Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cabot’s Pueblo National Register Nomination

On Friday, the State Historical Resources Commission met in Redlands to consider a number of Nominations to the National Register. Among them was the nomination I recently prepared for the Cabot Pueblo in Desert Hot Springs. I am pleased to say that it was unanimously approved and will be forwarded to the Keeper of The National Register in Washington. Upon the keeper’s signature, Cabot’s Pueblo will be the most recent Coachella Valley property to be listed on the National Register.

Cabazon Library (1958, John Porter Clark) R.I.P

Cabazon Library (1958, John Porter Clark)
50171 Ramona Street
Cabazon, CA

A friend recently alerted me to the proposed demolition of this extraordinary little gem of a Library Building by John Porter Clark. Built in 1958, when Clark was practicing as a sole proprietor, it bears a strong resemblance to the small, simple, early houses of Clark & Frey. Of post and beam construction with lots of glass walls, it is a simple building, flat roofed and rectangular in plan, with a single wall plane extending into open space. The building has retained a high degree of integrity. Observable changes include the replacement of two out of three large trimless glazed openings on the principal façade with conventional windows framed in natural aluminum. In an apparent - but unnecessary - attempt to “improve” the building’s appearance, murals have been painted on the front façade’s metal paneled walls. Fortunately, these could be removed.

A brief tour of the town reveals that this is unquestionably the best building in this sad little town, and while I can understand that the Banning Library has chosen to close the largely unused building, it still seems to me that the building should be mothballed until someone buys it and adapts it for a new use.

La Quinta Architecture

Last week my Realtor friends K and T invited me to join them in La Quinta to look at a house on San Pedro (see below) that may have been designed by architect William Cody. The invitation was irresistible partly because I’m always interested in finding previously undocumented Cody projects. But also, I rarely turn down access to a gated community when I know of other architectural treasures located areas that I would otherwise not have access to.

The San Pedro home that I looked at with my friends indeed has many of the hallmarks of a Cody design. Built in the 1960s, it compares favorably with the Goldberg Residence on Southridge and also the Sieman Residence on Camino Monte. It’s really a cool house and is quite possibly a Cody design.

While I was in the (gated) neighborhood, I took the opportunity to drive by the Pepper Residence (above), a beautiful 1961 home designed by A. Quincy Jones that once sported original interiors by Arthur Elrod. Don’t know what the interiors are like today, but the front façade is still great looking and beautifully maintained.

The last discovery behind the gates is a famous house Cody designed for the W & J Sloan Furniture Company to showcase their furniture. Sloan’s started in New York around 1900 and later had important stores in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Many an important California interior designer started their career by selling draperies, etc. at Sloan’s. The Sloan Residence has rarely been seen, but judging from these photos, it has been fastidiously maintained and is one of Cody’s best.

After leaving the Country Club, I drove over to the La Quinta Hotel, a 1926 Spanish design by Gordon B. Kaufmann, one of the Southern California architects most skilled in Spanish style work. The architect's monograph states: "The original buildings were built of Adobe bricks manufactured on the site, with tile roofs and floors. Kaufmann’s signature details are here: the loggias, arches, chimneypots of a multitude of forms, Ramadas for dining, and private patios enclosed by walls, low and high." Although surrounded by later development, there is still much of Kaufmann’s work to admire here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stan Sackley in Palm Springs

I’ve been in love with this house since the first time I saw it. It is located in the Canyons neighborhood and is believed to have been designed by the late Stan Sackley. It has been suggested that it was influenced by Rudolph Schindler’s late work
A brief biography of Sackley follows: Stan Alan Sackley (1937-2001) was the son of Robert Irving Sackley (1906-1993) and Rose (Gould) Sackley who were New Yorkers of Polish descent. Little is known of his background, but the family relocated to California where he graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture from USC in1961. It has been said that he studied at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, but preliminary research has failed to substantiate any connection with Wright. Although Sackley was never licensed in California, one source indicates that he, at least for a time, maintained a partnership called Sackley & Light. Fairly well-to-do, he maintained homes in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs. He appears to have been married three times and divorced twice. His third wife Carol Sackley is pictured on the cover of “Palm Springs Life” in July 1965. He was an avid classic car collector, owning Jaguars, a 1979 Ferrari 308 GTS and a 1937 Chrysler Coupe, which was sold at auction at Christie’s in August 2001. Upon his death, a scholarship fund was created to memorialize his parents, the purpose of which was to assist financially needy USC architecture students.
An early project was a home for James Hollowell which was featured as a “Playboy Pad” in the April 1966 Playboy Magazine. In Palm Springs he is best known for a series of homes he created in “the Canyons” neighborhood near the south end of town. Sackley’s best home, in my view, is located at 2550 Pequeno Circle (adjacent to Krisel's pod house at 2587 S Pequeno Circle) and is a modernist masterpiece. Sackley bought numerous lots in the area along Caliente Drive and built a group of speculative homes. All are large, modernist, and flat roofed. A common characteristic is the unusual placement of the garage door perpendicular to the street; this provides a parking court in front of the homes. Recently, two of the homes have sold in the Million Dollar plus range. PS ModCom is including a Sackley home on their upcoming tour.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Architectural History in Cathedral City

