Sunday, August 22, 2010

St. Helena Bandshell

Few local amenities are so closely identified with small town ambience than a Band Shell. Locals gather here for community musical events on warm Summer evenings. Its also a good way to communicate important locals issues to the citizenry. The little sign posted on the tree is a public announcement that the tree is unhealthy and will have to be removed. That is so civilized.

St. Helena Post Office

Lewis Simon was the architect on this remarkably intact Post office building from 1940 in St. Helena. This charming town has managed to be respectful of most of its architecural heritage. Unlike many towns that have decimated their historic downtown area, like Palm Springs to name but one, St. Helena seems to be thriving. I can't help but wonder if there is a lesson to be learned here.....
I'll post more pix of the St. Helena trip soon...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Endangered Building No. 7: WWII Barracks

When the US entered WWII, the Air Force ferrying Command came to the desert and built these barracks. The City built the road on land donated by Pearl McManus, and in exchange it was named “McCallum Way”, to honor her father. Later, it was renamed Tahquitz-McCallum Way. Later still it was renamed again, dropping “McCallum” for today’s “Tahquitz Canyon Way.” It would appear that Palm Springs has little use for its history....After the war, the barracks were sold and individually moved to locations throughout the desert, Among the most prominent of these hearty survivors is the Clara Bee on Ramon Road. It was altered by architects Wexler & Harrison for use, originally for retired army nurses, I am told, and later it became a Women’s Shelter. It is located on Indian land and today is vacant and scheduled for eventual demolition.

There are those who say that the preservation community wants to preserve “every old building” so I offer the Clara Bee as an example of an old building that does not necessarily warrant preservation....but it might be interesting to see if the Wexler & Harrison facade could be incorporated into a new building on this site......

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Endangered Building No. 6

Back in 2007, the Historic Site Preservation Board (HSPB) considered the nomination as a Class 1 Historic Site the "Casa de Rancho" a Morongo Street compound built in the 1940s for Dr. William Scholl. He was the inventor of those famous foot treatment products that are a staple to the retirement-age citizenry of Palm Springs. Dr Scholl might have joined the ranks of the town’s prominent (part-time) residents to be honored by the designation, but it was not to be. When built, the Spanish Colonial style property was a mini-estate containing ten buildable lots; such parcels are extremely rare in Palm Springs today. Struggling with the concepts of Setting and Context, the HSPB lost its courage and recommended protecting only the main house, which was centered on two lots facing Morongo; the remainder of the fully landscaped site which contained a swimming pool and pool house, tennis courts and gardens was not included in the recommendation to the City Council. Predictably, the owner opposed the designation, and, while owner consent is not required by the designating ordinance, the City Council deferred to the owner’s wishes and declined the recommendation, resulting in a property that had no protection. With the City’s failure to protect the property, the owner immediately walled off the main house, demolished the outbuildings, filled in the pool, stripped the mature landscape and prepared to sell off the lots for development.

Needless to say, the owner did not predict the global financial melt-down that subsequently occurred, and the empty lots remain undeveloped and available. The appearance of the property today is that of a forlorn, blighted site, littered with unfinished construction debris; it retains little of its original charm or value, an impact on the neighborhood that will not be easily overcome. Among the lessons to be learned here is the understanding of the value to an historic property of its setting and historic landscape. As these few surviving larger parcels start being subdivided, the character of the neighborhoods, and ultimately the town itself will be diminished….

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Endangered Building No. 5

This is another local building that appears to be endangered; it is the Charthouse Restaurant designed by architect Kendrick Kellogg, one of the most gifted architects to work in the Coachella valley. The 1978 building is located at 69-934 Highway 111, and was designated as an historic resource in Rancho Mirage in 2004. Owned by Palm Springs’s maverick developer John Wessman (see endangered builing No. 3), it has been sitting empty for many months and based upon the current appearance of the site, with its dead grass and dying landscape, has had its water turned off for some time. This is yet another example of demolition by neglect, and in its current state is definitely a fire hazard.

