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The Ultimate Guide to Palm Springs Architecture

The Ultimate Guide to Palm Springs Architecture

Take yourself on an architecture tour of Palm Springs to see some of the most unique and beautiful buildings in SoCal.

January 11, 2021

You can’t avoid mid-century modern architecture when spending time in Palm Springs. In fact, many people treat the city as a living museum and visit just to revel in the unique, desert-chic Palm Springs architecture . Contemporary with touches of Old Hollywood glamour, the prized houses in Palm Springs beckon to all—there’s a reason why this town in the Sonoran Desert was home to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe.

So, don’t let the glitz and glamour of Palm Springs distract you from the sheer architectural marvels scattered around the area. There are numerous homes in Palm Springs’ neighborhoods that are worthy of seeing. (It just so happens that the most impressive, ahead-of-their-time houses were once owned by the rich and famous—who would’ve thought?) Whether you’re escaping to Palm Springs for the weekend or planning to attend Modernism Week , you’ll want to make time for an architecture tour of Palm Springs. 

Why are there so many mid-century modern homes in Palm Springs?

palm springs architecture tours

Believe it or not, Palm Springs wasn’t always an architectural mecca for modernism fans. Palm Springs architecture didn’t become what it is today until it captured the attention of Hollywood A-listers, pioneering architects, and visionaries. Actors, actresses, musicians, and more creatives bought homes in the largely unexplored town because it allowed them to escape from L.A. but still be close enough to get to work if need be.

Leading architects and designers were commissioned to develop the elite’s houses. These architects took inspiration from the Bauhaus and international styles and modified them to accommodate the SoCal climate and surrounding desert. This led to the creation of Desert Modernism, which perfectly blends the indoors and outdoors.

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Notable Palm Springs Architects

Before jumping into the architecture tour of Palm Springs , let’s also take a moment to recognize the innovative, highly influential architects behind the mid-century Palm Springs homes we love today.

palm springs architecture tours

1. Richard Neutra emigrated from Austria to the U.S. in 1923 and became one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. His notable Palm Springs architectural creations include the Grace Miller House and the uber-famous Kaufmann house—created for businessman and philanthropist Edgar Kaufmann.

2. Donald Wexler served in the Navy during World War II before moving to L.A. to pursue his architectural dreams. He worked for Neutra for a while and then partnered with Richard Harrison, with whom he created many banks and schools around the Coachella Valley. Wexler and Harrison were also the masterminds behind the Steel Development Homes—a housing model that was low-cost, easily replicable, and suited to the desert climate—which were built by the Alexander Construction Company.

3. Albert Frey was another architect who built Palm Springs. Originally hailing from Switzerland, Frey came to Palm Springs in 1934 to help supervise a construction project and ended up staying in the region, continuing to build his most influential buildings. Noteworthy architecture by Frey includes the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Frey Houses I and II (his own homes), Palm Springs City Hall, and Tramway Gas Station.

4. The son of an American diplomat, William Krisel was born in China but returned to the states with his family at the age of 13. He studied architecture at the University of Southern California and later stayed in the area to develop affordable homes, especially tract housing, with a modern aesthetic. He is responsible for designing more than 30,000 residences in SoCal—yes, you read that right—including many that were built by the Alexander Construction Company.

5. Stewart Williams also significantly shaped the architectural landscape of the Coachella Valley. He designed the Palm Springs Art Museum, Coachella Savings and Loan building, and Twin Palms —also known as the Frank Sinatra Estate. All are notable stops on most architecture tours in Palm Springs.

6. Prior to embarking on an architectural journey, Hugh M. Kaptur was a marine. He moved to Palm Springs in 1956 (where he still resides), and his notable creations include the Musicland Hotel Palm Springs , Tahquitz Plaza, and houses for Steve McQueen and other celebs. 

Where to visit on an architecture tour of Palm Springs

palm springs architecture tours

Tramway Gas Station

Address: 2901 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

You can’t miss the Palm Springs Tramway Gas Station—seriously, it was intended to be the first building people would see on their way into town. Designed by Frey and Robson C. Chambers, this wedge-shaped building is a classic example of modernist architecture. The building is now the Palm Springs Visitors Center, so if you have any questions, this is the place to drop by.

palm springs architecture tours

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Address: 1 Tram Way, Palm Springs

In addition to being a highlight on virtually every architectural tour in Palm Springs, this site boasts the title of the world's largest rotating aerial tramway. Conceived by Albert Frey in 1963, the tramway was created to offer a unique transportation method from the Coachella Valley's base up to the natural beauty of Mount San Jacinto State Park, close to San Jacinto Peak's summit.

