Albert Frey belonged to a generation that believed in a political role for modern architecture, that of social liberation through machine-made, egalitarian and affordable designs. His chosen materials were aluminum, glass, cables and, eventually, the very boulders and sands of the desert where he settled. In a career that spanned more than 65 years, Mr. Frey remained true to the principle that architecture should make the most of the least. His best known works he created in the Palm Springs of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. In 1939, Frey moved to Palm Springs. He became part of the movement championed by other California modernists including John Lautner to emphasize the central place of nature in modern architecture.
One of the most celebrated Midcentury Modern architects, Donald Wexler designed classic buildings in the spot that became ground zero for that era — Palm Springs Wexler, who was nicknamed “the Man of Steel” for the now-treasured homes and the rest of his work. He designed the main terminal of Palm Springs International Airport with its soaring view of the mountains, the Royal Hawaiian Estates development on a Polynesian theme, and Dinah Shore’s home, recently purchased by Leonardo DiCaprio, which could be the ultimate “Mad Men” house with its floor-to-ceiling glass walls, sunken bar and massive stone fireplace. Though his work was in demand, he thought of himself as a journeyman architect. But when midcentury design was widely rediscovered, he finally received renown and the homes he designed jumped in value.
E. Stewart Williams, an architect whose many works in Palm Springs included a home for Frank Sinatra, helped define what became known as the Desert Modern style. Williams designed many public buildings in Palm Springs, including Temple Isaiah, which won an award from the American Institute of Architecture in 1949. In the 1950’s and 60’s, he completed several commissions for local banks and designed the mountain station for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. In addition he was an extremely meticulous architect who had his hand in almost every aspect of his projects. He designed built-ins, light fixtures, mailboxes, and even light switches. Williams designed many public buildings in Palm Springs, including Temple Isaiah, which won an award from the American Institute of Architecture in 1949. In the 1950’s and 60’s, he completed several commissions for local banks and designed the mountain station for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
William F. Cody
Cody, an Ohio-born architect who graduated from USC in 1942 and began working in Palm Springs on the Desert Inn in 1945, was also seen as someone who went his own way. He didn’t take a purist’s perspective on design, and would take client’s invitations to design whatever they want, and go as far as he possibly can. Projects such as the curvaceous St Theresa’s Church, or Googie-esque Huddle’s Spring restaurant, show him breaking out of the straight lines that often defined midcentury modernism. And, at a time when the cadre of Palm Springs architects would help each other, passing on jobs or collaborating on projects, Cody rarely worked with others. His projects ranged from residential homes and condominiums, to commercial centers and industrial complexes, to city and community master planning.
Known for his residences, Lautner was also well-known for the commercial genre named for his design of Googie’s Coffee Shop in Los Angeles. Distinctive for its expansive glass walls, arresting form, and exuberant signage oriented to automobiles, Googie became a fixture in 1950s America but was regularly ridiculed by the architectural community. Lautner’s reputation suffered, despite that fact his designs were as good as ever. Following some lean years, he rose again in the 1960s with the Chemosphere House and poured-concrete houses such as the Elrod Residence Palm Springs.
William Krisel, AIA, is one of the most important figures in modern architecture since the 1950s. His influence has been far-reaching; he is one of the few architects to have succeeded in the challenge of bringing modernism to the general public. His designs have fundamentally re-defined how we live today.