The building was designed to reflect the curving forms of the natural site; the hill appears to slope down through the restaurant. In 1994 it received an award sponsored by AIA of the Inland Empire of California, who noted that the building was energy efficient before the concept of energy efficiency became popular. The roof, with four inches of urethane foam, undulates around the perimeter of the small hill resting on recycled roof boards which are supported by laminated curved beams. The centered skylight is made of 3 layers of translucent plastic running the full length of the restaurant. The undulating rock walls are from the site. The double doors at the entrance are made of laminated beveled glass in fine curved wood frames, for keeping out the 130 degree summer heat. A low-profile twenty foot long waterfall runs through the glass near the entrance. In 1981 the restaurant was on the cover of Restaurant Design Magazine. To paraphrase a corporate officer of Charthouse, "To change Kellogg's design is to jeopardize our investment."

Kellogg attended the University at San Diego State, University of Colorado, University of Southern California, and the University of California at Berkeley. He received his architect’s license in California in 1964. Kellogg’s motto is, "the more unusual the site, the better the Architecture." Kellogg’s work features totally unified concepts of organic architecture that were inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff. His is a rather unorthodox philosophy regarding architecture and the profession: Although architectural school taught basic engineering, it also inadvertently taught Kellogg what not to do. He feels that “Architecture cannot be taught. Beauty comes from within….A license does not make Architecture. Competitions are, for the most part, political. The technology of any time is only a tool.” Kellogg believes “Organic Architecture is the Mother of the Arts. Beauty is the sustainable essence of life. Nature is not sentimental. Both beauty and nature are the practical aspects of our compassion for survival.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

No. 4 on the Most Endangered List

Actually, I'm a little late on this one....somebody had the bright idea to remove the historic Cypress Trees along the Welwood Murry Cemetery wall. The cemetery was established in 1894, and these trees likely date from then. Although I love Palm Trees as much as the next guy, in this installation they resemble nothing so much as telephone poles. This seems like an outrageous, unneccessary and misguided improvement. Although technically the trees are on public land, the Cemetery itself is a Class 1 Historic Site, changes to which require review by the Historic Site Preservation Board, a civic entity that has consistently had its head up its ass lately...but you'd think somebody might at least check in with them before changing another property associated with the pioneering Murray family (See endangered Building No. 1). Another example of the importance of historic landscape...lost.

And so I rant on......

Palm Springs Most Endangered Buildings, No 3


Many people have tired of hearing about The Center - a.k.a. Town & Country Center, (1947, A. Quincy Jones and Paul R. Williams). A few months ago this historically significant building wound its way through the city designation process, with protection as a Class 1 site ultimately spite of being eminently qualified. Such are politics in a small town. Recently Zeldaz dance club, the Center’s last major tenant, gave up the ghost after 30 years and relocated to the Sun Center (1965, Richard Harrison) on South Palm Canyon. This is interesting for a number of reasons.

If the owner of The Center had maintained the building, Zeldaz, and any number of other tenants might still occupy this and other downtown buildings. Instead, Zeldaz became just another tenant who felt the need to abandon the downtown area surrounding the vacant and moribund Desert Fashion Plaza.

On the other hand, sensing the deterioration of the central downtown core, the owners of the Sun Center recently invested in the rehabilitation of their property which now appears to be flourishing. Can’t help but think the same thing might have happened to The Center, if its owner were not so interested in its demolition. As most preservationists know, there’s almost nothing worse that can happen to historic buildings than for them to sit empty for long periods of time. Their systems begin to fail, and the restoration costs begin to climb. Unsympathetic property owners of historic buildings are well aware of this phenomenon, and the choice to neglect and vacate these buildings is often a prelude to demolition, hence the term “Demolition By Neglect”

There is a touch of irony in the Zeldaz relocation. In the past, when “straight” neighborhoods or clubs get rundown, urban myths would have it that they are rediscovered by gay men who polish their tatty charms with sweat equity and recreate them as gay neighborhoods (Christopher Street and the Castro, to name but two) or clubs. In this case, the irony is that Zeldaz took over the space of a gay night club and seems to be making a go of it. Good for them. I can’t help but wonder if its time for a gay entrepreneur to take over the old Zeldaz space and make it into something fabulous, like maybe recreating the original Town & Country Restaurant!