On the way up, the tram cars rotate slowly, offering picturesque vistas of the landscape below. Trust us, you’ll want to experience the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway—this is one of the coolest things to do in Palm Springs .

palm springs architecture tours

Coachella Valley Savings and Loan

Address: 499 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

Coachella Valley Savings and Loan is definitely not as boring as its name makes it sound. The structure is a landmark example of mid-century modern architecture. C reated by Williams, the minimalist building is actually a bank today—the snazziest bank in SoCal—featuring a flat roof, deep overhangs, and steel-frame construction.

palm springs architecture tours

Hope Residence

Address: 2466 Southridge Drive , Palm Springs

Although Bob Hope is renowned for his movies, comedy, and Academy Awards hosting gigs , his real estate investments are no less impressive. His house in Palm Springs is truly one of a kind and is often compared to a spaceship, thanks to its looming, undulating triangular roof and large light shaft. Visiting during Modernism Week is your best bet to take a peek, as it is located in a gated community.

palm springs architecture tours

The Kaufmann Desert House

Address: 470 West Vista Chino, Palm Springs

Constructed in 1946 by Neutra, the iconic Kaufmann House has played a pivotal role in shaping the modernist look that would come to characterize future constructions in the resort destination of Palm Springs. Recognized by the Palm Springs City Council as a Class 1 Historic Site, this home has undergone several renovations over the years, yet has managed to preserve essential aspects of its initial blueprint.

palm springs architecture tours

Sinatra House

Address: 1148 Alejo Road, Palm Springs

Also known as Twin Palms, Sinatra’s estate is another creation by Williams. This lavish 4,500-square-foot home is situated in the Movie Colony neighborhood and is famous for stories of star-studded parties, brawls, and celebrations—there’s a good reason why every Palm Springs mid-century modern tour features Sinatra House as a prominent stop.

Palm Springs architecture guide by style

palm springs architecture tours

Alexander Homes

Where to find Alexander homes: Twin Palms neighborhood and Vistas Las Palmas

The Alexander Construction Company came to Palm Springs in 1955 and constructed more than 2,200 mid-century modern homes, many of which were designed by notable architects. The company is credited with being one of the biggest influences behind the established modernist style that continues to be imitated all around the world.

Alexander Steel Houses

Where to find Alexander Steel Houses: East Molino Road and Sunny View Drive

Prior to making steel residential houses, Wexler had designed many school buildings using steel construction. He believed that the same methods could be used to build stylish and affordable homes, so he did just that with The Alexander Construction Company. Today, steel houses are a staple style of mid-century Palm Springs.

palm springs architecture tours

Swiss Miss Houses

Where to find Swiss Miss Homes: Vista Las Palmas

Built by the Alexander Construction Company, many Swiss Miss homes are scattered around Palm Springs and are notable for their A-frame façades. Charles Dubois is a notable architect who designed around 15 of these houses in Vista Las Palmas.

Art Moderne

Where to find Art Moderne buildings: Camino Monte Street and Palm Canyon Drive

Dating back to the early 1930s , Art Moderne is a style native to the U.S. and is like Art Deco, but more enhanced—think bigger, bolder, and brassier than its French counterpart. Featuring rounded, curvaceous forms and contrasting colors, Art Moderne houses in Palm Springs are hard to miss. 

palm springs architecture tours

Googie Buildings

Where to find Googie buildings: Palm Canyon Drive and San Lorenzo Road

To get an idea of what a Googie building is, imagine The Jetsons opening a modernist coffee shop. This architectural style also originated in SoCal around the same time as Art Moderne. The Atomic Age and local car culture inspired the signature geometric shapes of Googie buildings, making for wacky creations with exaggerated rooflines and generous usage of glass.

Royal Hawaiian Estates

Where to find Royal Hawaiian Estates: Palm Canyon Drive and Murray Canyon Drive

When Tiki architecture was in fashion, architects Wexler and Harrison combined their modernist ideas with Polynesian motifs to create the Royal Hawaiian Estates. These slightly less popular, mid-century modern homes in Palm Springs were declared a historic district by the city council in 2010.

palm springs architecture tours

Spanish Revival Houses

Where to find Spanish Revival houses: Avenida Palmas and Puerto Del Sol

Red-tile roofs, stone exteriors, and elaborate iron fencing—Spanish-style homes are highly sought-after in the Palm Springs area. These houses offer a more cozy and inviting vibe compared to mid-century modern estates, which feature sharp edges and futuristic details.

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Desert Modernism

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Palm Springs Architecture

Palm Springs is a haven for lovers of timeless design and architectural enthusiasts alike. With its sleek lines, open floor plans, and seamless integration with nature, midcentury modern architecture has left an indelible mark on this vibrant city. Explore the history, characteristics, and notable examples of this architectural style that continues to captivate and inspire visitors from around the world.

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Architects & Developers

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Architectural Preservations

Learn about the architects that built palm springs.

Emerson Stewart Williams

E. Stewart Williams


Albert Frey

william cody

William Cody

du bois swiss miss

Charles Du Bois


Hugh Kapture

441 South Palm Canyon Howard Lapham

Howard Lapham

Hugh Kaptur tahquitz plaza building 2

A. Quincy Jones

Two men wearing glasses and dress shirts with ties, one holding architectural plans, standing together in a room with wooden framing in the background. The image is in black and white.

