TRAVEL: Mid-century madness in Palm Springs

Trina Parks, seen here with Sean Connery in a scene in “Diamonds Are Forever,” was the first African American Bond Girl to star in a 007 film. This scene pictured was filmed on location at the Elrod House, pictured top, in Palm Springs, where Modernism Week held its Retro Martini Party this year. Parks, a Palm Springs resident, attended the event. Image courtesy of Trina Parks

If you’ve ever wondered what “King of Cool” Steve McQueen’s bachelor pad looks like or recall Thumper, the daunting nearly six-foot Bond Girl, leap from a rock in a space age pad to tangle with Sean Connery in “Diamonds are Forever” (circa 1971), you will be captivated by Palm Springs Modernism Week. This year’s homage to the mid-century modern era spanned more than 40 events, from Feb. 12-21, touching upon every conceivable memoir of what is known around the desert as “Modcom.”

The retro week kicked off with the 10th Annual Modernism Show Preview Reception at the Palm Springs Convention Center where a kaleidoscope of mid-century furniture, lighting fixtures, art, jewelry and frivolous fashions brought back marvelous memories. Sputnik, Bridges Over Tim, Mondo Cane, Route 66 West and Urban Burp were just a few of the designers drawing crowds. Someone in the crowd spotted an ultra comfy, fuzzy yellow egg chair by designer Arne Jacobson and went into rapture. And that was nothing compared to a Modcom fan spotting a rare vintage poster of a 1955 red and white Ford Fairlane convertible.

This nostalgic showcase set the stage for the week, where close-up views of still standing homes, reflecting mid-century style could be viewed on double-decker bus tours, or first-hand such as with the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation’s tour of Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms Estate. Adding a dimension were screenings of films such as the premiere of “William Krisel, Architect,” part of the Design Onscreen-The Initiative for Architecture and Design on Film for the Architecture and Design Film Series.

Thanks to a collaboration among the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, the National Trust for Preservation, the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism and the Palm Springs Modern Committee, the 5th Anniversary of Modernism Week illuminated the lifestyle of the computer-free, mid-century when rabbit ear antennas dominated television culture and technology was nothing much more complicated that an on-and-off switch.

The desert’s fascination with mid-century modern is symbolized best in one word, “Shag.” This artist has flair for capturing Palm Springs at mid-century, from the Palm Springs revolving tram to scenes of Alexander-designed homes with their “butterfly” roof lines. A dedicated Shag store opens on May 6 at 725 N. Palm Canyon Dr., near Trio Restaurant, where his fans can revel in art that defined the desert’s mid-century lifestyle.

Donald Wexler, a prominent architect known for his dramatic architectural skills, designed the Palm Springs International Airport, the Palm Springs Spa Bathhouse and seven Steel Houses in North Palm Springs, which were featured in a home tour during Modernism Week.

As a P.S. to modernism icons, Just Fabulous, a local bookstore, hosted three events featuring book signings and receptions, one debuting the landmark book, “Between Earth & Heaven, the Architecture of John Lautner,” by Frank Escher and Nicholas Olsberg.

In the midst of all this mid-century madness there was an authentic exhibit of Airstreams and Trailers at the Ace Hotel, with “interior guided tours.” Remember those streamlined moveable condos that dotted the highways way back when? Fans of the mid-century era flock to The Orbit In (yes, that is correct, just one “n”), considered by fans as the epitome of “the ultimate Palm Springs Modern experience.” It has furnishings and photos honoring the fifties theme in each guestroom.

One of the last parties, presented by the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, was the Retro Martini Party held at the Elrod House, a marvel of Lautner’s architectural genius.

Trina Parks, who portrayed the villainous super fit Thumper, was filmed at the Elrod House in the 1971 James Bond film, “Diamonds are Forever.” Thumper attended the party, adding an unexpected dimension.

The following afternoon, during a private tour, guide Matt Tapscott with Expoint Realty pointed out the “timeless” architecture of this mid-century modern marvel with its curved glass curtain walls revealing enthralling views of Mount San Jacinto, Mount San Gorgonio and the mountain ranges beyond.

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Listen to Pam Price on “The Jackie Olden Show,” K-NEWS AM 1270, in Palm Springs Saturdays at 1 p.m.