I recently ran across some images of Mid-century Cathedral City. When I went to see what they look like today, I was disappointed to discover that for the most part, they had been altered beyond recognition. When I think of historic architecture in Cathedral City today....these images from Boomers say it best......

Friday, August 12, 2011

Palm Springs in August = Los Angeles

FRIDAY, August 5, 2011

We arrived in LA on Friday afternoon in time for lunch at Malibu’s Reel Inn, the local seafood dive…and I use that word advisedly….The real reason for the sojourn was to visit the Adamson Residence in Malibu (1930, Stiles O. Clement). This incredible National Register listed Spanish Colonial Revival home made extensive use of the famous Malibu Tile, and for good reason….they were created here by the homeowner’s mother Mae Knight Rindge. The house is in pretty near original condition, including the furnishings. Set on the Malibu Lagoon, there are amazing views….and surfing…we’ve decided to return next year….

After the Adamson house tour, we found our way over to our friends house (1963, Frank Burton Wilson), near Benedict Canyon Drive just above Mulholland. They were traveling, and invited us to use the house as a getaway from the Palm Springs August weather…so of course we accepted. We had seen their place at Seven Lakes Country Club (1965, Ric Harrison) and it is really cool; I had even seen photos of the LA place, but was unprepared for how beautiful it really is. A Mid-century modern house, it sits lightly on its long, slim hilltop site, and is so well designed and sited that there are vistas everywhere that extend the views into the Valley beyond. The quiet access road serves only a few homes, but is located at the head of a hiking trail, so there is a constant parade of healthy-looking people; consider it another nice view!

One of the friends is an artist, and the color palette from the house appears to be drawn directly from his work…all muted greys, greens blues. Sunrise and Sunset surrounding the glassy house add Lavenders and Carbon Orange to the mix. Every object in the sparsely furnished house appears to have been chosen for its aesthetic appeal – each table, chair, cabinet, sofa could stand alone on its merits as an art piece. Even specimen plants are placed with an artist’s eye…

But, what really makes the experience of living here so unusual is the opportunity to live for awhile with a large selection of the artist’s work. Initially appealing for their playfulness, over time, the details emerge that tie the various series together and inform the viewer that there is much more here than first meets the eye. An endlessly repeated single brushstroke about a half-inch wide appears as a meditation that that soothes and stimulates the soul. My guess is his collectors are a mellow bunch.

At night, the fog drifts in and the coyote howl at the moon…surreal….

The first evening we had dinner at the old standby Marix just off Santa Monica…loud, cheap, and great service paired perfectly with mediocre food and pretty young people…another reason to love LA…

SATURDAY August 6, 2011

I have been interested in seeing a new (actually remodeled) building by architects Rios, Clement, Hale on Larchmont. The upstairs houses their offices and downstairs the Café Gratitude, a vegetarian restaurant. Warm, fuzzy and puppy-friendly with a great crowd and a killer (vegan) BLT…check it out

MOCA (1981, Arata Isosaki)

Hadn’t been to MOCA in a while but the Broads have hastily organized a tribute to the recently deceased Cy Twombly…only eleven paintings, but OMG!! Like many others, I still don’t really “get” the later work, but nine of the Broad’s Twomblys were from the 60’s…each and every one of those a masterpiece! In the Fred Nicholas’ Gallery there was an interesting show of the works of women artists…didn’t know we were still doing that…Included was a cool Yoko Ono sculpture and a retrospective of Linda Benglis’ work that nearly finished me off….I’ve always loved the bronze “knots” but wasn’t really prepared for the erotic stuff…

We had dinner at home that night, but went out to a WEHO lesbian bar, The Palms, for a show (and I use that term loosely) by an illusionist / vocalist Jimmy James, who Robert had seen perform 24 years previously in Provincetown. In his own voice, he does amazing impressions of Shirley Bassey, Barbara Streisand, Cher et al…. Time and circumstances have not been kind to Jimmy: Robert summed up the experience by saying that Jimmy still sounds like Cher, but now he looks more like Chaz…go figure. Maybe not the best night of Cabaret I’ve ever had, but certainly among the most memorable… A tour of the WEHO nightlife sector revealed that go-go boys (and girls) have made quite a comeback…they are everywhere!

