Monday, December 28, 2009

Peabody's Cafe at La Plaza Shopping Center

No two issues in Palm Springs seem to polarize the community on a regular basis more than signage and historic preservation, with the liberals being anti-signage and pro-preservation while the conservatives seem to favor the exact opposite. An interesting case that highlights this conflict is that of new signage proposed for Peabody’s Café in the historic La Plaza Shopping Center (1937, Schenck & Williams), a locally designated Class 1 Site.

A comparison of historic and contemporary photos located at the Palm Springs Historical Society helps to illustrate the changes that have occurred to this important historic property over time. The village character of the 1940s photo stands out in strong contrast to the contemporary image of the property - particularly the Peabody’s dual storefront - a tacky assemblage that is currently overwhelmed by signage ( more than 16 at last count) including several that clearly are not permitted. The guardrails, awnings and cheap plastic furniture don’t help matters much either. It is an interesting fact of life that during economic downturns there is a tendency to blame existing architecture or signage for the lack of business. Commercial tenants often feel that remodeling a building or adding signage will solve their economic problems. As it turns out, this is rarely the case, but it does seem to keep the sign companies afloat.

In the proposal recently heard before the Historic Site Preservation Board (HSPB), the operator of the café proposed replacing an existing non illuminated circular sign with a much larger “blade” type sign that both echos and competes with the historic marquee of the Palm Canyon Theatre. The HSPB which is charged with overseeing changes to Class I sites reviewed this proposal and supported it with a six to one vote, in spite of the fact that the proposal is contrary to their own guidelines that prohibit false-historicist designs for historic properties. By the café-owner’s own testimony, the new sign is derived from and will compete with the existing Palm Canyon Theatre sign from the 1930s. Imagine if all of the tenants in La Plaza were to follow suit. The only silver lining in the HSPB’s approval is the requirement that Peabody’s remove all of the existing illegal signs.

A word to the Peabody’s owners: its not about the signage fact the café would be a lot more appealing without all the signs as is evidenced by the many successful food operations along Palm Canyon (Pomme Frite, Ruby’s, Kaiser Grill, etc,) that seem to be doing well, even in these recessionary times, with minimal, tasteful signage. Sadly, Peabody’s business probably won’t improve with just the addition of this unfortunate sign. In fact, they would be well-advised to think about improving the quality of the food and the decor of the café. As for the HSPB, a look at National Register Bulletin 25 regarding signage and historic properties might serve as a reminder that their job is to promote the restoration of the site to its original historic character.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cody coming out of my ears.....

I first spotted this great house last spring when I was looking for Cody projects for my Architecture 101 lecture at PSAM. I just recently had it confirmed as a Cody by asking the staff at the Rancho Mirage Preservation office. Evidently the owner preferred to not have it listed as an historic structure on their registry. I particularly like it because it strongly resembles Cody's own Palm Springs home that has now been substantially altered. I will be repeating my lecture on William Cody on February 10 at 7:00PM at the Rancho Mirage Public

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More Grey Gardens in Palm Springs?

I have it from pretty good sources that this enormous (7,000 s.f. +/-) ranch style house is a Bill Cody design..evidently cobbled together from two or three existing buildings. Its pretty spectacular in its own way, but would love to have seen it before the many alterations took place. It was at one time the home of actor Adam West - television's campy Batman. I have been unable to verify the house's provenance through the Cody Archive's "box" list.

It is part of a larger property (see site plan) that once included the Villa Hotel. Those buildings - clearly architect-designed, but also substantially altered - are said to also have been designed by Cody for an Elizabeth Arden Spa, but relocated here in the 1960s.

The entire property was slated for replacement with a large new project before the current economic collapse. Today, the entire site appears abandoned, and the existing buildings appear doomed.....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Lost" Cody Found...

