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Mid-Century Architecture Self-Guided Tour
Learn more about Palm Springs Architecture on this Self-Guided Tour.
Palm Springs has one of the largest concentrations of preserved mid-century modern architecture in the world. Talented young visionary architects came to Palm Springs and interpreting Modern architecture in a way that best suited the desert environment and leisure living. Their design talents are celebrated every year during Modernism Week. Let’s explore the architecture through the neighborhoods.
Before we begin, a little background.
What is Desert Modernism?
Desert Modernism is an interpretation of the Modernist or International Style, tailored to suit the Palm Springs indoor/outdoor lifestyle. People flocked to Palm Springs for the stunning fall/winter weather and wanted to spend their time outdoors. Desert Modernism is recognizable by its minimalist clean lines and the seamless blur of indoor and outdoor space. Rooflines are often flat or butterfly-wing v-shaped (dubbed “butterfly” roofs). Floor plans were open with lots of windows and sliding glass doors that bring the outside in. Beautiful breeze blocks temper the desert heat and attached carports rather than detached garages fulfilled the need to shelter the automobile.
Notable Architects from the Mid-Twentieth Century Who Practiced in Palm Springs
Richard Neutra (1892 – 1970) – Austrian born, raised and trained, Neutra immigrated to the U.S. in 1923 where he worked with Frank Lloyd Wright before branching out on his own. Neutra designed homes in Palm Springs, including the Miller Residence (1937) and his masterpiece: The Kaufmann Residence (1946).
John Lautner (1911 – 1994) – After training under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West, Lautner moved to LA and focused on residential architecture. His distinctive application of the principals of organic architecture culminated in the Palm Springs homes for Arthur Elrod and Bob Hope. These homes are in a gated Southridge community, and are not accessible by the public, although the Hope residence can be seen upon the side of the mountain from East Palm Canyon Drive.
Donald Wexler (1926 – 2015) – Donald Wexler worked for Richard Neutra for a while in LA, then relocated to Palm Springs where he was employed by William Cody. Wexler partnered with Richard Harrison for a time. Together they designed many school buildings and the Steel Development Homes for Alexander Construction Company. Other notable designs include the Dinah Shore Residence, the main terminal building at the Palm Springs International Airport and Royal Hawaiian Estates Condominiums.
William “Bill” Krisel (1924 – 2017) – Krisel studied architecture at the University of Southern California and also became a licensed landscape architect. It is estimated 30,000 residences in Southern California that can be attributed to Krisel. As a personal friend of Bob Alexander, he is credited as the architect of record for many Alexander Construction Company developments.
E. Stewart Williams (1909 – 2005) – Williams studied at Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. Some of his notable Palm Springs designs include the Palm Springs Art Museum, Coachella Savings and Loan (now Chase Bank), Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan (now the Art Museum’s architecture and design center), Palm Springs Aerial Tramway station and Frank Sinatra residence.
William Cody (1916 – 1978) – Cody studied architecture at the University of Southern California before moving to Palm Springs in 1946. He designed the Del Marcos Hotel the following year and went on to work on several clubhouses and Country Club developments throughout the Coachella Valley. Among Cody’s celebrated designs are the Abernathy House, Palm Springs Public Library at Sunrise Park, St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, and the L’Horizon Hotel.
Albert Frey (1903 – 1998) – Frey established a style of modernist architecture in Palm Springs that became knows as “Desert Modernism.” He worked in Paris for Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (commonly known as Le Corbusier) before moving to the U.S. in 1928. He then worked with New York architect A. Lawrence Kocher in New York City or some years, the managing editor of Architectural Record magazine. A small commission for an office and apartment for Kocher’s brother, Dr. J.J. Kocker, brought Frey to Palm Springs. In California, he worked with architect John Porter Clark. Buildings of note include Frey House I and II, and the Tramway Gas Station (now the Palm Springs Visitor Center). The Raymond Loewy Residence, and the Palm Springs City Hall.
John Porter Clark (1905 – 1991) – Clark studied architecture at Cornell and apprenticed with Garrett Van Pelt in Pasadena. He relocated to Palm Springs to find more work and is credited as one of the pioneers of “Desert Modernism.” In 1935, Clark met Albert Frey and collaborated on many projects including the Palm Springs City Hall, the Welwood Murray Memorial Library, Palm Springs Woman’s Club, and St Paul’s in the Desert church.
George and Robert Alexander (developer) – The Alexander Construction Company was founded by George Alexander and his father George. They specialized in affordable tract residential developments in Southern California in the post World War II period. The prolific developers helped make second home ownership in Palm Springs affordable to the growing middle class. Their homes are known as the “Alexanders” though the architecture of most of the developments are credited to William Krisel and Dan Palmer. They also partnered with architects Charles Dubois and Donald Wexler. Alexander developments in Palm Springs include Twin Palms, Vista Las Palmas, Racquet Club Road Estates, Desert Lanai, and Sunmore Estates among others.
Hugh Kaptur (1931 – ) – Kaptur studied architectural engineering at Lawrence Institute of Technology in Detroit, Michigan. He relocated to Palm Springs in 1956 and apprenticed for Wexler and Harrison. Kaptur is recognized for his design of the Steve McQueen Residence, the William Holden Residence (both gated and private), several home designs for the Ranch Construction Company (now Desert Park Estates Neighborhood), the clubhouse at the Mesquite Golf Course, Tahquitz Plaza office buildings, the Triangle Inn, Fire Station #3 (with Robert Ricciardi) and Fire Station #4, the Musicland Hotel (renovation) among others.
