Palm Springs sightseeing

Aside from nosing around desert modernist houses, we also tried to fit in seeing everything else that Palm Springs had to offer from a mid century/sightseeing perspective (which, as it happens, was quite a lot).

Palm Springs City Hall (1952-1957)

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Palm Springs City Hall, main entrance

Palm Springs City Hall was a classic Albert Frey mid century design built between 1952 and 1957. Frey incorporated a distinctive portico overhang at the main entrance with a circular cut out (framing three tall palm trees which shoot up out of it) and used aluminium piping cut at right angles to create brise soleil, shielding the front of building from the intense morning and early afternoon sun. The facade and most of building reportedly looks much the same today as it did when it was completed in 1957. The interiors were comparatively dreary.

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Palm Springs City Hall – exterior details and dreary interior

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Palm Springs City Hall, main entrance

Sunnylands Estate (1966)

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Sunnylands Estate, exterior of main house

The mid century Sunnylands estate was developed in the early 1960s and was home to influential couple Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Located at Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope Drives, the property has been the vacation site of numerous celebrities and public officials including several US presidents. While the exterior and gardens were indisputably stunning, the interiors were an interesting, debatably attractive blend of mid century modern and premium American chintz. A separate blog entry dedicated to the estate will follow.

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Sunny lands Estate – gardens, visitors centre interior and main house interior

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Sunnylands Estate, exterior of Visitors Centre (2012)

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (1949-1963)

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Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Mountain Station (E. Stewart Williams) at summit

Probably Palm Springs’ most popular tourist attraction, this gondola ride treated us to a double-digit temperature drop, snow-covered mountains, some interesting mid-century architecture (the rotating cars and the angular stations at both ends were constructed between 1949 and 1963 and designed by renowned mid century architects Albert Frey and E. Stewart Williams) and a view of the entirety of the Coachella Valley when we reached the top.

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Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – summit, Peaks Restaurant inside Mountain Station and gondola

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Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, mountains and rear of Mountain Station 

Bank of America (1959)

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Bank of America, exterior

Located at the south end of Palm Canyon Drive, the Palm Springs branch of Bank of America was designed by Victor Gruen Associates and built in 1959. The architects were reportedly inspired by the shape of le Corbusier’s chapel in Ronchamp but seemingly decided to take the building in a more bold direction with the rounded edges and primary colour palette. I thought it looked like something out of The Flinstones i.e. just on the wrong side of cartoonish.

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Bank of America, exterior and interior of bank

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Bank of America, exterior

Tramway Gas Station (1963-1965)

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Tramway Gas Station exterior

Designed by Albert Frey and Robson C Chambers and built in 1963-65, this former gas station with its distinctive cantilevered wedge-shaped metal canopy was converted into the Palm Springs visitors centre in the 2000s after a long period of disrepair and a unsuccessful stint as an art and sculpture gallery. It is referred to as the Tramway Gas Station due to its location at foot of Tramway Road, the long road leading to the entrance for the Palm Springs aerial tramway.

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Tramway Gas Station – canopy and interior (visitors centre)

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Tramway Gas Station exterior

Saint Theresa Elementary Church (1969)

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Saint Theresa Elementary Church, exterior (image from the spaces.com)

St. Theresa elementary church was designed in 1969 by William Cody, one of the forerunners of modernist architecture in Palm Springs. The church featured a vast concrete wall, which curved upward like an inverted arch, surrounding the church and blocking wind, street noise and quite a lot of light – the church was cool and dark inside. This was reportedly international so that worshippers could forget the outside world and focus on the spiritual character.

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Saint Theresa Elementary Church – interior detail and exterior 

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Saint Theresa Elementary Church, interior

Shell Gas Station (1964)

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Shell Gas Station, exterior

Until recently a Shell Gas Station, this structure was designed by architect William F. Cody in 1964. This is the last of five architect-designed mid century gas stations in Palm Springs that still operates as a gas station.

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Shell Gas Station, detail of pumps and exterior 

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Shell Gas Station, exterior

Ace Hotel (1965/2009)

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Ace Hotel, Swim Club

Opened in 2009 on the site of a converted Howard Johnson motel built in 1965, the Ace Hotel had a slightly irritating modernist meets Americana ironic/hipsterish vibe. Everything seemed to have been designed for the explicit purpose of looking good on Instagram. The hotel was broken down into different buildings (that made up the original motel), most of them facing a central pool, the location for pool parties and DJ sets frequented by Coachella festival-going types.

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Ace Hotel, exterior

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Ace Hotel, view from upper stairway

The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five (1955)

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The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five, exterior

A collective of 14 rather expensive shops selling clothes and mid-century homewares in a very photogenic 1955 E. Stewart Williams-designed building with a pink facade in Uptown Palm Springs. It was recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop site (“We would trek from LA to Palm Springs for a visit to The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five alone!”) which gives a good idea of the kind of place it was.

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The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five – pink exterior and inside some of the shops

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The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five, inside some of the shops

Antique shopping at South Palm Canyon Drive

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Sunny Dunes Antique Mall

I found most of the shopping in Palm Canyon Drive, the main shopping street in Palm Springs, to be expensive and a bit pretentious (in the same vein as The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five – see above) so I was pleased to discover this cluster of antique, vintage, art, and thrift stores set along East Sunny Dunes Road and Industrial Place. My favourite stores were Sunny Dunes Antique Mall and the Antique Galleries of Palm Springs, both warehouse-like spaces containing labyrinthine mazes of rooms filled with vintage tat to buy. Prices weren’t exactly flea market level but were reasonable/affordable enough (the average price for a single item was about $25).

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Shopping inside Antique Galleries of Palm Springs

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Antique Galleries of Palm Springs, art studio/store

Other sights

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Unidentified mid century motel and trailer

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Coachella Valley Savings and Loan Building (now Chase Bank), 1960

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Coachella Valley Savings and Loan Building, 1956

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