t ready to do back then.

How did you come in contact with the International Dance Festival?

I came in contact with Nickerson-Rossi Dance and the (festival, taking place April 2-5) through the equestrian world. I’m an international dressage competitor, and Michael loves dressage and saw my videos on Instagram. He made contact, and he also learned that I danced ballet for 13 years alongside my ice-skating career on the national and world level. Dance is in you, or it’s not! We connected immediately! He’s the brother I dreamed of growing up while my actual brother was pummeling my head into some solid object! “Why can’t he be gay?” “Why can’t he be creative?” “Why can’t he be hilariously funny?”

What drew you to be a supporter of that dance-festival group?

My family has always been a huge philanthropic presence in Palm Springs, and I feel that it is my charge to continue their work. What better way than to support something I’ve done and love? I am literally THAT girl on the dance floor—the one who does not care, and just dances for four hours straight with no particular style. … Dance is life! Who wouldn’t want to support that on every level?

Some estates are merely for show, but you actually live in your house. Is it hard maintaining the precise look of the house while living a normal life?

I’ve incorporated that into The Gala House. It is truly easy living—uncluttered and simple to clean, with all the necessities wrapped up in a show-house bow!

What makes Palm Springs so different from other artistic cities?

Simply, the desert. Where else on Earth can you find such sparse beauty with architectural designs that don’t change the landscape? There are few distractions in the desert, which often leads people to revelation. True art is revelation. Palm Springs never jumps out at you; its beauty draws you in over time.

“The Gala House—Modern Home for Modern Dance” takes place at 4 and 5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 22. Tickets are $125. For tickets or more information, visit or

Published in Theater and Dance

If you want to join in the fun of the annual 11-day celebration of midcentury architecture and design known as Modernism Week, we have good news and bad news.

First, the bad: The week, taking place from Feb. 13-23, has gotten so popular that a lot of events have been sold out for weeks.

Now, the good: The week, now in its 15th year, has gotten so big that there are still tickets available for an array of tours, lectures, sales and parties—including a host of free and lower-cost events.

Lisa Vossler Smith is the executive director of Modernism Week, a nonprofit organization. Smith and her team, including more than 450 volunteers, will produce hundreds of events and activities across the Coachella Valley over those 11 February days.

“This is my seventh year (working for) Modernism Week,” Smith said. “I’ve been involved with the organization since its beginning. My husband and I volunteered for years with Modernism Week before I came on staff. … It’s near and dear to my heart, and I’m really looking forward to our 15th anniversary.”

In recent years, Modernism Week has realized impressively rapid growth in attendance levels, which has led to increases in revenue—for the organization itself, the charitable scholarships and grants it funds, the vendors at the sale events, and countless merchants throughout the Coachella Valley.

“We can tell already that it’s going to be a big year,” Smith said about the 2020 events. “Our sales have been strong, and we’re on pace with last year, when we had 152,000 attendees. So we feel really confident that we’ll have at least the same size crowd or even larger.

“Over the last seven years, our (attendance) growth has been 20-30 percent each year.”

Modernism Week events are not limited geographically to the Palm Springs city limits.

“We’re in Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, Palm Desert and Indian Wells,” said Smith. “There’s midcentury-modern architecture throughout the valley that the architects were working on in the same era. We’ve had homeowners and businesses participate by conducting tours in all of those communities throughout the Coachella Valley. That’s part of our continued growth—that we’ve been able to expand into other cities outside of Palm Springs.”

The Modernism Week team estimates that about a third of all tickets are purchased by locals, so we asked Smith for tips and advice.

“I would tell people to figure out what day they’re available, and then look at our website and sort by that date to see what tickets are available for that day,” she said. “If you’re looking to go on multiple days, then try to see a little bit of everything. Try to take a house tour; take a walking tour, and learn a little bit about the history of Palm Springs. Go to a lecture, and learn about architecture and design globally. And then certainly go to a cocktail party and have a martini by a pool at an architecturally significant house. Touch on all the cornerstones of our activities, which are all related to midcentury architecture and design throughout the Palm Springs area.”