SUNDAY August 7, 2011

A friend invited us to join him at the Will Rogers Beach in Santa Monica – the gay section has been renamed “Ginger Rogers” Beach for obvious reasons. Access to the beach is via a tunnel under Highway 1 adjacent to the Hungry Cat Restaurant, recently featured on Bravo’s “Million Dollar Decorators” as it was being redesigned by Jeffery Alan Marks and his assistant Ross Cassidy. It’s not in Malibu; the fuss over the floors seems overblown, and it’s not open for lunch on weekdays…

The beach failed to reach its potential that day…the fog never did burn off. But on the way down from our parking spot, we discovered a Richard Neutra house. Our architect friend told us that this house had been moved to the current location many years ago. Maybe the owners of the Neutra’s 1955 Kronish house in Beverly Hills should consider relocating it to Santa Monica….LOL!

Following the beach, we cleaned up and met a friend at Tea Dance at The Abbey. It’s been a number of years since I attended a Tea Dance with thousands (I exaggerate) of handsome and/or beautiful young Angelinos. Although there were a few older gentlemen (i.e. my age) in the crowd, the afternoon really belonged to the young and beautiful…and their admirers. The angle of the afternoon sun made the place feel like the movie “Chinatown.” The scantily-clad dancers lightly covered with fresh sweat poured Quervo Gold down the throats of those brave enough to come close. Following a “rain” of beach balls being tossed around overhead, a giant wind machine spewed confetti over the crowd. It took me back to my Studio 54 days; these guys really know how to entertain their audience….and in the process, elevating bar life to a new standard. Unlike most, I was able to maintain my “one drink maximum” policy. A good time was had….

MONDAY August 8, 2011

One of the things I love about LA is there is significant architecture everywhere…on the way to The Weismann Foundation in Holmby Hills, we happened on to the 1949 Broughton Residence, Craig Elwood’s first house. It’s an odd place…the entrance is via a circular stair in the carport, but if you love modernism, it’s really cool…according to Curbed LA it can be yours for only $799,000.

Gordon B. Kaufman / Frederick Weisman Residence (1929, Gordon B. Kaufman)
265 North Carolwood Drive with free-standing Gallery addition (1999, Frank D. Israel)

The Weismann Foundation is housed in a beautiful Spanish style residence that was originally built by Gordon B. Kaufman as his personal residence. Weismann, it is said, preferred the style because these buildings had lots of wall space to install his art collection. The collection is spectacular, and so is the house and Gallery addition. Kaufman did several houses on Carolwood Drive, one of the city’s most beautiful streets…

We ended up at the Brazilian style restaurant Bossa Nova in WEHO for lunch. This place has been upgraded since we first started coming here, and has become very popular. No discernable Brazilians present, and the only celeb-siting was Jett from the Bravo series “Flipping Out.” He was no doubt taking lunch home to Lewis’ current west Knoll home….I had wanted to try out Lisa Vanderpump’s (Real Housewife of BH) Sur Restaurant down the block but they don’t serve lunch….we’ll go for dinner one of these days.

Our new friends Greg & Rob invited us for dinner Monday evening at their place. They have a beautifully done condo in one of those great Spanish style 1920s Apartment Buildings on Rossmore. They were so gracious, smart and urbane, it was like being back in San Francisco. In fact, that neighborhood really captures that period in LA for me more than any other. Loved it…..

TUESDAY August 9, 2011

By Tuesday, we were beginning to miss the puppies, so decided to wrap up our visit by returning to another old haunt, the Venice Boardwalk. My guess is that Abbott Kinney (the original developer) would be somewhat disappointed. In spite of the substantial physical improvements in the form of new structures placed around the area, and incurring substantial expenses in the process, the area remains more down-market than ever. Just spending the money won’t necessarily improve an area, unless you identify the problems you’re trying to solve. According to Christopher Reynolds in the LA Times: “Venice lies just south of Santa Monica and left of the American mainstream - artsy, edgy, defiant and occasionally downright dissolute.” Still, the Bookstore Café was as busy as ever….