Interesting footnote: In 1970, when Max Palevsky was building his great Craig Ellwood-designed desert home, he stayed in one of the very high-styled apartments at The Center.

Friday, June 4, 2010

#2 on Palm Springs Most Endangered List

In the heyday of unbrideled real estate development that was Palm Springs before the golbal financial meltdown, this remarkable building complex was deemed expendable by local decision-makers. The site was "needed" to develop East Tahquitz Canyon Way into an upscale hotel zone, so arrangements were made to relocate the tenents of these buildings as a prelude to their demolition. Essentially "saved" by the bad market...they survive at least temporarily, until the economy revives.

In a town that loves Modernism, designs that show the influence of Pueblo Architecture are often discredited. Oddly, early modernists such as Irving Gill and Albert Frey paid homage to the style of this continent's oldest structures, but somehow, when Hugh Kaptur does the same thing, he gets no respect. Go figure...

So, while time allows, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to these singularly important and beautiful buildings. You'll thank me later...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Palm Springs Ten Most Endangered Buildings

Every year the National Trust offers up it Ten Most Endangered Buildings List. Actually, a few years ago they increased it to eleven, but who’s counting? Anyway, they just announced this years list which is actually National Parks instead of buildings. Their rationale was that they are all endangered because of a lack of funding.

This got me thinking about endangered buildings and Palm Springs; I decided to put together my own list of the Ten Most Endangered Buildings in Palm Springs, which will be the subject of the next few posts....

Number 1 on my current list is the Welwood Murray Memorial Library. A proposed project to remodel the existing tiny Library building at 100 South Palm Canyon Drive will sadly result in the building being gutted; substantial amounts of the building’s extant historic fabric will be demolished to allow a new tech-centric use to be installed. Its hard to understand how a city so pressed for funding that it is already curtailing the operating hours at the Main Library Center, will find the funds for staffing the “new” Welwood Murray, once the demolition and reconstruction is complete.

Equally sad is the proposed conversion of the existing courtyard to a distinctly anti-homeless design. As mentioned in the following building history, it was in this courtyard that the Palm Springs Historic Society was formed. This project reeks of what was known in certain Oklahoma circles as “Killing Granny for the Tiara.” I hope the Library Board will rethink their insensitive treatment of this handsome and important Palm Springs Historic Site.


The following is a brief history of the Welwood Murray Memorial Library (WWML) based upon information contained in former head librarian Henry Weiss’ At Sunrise, The History of the Palm Springs Public Library, published by the Library in 1999. It should be required reading for members of the Library Board and any consultants involved in possible upgrades proposed to the building.

A parcel of land for the WWML measuring 80' x 80' was secured as a gift from Murray’s son and heir George Welwood Murray. A second 20' x 80' parcel was added to the east of the original Murray donation as a gift of Cornelia White. The combined 100' x 80' site then contained 8,000 sq ft. The gift from both Murray was conditioned on the building being named as a memorial to Murray’s father, and both donors required that the building being maintained in perpetuity as a library. Failure to do so would result in the property reverting to the owners or their heirs.

The Library is the oldest intact civic structure in Palm Springs. The tiny but distinctive 3,000 s.f. original building (only the third Palm Springs Class 1 Historic Site to be designated) was designed by architect, John Porter Clark, who was the first full-time Palm Springs resident who was a licensed architect. The handsome exterior shelters an interior that embodies the high-minded civic ideals of the emerging city just as it was formally incorporating in 1938. Clearly expressive of a vanished time, the dark and cool rooms, with their wooden baseboards, moldings and cabinetry, are serene expressions of their time, before air conditioning, when the building served as a recreational haven for the citizenry during the long hot summers.

The building opened on February 19, 1941. It featured a diagonal entrance that faces the intersection of South Palm Canyon Drive and East Tahquitz McCallum Way. The diagonal section has a taller roof than the connecting east and south wings That entrance, and a second entrance to the community room along Tahquitz Canyon Way, are trimmed with a green-hued integrally colored cast stone, as are the entrance steps and all of the window surrounds on the principal facades; the building rests on a plinth of this same material. Floor vents in the planing beds along Tahqitz are also trimmed in this material. The building is constructed of board-formed, poured-in-place concrete, painted white, and is surmounted by a red clay tile gabled roof. A small patio courtyard containing approximately 3,000 s.f. is located at the rear of the L-shaped building.

