Norma’s at The Parker Palm Springs

With an annual 350 days of sunshine and 73 degree winter days, Palm Springs is the PERFECT destination for a long weekend getaway. The dining, shopping, culture, spas, and physical beauty of the landscape are absolutely incredible.  Begin with an al fresco brunch at Norma’s in The Parker Palm Springs. We learned a lot from the natives when we were there and it is best to do any touring early in the day before the desert heat sets in.

The Kaufmann House by Richard Neutra, 1946

Robert Imber, architectural buff and preservation advocate, treated us to a wonderful and educational  tour of Palm Springs.  What began as an agricultural community in the mid 1800s was wiped out by drought and floods.  In the mid 20th century, visitors began coming to the restorative and healing desert climate including many stars of the early Hollywood era. From the 1940s-1960s, the area experienced tremendous growth which attracted many of the era’s most talented architects to the area. “Desert Modernism” was born and thousands of innovative structures were built. The architecture was influenced by the early modernists such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. However, Palm Springs architects were creating their own original version of modernism. The structures were crafted from honest materials that integrated beautifully into the desert landscape.

With the economic crash of the 1970s, many fortunes were ruined and several modernist masterpieces fell into disrepair. A new wave of modernists came to the valley in the late 80s and 90s in in search of original modernist homes. This energy instigated a renewed interest in modernism and several homes were saved.

View from the Street

Seeing the iconic Kaufmann house was at the top of my bucket list.   In 1936, Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar Kauffman, who had also hired Frank Lloyd Wright to build “Fallingwater”, commissioned Richard Neutra to design his desert home much to the disappointment of Wright.  He had wanted a home that was more open and airy than what Wright was constructing at the time. Neutra had a vision ot build a transparent house within the desert landscape.  An expansive pool set perpendicular to the house balances out the architecture against the mountains.

Slim Aaron’s Iconic Image of The Kauffman House

The 3,800 square foot house was designed to be a beautiful object framed by the desert landscape.  It cost $30,000 at the time it was built.  In 2007, it was auctioned off as part of Christie’s Post War and Contemporary Art Sale for $15,000,000. Now known as one of the greatest masterpieces of modern architecture, the Kauffman house came to be a symbol of post war optimism and the American dream.

Am Alexander House

Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra, the father/son architects and builders George and Robert Alexander designed some of the first developments in Palm Springs. The houses had a distinct layout of a carport, breezeway, windows and wall that could be oriented in various ways where they were built.  The open floor plans, clean lines, and mass produced materials made them easy to build and now the original Alexander houses are highly collectible in the Palm desert.

The brightly colored doors found on several homes pop against the white surfaces, landscaping and brilliant blue skies.

Sculpted Lawn and Geometric Door
Indoor/ Outdoor Sculpture
Our fabulous guide Robert Imber

As the afternoon heat sets in, a stop at the Viceroy Palm Springs is essential. Designed by Kelly Wearstler, this refuge from the heat is like an oasis in the desert.  In her book Palm Springs Living, Dianne Dorran Saeks describes it as  “Refreshing iced lemonade on a blazing summer day.”

The Bar at the Viceroy
Custom Cocktails
Our Future Real Estate Agent
Poolside at the Viceroy

The Viceroy was originally built in 1929 as a series of bungalows and surrounding pools, lawns and shaded terraces. Known for its discretion and privacy, the Viceroy hosted many Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Ann Miller and Tyrone Power. Kelly Wearstler used 1930s and 40s Hollywood as inspiration for the decor of the hotel which is evident in the overall glamorous, dramatic, and exotic vibe of the hotel.

Citron Restaurant at the Viceroy

Next, be sure to check out The Palm Springs Art Museum. The museum was founded in 1938 specializing in Native American artifacts.  Today, it boasts one of the country’s best permanent collections including works by Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichetenstein, Donald Jedd, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, and Robert Rauschenburg. Some of my personal favorites are below…

Phenomena Wind Off Big Sur, 1970 by  Paul Jenkins
In front of Judy Chicago’s Rainbow Pickett, 1939
Ivy, 2002 by Teresita Fernandez
Acrylic cubes


Casualty in the Art Realm, 1979  by Robert Ameson,

After a long and fulfilling day of culture, a visit to The Purple Palm at the Colony Palms Hotel is the perfect finale. The Spanish Colonial Hotel was built and opened in 1936 by Al Wertheimer, who was a reputed mobster and member of the Purple Gang. The hotel served as a private club for Wertheimer and his gambling pals complete with a pool, secret underground speakeasy and brothel concealed by a staircase in the kitchen pantry. The hotel then fell into the hands of Robert Howard and his Oscar-nominated wife Andrea, who owned the champion thoroughbred Seabiscuit.Under their guidance, the supper club became a Palm Springs hot spot for the next 30 years. In 2007, the current owners Sheila and Don Cluff re-opened the hotel as The Colony Palms Hotel.  They enlisted celebrity interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard to renovate and redecorate the storied property.  It is now a 4 star boutique hotel spread over 3 acres house a world class restaurant, spa and accommodations.

Poolside at The Colony Palm Springs
The interior of The Purple Palm
From February 13-23, Palm Springs will be hosting their annual Modernism week celebrating and fostering the appreciation of mid-century architecture, design, fashion and culture. The week features over 100 special events including the Modernism show, home tours, films, lectures, parties, music and more. To learn more about the celebration and purchase tickets, click here.
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