Some friends recently purchased this "lost" gem. They were turned on to it by Realtor Alan Miller who knows where all the good (architectural) stuff is. The house, built in the 1960s was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. W. Sieman, a La Jolla couple who only used it for a couple of month a year. The architect was Bill Cody who had a wide range of stylistic expressions. For this project he created a Miesian Pavilion on a crest in Vista Las Palmas. In this image, the quiet street facade conceals a forecourt that leads to a transparent box....looking through the house to the pool, the million-dollar view beyond is as spectacular as it is surprising. One of the new owners is an architect who is planning a sensitive restoration. My compliments to all concerned...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Second Empire Revival" in Palm Springs

Did you know that there is no design review for single family homes in Palm Springs, unless they are proposed for a hillside site. On the other hand...there is no public hearing involved in the demolition of single family homes, unless they are located on a major thoroughfare....

Its always interesting to see a house like this in a town that is famous for its architecture....

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Importance of Context

These two photos taken about eighty years apart illustrate the importance of context. In the top image from a Gail Collection photo, the original El Mirador Hotel (1927, Walker & Eisen) is viewed from Palm Canyon Drive - originally Main Street. The tower was lost in a fire in 1989. In the lower photo, a replica of the original tower (1991, WWCOT/Chris Mills) now stands as a symbol of the Desert Regional Medical Center. Without a shred of irony, this replica tower was designated as Palm Springs' first Class 1 Historic Site....proving I guess that you don't have to be old to be historic...

The contemporary image was shot from Indian Canyon because in the intervening years an office building was built that blocks the original view. As for the context, drought-tolerant landscaping was really fashionable in the 1920s...I'm just saying...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Morgan Residence in Rancho Mirage

This romantic old West style home in Rancho Mirage was purchased in 1939 by Frank Morgan (1890-1949) who was born as Francis Phillip Wuppermann in New York City. His most famous performance was in The Wizard of Oz (1939), in which he played the carnival huckster "Professor Marvel", the gatekeeper of the Emerald City, the driver of the carriage drawn by "The Horse of a Different Color", the armed guard leading to the wizard's hall, and the Wizard himself. His first film was The Suspect in 1916. His career expanded when talkies began, his most stereotypical role being that of a befuddled but good-hearted middle-aged man. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1934's The Affairs of Cellini, where he played the cuckolded Duke of Florence and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1942's Tortilla Flat, where he played a simple Hispanic man. Like Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West, his characters only appear onscreen for a few minutes in total, but they are show-stoppers. He was so popular that MGM gave him a lifetime contract.

Other movies of note include The Shop Around the Corner, The Human Comedy, The Mortal Storm, The White Cliffs of Dover and his last movie, Key to the City, which was released after his death, in Beverly Hills, California. Like most character actors of the studio era Frank Morgan had numerous roles in many motion pictures. One of his last roles was as a key supporting player in The Stratton Story, a true story about a ballplayer (played by James Stewart) who makes a comeback after losing a leg in a hunting accident.

Morgan married Alma Muller in 1914; they had one son. Morgan died after suffering a heart attack in 1949 while filming Annie Get Your Gun. His widow, Alma still resided here as late as 1953. He was the one major player from The Wizard of Oz who did not live to see the film become both a television fixture and an American institution. He was buried in Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1708 Vine Street.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Grey Gardens in Palm Springs?

I recently stumbled onto this forlorn estate that is surrounded by numerous abandoned-looking cars of some vintage. A little research uncovered the following:
"At the depth of the depression, [Wallace] Neff’s wealthy playboy client [Singer Sewing Company heir] Arthur K Bourne acquired a fine lot in Palm Springs, one of the few towns in the region which was still booming. It was becoming popular with the film colony and with Pasadena socialites wealthy enough to be unaffected by bad times. The house the architect built on the property was an attempt to fuse the Mediterranean Revival with the modern style - to enjoy the best of both worlds.
The dwelling was disposed around three sides of a patio, with a swimming pool at the center. Most of Neff’s swimming pools up to that time had been in Beverly Hills, and they had usually been well removed from the house. But the central location was appropriate since this was a vacation retreat, but such a location was more characteristic of modern than Mediterranean Revival site planning. The modernity of the patio was diluted by making the bedroom wings identical and adding a circular ornamental fountain from which water spouted into the pool. Thus the place took on the air of an exotic North African desert oasis. Neff used almost a whole wall of sliding doors to make the living room an indoor-outdoor room in the modern manner and the simple, almost brutal, almost flat shed roofs had a modern look which was negated by the red tiles used as a covering material.
There was a separate wing for the servants rooms and kitchen on the north, while the two front doors were a reflection of the Bournes hospitality. The north door was for guests who might come and go without disturbing family members in the south wing. Neff grasped the possibilities of Palm Springs readily, as demonstrated by the inclusion of a small second story room and loggia. By climbing only one flight to this mirador, one can enjoy a view all over the valley. The house has had several owners, but has never been drastically altered."