Jack Meiselman (developer) – Jack (1899 – 1994) Meiselman developed many single family homes in and around Palm Springs in the 50’s and 60’s. Their homes, designed by a young architectural designer named John “Jack” Moyer featured many of the same design features and construction methods seen in the post and beam homes by the Alexander Development Company. The Meiselmans built approximately 350 homes in Palm Springs.
A. Quincy Jones (1913 – 1979) – Jones worked with a slew of modernist architects including Douglas Honnold, George Vernon Russell, Burton A. Schutt and Paul Williams. It was with Paul Williams he later partnered on several Palm Springs projects including the Palm Springs Tennis Club (1947), the Town & Country Restaurant (1948), and Country Club Estates Condominiums.
Palm Springs Self-Guided Architecture Tour
This self-guided tour is but a mere introduction into the amazing collection of extraordinary buildings in Palm Springs designed during the mid-twentieth century. Many of the architects of these buildings were not well-known. They were young architects, often in the beginning of their careers, who were exposed to many prolific and noteworthy modernist architects. They found eager clients in Palm Springs ready to throw off the tired revivalist and traditional styles and embrace fresh new ideas of the Modern Movement.
Begin at the Palm Springs Visitor Center – 2901 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Albert Frey designed Tramway Gas Station, now the Palm Springs Visitor Center
This remarkable Modernist structure was constructed between 1963 and 1965 as a gas station. The roof is constructed of corrugated galvanized steel, spanning over 95 feet and supported by six steel pipe columns. The dramatic structure was created to draw the attention of motorist entering Palm Springs. In the 1990’s the building was threatened with demolition by the property owners. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the building was granted Class 1 historic landmark status. Shortly after it became the Palm Springs Visitor Center.
There are a number of architecture books available at the Visitor Center as well as various gifts and information. For those that want to see even more Palm Springs mid-century architecture than this tour provides, buy a map produced by the Palm Springs Modern Committee.
There is also a printed Hollywood Star Home self-guided tour map for purchase to see where many of the Hollywood stars lived which helped make Palm Springs world famous.
Tramway Shell Station – (William Cody, architect, constructed 1964)
2796 North Palm Canyon Drive
On the east side of Palm Canyon, just south of San Rafael is another dramatic automobile service station designed by architect William Cody. The station is comprised of an ultra-thin cast-in-place concrete roof. The service bays and attendants office are a simple cubic volume that appears to have been carefully slid under the thin roof plane. Lighting in the canopy was deftly integrated into the roof plane in recessed troffers that most recently been retrofitted with LED lighting. The buildings’ minimalist design and thin roof profile is a trademark of Cody’s work in the desert.
Head down San Rafael Drive across the street from the Visitor Center. Turn right on Indian Canyon Drive and left on East Simms Road.
Racquet Club Estates
A short distance from the Palm Springs Visitor Center off Indian Canyon Drive is the Racquet Club Road Estates, developed by the Alexander Construction Company. Racquet Club Estates boasts the Steel Development homes by Donald Wexler, on Sunnyview, Simms and Molina Roads, dozens of “Alexanders” designed by Palmer & Krisel and a collection of mid-century homes developed by Jack Meiselman, designed by Jack Moyer. .
290 Simms Road 300 and 330 East Molino Road 3100, 3125, 3133 and 3165 North Sunnyview Drive
Designed in 1960 by Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison, these pre-fabricated, all-steel homes were to fill an entire neighborhood. However, after seven homes were built, rising steel prices made further homes in this style cost-prohibitive. All seven homes are now Class One historic sites as well as being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Head South on Sunnyview toward Francis Drive
Palmer & Krisel designed homes
325 East Francis Drive
388 and 520 Desert Holly Circle
970 East Racquet Club Road
455 and 483 East Francis Drive (flamingo letterbox)
A close personal friend of developer Bob Alexander and his family, Krisel came to the Desert at the request of Alexander to design a tract of modernist houses dubbed Smoke Tree Valley (now known as Twin Palms for the pair of palm trees that were included with the completion each of the homes).
Other Palmer & Krisel projects include the Ocotillo Lodge, Las Palmas Estates (Vista Las Palmas), Kings Point and Canyon View Estates, and Racquet Club Estates. The “House of Tomorrow,” conceived as an experiment in modern living, so impressed Alexander’s wife Helene that they made it their personal residence. The house later gained fame as the honeymoon home of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. (1350 Ladera Circle)
Head back to Indian Canyon Drive and make a left. Drive approximately one mile.
Chino Canyon/ Little Tuscany Estates
Grace Lewis Miller Residence (Richard Neutra – 1937) – 2311 N. Indian Canyon Drive
Although a small home, it combined a dance studio for the owner. It is a good representation of Neutra’s use of simple, flat-roofed forms arranged and adapted to the sun, outdoor space, and the need for coolness and ventilation in the desert. He specialized in extending architectural space into a carefully arranged landscape.
Head South on Indian Canyon and make a right on West Vista Chino.
Kaptur Court – 262-266 West Vista Chino
Kaptur came out of retirement in 2016 and designed three iconic mid-century style single family homes reflecting his own interpretation of mid-century modernism.
Turn right on N Via Norte and left on W Chino Canyon Road and head up the hill. If you stay left you will pass the home owned by Elvis Presley at 825 W Chino Canyon.
