Palm Springs-A mecca of modernism

When your heart yearns to ruminate in pure as the driven snow architecture from the mid-century (for those born after1957, think Sputnik, lava lamps, pinball machines and Formica countertops), Palm Springs is the quintessential vortex. The desert’s 7th annual Modernism Week kicked off with a Walk of Fame Star dedication to architect E. Stewart Williams. That evening a preview gala of the Modernism Show at the city’s daunting new convention center, accentuated by soaring stone columns framing the stunning pink sunset, welcomed guests.

Inside, an exhibit of more than 80 designers of mid-century furnishings wowed beloved “mod” fans. Showcased were stainless steel light fixtures, curious but rare vintage fabrics not seen since the “I Love Lucy” era, and bulbous lamps in orange, chartreuse and lemon yellow. Jewelry, paintings, sequin evening wear and accessories of every description took everyone back a few generations.

Modernism Week is a journey in every sense.

A walking tour of downtown Palm Springs is a trip in itself with vintage mid-century structures creating a time warp. On the Public Art and Historic Site Map are the Bank of America Building (constructed in 1959 and reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s 1955 chapel at Ronchamp, France); the Plaza Theatre (constructed in 1940) now home of the Palm Springs Follies and the landmark Wellwood Murray Memorial Library (1941) at the corner of South Palm Canyon Drive at Tahquitz. They all resonate “mid-century” to the max.

At the M Modern Gallery (2500 N. Palm Canyon), original paintings by Shag stylize the image of palm trees and swimming pool culture.

This year’s blast to the past took place Feb. 16, with 10 events detailed on the poster-size program.

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A Retro Martini Party sponsored by Season in the Sun magazine (the desert’s social register) and Xellent Swiss Vodka, held at a private mid-century residence, and another cocktail reception at a private residence kept the weekend a moveable soirée.

More memories of travel were captured in a slide show presented at the Camelot Theatre featuring vintage postcards of the 1950s to 1970s. Charles Phoenix, author of the book “Americana the Beautiful: Mid-century Culture in Kodachrome,” brought the past to the present.

More memories surfaced when Frank Bogert, 97-year-old former Palm Springs mayor who is also an author and historian, was interviewed the day before at the tennis club by Peter Moruzzi, president of the Palm Springs Modern Committee. The official program, Palm Springs Modernism, is destined to be a collectors’ item with three photographs by Julius Shulman taken in the 1950s of the former Town & Country Restaurant (now in peril of being demolished) and profiles of preservationists concerned with maintaining the integrity of irreplaceable architecture gems.

The National Trust for Historic Presentation deemed Palm Springs as one of “A Dozen Distinctive Destinations” noted for its architecture, putting it in the same category as Williamsburg, Va. Richard Moe, president of the National Trust said, “It is remarkably intact and an authentic expression of its architectural heritage.” This living museum of architecture extends to a marvelous choice of hideaways and inns scattered around downtown ranging from the historic Casa Cody, Orbit In Oasis and the Calla Lilly Inn to the Movie Colony Hotel, Pepper Tree Inn and the Andalusian Court Villas.

Information:

www.smallhotelsofpalmsprings.com

www.palmspringsmodcom.org

Modernism Week: www.modernismweek.com

Shag: www.shag.com

Pamela Price the co author of Fun with the Family in Southern CA (www.globepequot.com)

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