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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 www.modernismweek.com.

Published in Visual Arts

The building that is now the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion, was built in 1961, and was recently designated a Class 1 historic building.

E. Stewart Williams, the architect who designed the historic structure that was initially the Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan, is recognized as a leading force in what has become known as the desert modern style. Therefore, it’s perfect that the recently renovated building’s inaugural exhibition, An Eloquent Modernist, E. Stewart Williams, Architect, celebrates both the building and the architect’s work here in the desert.

In other words, the building in and of itself is a work of art.

Built on the southeast corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Baristo Road, the exterior retains its initial character and demure presence. However, the building—raised a bit above the street level—makes a statement. Minimal desertscaping and floor-to ceiling-windows make the building inviting from the outside.

The inside no longer holds the guts of traditional banks. Gone are the spaces for tellers, bank managers and customer tables. Instead, visitors are met by a 13,000-square-foot open space that will feature different architecture and design exhibitions, and will house staff offices and storage facilities for the museum’s growing collection. There is also space to develop meeting areas. The pavilion contains a bit of whimsy: The bank vault is now the museum store.

The elegant sparseness of new exhibition space creates great versatility; the use of partitions can create intimate areas. This strategic use of partitions makes the E. Stewart Williams exhibit work. The curator, by dedicating each viewing area to one or two of Williams’ buildings, affords the visitor insights into the architect’s aesthetic and design process.

Williams’ architectural drawings are frequently paired with Julius Shulman’s dramatic black-and-white photographs of realized buildings. The combination creates “a-ha!” moments.

As might be expected, Williams’ architectural drawings, renderings and photographs of the former Santa Fe Savings and Loan (including one shown below) occupy the first display area. They’re meticulous in their detail.

Further south on Palm Canyon Drive, Williams also designed the Coachella Valley Savings and Loan. Now called Chase Bank, this structure retains the same architectural sensibility as the Santa Fe Savings and Loan building. Designs and images of this structure are presented within a separate partitioned alcove. Like the new pavilion, the Coachella Valley Savings and Loan building sits above street level. Both buildings also have metal façades in front of their floor-to-ceiling windows.

There are also differences. In the design drawings and photographs, the Coachella Valley Savings and Loan appears significantly taller than the Santa Fe Savings and Loan structure. Instead of appearing heavy, the building, even on paper, appears to float above the street.

Another exhibit space shows designs for the Frank Sinatra house, built in the late 1940s. Designed by Williams, with his father and brother, it was the first private residence Williams built in here in the desert. Images and designs for this low-lying residence appear to be predictors of other desert mid-century projects, both residential and commercial.

In another area of the exhibit, Williams’ expanded vision into city planning is shown. Drawings for the Palm Springs Art Museum, built in 1958 and expanded in 1962, retain a Williams commercial-building trademark: a structure, behind which are floor-to-ceiling glass walls. With the museum project, the architect’s vision expanded beyond the museum: With the mountains as the backdrop, Williams’ drawings call for an expansive open plaza in front of the museum.

Williams and his colleagues also completed extensive drawings for a revitalized downtown area. Plans for the project were filed with the city, but the project never came to be.

Two other well-known projects that Williams completed in the desert are documented in the exhibit: the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway’s mountaintop building, and Temple Isaiah.

An Eloquent Modernist, E. Stewart Williams, Architect, will be on display through Sunday, Feb. 22, at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion, at 300 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. The pavilion is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; and noon to 8 p.m., Thursday. Admission is $5 general, with discounts and various free-admission days. For more information, call 760-423-5260, or visit www.psmuseum.org/architecture-design-center.

Below: E. Stewart Williams, Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan, 1961, photograph by Julius Shulman, 1962 © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).

Published in Visual Arts