Dan Palmer & William Krisel

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Modern Tours Palm Springs

The palm springs architects that made mid-century modern architecture famous in california..


For fans of modernism or just those curious about the unique and beautiful architecture of Palm Springs, learning more about the buildings, homes and those who created them can help create a deeper understanding.

While numerous architects and builders contributed to the aesthetic of Greater Palm Springs, there are a handful of key players that set the bar for modern architecture.

John Lautner

John Lautner was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and is known as one of last century’s most important contemporary American architects. Lautner liked to consider the relationship of people to their environments when he designed homes and spaces.

Lautner’s early work includes a hotel in Desert Hot Springs now called Hotel Lautner which was part of a master planned community of over 100 buildings.

See Lautner homes & buildings:

Elrod House

Bob Hope House

Hotel Lautner

Albert Frey

Albert Frey took a trip to the desert and fell so madly in love, he never left. He had been hired to work on the now-historically-significant Kocher-Samson Building in Palm Springs, but Frey's legacy goes much deeper. Frey was one of the early developers of the style that would become known as desert modernism; clean lines, and minimal detail and ornamentation that let the extreme desert environment shine.

See Frey homes and buildings:

Frey II House

Tramway Gas Station / Palm Springs Visitor Center

Palm Springs City hall

Hugh Kaptur

He's known for his unconventional designs and "popluxe" style. Hugh Kaptur counts Frank Lloyd Wright as one of his inspirations. Yet another architect who came to Palm Springs from elsewhere, and became so captivated, he settled here, Kaptur had a dramatic influence on desert modernism architecture.

He built more than 200 homes and numerous other buildings in Palm Springs.

See Kaptur homes and buildings

Steve McQueen House

Musicland Hotel (Casa Blanca)

Palm Springs Fire Station # 3 & #4

Russell House

Tahquitz Plaza

William Krisel

William Krisel believed good design shouldn't just be for the rich. Over his career, he developed a passion for creating high-quality homes, with smart design that ordinary people could live in and feel good about.

Krisel partnered with the Alexander Company and went on to build more than 1,200 homes across Palm Springs including in the Twin Palms neighborhood. His now-iconic butterfly roof designs turned the traditional roof shape upside down to dramatic effect, serving the mountain views up as if they were presented in a dish.

One of his more famous works includes the House of Tomorrow, which prominent developer Robert Alexander and his family lived in, throwing lavish parties for the who's who of the Palm Springs design and architecture world. The home later became more famous when Elvis Presley and his new wife Priscilla hid out there on their honeymoon.

See Krisel homes and buildings:

Homes in Twin Palms

Ocotillo Lodge

Sandpiper Condos

House of Tomorrow / Elvis Honeymoon House

Pod House / Grundt Tipper House

E. Stewart Williams

Favoring the use of natural materials like wood and stone, E. Stewart Williams' first major residential commission came when Rat Pack crooner Frank Sinatra found his way into Williams' office, sat down and asked for a home by Christmas, which was just a few months away.

Williams may have been most prolific when it came to public buildings; banks, offices and civic buildings, of which he designed many in the Palm Springs area.

See E. Stewart Williams homes and buildings:

Chase bank / Coachella Valley Savings and Loan

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Alpine Station

Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs Unified School District building

Frank Sinatra's Home, Twin Palms

Edris House

William Cody

It's hard to pin down a particular style William F Cody (known as Wild Bill and the Desert maverick) was known for, but he believed in having all elements of a space work together; the building, the landscape, and the furniture. Architect E. Stewart Williams once said of Cody that he brought 5th Avenue into the desert for his ability to create magnificent architecture.

See Cody homes and buildings:

St. Theresa Catholic Church and Convent

Del Marcos Hotel

Eldorado Country Club (private)

Palm Springs Public Library

Richard Neutra

Architect Richard Neutra designed just three homes in Palm Springs but each one was significant for its advancement of desert modernism architecture.

Neutra was careful about placing his homes in their environment, so he could make the outdoors and indoors seem more in harmony.

One of the most significant works is the Kaufmann House, which many experts believe is the greatest example of desert modernism still standing today. Conceived as a winter home for a department store magnate, the home is situated on a large lot, with its elements laid out in a pinwheel. But its most noticeable feature to passers-by or looky-loos (you can drive up to it, but gates and fences make only a small portion of the home visible from the street) is the second story "gloriette", an outdoor living room with louvered walls that could protect the homeowners from desert sun and winds.

See Neutra homes and buildings:

Grace Miller House

Kaufmann House

Maslon House

Donald Wexler

After serving in the Navy, Donald Wexler moved to Los Angeles and worked with Richard Neutra before partnering with William Cody, and Richard Harrison.

Low slung roofs, folded roofs, prefab components and organic style are all hallmarks of Wexler's desert modernism style, though he hated labels, saying famously, "we didn't even think of it as 'Modern' in terms of architecture for the desert. We did it to live with the environment, a matter of balancing orientation and views." Wexler said he preferred to let his work speak for itself rather than apply labels or architectural terminology.