John Porter Clark continued to serve as the Library’s architect for many years and completed the only very minor alterations to the building in 1955 and 1958; several years later he designed the Francis Crocker Branch Library on Via Miraleste.

Founding of the Historical Society

The Library was essentially the center of culture in the growing village and, within a few years, “The community was also developing a strong interest in its history. Trustee Melba Bennett believed it was time for the citizens to be retrospective as well as forward thinking. She suggested creating a Palm Springs Historical Society that would chronicle and preserve the city’s unique heritage. Bennett presented her unique concept to the Library Board and very interested City Council, and with their support she drafted a letter, dated February 4, 1955, which was sent to twenty-one villages seeking their participation in the new Society. On February 17 that group met on the patio of the Murray Library and both the need and commitment for historic preservation became evident. By Council resolution, the Palm Springs Historical Society would be an “auxiliary” of the Board of Library Trustees.”

“In March of 1957, Architect John Porter Clark was commissioned to prepare plans for the expansion of the Welwood Murray to the south, for an additional reference space and shelving. [This “expansion” was actually the enclosure of a portion of the existing roofed porch area. An $11,000 estimate included the expansion, lighting and furnishings.] Later that year the expanded reference room opened on the south end of the Murray building. On April 16, 1958, the Board approved a number of improvements to the Welwood Murray memorial Library. These included improved general illumination, air conditioning of the new reference room, adding a motor to the dumb waiter which served as the book lift, partitioning the basement, heating the basement, adding cabinets, adding shelving in the children’s area, installing an accordion door on the south wind, new carpeting and tile throughout the facility.” These are the last verifiable changes to the building.

By 1973, in anticipation of the completion of the new main library, the Board approved a reduced evening schedule for the WWML and in 1975, the New Palm Springs Library Center (William F. Cody, FAIA) opened. Plans were developed “to renovate the WWML during its transition from its role as the community’s main library to a downtown branch. The WWML reference section would become a children’s area, and the focus of the collection would change to recognize the needs of the downtown residents and businesses, Regrettably (or not, depending upon your point of view) funds were not available to remodel the WWML, so some of the proposed improvements never occurred.

Founding of the Historic Site Preservation Board

As was the case with the Historic Society, the Historic Site Preservation Board (HSPB) was also founded with the assistance of the Library, which by this time was located in the new Library Center building. “In late 1978, the City Manager assigned the Librarian the task of establishing a Historic Site Preservation Ordinance for the city. Former Mayor Bill Foster had been dismayed at the demolition of the former Plaza Theater ticket office which so powerfully reflected the 1930s architectural style of Palm Springs. Foster asked the City Council to develop mechanisms to protect historic sites in the future. The Librarian staffed a committee to investigate local preservation opportunities. The committee worked with a group of Historical Society volunteers to survey the entire community for potential historic sites and, consequently, offered some level of protection against future unwarranted demolition.

After more than a year meetings, research, and surveying, the committee identified over 150 potential sites, and the Librarian drafted a Historic Site Preservation Ordinance which was adopted by the Council and continues to be in force, with modifications, at the time of this writing. By 1999, thirty-five local buildings [including the Welwood Murray Memorial Library] had been designated as official historic sites and, consequently, offered some level of protection against future unwarranted demolition.“

The issue of whether or not to close the WWML branch became controversial. “A local developer was considering converting it into retail space, and he approached the Board about a possible sale to him as a component of a larger project...In an effort to accurately gauge public sentiment regarding the Murray branch, the Board conducted a written and random telephone survey before it convened a public hearing on the issue on April 30, 1987. The survey results were compelling...94% expressed their wish that the building remain a library. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board voted 3-0 to recommend that the WWML branch remain a public library. The Council accepted the Board’s recommendation, and the developer committed to completing his project excluding the 100' x 80' parcel that was the Welwood Murray Memorial Library site. However, he was successful in having non-buildable easements placed on the southern edge of the property to accommodate required fire exits for his development; trash storage and removal resulted in the eastern windows of the Library being filled in. In September of 1991, the location of the Welwood Murray library in the true center of downtown made it a natural venue for visitor’s information services. Tourist materials were gathered and seven-day service began, increasing WWML branch customers for the first time sine 1978.”