While a single ticket to some of the swankier events can run upward of a couple hundred bucks, there are many free or low-cost events and activities—although it’s important to head to the website to get tickets even for the free events.

“Free and low-cost events are something that Modernism Week is always committed to maintaining, because we really want to invite the whole community to experience Modernism Week,” Smith said. “So whether someone’s into architecture or classic cars or vintage furniture, there’s something happening for everyone.”

If you’re convinced that you want to attend an event or two, then Smith offers this additional bit of advice.

“Always, my recommendation to attendees is that (when they arrive), go to CAMP”—that’s the Modernism Week Community and Meeting Place, located at 575 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs—“and figure out what you want to do, what tickets are available, and then you can purchase them right there at our box office,” Smith said. “Also, during the event, our website home page has a link to tickets still available for that day, which will make things easier for people to find events last-minute.”

If “free” is your favorite way to go, then take note: “I love the Modernism Week Vintage Car Show, which is a free event featuring a great selection of lectures for people who are interested in learning,” Smith said. “The show attracts a large and diverse (collection) of cars. It’s really popular, and we’ve been doing it for many years.

“Also, the Modernism Yard Sale is really fun. It’s on the last day of 2020 Modernism Week. People from all over Southern California come in and have a flea market in the H3K parking lot.”

As for lower-cost events: “All of our lectures at the Annenberg Theater or at CAMP are priced between $12 and $15, and you can see close to 80 lectures scheduled throughout the week.

“People really treat (their time at Modernism Week) like they’re going to summer camp. They show up every morning at CAMP, attend some of the lectures, and then they take off on their tours in the afternoon. It really is like having a spring break for adults. And almost every day, the Dreamboats (musical group) are playing at happy hour. They’re a wonderful throwback rock ’n’ roll band that actually gets people up dancing—even though it’s only 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Finally, there is one event that Smith wanted to point out that’s important for the community as a whole.

“The Palm Springs School of Architecture event is a big deal, because Cal Poly Pomona and College of the Desert are going to collaborate to offer an undergraduate program in architecture at the new Palm Springs campus,” Smith said. “This event, which is free and open to the public at the Annenberg Theater (at the Palm Springs Art Museum at 10:30 a.m., Friday, Feb. 21), is actually the public announcement about that collaboration. … The collaboration with Cal Poly Pomona will not only allow local COD students to pursue an architectural degree, but it will also bring a reciprocal program with students from Cal Poly Pomona, who will be able to use the campus in the desert as a lab for architecture. So, it’s really, really exciting.

“These kinds of programs are at the very core of why Modernism Week was founded. Locally, we’ve had such a strong group of grassroots supporters for the architecture and design community that it was everyone’s dream that someday, we would have architecture students who would graduate from the desert and then come back to work here as architects in the future.”

Modernism Week takes place from Thursday, Feb. 13, through Sunday, Feb. 23, at locations valley-wide. For more information, including a complete schedule and ticket information, visit Below: Modernism Week’s Community and Meeting Place (CAMP), open for free to the public, should be the first stop for anyone looking to enjoy the week for the first time. Photo by David A. Lee.

Published in Local Fun

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

I love signature events, and they don’t get any more “signature” in the Coachella Valley than Modernism Week. It has become the defining celebration of the things this city stands for—iconic architecture, glamour, sophistication, occasional hedonism and complete freedom.

What is modernism? Wikipedia says this: “Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the now obsolete culture of the past.” Modernism transformed every aspect of society and the arts—and it still permeates our thinking and world view.

Volumes have been written, discussed and debated about the movement. Modernism Week focuses on the architecture that arose after World War II but does not limit itself to that. With more than 350 tours, lectures, screenings and parties taking place from Thursday, Feb. 14, through Sunday, Feb. 24, Modernism Week is simply far too large to cover in a single article … or even a single issue of a newspaper.