See Wexler homes and buildings:

Wexler Steel Homes

Dinah Shore Residence

Palm Springs International Airport

Union 76 gas Station

Interested in learning more and seeing the groundbreaking modernist architecture and modern homes in Palm Springs first hand? Want to check out butterfly roof homes, celebrity homes, architecturally important homes in Palm Springs? Architectural tours, interior home tours, and modernism tours are all available. Book a Palm Springs Modern Tour today.

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Palm Springs Architecture Tour – Self-Guided Drive

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Welcome to the palm springs architecture tour.

Soak up some sun with this Palm Springs Architecture Tour,  where movie stars and other big-time celebs have flocked for almost a hundred years to get away from it all. Visit architectural marvels left behind by these eccentric stars, like the opulent Liberace House. Stop outside the gates of Frank Sinatra’s old estate and hear some wild tales about Ol’ Blue Eyes’ time in Palm Springs. And so much more! Plus, this driving tour of Palm Springs will take you to the serene Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, a desert gem rich in natural beauty.

About the Tour

You’ll begin your Palm Springs Architecture Tour at the Palm Springs Visitor Center. From there, you’ll drive to the architectural wonder of the Kaufmann House, a pinnacle of mid-century modern design. That’s then followed by the striking Liberace House, a testament to the extravagant lifestyle of the legendary entertainer.

As you keep driving, you’ll dig into the lives of the movie stars of yesteryear and find out why so many came to Palm Springs in the first place. Then you’ll be dazzled by the quirky and vibrant Robolights installation, a must-see for anyone in the area.

Your tour then takes you past the legendary Frank Sinatra’s Residence, where you can soak in the sounds of the Rat Pack era. Next, visit the Walk of Stars, celebrating the icons who have shaped Palm Springs’ legacy.

After that, you’ll drive through the Coachella Valley and hear the fascinating true story behind the Coachella Music Festival. Then you’ll have the chance to see Frank Sinatra’s final resting place and solve one of the mysteries of his burial. The journey culminates at the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, where you can explore lush green trails hidden in the heart of the harsh desert.

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Where To Start?

We recommend Starting From: Palm Springs Visitor Center,  2901 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262

How Does It Work?

  • Once you book a tour, you’ll get a text/email with instructions.
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  • Please note that no one will meet you at the starting point.

What You'll See

Kaufmann house.

Explore the iconic Kaufmann Desert House, a masterpiece of mid-century modern architecture designed by Richard Neutra for businessman Edgar Kaufmann.

Liberace House

Discover the flamboyant Liberace House, once the residence of the charismatic pianist and entertainer Liberace, famous for his extravagant style and performances.

Movie Stars of Yesteryear

Learn about Palm Springs' rich history as a haven for Hollywood stars, including Rudolph Valentino, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and even the Obamas.

The Movie Colony

Drive through the historic Movie Colony neighborhood, known for its association with movie stars and its architectural significance, featuring homes designed by renowned architects.

Encounter the quirky Robolights sculpture garden, featuring colorful sculptures and robots, creating a unique artistic experience in Palm Springs.

Frank Sinatra

Visit the former home of Frank Sinatra, the legendary singer and actor, who played a significant role in putting Palm Springs on the map as a celebrity getaway.

The Rat Pack in Palm Springs

Delve into the history of the Rat Pack's presence in Palm Springs and their retreat, Villa Maggio, where they enjoyed privacy and camaraderie.

Walk of Stars

Explore the Palm Springs Walk of Fame, adorned with 450 stars honoring a diverse range of figures who made significant contributions to the city's history.

The Palm Trees of Palm Springs

Learn about Ruth Hardy's influence in planting palm trees along Palm Canyon Drive, contributing to the city's iconic palm-lined streets.

Coachella Valley

Explore the desert oasis known as Coachella Valley, famed for the Coachella Music Festival and its intriguing geological history rooted in ancient seas.

Coachella Music Festival

Uncover the origins of the renowned Coachella Music Festival, from its beginnings as a solution to a ticketing dispute with Pearl Jam to its status as a global music event.

Palm Springs Airport

Learn about Palm Springs Airport, which began as a military airfield in the 1930s and later became a favored choice for celebrity travelers.

Discover the strong connection between Bob Hope, the legendary entertainer, and Palm Springs, where he owned properties and often joked about the city in his routines.

Frank Sinatra’s Tomb

Visit Frank Sinatra's resting place, where he's buried with intriguing items, including dimes, tied to a historic kidnapping incident.

Golfing in the Desert

Understand the allure of golf in Palm Springs with its ideal weather and celebrity tournaments, championed by figures like Dinah Shore.

Desert Life

Explore the desert's unique ecosystem, where various plants and animals have adapted to survive in the harsh conditions, showcasing resilience against habitat destruction and climate change.

The San Andreas Fault

Drive over the famous San Andreas Fault, gaining insight into how it causes earthquakes and its history of seismic activity in California.