“The most poignant event of 1992 was the Library Board’s decision to close the WWML branch after more than a half-century of continuous operation. On June 30, 1992, the staff permanently closed the Murray building as a public library. It opened as a private library in September of that year.” In 2009 it was again closed, in anticipation of a proposed remodel. Given the Library’s ongoing involvement with preservation of the city’s history and architecture, it is difficult to understand the current development proposal that would severely diminish the WMML’s important historic architecture.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

La Plaza Theater Blade Sign

When Peabody's was putting up their blade sign, someone asked if the blade sign at The Plaza Theater was built as part of the original 1936 design. Turns out it was originally built for the Palm Springs Theater in the early 1930s and moved to the Plaza in the 1940s. Still, it has been there for many years, and has achieved historical significance in its own right. That, in itself is insufficient justification to keep adding blade signs to La Plaza Shopping Center....

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ruth Hardy Park Modernism

A few weeks ago, my friend Tom and I were walking our dogs around the Movie Colony neighborhood and we wandered into Ruth Hardy Park. In the middle we discovered this really nice little modernist rest room facility that I had never seen before. It was clearly designed by one of our local Mid-century Masters, but I have no idea who. Anybody out there have any info on this one?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Max Palevsky Residence

According to the LA Times, "computer technology pioneer and venture capitalist Max Palevsky, perhaps best-known for funding then-startup chipmaker Intel Corp., has died. He was 85. Palevsky died of heart failure Wednesday at his Beverly Hills home. The early high-tech pioneer became famous for having transformed mainframe computer builder Scientific Data Systems into an industry powerhouse that he sold to Xerox for $1 billion in 1969. The billionaire financier and philanthropist then became a founder and director of chipmaker Intel. He left the corporate world in the 1970s. Over the years, Palevsky helped finance then-fledgling Rolling Stone magazine, bankrolled movies, became a political activist and built a world-renowned art collection that transformed the Los Angeles County Museum of Art."

His interest in art extended beyond paintings and sculpture to include architecture. He commissioned Craig Ellwood (1922-1992), often referred to as “California’s Mies van der Rohe,” to design Scientific Data Corporation’s headquarters. Ellwood, who was born Jon Nelson Burke, was the definitive Hollywood-style building designer who was largely responsible for the modern image of architecture as a glamour profession. In addition to Palevsky’s corporate projects, in 1969-69 Ellwood also designed Palevsky’s Palm Springs home on West Cielo Drive on what was then described as “the best site in Palm Springs.” The house was based on desert houses in Casablanca that were white-walled compounds with structures set within rectangular walls, and it is beautifully integrated into its boulder-strewn site. Its minimalist aesthetic makes it one of the town’s most enigmatic structures. I had always wanted to nominate the property as a Class 1 Historic Site, and was told that Palevsky was supportive of the potential designation. With his support, the nomination would have sailed through the process. I hope Max rests easy; his was a great gift to the architectural history of Palm Springs. I do wonder what will happen to the house now that Max is gone...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fueling Stations

Palm Springs has been home to a number of architecturally significant Fueling can't really call them service stations anymore since there is no service. But I digress....

The best known of our architecturally significant stations is the original Esso Station designed by Albert Frey (first image) that has now been designated a Class i Historic Site and currently serves as the Visitor center. Others tend to favor Bill Cody's Union 76 Station (2nd image) for its elegant "floating" roof canopy. Sadly, Don Wexlers' elegant structural expressionist Station on Palm Canyon has already been demolished. Lately, I've fallen under the spell of the last Station in the set...Located on Indian Canyon, it has an anthropomorphic quality that reminds me of a friendly puppy.