After hours of reviewing press releases and schedules regarding Modernism Week, I was left with a question and a thought. The question: How did a dusty, remote village in the Mojave Desert become a world-class destination symbolizing modern style and misbehavior? The thought: The appeal of Modernism Week goes far deeper than just an appreciation of architecture and interior design.

Many people credit the Hollywood studio system with the invention of Palm Springs. Starting in the silent-film era, movie stars were elevated to the status of royalty, instantly recognizable around the globe. However, a series of scandals involving sex, drugs and suicides threatened the very existence of Hollywood, and major studios began writing ethics clauses into their contracts—and any infringement of the strict moral codes would end careers immediately. Studio spies and gossip columnists were watching every movement and action of these new kings and queens.

The studios also required that its stars could not travel farther than two hours from the studio without permission, just in case reshooting was required. However, the exuberance and freedom from the status quo of the Roaring ’20s was far too great to be contained by a mere contract, and the opening of a tennis club in a desert crossroads exactly two hours from Hollywood provided a perfect escape from the watchful eyes of studio bosses.

Spanish colonial retreats surrounded by high walls and privacy hedges soon sprang up, creating the neighborhoods of Las Palmas and the Movie Colony. A town grew to service the needs of the Hollywood elite who congregated here. Word leaked out to the public about the luxury, the parties, the affairs and the licentiousness in this desert oasis. The legend of Palm Springs took root, and people flocked here to catch a glimpse of it.

After World War II, a new generation of stars, still under contract, sought to re-create Palm Springs in a new and modern way. The war had created new technologies, and a group of young architects were eager to employ these innovations. Large sheets of glass and steel girders provided these architects with a new palette, and they invented a completely revolutionary style of building for the desert environment.

With the demise of the studio system in Hollywood in the late 1960s, Palm Springs experienced a decline. Several decades later, a new demographic discovered its charms: Gay men of a certain age began arriving. They were drawn here by the mystic history and the inexpensive housing. They began to lovingly restore the Modernist neighborhoods.

Palm Springs experienced a rebirth.

Today, Modernism Week draws fans from all over the world. While the amazing postwar architecture is the centerpiece, the art, culture and lifestyle are also celebrated. There’s something for everyone, from serious architectural buffs to simply the curious,

Page after page of events are scheduled over the 11-day run. As I reviewed them, I was impressed by the breadth of topics and experiences. Then it struck me: Almost everything that mentioned Hollywood, movie stars, the Rat Pack, Las Palmas and Movie Colony were already sold out … and this was more than a month before opening day. There was something going on here.

It’s well-documented that, as a society, we are beginning to value experiences over possessions. I would contend that a nostalgia for the glamour, luxury, risqué behavior and lifestyle of cocktails by the pool that created and sustained Palm Springs throughout its history still runs very deep. People want to experience what went on behind those high walls and privacy hedges themselves. Who can blame them? What better way to appreciate these innovative structures and the modern living style than an icing of excess?

So, take a walking tour. Attend a lecture, Watch a film. Learn about shade block. Have a cocktail at Frank’s house. Maybe indulge in some bad behavior. (Just make sure it’s not too bad.) Immerse yourself in the mid-century.

This is our heritage. These are our traditions. It is our gift to the world. I, for one, couldn’t possibly be prouder to be a part of it.

Modernism Week takes place from Thursday, Feb. 14, through Sunday, Feb. 24, at locations valley-wide. For more information, including a complete schedule and ticket information, visit

Published in Visual Arts

Modernism goes beyond architecture; the movement rippled through fashion, music, literature, philosophy and so much more.

This fact is something the Palm Springs Art Museum is highlighting during Modernism Week 2018—a time when the museum has much to celebrate.