Edris Residence ( E. Stewart Williams – 1954) – 1030 W Cielo Drive
William and Marjorie Edris had seasonally rented an apartment in one of the Potter Clinic Building’s upstairs apartments at the same time as the Williams family in the late 1940s. The two couples became friends and in 1953 William Edris hired E. Stewart Williams to design a winter residence. The parcel chosen was located in the rocky area dubbed “Little Tuscany”, located on the lower portion of the Chino Cone alluvial fan Taking full advantage of the unique location, Williams moved only those boulders necessary to place the house on a flat surface with the goal of integrating as much of the natural environment into the design as possible. Native rock was used for the prominent chimney which anchored the southeastern portion of the home alongside floor-to-ceiling wall of glass on the east wall of the living room which afforded breathtaking views of the Coachella Valley. Almost the entire pool is surrounded by boulders. .
Dr. Franz Alexander Residence (1956) – 1011 West Cielo Drive
Historic, original, and spectacular, this home is a midcentury modern dream. Designed by architect Walter S. White for psychoanalyst Dr. Franz Alexander, the Alexander Residence , appears to hover over the boulders-strewn site. The result is a structure that seamlessly integrates into its natural surroundings, enhancing views of the valley while creating numerous indoor-outdoor connections.
. Dramatic architectural elements like V-shaped steel supports, a swooping tongue-and-groove ceiling reaching toward the mountains, plus a double-height atrium—with an open-tread black steel staircase designed by Albert Frey—are but a few of the incredible details that bring the residence to life.
Head back down to Vista Chino and make a right.
Kaufmann Residence (Richard Neutra – 1946) – 470 West Vista Chino Road
Edgar Kaufmann hired Neutra to design a desert home for his family. A decade earlier, Frank Lloyd Wright had built Fallingwater for Mr. Kaufmann in Bear Run, Pennsylvania. Kaufmann, having seen Taliesin West, thought that Wright didn’t understand desert design and chose Neutra instead. The home turned out so well, that when Wright saw it, he admitted to that is was beautiful (uncharacteristic of him). The building remains the most famous in Palm Springs in terms of international recognition.
Go to the end to the road and turn left on North Via Monte Vista
Vista Las Palmas and Old Las Palmas
Swiss Misses (Charles DuBois – 1903 – 1) – 755 W Crescent Dr.
Du Bois attended architecture school at UCLA for a year and then transferred to MIT . Traveling between coasts and working at different architectural firms, Du Bois passed the California architectural licensing exams in the 1930s and started his own firm in 1938. During WWII, when housing construction slowed, he worked as a senior set designer for MGM Studios.
He is known for the few Swiss Miss Houses in Palm Springs featuring the A-frame entry.
1133 Vista Vepero – 1958
1110 Abrigo Road – 1958
775 W Crescent Drive – 1958
700, 855 Via Las Palmas – 1959
1355 N Rose Ave – 1961
These homes were built in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood, developed Joe Dunas and the Alexander Construction Company. There are 15 Swiss Miss Houses remaining today in Vista Las Palmas.
Dinah Shore Residence – 432 Hermosa Place
Leonardo DiCaprio acquired Dinah Shore’s Palm Springs Home for $5.2 Million in 2014. Designed by architect Donald Wexler for Dinah Shore in 1964, this legendary Palm Springs’ Old Las Palmas neighborhood tennis estate defines timeless mid-century modern architecture.
Turn right on N. Mission Road, turn left on W. Merito Place, right on N Cahuilla, left on W. Alejo, right on N Belardo, then right on N Museum Way. There is a municipal parking structure on your left.
Downtown Palm Springs
Palm Springs Art Museum (E. Stewart Williams 1976) – 101 N Museum Dr.
Williams designed the museum out of concrete mixed with Warmtone cement and several aggregates. Long expanses of concrete panels were hammered to expose the aggregate. The exterior walls of the museum are clad in lava rock. .
By the early 1980s, more space was needed to display the museum’s collection, so administrative functions were relocated to a new, separate structure just north of the original building. Named the Marks Administration Building, it was designed by Williams and completed in 1981.
From the front of the Art Museum, head south on N. Museum Drive, turn left on W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, then right on S. Palm Canyon Drive.
Oasis Commercial Building (E Stewart Williams – 1953) – 121 S Palm Canyon Drive
This Class 1 historic site was designed in the International style by modernist architect E. Stewart Williams. It was built on a prominent corner that used to be a part of the Oasis Hotel. The two-story building reflects many of the design features of the internationally known Villa Savoy in Poissy, France designed by Swiss architect Le Corbusier and built between 1928 and 1931, and the Brazilian Pavilion by Oscar Niemeyer from the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Continue South on S. Palm Canyon to Baristo. The Architecture Museum is on on your left.
Palm Springs Architecture and Design Center, Edward Harris Pavilion (E. Stewart Williams – 1961) – 300 S Palm Canyon Dr.
The museum’s architecture and design center is housed inside a classic midcentury International style building that Williams, designed in 1961 for the Sante Fe Federal Savings & Loan.
The Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan building reflected new thinking in the design of banks and financial institutions during the middle part of the twentieth century. No longer were banks heavy masonry structures with neo-classical architecture – modern banks were seen as gathering places for the community; open and inviting. This building also featured a new concept: the drive-up banking window, which still exists on the east side of the building. The building is set up on a raised platform or “plinth” with recessed foundation walls giving it the illusion that it is floating above the ground. Metal shade screens on sliding tracks were built into the west façade to help control direct son in the afternoon hours. The building’s main level features a gallery space for architecture and design exhibitions and curatorial offices. The lower level of the building serves as a study center and library.