Leaving Palm Springs

About the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve: Head towards the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, shaped by the San Andreas Fault, with its natural springs creating a lush oasis in the desert.

Desert Geology

Learn about the geological history of the desert, including the formation of mountain ranges and the transformation of granite and igneous rock into the desert's sandy landscape.

Willis Palm Trail

Discover the Willis Palm Trailhead, a moderately strenuous 4-mile hike offering the chance to observe birds, desert wildlife, and wildflowers during the spring season.


Experience the breathtaking beauty of desert wildflower displays, including California poppies, desert lilies, lupines, and sunflowers, with superblooms occurring roughly once every decade.

Pushwalla Palms Trail

Encounter the Pushawalla Palms Trail, a moderate 4.5-mile hike along the San Andreas Fault ridge, providing stunning views of palm tree oases where water emerges from deep underground.

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

Arrive at the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, a captivating natural area with 25 miles of walking trails, including the easy two-mile McCallum Trail, which leads to a lush palm grove, despite the visitor center's current closure for renovations.

Confederate Burial Trench

Uncover an unassuming site overlooking a mass grave for unidentified Confederate soldiers, a testament to the haste of wartime burials.

Jones Field

Witness the struggles of General Sherman as he's pushed back to Jones Field, where General McClernand arrives to turn the tide.

Tennessee State Memorial

Admire the Tennessee Memorial, featuring bronze figures symbolizing loyalty and sacrifice among survivors.

Julius Raith Monument

Explore the Mortuary Monument dedicated to Union General Julius Raith and the role of illness and infection during the Civil War.

We Meet in Heaven

Hear the poignant story of General William Wallace's mortal wound and his final moments with his wife.

Johnston Meets His End

Learn about the fateful injury of Confederate General Johnston, which went unnoticed due to nerve damage.

Texas State Monument

Pay tribute to the Texas regiments, including General Johnston, and his significant role in various conflicts before the Civil War.

Fall of the Hornet's Nest

Witness the surrender of Union General Prentiss at the Peach Orchard, leading to the Union's establishment of the Last Line.

Grant's Last Stand

Experience General Grant's determined last stand at the Tennessee River, awaiting reinforcements from General Buell.

Shiloh Indian Mounds

Encounter the ancient Shiloh Indian Mounds, an 800-year-old settlement predating the Civil War.

Preview The Tour

  what makes palm springs so special.

Palm Springs is special for its unique desert oasis setting, with stunning mountain backdrops, warm weather, mid-century modern architecture, and a relaxed, resort-like atmosphere.

  What made Palm Springs famous?

Palm Springs gained fame in the mid-20th century when it became a glamorous escape for Hollywood celebrities, offering them privacy, luxury, and a desert retreat.

  Why do people go to Palm Springs?

People visit Palm Springs for its beautiful landscapes, outdoor activities, golfing, shopping, dining, spa resorts, and the chance to experience the nostalgia of the mid-century modern era.

  Why is Palm Springs a big deal?

Palm Springs is a big deal due to its historical significance, celebrity culture, architectural heritage, and its role as a premier vacation destination in Southern California.

  What is Palm Springs style?

Palm Springs style is often associated with mid-century modern design, characterized by clean lines, sleek furnishings, and a focus on blending indoor and outdoor living spaces.

  Is Palm Springs a nice city?

Yes, Palm Springs is considered a nice city known for its hospitality, stunning desert surroundings, and a wide range of leisure activities.

  Is it expensive in Palm Springs?

While Palm Springs offers a range of accommodations and dining options, it can be relatively expensive compared to some other destinations, especially during the peak tourist season.

  What is the best time to go to Palm Springs?

The best time to visit Palm Springs is typically in the fall, winter, or early spring when the weather is pleasant and not extremely hot. Avoiding the scorching summer months is recommended.

  How many days do you need to see Palm Springs?

A weekend or 2-3 days are often sufficient to explore the main attractions of Palm Springs, but you can easily spend more time enjoying the city’s offerings, especially if you want a more relaxed pace.

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palm springs architecture tours

Meet Palm Springs Architecture Tour Guide Trevor O’Donnell

In partnership with modernism week, architecture tour guide trevor o'donnell engages guests in a deep two-and-a-half-hour dialogue..

palm springs architecture tours

by Lisa Har | Nov 18, 2023 | Modernism

Trevor O’Donnell has just as much fun tapping into his architecture knowledge now as when he stepped in front of his first tour group 11 years ago. “I find new things to talk about. I meet homeowners who tell interesting backstories. So, the tour evolves,” he says. “The more I learn, the more I’m able to include.” O’Donnell’s PS Architecture Tours partnered with Modernism Week to establish Architecture Tours by Modernism Week, now in its third season promoting the history and design of Palm Springs.