Modernism Week—“the ultimate celebration of midcentury architecture, design and culture,” so says the week’s tag line—is returning Feb. 15-25 with more than 350 events in the Coachella Valley.

Michael Hinkle is the new director of philanthropy at the Palm Springs Art Museum; until recently, he was the managing director of the PSAM Architecture and Design Center, located in the southern portion of downtown Palm Springs. Both the main museum campus and the Architecture and Design Center will host Modernism Week events.

“Modernism Week creates this whole new opportunity to touch new audiences coming into town,” Hinkle said.

The museum’s Frey House II will again be open to the public for Modernism Week. The Frey House II, located above the Palm Springs Art Museum’s main campus, is perched on the side of a boulder—and the boulder is part of the home in many ways.

“Albert Frey actually left that house and its contents to the museum when he passed away in 1998,” Hinkle said. “He left it with the intention that we’d open it to architects and students, and through our official operator during Modernism Week, it’s the only time the general public can access the Frey House II. Other than that, (access) is very limited. It’s on a private road at the end of a street behind the museum, and it’s the only time the public can see that mid-century-modern jewel.”

I asked Hinkle how the museum produces Modernism Week events that draw attention and remain fresh each year. Hinkle’s response: The museum does what the museum knows.

“The museum itself has different collecting strengths, from contemporary art, glass and Western art, to architecture and design,” he said. “Modernism and architecture are both always on our mind. Our friends and partners at Modernism Week have certainly created an incredible opportunity that draws international attention to Palm Springs. We just really look to focus on what we do: We create exhibitions that speak to architectural design enthusiasts, and programming that supports those exhibitions. We also provide lectures that speak from a scholarly point of view to parties that celebrate mid-century modernism for fun.”

This year, the museum is celebrating an architectural accomplishment of its own: the opening of the road leading from Palm Canyon Drive to the Palm Springs Art Museum’s main campus, through the downtown redevelopment project.

“The exciting thing with Modernism Week this year is that the base of operations will be right across from the (museum) in downtown Palm Springs,” Hinkle said. “There will be a lot of excitement based around the opening of the … road to the museum, and having the lectures and the programs. (Modernism Week) is going to create the opportunities to have a fun experience or take a deep dive into exhibitions and architects like Albert Frey. Sidney Williams is going to do an amazing talk about technology and nature with Albert Frey, and how he connected and used that with his design aesthetic.”

Speaking of the downtown Palm Springs redevelopment project, Hinkle said he thinks it complements Palm Springs’ architectural history.

“The designers of the downtown Palm Springs park—they, like many designers and architects working in contemporary times, look to the modernism style and aren’t looking to re-create mid-century modernism, but to honor that kind of architecture in contemporary times by utilizing some of those aesthetics, whether it’s the clean lines and faces, the indoor/outdoor (combinations) or the roofs,” he said. “Downtown allows us to bring (the modernism aesthetic) to contemporary times with that amazing hotel and that Starbucks Reserve. When they opened up that road from Palm Canyon to the museum—it’s like the museum is positioned for a rebirth of some sorts.”

Hinkle said it’s exciting that Palm Springs and the rest of the Coachella Valley honor modernism—while also embracing new architecture and technology.

“The 20th century made a deep impact on art and architecture, and we are lucky in Palm Springs that we recognize that,” he said. “… There’s so much preservation and (so many) efforts to protect and honor the tradition of modernism, but we also have to realize that we’re in the 21st century now, and connecting those dots from modernism to now—it really allows us in Palm Springs to have the best of both worlds.”

For more information about Modernism Week, visit

Published in Visual Arts

A lot of historical quirks went into making Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley the tourism mecca that it is today.

In the big-studio era of Hollywood, actors were contractually required to stay within two hours or 100 or so miles of the studio … which helped make this a haven for stars who wanted to get away. On the less-glamorous side, a tuberculosis sanatorium once attracted people here, thanks to the 350 days of sun and dryness our weather offers.