-Alson Clark
Wallace Neff: Architect of California’s Golden Age

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Perlin Residence - Los Angeles

The Steel Houses of Palm Springs are almost legendary. They are the work of architects Wexler & Harrison, with engineering provided by Bernie Perlin. What most people don't realize is that Wexler designed a house for Perlin that was built before the Palm Springs houses. The house is essentially unchanged, and still owned and occupied by Bernie Perlin. Mid-Century modernism...untouched. Wow!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Children's Discovery Museum - Rancho Mirage

Just driving along Gerald Ford Drive in Ranch Mirage when I discovered this wonderful building. It is rare to find architecture this good in the Coachella Valley. Thank you Children's Discovery Museum.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Araby Dude Ranch

This compound, on the south end of Araby Drive, is one of the best-kept secrets of old Palm Springs. I am told it was an early Dude Ranch, possibly from the 1920s. It is a cluster of deteriorating buildings that included a couple of residences, a corral and stable, and a swimming pool surrounded by low walls. All are made of stone. Nearly abandoned, and occasionbally guarded by an eccentric (and a little scary) gentleman on a bicycle, the place exudes great charm...and the mystery of an architectural dig. Hope somebody pays attention to this place before it disappears entirely,

Saturday, September 5, 2009


I ran across this remodeled Alexander the other day; what were they thinking....?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Palm Springs Golf Club Clubhouse

I'm beginning to prepare for a lecture at the Palm Springs Art Museum in February as part of the Architecture 101 Series. It will feature the work of architect Hugh Kaptur. My good friend Robert Imber who gives guided tours of Palm Springs architecture guided me to a number of Kaptur works that I was unfamiliar with, including this building. It has some really beautiful elements, but would benefit from some restoration. It was done while Kaptur was in partnership with Richard Ricciardi, the architet of the Gas Company Building, shown earlier.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What is so rare as a Bungalow in Palm Springs?

You occasionally see a Bungalow in Beaumont or other small towns nearby, but rarely in Palm Springs. This one, on Calle Santa Rosa, from the 1920s may be a Sear's Mail-order house. I would love to know more about it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Facadomy is generally not accepted as a suitable preservation practice for historic buildings because it does not protect all of the elements that make up a building’s significance. The result of facadomy is tokenism that literally protects one side of a place’s history. Buildings are conceived in three dimensions and so it follows that if they are significant, they should be retained in three dimensions. Protection of the whole building is far more meaningful than protection of the building’s “parts.” When designation of the Palm Springs International Airport was being considered by the City Council, they opted to protect only the front facade...Now the same strategy is being considered as a “compromise” for the designation of the Oasis Commercial Building. Isn’t it time for this town to join the real world?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Birge Residence on the Avenue Foch

Ethel Birge was also a francophile....this is her Paris apartment on the Avenue Foch where she died. Its near the intersection of the Avenue Foch and Rue Rude...go figure!

