Travel: A passion for the past as Modernism Week returns to Palm Springs

Modernism in Palm Springs

Retrieve your saddle shoes and bobby socks from the attic, haul out your hula hoop and paint your toenails pink! Yes, it is that time of year again in Palm Springs: Modernism Week from Feb. 14-24. Reviving the style of the 1950s and ’60s is more than a trip down memory lane in this desert oasis town. 

Launched in 2006, Palm Springs Modernism Week is an 11-day celebration of mid-century modern design, architecture and culture. This design aesthetic took advantage of the ample southwestern sun and hot desert climate with sleek, modern houses that incorporated the natural landscape into the design. The era attracted famed architects such as Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, John Lautner and E. Stewart Williams, who designed homes in Palm Springs using the desert as their muse. 

This year’s Modernism Week invites the public to more than 100 events such as home tours, films lectures, fashion shows and ritzy receptions at locations off the beaten path. You’ll find mid-century homes with such names as Ship of the Desert, the Twin Palms Frank Sinatra Estate and Vista Las Palmas Swiss Miss. Double-decker bus tours give visitors an idiosyncratic view of these legendary homes as well as commercial buildings. 

Of special interest is the premier of “Coast Modern,” an independent documentary film showcasing the pioneers of West Coast modernist architecture by directors Mike Bernard and Gavin Froome. It airs Feb. 22 at the Annenberg Theatre at the Palm Springs Art Museum. 

Looking to shop, or perhaps peruse some art? At some point visit the Uptown District on North Palm Canyon Drive, an amalgam of art galleries, cafes and consignment shops. Here you will find a clever showcase of designer statements known collectively as the retail marketplace Raymond Lawrence (830 N. Palm Canyon). Over a dozen designers showcase their latest creations here, from kitchen accessories edged in crystals to quirky prints by Nat Reed. The Michael Weems Gallery (384 N. Palm Canyon) is the go-to gallery for works of art repurposed from vintage auto parts sourced from mid-century cars and customized ceramic plates with a mid century message. Look for them in all shapes and sizes inspired by chairs, sofas, lamps, clocks and dining tables that could still be hiding your grandmother’s attic. 

Have you heard about the Eames Molded Lounge and Ottoman (1956), the George Nelson Marshmellow Sofa (1956) or the Sputnik/Atomic Burst Lamp? This blast-from-the-past gallery is what makes Palm Springs tick, and speaking of clocks there are a few of those, too. The Backstreet Art District has more to mull over at the Nicole Barosi Gallery, where Robert Cullison, a genius with black on white, captures the essence of mid-century with the flick of a pen. Next door, the I.M.A.G.E.S by Gideon Fine Art gallery exhibits 1950s-infused paintings by Snake Jagger and Carrie Graber through March 6. 

Ready for some 1950s comfort food? Check out the Atomic Dog, wedged among the quirky shops at La Plaza, the historic outdoor shopping center in the heart of downtown Palm Springs (116 La Plaza). Here you will find serious chili, with chili pies and dogs or just a plain bowl of chili, all made from 100 percent organic grass-fed beef. Save room for the silky chocolate pie covered neatly with fresh-whipped cream baked fresh daily from the owner’s grandmother’s recipe. Everything on the short menu is $5 or less. 

If you want to spend a night or two in the neighborhood, check out These are all independently owned hotels such as the Orbit Inn, Casa Cody Country Inn and the Del Marcos Desert Oasis, along with other vintage structures, some with roots in mid-century architecture ( or even before, in some cases). Last year, Modernism Week lured an estimated 35,000 mid-century fans to the desert. This year, last minute guests will find a new hospitality center inside the Hilton Hotel. One option is to order advance tickets to events by visiting 

It’s not too late to plan a trip, even if for one day. Consider the Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale that takes place Feb. 15-18 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Eighty national and international decorative and fine arts dealers will showcase mid- Century-influenced work, but the show also includes design movements from the early 1900s to the 1970s. Weekend tickets available at the door for $20. 

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Access for further desert coverage.