Head toward the mountains on Baristo.
Del Marcos Hotel (William Cody – 1947) – 225 W Baristo Rd
In 1947 Cody completed the Del Marcos Hotel, his first independent commission, which was recognized by the AIA Southern California Chapter with an honorable mention. Cody had a prolific career in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley and became known for his elegant simplistic designs with ultra thin columns and rooflines.
Drive back to S. Palm Canyon and turn right.
Coachella Valley Savings & Loan (now Chase Bank) – ( E. Stewart Williams – 1960) – 499 S Palm Canyon Drive
Originally the Coachella Valley Savings & Loan, the design of this elegant building with its inverted parabolic curved columns and water feature was inspired by the Palace of the Dawn by Brazilian Architect Oscar Niemeyer, completed in 1958 in Brasilia, Brazil.
Musicland Hotel (Hugh Kaptur – 1967) – 1342 South Palm Canyon Drive
An earlier project similar in architectural style to Tahquitz Plaza (now Kaptur Plaza) is The Musicland Hotel, formerly the Casa Blanca Motor Hotel. Kaptur was commissioned to update and modernize the building and created the unique façade seen today with its sculptural “eyebrow” around the street-facing second-story window.
The Mesa/Canyon Corridor/Twin Palms Estates
Royal Hawaiian Estates (Donald Wexler – 1961-1962) – 1774 South Palm Canyon Drive
Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison combined modernist ideas with Polynesian themes when they designed the Royal Hawaiian Estates condominium complex when tiki architecture was in fashion. The complex has 12 buildings with 40 condominium units on five acres.
Drive South on South Palm Canyon and turn right on W Camino Carmelita, t urn left onto Camino Monte and the property will be on your right.
Ship of the Desert – (Erle Webster & Adrian Wilson, Architects – 1936) – 1995 Camino Monte
The Davidson family had been visiting Palm Springs in the winter from the east coast and decided to build a home in the Mesa. They hired architectural firm Earle Webster & Adrian Wilson to design their winter home. Prior to 1936, architecture in the resort town was mostly Spanish Mission Revival. They decided to do something completely different and designed the home in the Streamline Moderne style. Reflecting imagery of automobiles, steamships, and airplanes Strealine Moderne was a dominant style in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. “Ship of the Desert” was featured on the cover of Sunset Magazine in 1937.
In 1998, fashion designer Trina Turk and her photographer husband Jonathan Skow purchased the property with plans for an extensive restoration but during the house’s rehab it was destroyed in a fire. Undeterred, they rebuilt using the original plans.
Head back to South Palm Canyon Drive, turn right and then left onto La Verne Way.
Fire Station #4 (Hugh Kaptur – 1971) – 1300 S La Verne Way
The Palm Springs Fire Department was formed in 1931, several years before the small town incorporated as a City in 1938. As Palm Springs grew, more fire stations were constructed until today, the City fire protection is provided by five fire stations. Fire station #4 was constructed in 1971. Over time the station began to show its age and its facilities became outdated. Beginning in the summer of 2017, work began on Fire Station #4 to remodel and expand it. The city consulted with Hugh Kaptur in the renovations so that the station could preserve his mid-century modern look and original vision. The City’s first fire station was located just north of the California Water & Telephone Building at 369 North Palm Canyon Drive (also a Class 1 historic site).Currently the City’s oldest fire station is Fire Station #1 located at 277 North Indian Canyon, designed by architect Albert Frey in 1952 in the Modernist architectural style, also a Class 1 historic site.
From here head North on Sunrise Way to East Mesquite Ave. and turn left. Turn left again at South Driftwood Drive.
William Holden Residence (1956) – 1323 S Driftwood Drive
The architect of this classic mid-century home is not known. Located on an approximately 1 acre sitein the heart of the prestigious Deepwell neighborhood it is a unique example of a custom home using post and beam construction. Heavily renovated in 2017, the home, while dramatic in its all-white appearance does not reflect the historic appearance of the home when actor William Holden owned it.
Head North on Driftwood and turn right on East Ocotillo Ave, the right again on South Calle De Maria.
Leo Koerner Residence (E. Stewart Williams – 1955) – 1275 Calle De Maria
A perfect example of Desert Modernism, the Koerner House was built for Leon and Thea Koerner, a pair of Canadian snowbirds.
William Bogess Residence (Richard Harrison – 1955) – 1366 Calle De Maria
Featured in LA Times Home, January 1, 1956.
John and Bessie Macy Residence (Hugh Kaptur – 1961) – 1577 Calle Marcus
Kaptur came to the desert in 1956 and Calle Marcus represents an early phase in Kaptur’s career during which he was experimenting with strong geometric forms, textures and angles.
Sutter House (E. Stewart Williams – 1958) – 1207 Calle De Maria
Architecturally significant steel framed and concrete block structure wrapped in glass
Head back to Sunrise Way via Sout Mesquite Avenue and turn left. Go to Ramon Road and turn right. St. Theresa will be on your left.
St. Theresa Catholic Church (William Cody – 1968) – 2800 East Ramon Rd.
The 10-foot marble altars were carved in Italy to Cody’s precise specifications, where the sculptured ceilings drape like tented fabric, and the clerestory windows welcome wide rays of natural light. The main entrance is at the base of a cross shape. Outside the red and yellow stained glass are in a pattern designed by Cody.
