See Palm Springs’ Midcentury Modern icons on a driving tour

The Four Percent


It’s a grand time to visit the Palm Springs area, when temperatures are mild and a cloudless blue sky contrasts with the towering mountain ranges nearby.

The region also is the Midcentury Modern capital of the U.S., with numerous homes and businesses reflecting the sleek lines of this retro architectural style. Local modernism fans schedule events here each year, showcasing the region’s top midcentury architecture and designs.

The nonprofit organization Modernism Week offers 12 home and garden tours and eight special events through April 18, including a vintage car show, dinners, a fashion show and entertainment events.

You can channel your inner Modernist at one of those events, or take a drive with us on
our do-it-yourself architectural tour, which hits some of the highlights.

We’ve skipped famous homes behind high walls; our 10-stop itinerary includes only homes and buildings easily seen from your vehicle.

Begin your tour on California 111. You can access it from Interstate 10 if you’re approaching from the Los Angeles area. We won’t get too far from Highway 111B at any point on our tour, although it’s called North Palm Canyon, East Palm Canyon and South Palm Canyon in different parts of the city.

1. Palm Springs Visitors Center

Looking for things to see and do? You’ll find ideas on the way into town at the soaring Palm Springs Visitors Center (2901 N. Palm Canyon Drive), formerly the Tramway Gas Station. Yes, it seems weird to start an architectural tour at an old Esso service station, but it’s the gateway to Palm Springs and is outta sight, as they would have said in the ’60s. It’s also a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1965 by architects Albert Frey and Robson Chambers, its huge wing-shaped roof dips in the middle and rises on either side to form a pair of verandas that offer shade from the desert sun. Frey, considered the founder of the Palm Springs Modern movement, worked in Paris for architects Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret before moving to the U.S. When you’re done here, jump back on Highway 111B (North Palm Canyon Drive) and head toward town. Turn right on Hermosa Place.

2. Former Dinah Shore estate

A low-slung Modern home surrounded by palm trees

The former Dinah Shore estate, designed by Donald Wexler, can be booked for overnight stays.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

If you’re planning an over-the-top party, you can rent singer Dinah Shore’s over-the-top estate (432 W. Hermosa Place), now known as actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s estate, for $3,750 per night. Expensive, but it has six bedrooms, 7½ baths, a tennis court and a guesthouse that overlooks the pool. Designed by architect Donald Wexler in 1964, the Midcentury Modern masterpiece has floor-to-ceiling windows, a sunken living room and is set on 1.3 landscaped acres. The home, which DiCaprio occasionally uses himself, is in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood, one of Palm Springs’ most popular areas. There are several other homes nearby you’ll want to see; it’s probably easiest to set your GPS.

3. Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway

About three blocks away, you’ll find Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway (1350 Ladera Circle), where Presley and wife Priscilla honeymooned and lived in 1966 and 1967. Also called the House of Tomorrow, the home was considered ahead of its time because of innovations such as vacuum ports for cleaning and wall-mounted radios. It was built by prolific Palm Springs developer Robert Alexander for his family and is three stories, designed with four concentric circles. None of its rooms is square. You can’t miss it — there’s a life-size cardboard Elvis in the front window.

4. Kaufmann Desert House

Lucky you. This stunner is for sale — and for just $19.75 million. Designed by architect Richard Neutra, the Kaufmann Desert House (470 W. Vista Chino) is impressive, carefully restored and beautifully landscaped. Built in 1946, the home was commissioned by retail tycoon Edgar J. Kaufmann, who also commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, one of the most famous houses in the world. The Desert House, with five bedrooms and six bathrooms, is laid out like a pinwheel, with wings radiating from the central living and dining room. It has been for sale since last fall; if it sells at full price it would be the most expensive home sold here, easily eclipsing the sale of Bob and Dolores Hope’s estate in 2016 for $13 million.

5. Edris House

Our last home (1030 W. Cielo Drive) in this luxe neighborhood sits on a hill with breathtaking views of the nearby mountains and across Palm Springs into the Coachella Valley. Designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1954 for his friends William and Marjorie Edris, the three-bedroom, three-bath home is surrounded by boulders, palms and cactus. Williams is said to have designed it to look as if it grew out of the ground rather than falling from the sky. Indeed, one side of the house is set into a hillside. Other Williams designs can be found throughout Palm Springs, including the Twin Palms estate once owned by Frank Sinatra.

Now head back to North Palm Canyon Drive.

6. Eight4Nine Restaurant

Do you want to stop for lunch, dinner or at least a “Mad Men”-era Stinger, Rusty Nail or martini, the it-drink of midcentury imbibing? Eight4Nine, which makes itself easy to find by capitalizing on its address (849 N. Palm Canyon Drive) is in a renovated 1950s post office in the midst of the Uptown Design District, a treasure trove of shops and boutiques that specialize in Modernist and other vintage Palm Springs looks. Choose from retro dishes such as salmon niçoise salad ($22) or a smoked turkey Monte Cristo ($20). Who knows? You may even run into a star — Miley Cyrus was there last month. Remember to check out the nearby shops before moving on.

7. Park Imperial South

Let’s ramble south on Palm Canyon Drive and take a look at some other residential areas. If architectural excellence is important to you but you don’t care much about individuality, you’ll like Park Imperial South (1750-1844 S. Araby Drive, off East Palm Canyon Drive), 30 identical units designed in 1960 by architect Barry Berkus. This community is on a 3½-acre lot; each unit has a 1,426-square-foot, single-story floor plan — three bedrooms (or two bedrooms and a den) and two baths. The development is known for its iconic folded-plate roofs, poured terrazzo floors and use of concrete block.

8. The Saguaro

A hotel with a cantilevered roof and palm trees

The Saguaro hotel is awash in wildflower colors found in the Coachella Valley.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Palm Springs abounds with Midcentury Modern hotels that have orange lounge chairs, Sputnik light fixtures and a groovy vibe. One of the most colorful and quirky is the Saguaro (1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive), a renovated ’70s-era motel that has had several lives, including as a Holiday Inn. Saguaro is fun — not luxe or lavish — and a good place to stay and party by the pool. And it’s an excellent spot to shoot Insta-worthy photos: The 245-room hotel is painted a rainbow of wildflower colors — red, blue, purple, orange, yellow, etc. — found in the Coachella Valley. The bright colors are a stark contrast to the sharp whites and clean, straight lines of the building.

9. Canyon View Estates

To check out another cool development, drive through Canyon View Estates (East Canyon Vista Drive, off South Palm Canyon Drive). Architect William Krisel, a Midcentury Modern master, designed the community for developer Roy Fey in 1962. Each group of homes clusters around a common pool, spa and greenway with common elements such as carports, floor-to-ceiling windows and patterned white cinderblock. It’s fun to drive around the neighborhood; check out the cul-de-sacs at 400 Alto and 400 Azul circles. Each fall the Modernism Week organization holds a “Cul-de-Sac Experience” at Canyon View Estates, complete with vintage cars, go-go-dancers and other fun things straight out of 1964.

10. Indian Canyons

Our tour has taken us to a natural area that’s too beautiful to miss, so we’re going to depart from manmade structures in favor of a walk on the wilder side. The Palm Springs Indian Canyons (38515 S. Palm Canyon Drive), ancestral home to the Agua Caliente tribe, offer hiking trails, shady streams, rock art and striking desert scenery. Several hiking trails are available but if you don’t have much time or energy, visit Andreas Canyon, where a milelong walk will take you along a scenic streamside trail. You’ll see stately skirted palms and more than 150 species of plants. Admission: $9 adults, $7 seniors and $5 children.



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