Casa Palmeras

This is a fascinating photograph of the Casa Palmeras because it bears the information “Palmair Apartments, 1930, Paul R. Williams.” Information on this building is a bit sketchy, but the attribution to Williams is a definite possibility. Although much information on his projects was lost during the LA riots, he was known to be working in Palm Springs as early as 1927 when he created the W. P. Anderson Residence, and he was definitely skilled in the Spanish Colonial style that was extremely popular at the time. When built, the building was on the outskirts of town, as evidenced by that lack of sidewalks or paved streets. The building is faintly visible through the window in a 1934 photo of the Kocher-Samson Building. The Pacific Building (a Class 1 Historic site) adjoins both properties and it was built in 1936. All three of these buildings are located in the Old Las Palmas Commercial Historic District. In 2007 there was a $2.82 Million Dollar loan on the assembled three properties with a ten-year term. Today they are on the market for $4,925,000.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Howard Lapham

Well, I got myself side-tracked, what with Wexler Weekend in January and Modernism Week in February, and a couple of lectures on Bill Cody and Hugh Kaptur, and preparing a National Register Nomination on the O’Donnell Residence...but it took running into a couple of friends who actually noticed that I hadn’t been posting on my Palm Springs Architecture Blog to shame me into getting back to it, so....

Turns out, these friends live the total “Palm Springs Lifestyle” in a charming Mid-century hotel designed by Howard Lapham. Together, the inhabitants of the Desert Star Hotel (now condos) have created a life that many would envy. When they’re in residence, its like being on holiday...every day! How cool is that?

Happily, they had begun to research Lapham, and I was able to fill in a few of the blanks about his career. His Wikipedia listing offers the following: In 1954 at age 40, Howard Lapham arrived in the Coachella Valley from Stamford Connecticut. Although he was a registered designer, Lapham intended on becoming a builder in his new desert home. Within a year, however, he was designing residences for wealthy and influential members of the Thunderbird Country Club along the Club’s fairways and up the slopes of what became known as Thunderbird Heights. A number of Lapham’s buildings appeared in "Architectural Digest", including the Hyatt von Dehn Residence (1960, Thunderbird Heights), the Kiewit Residence (1960, Thunderbird Country Club), the Clarke Swanson Residence (1961, Thunderbird Country Club), the Morrow Residence (1961, Silver Spur Ranch, Palm Desert), and the 1961 remodel of the Thunderbird Country Club clubhouse. He remodeled the famous Chi Chi nightclub in 1959, giving it an ultra-modern new fa├žade. Lapham also designed Lord Fletcher’s English Pub in 1966 on what became known as ‘restaurant row’ on Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. One of Lapham’s largest residential projects was the Mayan-themed Cook House, known as Ichpa Mayapan, built atop Thunderbird Heights in 1970. Lapham also drew the initial plans for the Eisenhower Medical Center, although Edward D. Stone obtained the commission. Lapham officially retired in the 1980s, although he continued to maintain an office in Palm Springs until his death at age 92 in 2008. Illustrated here is the recently restored Rackstrom-Reid Building on North Palm Canyon Drive. I’ll try and track down images of more Lapham buildings soon.....

Friday, January 1, 2010

The First Steel House In Palm Springs

The Lindop Residence (1937, Architect Unknown)
1320 Tamarisk
Palm Springs

"Steel House Now Being Erected"

The first of the steel houses manufactured by General House, Inc. to come to California is now being erected in the Desert Sands tract [1320 Tamarisk - ed] by Edmund F. Lindop, owner of the tract and California distributor for the manufacturers.

The new steel house will be completed in three weeks and will then be open for public inspection. It is a large house, having three bedrooms and two baths; of the new modernistic type of architecture which originated in Europe about a year ago and now predominates in most new construction in England, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Italy and Belgium.

General Steel Houses are being erected by the hundreds in the fashionable areas of Eastern cities, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, New York and other places.
Mr. Lindop has 50 dealers under him in various parts of the state and all are looking forward to the first house of the company to be erected in California, now being assembled in Palm Springs.

Every part of the house is made by mass production in the factory. The steel frame, bolted together and compressed asbestos panels on the outside as well as heat and cold resisting fireproof materials for the roof, form a building that is both earthquake proof and fireproof. Inside walls are of plyboard and both inside and outside walls are finished in any color desired."

-The Desert Sun, November 20, 1936

The Citywide Survey repeats an apocryaphal story that this Residence was designed for the Pullman family to resemble a Pullman railcar....I could go on and on.....