Heat West to Farrell Drive and make a right. Go .6 miles to Tahquitz Canyon Way and make another right. Go .5 miles and City Hall is on your left.
Palm Springs City Hall – (Clark, Frey & Chambers with collaboration by Williams, Williams, and Williams – 1956)
3200 East Tahquitz Canyon Way
Clark & Frey began preliminary design for the Palm Springs City Hall in 1952. The buildings’ volume and massing reflect the Modernist tenet “Form follows Function”, in which the various elements such as the Council chamber are distinctly different from the administrative office wings, reflecting the different functional use of the spaces within. Like many of Frey’s designs, City Hall is constructed of simple, almost industrial materials such as unfinished concrete block, corrugated metal and poured in place concrete. The design incorporates a circular motif – found in the round opening in the roof of the main entry, the angled metal cylinders that comprise the bris soliel screen across the front of the executive offices which protects the large areas of glass behind. A poured in place circular concrete roof element is located at the entry to the Council chamber that is the same diameter as the opening in the many entry, which creates a dynamic interplay between solid and void. Simple corrugated metal and fiberglass panels are used at entries and corrugated metal screens over the western wing provides solar control for the offices in that wing. A number of additions in 1965, 1972 and 1985 were added to the back (north) side of City Hall. These additions are not considered historically significant but did add much-needed office space as the City grew.
Sunmor Estates/Enchanted Homes
Donald Wexler & Ric Harrison – 2928, 2968 and 2980 Plaimor Drive, 260 N Airlane Dr
Wexler and Harrison worked for architect William Cody when they first came to Palm Springs in the early 1950’s. They formed the architectural firm of Wexler and Harrison in 1952 and collaborated on many projects until the firm was dissolved amicably in 1961.
Dan Palmer & William Krisel – 204, 205 and 206 North Airlane Drive
Head West to North Farrell Drive, turn right and then left on East Alejo Road. The Sinatra house will be on your right.
Twin Palms – Sinatra Residence (E. Stewart Williams – 1947) – 1148 Alejo Road
Sinatra first came to Palm Springs in search of a weekend home for his family after signing a lucrative movie contract with MGM. Sinatra initially requested designs for a Georgian-style mansion, complete with a brick facade and column. He had just made his first million and wanted to celebrate in grand style.
However, with renderings of a house composed of long horizontal tines and non-traditional building materials, Williams was able to lure Sinatra away from the idea of a Georgian house towards something more “desert appropriate.” Later, Roger Williams, Stewart’s architectural partner and brother, reflected “We’d have been ruined if we’d been forced to build Georgian in the desert.”
Other Noteworthy Properties
Frey House II – (Albert Frey, 1963, expanded 1967) 686 Palisades Drive
Albert Frey’s second home in Palm Springs is an essay in minimalist steel and glass integrated with the rocky mountainous site on which it is located. Frey left large natural rock outcroppings on the site and integrated them to subdivide the main living space from the adjacent bedroom. The house is owned by the Palm Springs Art Museum which occasionally conducts limited tours of the site.
Other noteworthy mid-century modern sites that have been granted Class 1 Landmark status by the Palm Springs City Council include:
City National Bank (Now Bank of America) 588 South Palm Canyon Drive (inspired by the Chapel at Ronchamp France by Le Corbusier).
The Town & Country Center (Architects Paul R. Williams and A. Quincy Jones in collaboration with Donald Wexler. 1948 – 1955) The Town & Country Center is a fascinating amalgamation of buildings and styles and reflects the emerging popularity after World War II for modernist architecture and a break with traditional, revivalist architectural styles of the 20’s and 30’s. 175 North Palm Canyon Drive.
Kocher-Samson Building (Architect Albert Frey 1936, one of the earliest Modernist structures built in Palm Springs. )
J.W. Robinsons’ Department Store (Architects Luckman and Pereira, 1958. A classic mid century department store with a “bow-tie” motif on the roof fascia and aggregate “zig-zag” masonry veneer walls, and unique tapered and ribbed steel columns.)
By Randy Garner and Ken Lyon
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Blast from the Past
Midcentury modern tours in greater palm springs.
Butterfly rooflines, colorful front doors and A-frame facades galore: Few places in the world feature such a treasure trove of midcentury modern architecture as Greater Palm Springs. Travel back in time and see some of these architectural gems for yourself on one of several midcentury modern tours offered year-round.
Knowledgeable guides share in-depth history behind the buildings as well as the artists and architects who created them—all you have to do is keep an open mind and your camera ready. A few iconic homes you won’t want to miss include:
- Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway (aka the “House of Tomorrow”)
- Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms Estate (known for its piano-shaped swimming pool)
- Albert Frey House II (built into the side of a massive boulder)
- The Kaufmann House (site of the famous Slim Aarons “Poolside Gossip” photograph)
View a Donald Wexler original from inside an air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz coach with Five Star Adventure Tours . Cruise through historic neighborhoods on a group bicycle tour with PS Architecture Tours . Explore the interiors of fabulous midcentury modern homes with Palm Springs Mod Squad . Visit former celebrity estates with The Modern Tour , the official tour of the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture & Design center. Or use digital tablets to compare a home’s vintage and contemporary photos on an outing with MidMod Design Tour.
Regardless of which midcentury modern tour you choose, you’ll find a whole new appreciation for the arts and culture scene in Greater Palm Springs.
