Palm Springs: The Mecca of Mid-Century Modern Architecture

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palm springs mid-century modern architecture visitor center

When it comes to stunning mid-century modern design, there's no better place to find it than in Palm Springs. The city is overflowing with MCM neighborhoods, architecture, and events thanks to the iconic MCM architects and developers who designed homes there beginning in the 1920s all the way through the '80s. 

The area's close proximity to Los Angeles made it a favorite retreat for people in the entertainment industry. And many of these people had the means to commission mid-century modern homes from prominent architects like Richard Neutra, John Porter Clark, William F. Cody, Albert Frey, Donald Wexler, E. Stewart Williams, and William Krisel.

palm springs mid-century modern architecture sinatra house

These architects designed mid-century modern houses with special attention to the surrounding locale, creating a new flavor of MCM style called Desert Modernism. And while you'll find modernist houses all over Palm Springs, they're primarily concentrated in the following neighborhoods and communities:

  • Vista Las Palmas
  • Indian Canyons
  • Twin Palms
  • Deepwell Estates
  • Desert Park Estates
  • El Rancho Vista Estates
  • Royal Hawaiian Estates
  • Racquet Club Road Estates
  • Ruth Hardy Park
  • Seven Lakes Country Club

Due to the high concentration of mid-century modern homes in the area, Palm Springs was named to the National Trust of HIstoric Preservation in 2006 and designated a Preserve America City in 2009. These designations help to ensure the area's historic MCM homes are protected. And that's very fortunate given the architectural giants who designed buildings in the area.

palm springs mid-century-modern architecture the kaufmann house

Some of the most famous mid-century modern houses in Palm Springs include the Kaufmann House, designed by Richard Neutra in 1946. The house is widely considered as one of the best examples of Desert Modernism, featuring four axes that create a series of outdoor living spaces around the property. 

Frey House II, designed by Albert Frey, is another prominent MCM home in Palm Springs, constructed in 1964. The home is perched high above the city, with massive sliding glass doors that help it to blend into the surrounding landscape.

Other Palm Springs homes designed by major MCM architects include the Elrod House by John Lautner, the Abernathy Residence by William F. Cody, the House of Tomorrow by Dan Palmer and William Krisel, and the Hope Residence by John Lautner. All of these houses feature many of the characteristics that made Desert Modernism so popular, including indoor-outdoor harmony and expansive open floor plans that ease the flow of everyday living.

palm springs mid-century modern architecture L horizon

Image courtesy of L'Horizon Palm Springs

In addition to mid-century modern residences, Palm Springs is home to a variety of MCM commercial buildings, many of which have been beautifully restored to their original condition, such as The Movie Colony Hotel designed by Albert Frey in 1935. Other important MCM commercial buildings in Palm Springs include the L'Horizon Hotel, designed by William Cody in 1952, and The Monkey Tree Hotel, a 16-room restored boutique designed by Albert Frey in 1960.

If you want to venture out to see some of these mid-century modern gems, then you can easily do so through one of the city's many MCM-themed tours and events. The city's biggest modernist event is Modernism Week, an annual 10-day event that celebrates the beauty of mid-century modern design.

During Modernism Week, you can attend all kinds of events to learn more about the mid-century buildings in the area. For example, this year's Modernism Week, which takes place from April 8-18, offers fun activities like an Architectural Driving Tour of Palm Springs. During the tour, you'll hop aboard a 1966 convertible Mustang that will take you by some of the best MCM homes in Palm Springs. 

You can also take a guided tour of Twin Palms, the first modernist neighborhood in Palm Springs, which features homes designed by William Krisel, Donald Wexler, Hugh Kaptur, and more. And these are just two of the many fun events, ranging from tours to films to dinners, that take place throughout the week.

If you can't make it to Modernism Week, then you can still book a tour to check out the area's homes through services like the Palm Springs Mod Squad. These 90-minute tours cost $75 per person and focus on buildings by the core architects who contributed to Palm Springs' Desert Modern aesthetic, including Albert Frey, E. Stewart Williams, and William Cody.

But even if you don't have time to book any sort of tour or event, it's easy to find beautiful, mid-century modern architecture throughout Palm Springs, all you have to do is go for a drive through the above-mentioned neighborhoods. And if you need a little extra guidance, then you can pay $5 for this map of modern Palm Springs architecture, which will take you to some of the area's best MCM gems.

Looking for a modern home of your own? Then check out the modern houses for sale in your area. 

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