These quirks also helped, directly and indirectly, lead to the construction of a lot of midcentury-modern buildings—and these pieces of architecture will be the stars of Modernism Week’s Fall Preview, taking place Oct. 19-22.

The list of talented architects who worked in the desert includes William F. Cody, Albert Frey, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Donald Wexler and so many others. These men were responsible for the layout of areas like the Twin Palms neighborhood. (Why did they name it that? Because each home had two palm trees in front of it.) Of course, the midcentury aesthetic went well beyond homes; these ideals were used in schools, civic buildings, religious buildings, hotels, cultural centers and commercial designs, too.

Why is Palm Springs today such a haven for this architecture—so much so that the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Palm Springs to its 2006 list of America’s Distinctive Destinations? This was a question I asked Charles Phoenix, a performer, tour guide and long-time supporter/fan of all things midcentury; he will have a hand in a variety of Modernism Week Fall Preview events.

“It’s really the people here,” Phoenix said. “Palm Springs is the ultimate place to celebrate midcentury style and design. Palm Springs is a mecca of midcentury style, and it’s where all the kingpins and fans gather each October and February (during Modernism Week proper).”

So how did this happen here? “Being in the desert, I think they were allowed to be a little more experimental and break the rules,” Phoenix said. “The minimalistic style appeals to the residents here, so they didn’t have to spend so much on the details. Remember, most of these homes were second homes.”

Since the 1920s, visionary modern architects have been designing sleek, modern homes that embrace the desert environment. The modernistic use of glass, clean lines and natural/resourced goods helped create an indoor-outdoor living style that many people love. However, midcentury architecture has not always been so beloved.

“During the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, this style fell out of favor; people thought of it just not being in style. Architects during that time thought that midcentury was yuck!” Phoenix said. “Fortunately, there are some people out there who realized that Palm Springs was a diamond in the rough at that time. During the 1990s, a group of people highlighted a couple of properties and a couple of neighborhoods and started to bring in people from all over the United States for architectural tours. Then it just started to snowball. Palm Springs is still being revitalized and recognized as the center of the universe of midcentury modern, and it’s where the lovers of this form gather.”

As these sensibilities have changed, Phoenix has found himself being pulled ever more toward midcentury design. During Modernism Week activities, you can join him on one his double-decker bus tours around town (if they have not completely sold out already), or for one of his slide presentations with actual Kodachrome slides, many of which were just given to him. Some of them appear in his newest book, Addicted to Americana, released on Oct. 3.

Modernism Week’s fall preview takes place Thursday, Oct. 19, through Sunday, Oct. 22. Ticket prices vary. For tickets, a complete schedule and other information, visit

Published in Local Fun

DJ Baz, aka Barry Martin, is not a typical DJ—his musical tastes are vintage and unique.

Those traits make him a perfect fit as one of the two performers at the Modernism Week Tiki-a-Go-Go party at the Royal Hawaiian Estates on Saturday, Feb. 18.

During a recent interview, Martin explained this year’s theme for the party.

“This year’s spin is ‘go-go.’ You take the Sunset Strip with places like the Whisky a Go Go and the Troubadour and you bring it to Palm Springs,” Martin said. “It’s a combination of tiki music and go-go, so that’s why it’s called ‘Tiki a Go-Go.’ A band called the Hula Girls, from Orange County, will be performing a special set of music with a lot more go-go thematic twists. They also have two beautiful dancers on podiums. It’s going to be a lot of fun. This event always sells out, and it’s (the Royal Hawaiian Estates’) big fundraiser for the year. The residents at Royal Hawaiian love it. They’re typically very quiet.”

Martin considers himself a big fan of tiki culture.

“A lot of people associate tiki with Hawaii, which isn’t really true,” he said. “Tiki represents anywhere where they carve idols that would represent different things. Hawaii just stands out because it’s part of the United States, and we always think of tropical imagery of being only Hawaiian when it’s Samoa, Fiji and a lot of the other islands out there.”