Our final stop before returning home was the Skirball Museum (2010-2012, Moshe Safdie) which is just up the road from The Getty. The building was a big surprise to me…I didn’t know Safdie had done any West Coast work. It's really quite spectacular….

Friday, July 22, 2011

First Methodist Church

This romantically sculptural church structure sits in a man-made pond. It was built in 1965 to the designs of architect Hal C Whitemore, about whom I know nothing. Can't help but wish we had more of his work here...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Town & Country Center...The Saga Continues

Charles Tanner’s Desert Inn; Richard Neutra’s Maslon Residence; Wurdeman & Becket’s Bullock’s Department Store; A Quincy Jones & Paul R. Williams’ Town & Country Center; all, except one are buildings demolished in the name of efficiency and progress that were said to have outlived their useful purpose, deemed to be impractical and expensive to maintain; their loss continues to haunt the Valley.
Only the Town & Country Center still stands pending demolition for a huge retail development indistinguishable from similar developments elsewhere. This demolition is presented as absolutely essential to the future health, happiness and economic well-being of Palm Springs. A lengthy list of residents, architectural historians and other experts have urged the preservation of this historic mixed-use complex, but the Palm Springs City Council has turned them down, and is in the process of executing a Joint Development Agreement with the building’s owner that will ensure its demolition.
One might think that the Town & Country Center does not belong in this august company. Its current willfully dilapidated condition mutes its appearance. It is precisely like the Desert Inn and the others, in that it is a great work about to be destroyed before it can to be fully appreciated while the functional justification for its existence continues to be ignored. With its impossibly elegant horizontal lines, its surprisingly voluptuous curves, and its generous and unique open space, it embodies the spirit of the 1940s. Yet it faces the same fate as the Desert Inn and the others, lost long ago when they were considered out of fashion.
The Town & Country Center is not just an isolated building. It is part of a larger context of vacant sites on its block that provide a unique opportunity for a development that centers on its historic open courtyard. While the complex may need some upgrades, the extent of which is often exaggerated, its restoration and improvement is still a hard sell when it is owned by an obstinate developer hell-bent on its demolition, regardless of any cogent rationale. Some locals, frustrated by the owner’s contribution to downtown’s blight may look at the building and despair. But then, many had the same reaction when the Desert Inn was demolished; had it survived, today it would the downtown’s jewel, comparing favorably to the Beverly Hills Hotel, or Riverside’s Mission Inn, each of which serves as anchors of urban vitality.
In theory, the local system of listed buildings works to protect buildings over 50 years old that are of historic and architectural interest, as well as younger buildings of exceptional quality and under threat. The procedure is that Palm Springs Historic Site Preservation Board makes recommendations and the City Council accepts or rejects them. The false argument that revitalization of downtown somehow hinges of the demolition of this building and its replacement with a street lined with architecturally banal shops has prevailed with our decision-makers. In Palm Springs, the listing system often sidesteps difficult decisions – two recent designations - the front façade of the Palm Springs Airport and the upper story of the Oasis Commercial building - amply attest to that sad reality. One council member has declared his hostility to the protection of any building lacking owner support; he misses the point that it is the significant buildings whose owners object to designation are those most in need of protection. The loss of the Town and Country Center will continue the process of eradicating the town’s history, resulting in the disappearance of a vital period in Palm Springs’ architectural history. With time, Palm Springs’ staple of cultural tourism will also diminish with loss of important buildings like this one.
One has to also question the town’s commitment to sustainability considering the environmental loss of both the energy and the materials that went into the building’s original construction, which in the current proposal will be purchased again for the new buildings while the historic building’s remains will be sent to landfill.
Time is running out for this building. To urge the saving and restoration of this important structure risks offending some downtown business interests, as well as those of the building’s millionaire owner and his powerful friends at the Palm Springs Art Museum and the City Council. The merit of restoration could result in a thoughtful overall plan that helps to repair Palm Springs torn urban fabric, rather than throwing it all out, and with it a unique portion of the town’s heritage. Protection of historic properties is, and has always been, about asserting the intrinsic value of a place’s roots over immediate financial gain. As an object lesson, look no further than the decisions that resulted in the demolition of the Desert Inn and the construction of the Desert Fashion Plaza in the first place. At the risk of repeating a cliché, the City Council would be well-advised to heed the Spanish philosopher George Santayana’s words: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