Birge Residence - The Ingleside Inn

This is the home Humphrey and Ethel Birge had built for themselves in Palm Springs. They were originally from Buffalo and also had a home in Pasadena. Today its a Palm Springs Class 1 Historic Site known as the Ingleside Inn.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Gas Company

I've always been curious about this great looking little building on Sunrise. It was built in 1969 to the designs of Palm Desert Architect Robert H Ricciardi. The failure of the imperfect "corduroy" concrete was discovered when the first board forms were removed...but wiser heads prevailed and the imperfections were recognized for the beauty they possess; the building was completed utilizing the "imperfect" process resulting in one of the town's most memorable buildings. Thanks to architectural guru Robert Imber for his background info on this gem.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

SHoP Architects

A preview of the Architecture and Design Council's upcoming January lecture: this is a small rehab done by SHoP Architects on Madison Avenue in New York. Its really cool...

Proposed Movie Colony Demolition

This 1924 Mediterranean style home in the Movie Colony is proposed for demolition. The owner wants to replace it with a new home in a contemporary style. This demolition of what is essentially sound housing sends a strong message about a town that gives lip-service to sustainability....

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oasis Commercial Building


The questions asked by city council members at the July 22, 2009 hearing regarding the nomination of the Oasis Commercial Building as a Class 1 Site are more revealing than Council may have realized. Their questions were so basic; it was as if this process were absolutely new to them. Had they never seen the city’s preservation ordinance before? Did they never read it? Or do they feel their own highly politicized desires constitute the necessary and sufficient justification for their actions?

Historic Preservation is hardly new to this country, or even this town. The local process is a fairly straightforward one wherein the Historic Site Preservation Board (HSPB) makes recommendations to the Council regarding the designation of local historic resources. If the Council concurs, the property is listed in the local registry and the HSPB then monitors any changes proposed to the resource. Variations on this scenario are played out on a daily basis in thousands of cities and towns throughout the country and no city has died as a result of historic preservation. In fact, most cities that incorporate historic preservation planning into their general planning strategy discover that both growth and development thrive as a result.

Although Councilperson Foat is generally a consistent preservation supporter, the rest of the Council’s eagerness to “compromise” the most recent nomination by embracing (unbeknownst to them) a far more restrictive preservation tool – the Conservation Easement – reveals their fundamental lack of understanding in this area. With this tool, changes to an historic resource must be monitored by a private non-profit entity, removing the decision-making process even further from public review. They seemed ready to embrace this notion, even as they discussed proposed changes like “owner consent” requirements and “feasibility studies” to the existing ordinance that would diminish the already weak designation process.

City Council members and city planners, whose responsibility is the management of community resources and shaping options for the future, should recognize that preservation planning offers both short-term opportunities and long-range advantages. Knowledge of the community’s past helps in understanding emerging patterns and future expectations. The Department of Planning Services, in particular, seems to have adopted an aggressive anti-preservation policy of late.

For existing towns like Palm Springs, preservation planning may be the most enlightened and sustainable approach to reviving or maintaining the viability of our town. Preservation planning makes for a better community by preserving its important assets. By providing assurance that Palm Springs’ special sense of place will survive, locals and outsiders alike are given reason to commit their own futures to the community. Sadly, these ideas do not seem to be understood or valued by local planners or Council members who operate on the entirely specious assumption that historic designation prohibits development.

There remains a strong and vocal divergence of opinion among Palm Springs’ citizenry regarding how far government should be permitted to go in regulating the use of private property. The current “frontier mentality” regards buildings, whether of cultural importance or not, as commodities to be freely traded to maximize income or capital gains for the current owner, rather than as scarce resources to be treated with respect and consideration for the public good. Political corruption has been defined as “the diversion of public resources for private or politicized ends.” It appears Council’s current unwillingness to designate properties clearly meets this definition and may constitute an abuse of the public trust. Leadership must be less about the “man” and more about the “people.” The city’s motto, emblazoned on the façade of City Hall is “the people are the city.” But the City’s interpretation of this motto has devolved into “the people who own or want to develop property are the only city we listen to.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

American Radiator Building (1924, Hood & Howell, & Fouilhoux)

We're just back from New York। Couldn't help but fall in love with this Deco gem. It was made famous by Georgia O'Keefe's 1927 painting. For more New York Architecture, look at my Travel Notes link at the top of the page.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Ronchamp Eave: Transportation of Meaning

“The new words of architecture that Le Corbusier forged throughout his life became seminal, not only for himself, but for others. Because they have visual strength and were functionally based, they found a world audience...” - Charles Jenks, Le Corbusier and the Continual Revolution in Architecture.