IN THE BEGINNING: When I moved to Palm Springs in 2011, I began helping the late Robert Imber with his architectural tours after being seated next to him at a dinner party. Eventually on my own, I had more business than I knew what to do with and I approached Modernism Week about expanding together.Our Architecture Tours by Modernism Week offers an in-depth introduction to modernist homes and buildings, both well-known and obscure, late October through May.

THE COACH AWAITS: Our 22-seat mini coach accommodates individuals and small groups without needing to use microphones or headsets. It’s intimate enough that it’s kind of a traveling conversation, based on the interests of those on board.

SET THE NAV : Leaving from Albert Frey’s Tramway Gas Station, we visit Donald Wexler’s Steel Houses then wind through beautiful neighborhoods, stopping to consider dozens of outstanding works including E. Stewart Williams’ Frank Sinatra House.

tacquila palm springs

Palm Springs City Hall, 1952-57, by John Porter Clark, Robson Chambers, Albert Frey, E. Stewart Williams .

HOW FAR WE’VE COME: People hated midcentury modern architecture back in the ’80s. They thought it was tacky and dated and not terribly well-built.

TOUR TRADEMARK: I’m not afraid to go deep. I can get super geeky with historians and academics, but I can be just as excited about the colored doors of Vista Las Palmas and the swinging Dean Martin era.

WHAT IT’S NOT: A lot of people come with a George Jetson, kitschy 1950s idea of what they’re going to see. The reality is that people took modern architecture seriously here. It wasn’t meant to be faddish or a shallow enterprise. Those who came to Palm Springs in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s were sophisticated people who hired talented architects to do their thing. They may have had a traditional home elsewhere, but they were willing to embrace the modern style. There’s a real integrity that goes much, much deeper than that surface-level expectation often reinforced by social media and HGTV.

tacquila palm springs

An Alexander Company tract home, 1958, designed by Charles Du Bois.

PAST LIVES: I’ve been a marketing and publicity exec for live theatre in New York and L.A., but I’ve been an architecture buff my whole life.

ON THE GO: Wherever I am, I make a point of seeking out, learning about, and admiring architecture. So, I love my job. I live in a city that’s full of really great architecture while getting to meet people from all over the world and share my enthusiasm.

  • READ NEXT: How Modernism Week got started in Palm Springs: An oral history.

palm springs architecture tours

palm springs architecture tours

THE MODERN TOUR is the luxury architectural tour of Palm Springs.  We are the oldest architectural tour in Palm Springs.   The historical (including Hollywood) and geological context provide a perspective on the tours in which to view Palm Springs' astonishing collection of high-caliber MidCentury Modern architecture and design, and we will have a lot of fun doing it.

Michael Stern is the Author of the best-selling Rizzoli publication "Julius Shulman: Palm Springs, and the Director and Producer of the film "Julius Shulman: Desert Modern" which has aired on PBS.  He curated the exhibition "Julius Shulman: Palm Springs" which is the largest exhibition of Shulman's work that has ever been done, and the largest exhibition exploring Palm Springs' amazing collection of MidCentury Modern architecture and design.  He has lectured extensively, has appeared on "The Today Show" and has made numerous film and television appearances  discussing the joys of modernism and the Palm Springs modern style.  His new book, "Hollywood Modern" was recently released  and focuses on the relationship between celebrities and works of an extremely high architectural caliber, all done in the modern style.  He was close friends with several of the notable Palm Springs architects, including E. Stewart Williams, Donald Wexler, William Krisel, Hugh Kaptur...

palm springs architecture tours

palm springs architecture tours

Glass-covered house could break record sale price for this Palm Springs neighborhood

W ith its tropical plants, resort-style pool, walls of windows and outdoor tiki torches, the recently renovated home for sale at the corner of South Manzanita Avenue and Cactus Road in Palm Springs’ Deepwell Estates neighborhood has many of the trappings of high-end desert living. However, it's perhaps just as notable for what it doesn’t have anymore: a traditional front door.

Architect and developer Teddy Lee, who bought the house at 1195 South Manzanita Ave. in 2021, said he decided to nix the traditional door in favor of a design with several glass entries because he was adding a large wraparound patio and wanted to further blur the lines between indoor and outdoor space.

“I just felt like there should be no beginning or end with your experience in the house," Lee said. “I mean, it'd be kind of crazy to call it antiquated, but I do feel like a front door, and a foyer — it's just a little too formal for Palm Springs.”

But while the choice to have no front door might feel thoroughly contemporary, Lee says it actually is rooted in the values of the mid-century modern era that the home is a product of.

“Back when all of the mid-century modern was being built, it was sort of about community and blurring the lines between neighbors and welcoming people in and out,” he said. “So to me, once you obliterate the front door you kind of create a more welcoming space.”

That change also provides an early indication of the extent to which the four-bedroom, six-bathroom house has been reimagined by Lee. He said he wanted to modernize the home while maintaining its distinctive mid-century architecture.

Perhaps the most substantial change he made was to "flip the floor plan" to address some awkwardness in the old layout. Switching the location of the kitchen and two of the bedrooms allowed him to take better advantage of the sun in the design while making the house both more cohesive and functional, he said.

