Travel: Modernism Week takes Palm Springs back in time

At Modernism Week, coming up Feb. 16-26 in Palm Springs, visitors can check out mid-century American architecture such as this house by architect Albert Frey. Photo by Gregg Felsen

If shows like “Mad Men” have you experiencing a pang of nostalgia for mid-century American culture, the place to revel in the not-so-distant past is Palm Springs. It’s the location of the Seventh Annual Modernism Week, Feb. 16-26, America’s one and only event celebrating the culture, design and architecture of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Thanks to the preservation and restoration of famous homes and commercial buildings, a fine-tuned agenda of stimulating lectures by architects and designers and “Rat Pack”-style soirees with “kooky” cocktail parties, this retro-chic homage to times past lures modernism fans from around the world. It would put a smile on the faces of the stars who made it happen, from Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope to Dean Martin and Dinah Shore; here you will find streets named for all of them.

This vintage event escalates on Feb. 19th and 20th at the Palm Springs Convention Center, where more than 80 international decorative and fine arts dealers present major design movements of the 20th century, with exhibits of decorative arts, art posters and vintage jewelry. This montage of modernism unites all of the elements that defined the mid century.

And lest you think there is ample time to loll around swimming pools, consider what you might miss. From the first public tours of the legendary Rancho Mirage estate of the late philanthropists Walter and Lenore Annenberg to a classy mad mod cocktail party, Modernism Week drew 52,774 visitors to the desert in 2011, with 72 percent of those attendees between 46-65 years of age according to the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism.

A wise way to get into the groove is to buy a ticket ($25) for the Feb. 18 “Pools, Patios, and BBQ’s Retro Slide Show” at the Palm Spring Art Museum’s Annenberg Theatre. Within this year’s event is the 4th Annual Architecture + Design Film Series highlighted by a “film + lunch” with Donald Wexler, who is noted for his commercial and residential construction using steel. The event takes place Feb. 22 at the Hilton Palm Springs Hotel.

Making it easier to fly between Palm Springs and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport is Virgin America’s seasonal daily same-plane service that includes a stopover in San Francisco. Add to that the opening of the colorful Saguero Palms Hotel, a Joie de Vivre hotel, not far from the Palm Springs International Airport.

Architectural duo Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat, designers of the hotel, speak on Color + Modernism on Feb. 22nd, a power chat that will no doubt shed some light on how they went about renovating this hotel, which opens just in time for Modernism Week. Linking the desert’s inimitable architecture to the other “White City,” Tel Aviv, Israel, is a lecture by Volker M. Welter on Feb. 24th, “The White City: Tel Aviv and the Bauhaus.”

Between martinis and pool parties, visit the Design District on North Palm Canyon, where a spate of original shops from Wil Stiles, Trina Turk and Just Fabulous (where mid-century inspired books fill the shelves) along with art galleries such as Shag and Michael reverberate with mid-century vibes.

Check it out at or 760.333.9169.

Pam Price is the co author of “Day Trips from Los Angeles”