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 fa├žade 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.....