Designed by Palm Springs architect Howard Lapham (The Desert Star hotel is one of his most well-known buildings), the home was built in 1970. Lee said that when he bought the house, he observed bike tours that would pass by the house referring to it as "The Brady Brunch house."

Lee was initially puzzled until he looked closer and realized that the home's roof had what he calls a "Polynesian mid-century roof line" that resembled the roof from the family's house in the TV show. He said that when it came to landscaping the home, the choice was between traditional desert cactus or more lush plants and that the presence of that Polynesian roof pushed him toward the latter.

The addition of the tropical plants was also pivotal to transforming the front of the house, which had previously been the location of a large concrete motor court that Lee said was emblematic of the times, into what he calls an oasis that provided both privacy from the street and a better setting to enjoy the space.

The house is one of several projects Lee and his construction company, TED Construction , have undertaken in the Palm Springs area since coming to the city from San Francisco during the COVID-19 pandemic (he now goes between the city and Los Angeles). His other projects include planned bars in downtown Palm Springs, south Palm Springs and Coachella, and his firm also does general contract work on other projects.

The house was purchased for $1.35 million in 2021 , according to Riverside County property records. It is currently listed for $4.188 million, which the agents say would break the previous record sale price of $3.4 million for a home in the Deepwell Estates neighborhood, located on the northwest side of the intersection of Highway 111 and Sunrise Way.

James Gault, one of the real estate agents for the home, said Lee’s approach to design has been about helping to usher in a new era and energy in the city.

“Old Palm Springs would be embodied by a dirty martini and cigarettes. The new Palm Springs we are looking to usher in is hot yoga and hot spritzes,” Gault said.

Paul Albani-Burgio covers growth, development and business in the Coachella Valley. Follow him on Twitter at @albaniburgiop and email him at [email protected] .

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Glass-covered house could break record sale price for this Palm Springs neighborhood

The front exterior of the home at 1195 South Manzanita Way in Palm Springs.

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palm springs architecture tours

  • Los Angeles

Tour Buses Regularly Stop at This A-Lister-Owned Home. But They're Not There for Him

Leonardo dicaprio is the current owner of a mid-century marvel in palm springs. for $5,000 a night, you can roam around like you own the place..

From the outside it doesn’t look like much. Certainly not a place currently owned by one of the most famous actors in the world.

Palm trees crane skyward from behind a low brick wall; the lighting is almost otherworldly when we pull up just after sunset. This is my dinner venue for the night—a house, but not just any house—a desert modernism classic. Built in 1964 by famed architect Donald Wexler, the home was commissioned by the recording artist and nine-time Emmy winner Dinah Shore. And sometimes, when he’s in town, current owner Leonardo DiCaprio stays here.

Wexler—who also designed the Palm Springs Airport — is known for his steel post-and-beam designs. Here, an entryway framed by beams that mimic spider legs direct traffic to front doors, the entryway to a lush 1.3 acre property boasting 7,000 square feet of living space. The one-story ranch home includes six bedrooms and seven and a half bathrooms, but there’s also a pool house, and tennis courts. One time, Diana Ross performed on them.

Formally known as the Dinah Shore Palm Springs Estate, 432 Hermosa sits in the aptly-named Movie Colony neighborhood, which along with its adjacent Old Las Palmas neighborhood was once the refuge of stars like Cary Grant, Elvis, Sammy Davis Jr., and Marilyn Monroe, among many others. The home itself has been purchased and preserved by a string of celebrities, including Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, ( Hello Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles ) and screenwriter and producer David Lee ( The Jeffersons , Cheers , Wings , Frasier ).

And prior to DiCaprio purchasing the house in 2014 for $5.2 million, it was rarely seen by the public. Now it’s a truly rare vacation rental, and a travel-worthy destination unto itself.

432 hermosa palm springs promo shot

If you’re going to play pretend in a true mid-century home, this would be an excellent choice. Though Palm Springs has the largest concentration of preserved mid-century modern architecture in the world, with their flowy open concepts, flappy butterfly roofs , and massive windows bringing the surrounding San Jacinto range indoors, only a few are designed by architects we would consider significant today. Even fewer had notable owners, and out of those, there is only one other that will let you check in for the night and roam around like you own the place.

Walking into the house feels like stepping back in time: Floor to ceiling windows shed light on a sunken living room with low slung furniture, helmed by a roaring fireplace. A rounded cocktail bar sits near a baby grand piano with views of the outdoor pool. I immediately regret not opting for vintage wear. It’s the ideal setting to cosplay Mad Men -era coiffed nostalgia, a common occurrence when it comes to guests who want to curate an immersive throwback experience.

“It's fun to see the different outfits,” says Richard “Kip” Serafin, who manages the estate for photo shoots and events. “If they don’t bring clothes with them, some people go downtown to the vintage shop, which is great for business in Palm Springs.”

“If they don’t bring clothes with them, some people go downtown to the vintage shop, which is great for business in Palm Springs.”