An inside look at Desert Modernism
Join Chill Chaser, Amy Yerrington, and Kurt Cyr of Palm Springs Mod Squad for a tour of local homes that showcase the iconic midcentury architectural style Greater Palm Springs is known for internationally. Look for the four distinct elements that characterize Desert...
Modernism week 2023, oasis of art, highlights. greater palm springs, discover everything, greater palm springs has to offer.
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Self-Driving Tours of the Midcentury Modern Architecture that makes Palm Springs Famous
As seen in....
Premium Guided Self-Driving & Walking Tours since 2017
Exterior tours from the safety and comfort of your own car, plus the convenience and luxury of your own schedule. Tour routes are done in order and have integrated Google mapping. Find out more about how our tours work.
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Celebrity MEGA Tour
The biggest and best self-driving celebrity tour you will find in Palm Springs.
See the homes of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Elvis, Leonardo DiCaprio, a U.S. president and more.
Now available! BIKE Tour
See several popular stops in a moderate 10 mile round trip loop especially for cyclists.
See the homes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis, Leo DiCaprio & one of the most iconic private houses in the valley.
Need a bike? We recommend BIKE Palm Springs.
Modernism Top 10 Tour
Explore the 10 best known, most iconic and most beautiful buildings that put Palm Springs on the map.
Enjoy stories, background and history from your expert local guide; all the best buildings in Palm Springs in just a couple of hours.
Self-Driving Celebrity Homes Tour – 10 Best
From Sinatra to Marilyn, to Leo and even the Kardashians, Palm Springs is a celebrity paradise.
Skip the crowds and enjoy this self-driving tour as we share the gossip, the gorgeous homes and Palm Springs's celebrity secrets.
Modern Architecture 101
Familiar with the Top 10, or looking for hidden gems & lesser-known but still fabulous buildings?
Dive deeper into modernism as an architectural style, via the stories of its founders & see its most striking examples.
Palm Canyon Walking Tour
Palm Canyon Drive is a bustling commercial area with gorgeous architecture, fascinating stories & surprising history.
This walking tour is ideal for both first-time visitors and those who'd like to learn a bit more about the city.
Modernism Mega Tour
A combination of our Top 10 Tour and the Modern Architecture 101 Tour, the Mega Tour boasts nearly double the number of tour stops than a regular tour. This is the tour for architecture lovers and those looking to learn all about Palm Springs.
Rancho Mirage Architecture & Celebrity Tour
Outstanding examples of modernist architecture and marvelous mid-century designs all on open display in the "secret" architectural hot spot of Rancho Mirage.
Downloadable Pocket Tours
Get started with these fun self-directed tours delivered instantly to your inbox. These tours provide information, lists and include addresses, but do not offer integrated mapping. If you'd like guided mapping or a planned route, please browse our premium tours above.
Fabulous Doors of Palm Springs
The colorful and stylish doors of Palm Springs are a modernist mainstay.
This 60-page e-book shares photos, exact addresses, and information about dozens of cool doors & modernist facades you can see for yourself in Palm Springs.
$9.99 – Get This Tour Checkout Added to cart
Seriously Selfie Tour
This chic and mod list of the most Instagram-able spots in all of Palm Springs will fill your Instagram feed with style.
Our ten-page PDF shares some of the best spots to snap iconic photos as you explore beautiful Palm Springs California and these spots make an amazing backdrop for your selfies too.
$3.99 – Get This Tour Checkout Added to cart
Breeze Block Bingo!
You see them everywhere in Palm Springs; gorgeous, sculptural breeze blocks!
Learn the different shapes, and keep tabs on the ones you see using our 1-page printable Breeze Block Bingo Card, created by a talented digital artist.
$3.99 – Get Your Card Checkout Added to cart
"the tour is easy to follow and on top, you get interesting information via the audio link and also pictures of the inside. i highly recommend it”.
V. Deussen - Verified Buyer
So worth $49!
Beth D'Addono, USA Today 10 Best
This is the 4th tour we’ve done, and like the others—WE LOVED IT!! We think this is the best way to see and learn about Palm Springs architecture and history.
Glenn C. - Verified Buyer
"...brilliant, engaging, fun, easy to use and a memory-making joy!
I’m so grateful you did this .
Richard T, Architect
I took both my husband and mom on your tour Celebrity Tour (twice!) and each time was so amazing and really fun! You truly have made a safe and fun tour experience. I loved it and can’t wait to take the Rancho Tour soon.
-Monica D. - Verified Buyer
"We found the education from our self-guided driving and walking tours ... a fascinating and beneficial addition to our architecture touring. Founder Erin Lawrence offers well-paced, easy-to-listen-to commentary on her audio tours, with accompanying photos ."
-Therese Iknoian, Travel writer, HiTravelTales.com
"This tour was extremely interesting, and we loved the fact we could do it at our own speed, in our own car. Definitely recommend!"
K. Scully - Verified Buyer
"We liked that we could go when we wanted and spend as much time as needed at each stop. The tour is the perfect length."
B. Dolan - Verified Buyer
"We loved it! It was very educational and fun!"
Jerry M. - Verified Buyer
"Fascinating peek into architecture and history!"
R. Philips - Verified Buyer
"We’re not the tour bus type. This tour was right for us, and let us take the family along for a reasonable price."
S. Mowitz - Verified Buyer
"I don't know much about architecture, so it was very illuminating. We liked the variety of buildings it showcased."
N. Perez - Verified Buyer
We really enjoyed the celebrity home tour! It was done very well. Next time I’m in Palm Springs I will definitely take another of your tours.