According to Martin, The Hula Girls will not disappoint.

“I’ve seen the Hula Girls many times,” Martin said. “A lot of people hear them play and call it ‘rockabilly.’ A lot of what they do does, in fact, have a rockabilly edge to it, but they call it ‘hulabilly,’ so they’re taking Hawaiian themes … and were really big in surf guitar.”

Martin does a variety of events; he said he saw an opportunity.

“I saw a big, gaping hole,” Martin said. “Every time I would go to an event such as a fundraiser, a gala, or anything else like that, (DJs were just playing) house or nu-disco. That’s fine, but you hear it everywhere all the time. It’s just so pervasive. Where’s the music that represents Palm Springs? … I thought there was room for me.”

Martin’s knowledge and taste as a crate-digger lead to music that is fun and different.

“I love a lot of the Hawaiian music, and I always mix it in, but there’s so much of that music from that culture,” he said. “I play what I call ‘world-beat exotica.’ I mix in a lot of vintage Latin music with cumbia and reggae. I just blend it all together. It’s not just Hawaiian music. Twist-and-shake music was really big in the ‘60s. The twist-and-shake music was adopted by go-go dancers on the Sunset Strip.”

Celebrating the vintage side of Palm Springs is a lot of fun for Martin.

“That’s what Modernism Week is all about,” he said. “Modernism Week is putting all of this on a pedestal, because it almost all but disappeared. Palm Springs is still the mecca in the world of that kind of architecture. There are structures and buildings all over town that are still in mint, if not pristine, condition. Places like the Royal Hawaiian embrace that and live it almost as a lifestyle.”

Martin said he loves themes.

“I do weddings, so you have to play everything like ‘Brown Eyed Girl,’ but I prefer doing a very specialized playlist,” he said. “Whether it’s ‘Barcelona Nights’ or ‘Cuban Nights,’ give me any theme—such as ‘Monsters,’ for example—and I can take off with it and really dig. I can come up with not-obvious selections. If your average club DJ took a gig like that or was pressed to do something like that, they might just come up with some pretty obvious choices. That may not be as entertaining. I can turn that around and really make an impression with the music. They might hear something they haven’t heard in years, or something they haven’t heard at all. That’s what I love to do—take genres of music that people have never heard or haven’t heard loud enough, and turn them on to it.”

Finding vintage material can be a challenge—although modern technology has been a big help.

“There are tons of resources,” Martin said. “For digging, Spotify is great to me, and you can pick your poison. YouTube is also a good resource for vintage stuff that might not be available for certain stuff, because royalties can’t be figured out. I figure if there’s no way to find where you can purchase it, it’s kind of free game, and a DJ doesn’t usually need a license to burn music. As long as the venue has the license to play music, I’m covered. … I play music that was only on 35s in India. I have some of my favorite places, such as The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. You really do find some gems in a shop like that. Vinyl is outselling CDs now, too, and I play a lot of vinyl.”

As for the Tiki-a-Go-Go party, Martin said the crowd will provide a lot of the fun.

“They come with the purpose of partying and having a good time—and they do,” Martin said. “No one just stands around posing. That’s why I wanted that ‘hulabilly’ feel for the music, and I’ll play music leading up to the band going on, when they’re on their break, and music to close out the night. My palette can be much broader, and it can be a lot of shake and twist, go-go and Hawaiian stuff. We’ll keep the night going.”

Tiki-A-Go-Go takes place at 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18, at 283 E. Twin Palms Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $125. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit For more information on Modernism Week, which takes place Feb. 16-26, visit

Published in Previews

Modernism and tiki design go hand in hand—and since Palm Springs is a haven for midcentury modern architecture, it’s no surprise that tiki/tropical design found a home here, too.