This is especially true in Palm Springs where Le Corbusier’s influence, particularly in the curve and sweep of the Ronchamp Chapel’s eave (1955) can be seen in a number of local buildings. In addition to the previously cited Fresh & Easy Building, other examples include Rudy Baumfeld's City National Bank (a Class 1 Site), The PartyLab Building, a Palm Canyon Liquor Store and two homes by Le Corbusier apprentice Albert Frey.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Los Angeles High School No. 9

We were on 101 in LA yesterday and zoomed past this intriguing structure. Robert shot this image on the fly....and I photo-shopped out the distracting is the Central Los Angeles Area High School #9 for the Visual and Performing Arts by Austrian architects Coop Himmelblau. Sometimes its good to get out of the desert.....

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jensen's loss...Fresh and Easy's gain....

Fresh & Easy Architecture: I have always admired this building, and am surprised that nobody seems to know anything about it. One unconfirmed report indicates that it was originally built in 1959 as a Market Basket Super Market, and subsequently became a Von’s. It opened as Jensen’s Fine Foods in 1985 according to their website. Stylistically, the design seems to be later than 1959, but also earlier than 1985. If anybody has any documentation, please let me know. In the recent conversion from Jensen’s to Fresh & Easy, the brise soleil was restored and the building was painted a vivid yellow with green trim. Those colors, as approved by the town’s Architectural Advisory Committee, may be very “Fresh & Easy” but they’re not very Palm Springs. The original color was sandy Beige. Whatever the color, the restoration is a good thing for Palm Springs. It would be difficult not to admire the architecture with its upward curving eaves and its extravagant cantilevers

Capsule Tower Demolition Propoosed

"... all too often, private developments like the Capsule Tower, no matter how historically important, are regarded in terms of property rights. They are about business first, not culture. Governments don’t like to interfere; the voices of preservationists are shrugged off. “Want to save it?” the prevailing sentiment goes. “Pay for it.”
Until that mentality changes, landmarks like Kurokawa’s (Capsule Tower) will continue to be threatened by the wrecking ball, and the cultural loss will be tremendous. This is not only an architectural tragedy, it is also a distortion of history." -

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Tennis Club / Bouganvilla Room Addition

Commissioned by McCallum heiress Pearl McManus, and built in 1947, this addition to the Tennis Club is the last of the three Palm Springs area projects to be designed by collaborating architects Paul R. Williams and A. Quincy Jones. While much of the original design is intact, an addition on the north end has blunted the impact it once had. Having been more or less supplanted by the popular Spencer's restaurant that screens this building from view, the interior Bouganvilla Room is now largely intact but rarely used.

Romanoff''s on the Rocks

This is another of five projects in the Coachella Valley designed by A. Quincy Jones either in collaboration with Paul R Williams or Frederick E. Emmons. This project was designed by Jones & Emmons in 1956. Quincy Jones completed part of his apprenticeship in Williams' office. Although Williams was nearly two decades older, he and Jones formed a strong bond. They remained friends for years, and collaborated on two projects in Palm Springs. As illustrated in the pictures above, the building has undergone many alterations and has been vacant for years. The newest owner is currently converting the original nightclub into a church....strange bedfellows....

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The (Town and Country) Center

This is a detail of Palm Springs second Shopping Center built in 1948. It was designed by prominent Los Angeles architects Paul R. Williams and A. Quincy Jones who collaborated on three projects in the Palm Springs Area. It is a well-known historic resource in the area, and was once home to the Town & Country Restaurant. It has been determined eligible for the National Register. Despite a preponderance of evidence in support of its historic significance, its owner wishes to demolish it and replace it with a one-block long street. In a recent unanimous vote, the Palm Springs City Council voted to deny the building the protections afforded by the historic site ordinance, perhaps literally paving the way for its demise....

Palm Springs deserves better.....