One more and I'll stop with the Folded Plates

These two images are also Palmer & Krisel from 1961. They were built in Las Vegas in the Paradise Palms tract. If anybody's going up that way, I'd love to know if they survive...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Folded Plate Roofs Redux


I had an interesting and enlightening conversation with Bill Krisel recently, during which I encouraged him to take a glimpse at my Blog. He responded to the posting of the history of the folded plate roof in Palm Springs with some new information. Turns out the Alexander Construction Company built at least four Palmer & Krisel houses with folded plate roofs in 1956 (finished in 1957), two of which I have been to locate in Vista Las Palmas: 803 Monte Vista and 1102 Rose Avenue. Although they are hard to see from the street, they’re definitely there, and still intact, making them the oldest folded plate roofs in Palm Springs. The firm also designed some houses with barrel-vault entry canopies. The best example of this style that I could find is located at 891 Monte Vista, and although the barrel vaults survive, it looks like the building has been substantially altered from its original design.

Krisel also recalled his being influenced by Marcel Breuer’s MoMA house (see earlier posting); its long butterfly roof was the inspiration for his first ‘butterfly’ house, the Adolphe Stelzer Residence of 1950 in Brentwood. The Stelzers so loved their home that they bought a smaller second home by Krisel in Twin Palms. Sadly, the Brentwood home was replaced in 1990 by a 12,000 sq. ft. Tudor.

I also recalled seeing an early, undated Hugh Kaptur design study for Tony Curtis’ Caballeros Tennis Club. Although it was never built, it shows how popular the folded plate idea was in those years.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Forgotten Wexler & Harrison Rediscovered

Legendary local architect Donald Wexler confirmed recently that this sleek, early (for Palm Springs) International Style building was produced by his firm in their early years. Wexler & Harrison briefly maintained offices upstairs in the A. Quincy Jones / Paul R. Williams-designed Town & Country Center complex. They were commissioned by the building’s original owners to create a new office building fro E. F. Hutton within the compound, just off the walkway that leads to the courtyard. The result was this refined, minimalist structure with green terrazzo flooring throughout and a simple, open interior space. Its grey terrazzo tile façade could use some polishing, and through the magic of Photoshop, I have restored the long gone awning fabric, but the formalist purity of the building survives largely unaltered. After a few years, E. F. Hutton relocated to a Hugh Kaptur building on Tahquitz Canyon Way. This handsome structure remains vacant and unprotected. Ironically, during a time when the city celebrates Don Wexler’s contributions to the local architectural scene through an exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum, spokesman for the Museum recently endorsed the current Desert Fashion Plaza Development Plan, which would result in the demolition of this fine example of Wexler & Harrison‘s work.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Folded Plate Roofs

According to C. B. Wilby in his book Concrete Folded Plate Roofs, Folded plates are sometimes called hipped plates, and in Germany “Faltwerke”. The principle was first used in Germany by a structural engineer named Ehlers in 1924, to cover large coal bunkers. Folded plate roofs allow large spans, clean lines and they are aesthetically pleasing to many architects.

In the 1960s, folded plates became less structural in nature, and are now usually considered mid-century decoration. Early examples illustrated here are Morris Lapidus’ 1960 decorative folded plate element used for a street canopy in Miami. In 1966, a similar canopy was built at Villa Roma in Palm Springs. Other early examples include Wexler & Harrison’s 1962 steel house and Val Powelson’s 1960 Sunbow House in LA. Two local versions by Santa Barbara architect Barry Berkus are the Park Imperial South and Merito Manor complexes from 1960 and 1961 respectively.

Not as well-known, but quite interesting in its own right is the Animal Medical Hospital (1960, Robert Ricciardi) at 606 South Oleander Road that features a folded plate roof on a circular floor plan.

A few years ago, Dink’s Restaurant & Lounge on North Palm Canyon was built new from the ground up. Attempting to recall the town’s Mid-century Modernism, the building unresolved and overly busy design features a section of folded plates; unclear on the concept…they appear to be supported by beams….go figure.

The last image is from the gallery entrance to the Don Wexler, Steel and Shade exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum. It is a replica of the roof on Wexler & Harrison’s 300 Molino Road steel house. On the whole, the Wexler & Harrison design seems the most elegant.