Welcome to the Royal Hawaiian Estates. As part of Modernism Week, the complex will be throwing its big annual bash, Tiki-A-Go-Go, on Saturday, Feb. 18. Expect a fun night of music from DJ Baz, as well as a performance by The Hula Girls—and, of course, tours of the legendary grounds that were once a playground to many famous residents.

Bill Lewallen, a representative of the complex’s homeowners, talked about the history of the Royal Hawaiian Estates, located in south Palm Springs near the intersection of South Palm Canyon and Twin Palms drives.

“In the late ’50s, World War II was glamorized by the movie industry and the magazines,” Lewallen said. “It was all about the islands and the South Pacific. The GIs would come back and have all these stories of tiki torches, the dancers and this and that. Places like Trader Vic’s capitalized on that, and tiki became very popular.

“The developer, Phil Short, he was Jewish, and he wanted to build a place in south Palm Springs that had a Hawaiian/Polynesian influence. … It was sort of his middle finger to the Tamarisk crowd: Back in the day, through discrimination, they wouldn’t let Jews or anyone they considered not white join their country clubs. They didn’t care how much money you had. Phil Short said, ‘Screw you!’ and built this place.”

It’s believed that the Royal Hawaiian Estates—with 40 units in 12 buildings on five acres—constituted the first Hawaiian-themed structures in Palm Springs; everything else being built at the time had a more conservative modern appearance.

“Phil Short had a real thing about Hawaii,” Lewallen said. “He was a New Yorker, with (architects) Don Wexler and Rick Harrison. Don Wexler and Rick Harrison didn’t know much about Polynesia, so they researched it. Don Wexler did the interior, and Rick Harrison was responsible for the outside of it. Rick Harrison was the one who designed all the Polynesian elements. Phil Short advertised in the cruise-ship magazines that went from New York City to Florida and then South America, and to Los Angeles and Hawaii. He advertised heavily in those magazines.”

The Royal Hawaiian Estates, which opened as a 55-and-older complex, wound up being the last collaboration between Wexler and Harrison. “Don wanted to stay closer to commercial design, and Rick wanted to branch out more into residential. So they left amicably, according to Don, but this was the last project they did in partnership,” Lewallen said.

Lewallen said the complex was absolutely hopping in the 1960s.

“It was a party! One of the first residents was a guy named George Jessel, who was the toastmaster of Hollywood,” Lewallen said. “He was also a Vegas entertainer. He was a notorious partier. This is 40 units on 5 acres. In 1961, George Jessel had a unit on the west side of the complex, and he would bus in all these showgirls from Vegas, and they would wear these skin-tight latex bathing suits, high heels, huge hair and a full face of makeup at the pool. They would carry martinis and serve drinks by the pool. Hawaiian music was piped in throughout here 24 hours a day. When George was festive, he’d have huge blocks of ice shipped in, and they would have these ice glaciers in the pool during the summer. The models would float on the ice glaciers. It was wild. It was one big family and one big party.”

Life in the Royal Hawaiian Estates today is a lot different than it was back in the 1960s. It’s no longer a complex for those just 55 and up, and condominiums currently for sale are listed in the $300,000 range.

“It’s quiet. ... But nobody is really here,” Lewallen said. “Even right now, people come during the weekends. People come for a couple of months during the winter. My neighbor next door hasn’t been here in 17 years, and his unit just sits there. To walk into the unit next door, it’s like to walk back in time: It’s the original floor, original counters, cabinets and appliances. Everything is intact. My cleaning lady goes over there and cleans it just to keep the dust out. It’s a Danish couple. … We do have a lady who lives here who’s currently in hospice, and she’s been here since Day 1. When she passes, my neighbors will be the oldest residents. We’ve been through 10 deaths since I’ve been here of the older residents.”

In the ’90s, the property fell into disrepair due to a lack of occupants and funds. Fortunately, times today are better for the Royal Hawaiian Estates. The “tiki apexes” on the buildings were restored in 2013. The “flying sevens” on the patios were restored, too, as were the Polynesian architectural elements known as “fascia of the gables.” So how do they do all this restoration? Not usually through the traditional method of HOA “special assessments”; instead, they use fundraising and grants from the Palm Springs Historic Site Preservation Board.