Lacking the proper attire, I instead decide to pick out my own bedroom. Down a hallway (“Dinah Shore Avenue,” capped with Warhol-esque portraits of the actress), there’s one themed in blue, another in lime green, and another in red. The master bedroom is neutral, but its bathroom is sage and bigger than my apartment in Brooklyn. In the corner a deep Japanese soaking tub is set by a wall of glass, framing a garden and the desert mountains.

The Dinah Shore Estate can all be yours to stay in for about $5,000 nightly for up to 16 people. Or you can work with Serafin for an event or photo shoot. He’ll make sure all your permits are in order and property and city rules followed whether you want to crane some BMWs in or just set up some tables. “Sometimes people want to put a big table by the pool,” he says, “That’s wonderful in theory, but they don't think that when a person slides out in the chair, they're going to be too close to the edge and will fall into the pool. Some people just don't think.”

If you want to fill the pool with synchronized swimmers, he can help you do that, too. And if you want a DiCaprio lookalike, that can be arranged as well. “His name is Ben Cornish . He mingles, talks to people, and they ask him questions,” says Serafin. “He knows a lot about Leo’s film history and his life, but he looks so much like Leo.”

a man that looks like actor Leonardo DiCaprio poses with women in swimsuits with parasols

Today Palm Springs is synonymous with midcentury modern design , but it took some work to get there.

The first non-tribal settlement came in the 1880s, by those hoping the hot springs and crisp desert air would cure their tuberculosis. Hotels were built to heal those with respiratory ailments; disease put Palm Springs on the map. The celebrity draw was originally a product of the 1920s Hollywood studios’ “two hour rule,” which mandated that actors could be no further than a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, in case they were needed on set. The Coachella Valley was especially alluring because it was away from the prying eyes of the press.

In the decades that followed, in addition to glamorous names Palm Springs drew architects like Wexler, Williams, Albert Frey, and Richard Neutra, whose house for department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann was captured by Slim Aarons in Poolside Gossip , a symbol of modernism as famous as the house is today . The city thrived with culture, stardom, and fantastic hairdos. But in the early 1980s a recession took hold, and when the economy crashed it prompted an exodus downvalley. Storefronts were empty, with “for rent” signs in the windows. The city leaned into its reputation as a party destination; streets were overrun with spring breakers, culminating in a pivotal riot . But still, luckily, the architecture remained.

Vintage souvenir postcard published in 1956 from series depicting Hollywood movie star homes, mansions and grand Los Angeles estates, here a portrait of singer Dinah Shore and her expansive Palm Springs ranch house with swimming pool

At the time, the land was so inconsequential that it wasn’t even considered worth bulldozing for development. And so, like perfectly preserved ruins, the city remained a near fully intact shadow of what it was until 1990, when then-mayor Sonny Bono pledged to bring glamor back to the city, and launched the Palm Springs International Film Festival . The first year there were 17,000 attendees; today it attracts 135,000, over 11 days. By the late 1990s architectural preservation efforts had begun.

Some of those behind the scenes are a group of volunteer architecture and history enthusiasts who make up the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation , of which Serafin is a member. The nonprofit's mission is “to educate and promote public awareness of the importance of preserving the historical resources and architecture and other historic elements of the city of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley area.” But more importantly, they work to allow these functional pieces of art to be enjoyed by more than those that have the means to purchase them.

In 2001, the PSPF co-launched the wildly popular Modernism Week , which has evolved into 11 usually sold-out days of lectures, themed parties, and home tours. The preservation efforts have also brought Hollywood back to the desert: Don’t Worry Darling and Behind the Candelabra have used its setting for time travel; countless others have used it because the architecture is just so sleek (See: Ocean’s Eleven ).

a ranch-style home with many floor to ceiling windows

Serafin manages a portfolio of six houses, but he can help you secure events in many others, including the Frank Sinatra House. It may seem like a risk, opening these significant homes to the public. But Serafin says that thanks to the restrictions on who can rent the spaces (for example, no Coachella afterparties), so far there’s been no problem. “We wanted to bring tours and let people see the different homes and experience the architecture,” he says. Those who drop serious cash to rent out the spaces are usually fans of the architecture and thus would be appalled if anything happened to the structure under their watch. And besides, his events are mostly corporate; the rowdy ones you have to watch out for are the weddings and bachelorette parties.

The property doesn’t advertise who owns it, and they don’t need to; there’s enough interest in the house as is. “We get enough tour buses, private tours, architectural tours, and walking tours in the neighborhood,” says Serafin. “And then people that Google it on their own.” He says the tours do get distracting at times—especially for the people that reside in the neighborhood full-time. But it's also a nice reminder that tourists are into this stuff.

He will, however, station a security guard out front when they’re setting up for events. “People aren’t standing outside to disrupt, but most haven't been behind the gates and are just curious,” explains Serafin. “Even some of the neighbors have never been in the backyard. They just want to sneak a peek.”

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