Karyn M. - Verified Buyer
About Our Tours
Our Palm Springs architectural exterior tours are self-driven in your own car, meaning you can go at your own pace, and stop, look, and get out of the car to take photos any time you want, without worrying about holding up a whole tour group. Tours are exteriors only.
You can have as many people as you like in your car—all for the same price.
Our premium self guided modern multimedia tours—like the Modern Architecture 101 tour—take approximately 90-120 minutes and use audio, interactive mapping and directions, and photos via our online platform so that you can learn about the fascinating history and bold architecture of Palm Springs, without needing to keep up with a tour group.
Want something a little quicker? Purchase the Seriously Selfie Tour or Door Tour e-book for a shorter, more simplified experience.
Modern Tour FAQs
Our tours are exterior-only multi-media audio and photographic tours that will take you on a self-driving route using your own vehicle. You need to know how to use your smartphone's web or internet browser as well as Google Maps, and how to switch between them.
Start up the tour online, and follow the guided directions, while listening to the tour audio.
When you buy a tour, you'll get the address and a Google Maps link that directs you to the starting point for the tour. Once you're there, press play and your "Tour Narrator" will tell you about this stop.
When you're ready to move on to the next stop, follow the directions from the included Google Maps link to the next address. Once you're there, return to the internet browser window and view the next stop and listen to the audio.
You'll repeat this process at your own pace until your tour is complete.
Homes are all privately owned and interiors are not available to view.
Some public buildings are included on our tours; these may or may not be open to the public on the date and time you choose to visit. We can make no promises about seeing the interiors of any public building; these tours are meant to be exteriors only.
Homes are all privately owned and interiors are not available to view. It is important that tour goers not disturb the homeowners or trespass onto private property.
Some public buildings are included on our tours; these may or may not be open to the public on the date and time you choose to visit. We can make no promises about seeing the interiors of any public building; these tours are focused on exteriors only.
Taking one of our tours requires Wi-Fi or cellular data, as they run online. At this time they are not downloadable for offline use. It is possible to purchase or rent portable Wi-Fi Hotspots like the Skyroam device which will allow you to access data for much less than traditional cell phone roaming rates. (We're looking at you, Canada!) Read about that option on this blog, where there's also a promo code for a discount on the device.
Modern Tours Palm Springs tours run in a specific order, but do allow for you to stop, explore, marvel at the beautiful homes and buildings, and make deviations along the way. Even stop for lunch!
Before purchasing a tour, you'll see the estimated time to complete the tour.
Most of our tours are designed to take between 90 minutes to two hours, but since you’re in the driver’s seat, you set the pace of your tour. You can pause the tour at any time if you see something interesting.
No. After your purchase, you’ll have 30 days to take the tour before your subscription will expire. If you like, buy it today, and you can flip through it to get an idea of what you’ll see, then drive it for real when you arrive in Palm Springs.
Yes! The Top 10 Tour is ideal for cyclists and many guests have shared that they have opted to conduct this tour on a bike. The tour is a loop that encompasses approximately 13 miles. Depending on your speed, if you have power assist from an e-bike and how long you wish to stay at each stop, this tour can be done in 90 minutes to 2.5 hours on a bike.
After you’ve purchased your tour, you’ll first listen to the tour introduction and then you'll make your way to the first stop where the tour will begin.
Any way you like! You’ll be able to listen to the tour audio on your phone, tablet or connected car speakers, or using a Bluetooth speaker if you want.
In addition to the audio you can also read a written description of each stop, and look at photos. Of course, you'll be parked in front of each destination too, to be able to see it for yourself.
Whenever possible, our tours include interior photos, historical photos and documents, and historical facts and fascinating stories.
Our self-guided tour uses Google Maps to navigate you from location to location. Once you've finished at each stop, you'll have Google Maps instructions on where to go next.
Absolutely! Each tour comes with an English transcript of the accompanying audio for accessibility.
Directions to the next stop are given through Google Maps.
We estimate one of our tours will use approximately 0.02gb of data.
Please note all roaming fees, data charges and overages are your responsibility and we are not responsible for additional charges you may incur with your wireless provider.
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See Local Architecture
Palm springs offers both guided and self-guided tours featuing the work of midcentury modern architectural legends and those who lived there..
Staff Report September 12, 2022 Attractions , Current Guide , Modernism
Modern Tours Palm Springs offers a self-guided tour to take at your own pace. PHOTOGRAPH BY DANIELA STALLNGER
Palm Springs Celebrity Tours
Modern tours palm springs, five-star adventure tours, midcentury modern architecture app.
You can safely tour more than 80 famous and architecturally significant modern homes and commercial buildings, guided by the Palm Springs Modern: Mid-Century Modern Architecture app. The app also presents in-depth profiles of 12 leading modernism architects among other features. palmspringslife.com/palm-springs-apps/mod-com-app
Not yet a member? Join today. Discover the benefits below.
Palm Springs Architecture Tours
Palm Springs is an architectural treasure trove. The best way to learn more about the ubiquitous desert-modern residences, outside of the wildly popular Modernism Week, in February, is to take a guided tour. We tried two this time: one by vehicle and one by bicycle, both excellent despite the latter taking place during a sandstorm on a cold January day. I highly recommend both, in addition to our longtime recommendation of the private Modern Tour led by Michael Stern .