“That’s one reason why we have fundraisers. The cocktail parties we have once a year are the biggest fundraisers,” Lewallen said. “We use the funds generated from the party to put back into the restoration effort. They try not to comingle the operation funds with the restoration funds. The beams that you see everywhere, they were milled at a special size back in the ’60s, and they don’t make wood that size anymore. The wood has to be cut less than inch shorter. Everything has to be factory-built and cured. Each one of these beams, like the flying sevens, to redo are $15,000 just for one. My unit has three. We had one special assessment of $5,000 because they just can’t keep up with the restoration.”

Tiki culture is enjoying a resurgence, a sorts, and a lot of it has been incorporated into Palm Springs’ Modernism Week. Lewallen said he’s received a lot of feedback regarding old images he’s put online.

“I got an email from Google a couple of weeks ago, and it was a robot thanking me,” Lewallen said. “It commented on how the graphics I’ve put up from the late ’50s and early ’60s on Google Maps have increased the traffic—and it was way out there. … Tiki is coming back. Don the Beachcomber used to be where Ernest Coffee is … on the north side. The guy who owns the coffee shop said that when they were knocking out walls and putting up reinforcements, they took a full wall down—and (the area) behind that was full of artifacts and wallpaper that was intact. There’s also the Tonga Hut, and the Purple Room went back to tiki when it opened.”

While the Tiki-A-Go-Go party costs $125, the Royal Hawaiian Estates complex is worth experiencing—and preserving. Lewallen said attendees can expect to have a lot of fun.

“The beautiful thing about our parties is because we have five acres, you can spread out, and you don’t feel cramped,” he said. “There’s so much space. There’s parking; there are places to walk around and smoke a cigarette, and some people open their homes for viewing.”

Tiki-A-Go-Go takes place at 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18, at 283 E. Twin Palms Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $125. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit For more information on Modernism Week, which takes place Feb. 16-26, visit

Published in Visual Arts

If you’re like me, the recent political and societal climate has got you down.

Well, thank goodness our lovely valley is doing its part to offer plenty of mood-improving distractions.

Every February, art takes center stage in Palm Springs, thanks to the Art Palm Springs fair (which is rapidly growing) and Modernism Week (which already really huge). Not-so-coincidentally, we here at the Independent have a tradition of bringing you a selection of stories every February previewing these awesome events.

In the February print edition (hitting streets this week), and next week at, Brian Blueskye will bring you a fantastic article on the Royal Hawaiian Estates. This little Polynesian-themed south Palm Springs complex has a fascinating history—and even more fascinating architecture. It’s also the site of one of Modernism Week’s biggest parties.

Also in the new print edition and online next week, Nicole Borgenicht has two companion pieces that show the local side of Art Palm Springs: She talks to owners of two local galleries about what they have in store for the fair, and two local artists whose work will be on display at the fair.

Modernism Week and Art Palm Springs are just the tip of the figurative iceberg as far as Coachella Valley arts events go. This weekend brings the Southwest Arts Festival to Indio, while March brings the La Quinta Arts Festival. Of course, April is dominated by two weekends of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—you know it simply as Coachella—and one weekend of the country-tinged Stagecoach Festival.

Now … about that aforementioned political and societal climate: Starting tomorrow at, the Independent will publish a new regular column by veteran alt-media scribe Baynard Woods. “Democracy in Crisis” will focus its watchful eye on the actions of the Trump administration. And, man, is there a lot to watch.

In the meantime, I hope the Independent continues to inform you, enlighten you and entertain you.

Be sure to grab the aforementioned February 2017 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, coming to a location near you (if it’s not already there). As always, thanks for reading, and if you have any questions or feedback, please drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Editor's Note

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