Twice a year, Palm Springs celebrates its architectural roots. We don’t go all the way back to colonial times because we don’t have them; back then California was part of Mexico. Europeans began “settling” here in the mid-1800s with the exception of the Spaniards, who’d been stomping all over California and beyond since the days of Montezuma (1500s). And before that? Native Americans lived here for thousands of years.
Back in the mid-1800s, the U.S. government gave land to the Southern Pacific Railroad, which used it to entice people out west with a promise of land — for a price. That money would help them bring the railroad out west. East Coast Europeans started showing up in the mid-1800s, and by 1890 they had a hotel, The Palm Springs Hotel.
It took about 25 years for Palm Springs to become known for its health benefits, including the healing dry air and the hot springs (agua caliente). This was thanks to the arrival of Nellie Coffman in 1909, who made her Desert Inn the place to visit in Palm Springs.
And then came the celebrities. Just a two-hour drive (back then) from the studios in Los Angeles, it was exactly the contractually allowed time and distance actors were allowed from their respective studios. An added bonus? Paparazzi were not paid for trips over 100 miles. And bingo, the sexcapades were in full swing.
Every single decade from then on has stories about celebrities here in Palm Springs. Many of them were buying vacation homes, and architects were starting to sit up and take notice of the desertscapes and what they could accomplish here.
And now we’re at Modernism Week, the celebration of all of those guys who came here and turned Palm Springs into a mid-century modern architectural paradise (along with our other paradise qualities!).
So, here’s what you can expect Oct. 19-22: 50 events! What?? You can make just as hearty of a meal out of all things Modernism in October as you can at the February bonanza. Let’s have a look-see!
It’s my party!
Cocktail parties: There’s two. Sinatra always sells out, I think before it even hits the internet. Okay, that’s not true, but you know what I mean. The second one looks to be fun as well, so book it, Danno!
Preview party: This is the first soiree and the biggest.
Lizzie and the Triggermen: Called “one of the hottest swing bands in L.A.” by Good Day L.A., Lizzy & The Triggermen has been making waves since bursting onto the SoCal scene.
Mixology cocktail clinics: Held at Mr. Lyon’s, one of Palm Springs most iconic fine dining restaurants. Oct. 19, 20, 21, 22, with two time slots at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Mid-Century Moderns is not on the schedule of official MW activities, but absolutely worth the price of the ticket. It’s a very fun jukebox musical, not for the faint of heart. Begins Oct. 6 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with multiple showtimes including a 2 p.m. matinee for after brunch.
Cruising through town
Bus tours — There are a ton of them, and this year they’ve divided them all up by neighborhood. All are a good time, and there is even a twilight tour where certain buildings are beautifully lit to show off their architecture. It’s pretty cool. I am a guide on one of those this fall.
Here are the (other, heh heh) celebrity tour guides:
Charles Phoenix: Mid-century pop culture expert Charles Phoenix is a performer, author, explorer, and collector celebrating classic and kitschy American life and style, who has appeared on Jay Leno’s Garage and Conan and been a judge on Cake Wars Christmas and Nailed It.
He’s known for the Big Retro Trailer Slide Show. Lavishing commentary on the very best images from his massive collection of vintage “flea market found” Kodachrome slides, he shares a wide variety of spectacular scenes, décor, classic cars, festive fashions, potlucks, parties, parades, and picturesque locations.
Bella da Ball: Bella is our ambassador drag queen; she stands 6’4” tall without heels. Heavily involved in Pride, and many other activities, Bella also hosts Drag Queen Bingo & Trivia at the Ace Hotel on Monday nights. She recently resumed her Drag Queen Storytime at Palm Springs Library, and we couldn’t be happier to have her back.
Here are a few places I’ve always wanted to see:
Frey House II — Albert Frey had a unique understanding of function, form, practicality, and love for the desert landscape, all combined to provide us this extraordinary legacy. It includes a free day at the Art Museum, and a ride on a bus up to the property. If you go, tell me about it please!
Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palm Estates — Frank owned a lot of houses here in the desert, but this is the one that used to have his own plane out back, and where he used to hoist a flag to let friends and neighbors know it was cocktail hour. It’s also where he lived and fought with Ava Gardner.
Some of these tickets require deep pockets, but there are also free events you can attend and still feel all mid-mod-y.
Friday, Oct. 20
9 a.m. “Lost, Saved & Endangered: Modernist Architecture in Palm Springs”: Palm Springs Preservation Foundation board president Gary Johns will present his popular slide lecture, “Lost, Saved & Endangered: Modernist Architecture in Palm Springs.” At Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E Baristo Rd., Palm Springs.
11 a.m. The Design of Herbert W. Burns: Palm Springs Preservation Foundation board vice president Steven Keylon will present an entertaining overview of architectural designer Herbert W. Burns’ life and career. At the Palm Springs Cultural Center.
A quick note on the Cultural Center. With everything it offers, it’s gearing up to be a major presence in Palm Springs. It was also built in 1967 as the first cineplex in Palm Springs.
Saturday, Oct. 21
9 a.m. Hot Purple Energy Architectural Bike Ride: Join us as we pedal our way through architecturally significant neighborhoods in South Palm Springs and highlight mid-century homes. Indian Canyons Golf Resort Clubhouse parking lot, 1100 E. Murray Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.
This is a terrific area to explore. The two golf courses are gorgeous, and Lykken Trail is on South Palm Canyon and Murray Drive. The Walt Disney Fountain is here as are some mid-century homes that you can see on one of the bus tours (there used to be an app for $5 with all of the architecturally significant spots in P.S. on them, so do a Google). Make sure to grab breakfast or lunch at the Indian Canyon Clubhouses, and then drive through the Indian Canyons neighborhood.
If you’re a hiker, Lykken Trail dumps onto South Palm Canyon just past Murray Canyon, and if you keep going down South Palm Canyon, you’ll hit one of the greatest hiking spots in Palm Springs: the actual Indian Canyons Reserve.
2 p.m. The Alexanders book signing with author James Harlan: James Harlan will also give a talk about the famous Palm Springs developers. Palm Springs Historical Society, The McCallum Adobe, 221 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.
The Palm Springs Historical Society is located in the Village Green next to Cornelia White’s home, which was relocated from where it was first built, at The Palm Springs Hotel. It’s also across the street from Lulu, the best people watching spot in town.
4 to 9 p.m. Shag’s October Modernism Print Release Party: Join artist Shag and guest Nancy Sinatra for a book signing and print release party at The Shag Store, featuring complimentary cocktails, live music, and other fun surprises. The Shag Store, 745 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.
The Shag Store — I’ve never gone in because I’d feel like an imposter; I can’t afford a Shag piece, but it’s a party and everyone’s invited!!
Sunday, Oct. 22
8 a.m. to Noon. Modernism Yard Sale: Brought to you by Chris Bale Homes and hosted by H3K Home+Design, this annual sale has become one of Modernism Week’s most popular FREE events! H3K is high-end, but on the more affordable end. H3K Design+Home parking lot, 501 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.
Here’s a link to all the rest. Use the sorting function and “category” to help you get just where your little heart desires. And you’re gonna need a place to stay, right? Here’s a list of the nearly 80 boutique hotels in Palm Springs; if you’re looking for something mid-century modern, or even more old-timey, you can use that sorting button to find your perfect stay.
I’ll be waving at you from the top of my bus!