Palm Springs Mod Squad
We saw the interiors of three desert-modern homes over the course of 90 minutes on our small group tour with Palm Springs Mod Squad . Guide Kurt Cyr, a local designer and midcentury expert, drove us to various neighborhoods while explaining more about Palm Springs and the signature features of midcentury homes: cantilever roofs, narrow clerestory windows, brise soleil and patterned brick/shadow block walls. Form follows function here, and all four of these features help protect against the harsh desert environment. Many houses have what are called “fortress fronts” and are “discreet to the street,” but inside they open up. For example, a home’s foyer may be in a confined area with a low ceiling, but then the space expands with large windows or step-downs — that’s compression and expansion at work. A lack of moldings makes walls look taller, and the transition from indoor floors to patio concrete is seamless to bring the outdoors in. Cyr was great at pointing out the small details you might not ordinarily notice that come together to create fine midcentury design. Highlights included a home within the former Desert Star motel and a Krisel reproduction containing Billy Haines furnishings. When the outstanding tour was over, he emailed us a list of recommended restaurants, stores and further reading on the movement.
Palm Springs Historical Society
Our travel advisor booked the Bike the Mid Mod Oasis tour for us through the Palm Springs Historical Society. It supplied us with seven-speed bikes and a headset so we could easily hear our guide as we rode. In about three hours we covered roughly 8 miles, visiting various neighborhoods on the south side of Palm Springs, including Deepwell Estates, Twin Palms, Indian Canyons and Warm Sands. We viewed a few of the 2,200 modular Alexander homes by George Alexander and his son Robert that brought cutting-edge architectural designs to average homebuyers in the 1950s and ’60s. The genius of these near assembly-line homes was that each looked like a custom build: There were five rooflines to choose from and different exterior details and orientations, but they had almost identical floor plans. And we saw sprawling residences owned by William Holden, Ray Bradbury and William Lear, the owner of LearJet Corporation, who reportedly called the police on an inebriated Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin after they ran out of gas, popped in to his Indian Canyons house and wouldn’t leave. Learning about the architects who transformed the city, and home-building in general, proved fascinating. The Palm Springs Historical Society offers two bike tours and 13 walking tours. If this one is any indication, they should all be of merit.
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Tours call 760-844-2242 | Museums: Open 10am-4pm Everyday Closed Tuesday | Research Center: By Appointment
Join us for an entertaining stroll through Palm Springs, enjoy tours full of history, fun stories, famous architecture and intrigue!
We offer historical tours focusing on Palm Springs' historic neighborhoods, distinguished by a combination of the celebrities and local pioneers who called them home and the architects and builders who shaped their development.
Palm Springs is renowned for having the largest concentration of midcentury modern architecture in the country. See these stunning gems up close but also hear the history and great stories that makes our city so revered.
View the tour calendar by month or daily
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Sun + Mon + Thu
Golden Era Hollywood Homes
Rat Pack Playground
Frank Sinatra's Neighborhood
Stars of the Movie Colony
Giants of Architecture
Twin Palms Estates
Inns, Architecture and Glamour
Heart of the City
Shangri-La of the Stars
You Choose Day
Tours - Private
October 19 - 22, 2023
Tours - Modernism Week
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Modernism Week 2024
February 15-25, 2024
Modernism Week’s annual 11-day festival will feature more than 350 events including the Palm Springs Modernism Show, CAMP (Community and Meeting Place), tours of iconic homes in more than 30 neighborhoods, and the popular Signature Home Tour on both weekends. Also offered are architectural walking, biking and double-decker bus tours, tours of the historic Annenberg Estate at Sunnylands, a classic car show, garden tours, a 2-day vintage trailer show, nightly parties, and a special series of compelling and informative talks at the Annenberg Theater and at the Modernism Week Theater at CAMP. All events are open to the public, and many events are free or low cost. Tickets on sale now
Featured Activities at Modernism Week 2024
Modernism Week Opening Night Party: Disco in the Desert
The most anticipated bash of the year returns with an Opening Night Fever dance party to blow your platforms off! Live band, lavish libations and all-night party bites to fuel your disco inferno!
Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus Tour
Modernism Week’s signature bus tour! The Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus Tour provides guests with an overview of the most significant midcentury architectural treasures of Palm Springs.
- Social Events
Preview Party for Palm Springs Modernism Show
Join us for the best modernist design event of the season! Beat the crowds and enjoy a festive cocktail reception and early-buying opportunity at the Modernism Show.
Annenberg Theater All Access Pass
For the first time Modernism Week is offering an Annenberg Theater General Admission All Access Pass for 8 full days of exciting presentations, films, and performances. Offered for a limited time through November or when sold out.
Architecture Tours by Modernism Week
October 28, 2023 to June 2, 2024
Modernism Week and PS Architecture Tours - Palm Springs’ leading providers of architectural tour services - have teamed up to provide the definitive modern architecture tour experience. Join us for a season-long series of carefully curated small group tours spearheaded by Tripadvisor’s top-rated architectural tour operator, Trevor O’Donnell, and a select team of knowledgeable professional guides.
Tickets available now.
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Modernism Week@Sea: Modernists on the Mediterranean
September 13-23, 2024
Embark on a Mediterranean cruise to explore ancient ruins and old quarters while indulging in thriving food scenes and enjoying sun-drenched beaches. Top sights such as the Vatican Museum in Rome and La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona are easily at hand while the whitewashed villages of Andalusia and the French Riviera become your playground.
Experience the best of the destination like a local – shopping the markets, mingling with residents, exploring historic neighborhoods, and so much more. Join Modernism Week@Sea for this unforgettable guided tour.
Modernism Week Top Sponsors
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