Famous Palm Springs architects:
Los Angeles architect Welton Becket (1902 – 1969) was a prominent Southern California architect known primarily for a body of commercial work in partnership with Walter Wurdeman that eventually included the Pan Pacific Auditorium, the Prudential Building, Bullock’s Pasadena, Bullock’s Palm Springs, the Capitol Records building and, later, the Los Angeles’ Music Center and the Theme Building at LAX (in association with William Pereira, Charles Luckman, and Paul R. Williams). Earlier in Becket’s career, however, he was recognized as a residential architect who designed large homes for wealthy clients. After World War II, Becket designed two other desert homes, one for his mother in Palm Springs, and one for President Eisenhower at the Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells.
William F. Cody
William Cody (1916 –1978) was born in Dayton, Ohio and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Cody attended architecture school at the University of Southern California in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and while doing so was also working for architect Cliff May, gaining experience in the adaptation of ranch and hacienda style houses to modern floor plans and construction techniques. Suffering from asthma, and believing that the Palm Springs area offered opportunity and prominent clients, Cody moved to Palm Springs in 1944-45 and set up practice. One of his first projects, the Del Marcos Hotel of 1946, won an AIA “creditable mention” award as an example of new resort hotel architecture for its “ingenious plan, which appears complicated but is actually orderly and thoughtful.” Author and critic Alan Hess writes, “Greater thinness and more striking elegance became the single-minded focus of his ongoing design.” Despite a reputation for carousing, Cody was exceptionally focused on the details of his designs and pushing the boundaries of his materials. His well-known and innovative early buildings, along with friendships with influential members of the Thunderbird, Tamarisk, and Eldorado Country Clubs, resulted in commissions to design the clubhouses of all three locations. In addition, Cody designed a large number of residences in the country club areas, many along the fairways of the new resort concept of golf course living, a concept that Cody himself helped devise. Author Adele Cygelman writes, “Joints and door frames seemingly disappeared into walls. He merged living rooms into terraces and gardens. Roofs jutted out twelve feet to shield the walls of glass. Pattern and texture came from tile floors, carved wood panels, and concrete-block screens with geometric motifs, all of which were meticulously designed by Cody to match each other precisely at the seams and angles where the planes met.” Like other Coachella Valley architects, Cody designed churches, gas stations, motels, restaurants, offices, a mobile home park, shopping centers, even a carwash. “Yet a distinct character can be seen in all of them,” says Hess. “It is a restless energy that brings a liveliness to his plans, elevations and details. The radical thinness of Cody roofs or the daring reach of a cantilever are clearly the result of a wrestling match between the architect and the materials and the laws of physics; that energy and striving remains in the building.” Hess concludes, “The fact that Cody could take an established vocabulary and style and reinterpret it so vividly ranks him among the best of mid-century California designers.”
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Detroit born Hugh Kaptur studied architectural engineering at the Lawrence Institute of Technology. During his service with the Marines in Southern California at Camp Pendleton, he met his first wife and designed a real estate office for their family, his first built project. In 1954, Kaptur returned with his family to Detroit, working in GM’s styling division.
During a trip to Palm Springs in 1956, Kaptur elected to stay and has remained ever since. In his early years in Palm Springs, he apprenticed in the firm of Wexler & Harrison. Kaptur’s first own Palm Springs project was the Impala Lodge, now the Triangle Inn, in 1957-58. Other projects followed soon including the William Burgess Residence, the Pete Seva Residence and the Robert Leaver Residence (now demolished) all perched above Palisades Road on a rocky ledge with sweeping panoramic views of the valley floor.
Partnering briefly with architect Robert Ricciardi in 1961, the firm completed Palm Springs Fire Station #3 and the Palm Springs Golf Course Clubhouse. From 1965-1975 in partnership with Larry Lapham the firm designed lavish homes in the exclusive Thunderbird and Eldorado Country Clubs; other projects included the Tahquitz Plaza / Anderson Travel buildings (scheduled for demolition), and Fire Station #4. Also during this period, Kaptur remodeled the Casa Blanca Hotel into its current iteration as the Musicland Hotel. He is probably best known for two Southridge houses, one for actor Steve McQueen (1968), the other for William Holden (1977).
From 1982-1992, in partnership with James Cioffi, the firm completed several residential and commercial projects in Palm Springs including the Villa Caballeros Condominiums and the Caballeros Plaza / Unified School District offices on Tahquitz Canyon Way. Today, Kaptur continues to work on numerous projects. In total, his prolific portfolio includes more than 200 residences and 40-plus commercial projects in the Palm Springs area.
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Conrad Buff III and Donal C. Hensman
Conrad Buff III was a native Californian and graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture. There he met Donald C. Hensman, originally from Omaha, Nebraska, who taught design studios at USC before devoting himself entirely to architecture in 1962. Together with partner Calvin Straub, the firm of Buff, Straub, and Hensman “catered to a wealthy clientele drawn from the world of film and entertainment,” according to author Pierluigi Serraino in his 2000 book “Modernism Rediscovered”. The firm won 30 American Institute of Design awards and dozens of other prizes, particularly for their residential work. Straub left the firm in 1961. The 1968 Hayden Residence, within the grounds of the Tamarisk Country Club, is one of three known residences designed by Buff and Hensman in Rancho Mirage, and the only house not remodeled beyond significance.
Pierluigi Serraino and Julius Shulman, “Modernism Rediscovered”, Cologne, Germany, Taschen, 2000.
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A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons
Archibald Quincy Jones FAIA grew up in Southern California, receiving his degree in architecture from the University of Washington in 1936. From 1950-1969, he formed a partnership with Frederick E. Emmons. Jones’ major projects include Case Study House #24 and the innovative Modern tract houses designed for developer Joseph L. Eichler in northern and southern California. A recipient of numerous awards, the firm received the prestigious Firm of the Year Award of the American Institute of Architects in 1969. Jones taught at the University of Southern California for many years and served as the Dean of the School of Fine Arts. Author Cory Buckner in her biography, A. Quincy Jones, says “Jones raised the level of the tract house in California from the simple stucco box to a structure of beauty and logic surrounded by gardens and integrated into the landscape. He introduced new materials and also a new way of living within the built environment, and his work bridged the gap between custom-built and developer-built homes. The exquisite detailing and siting of Jones’s houses, churches, civic and university buildings make them quintessential embodiments of mid-century American architecture.” In the desert, Jones teamed with Paul R. Williams in the acclaimed remodel of the Town and Country restaurant in Palm Springs in 1948. In 1963, Jones and Emmons collaborated with interior designers William Haines and Ted Graber in designing Sunnylands for Ambassador and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg. Author Adele Cygelman in “Palm Springs Modern” states, “Every element of the structure, including the billowing tentlike ceiling has a firm but silent aspect, animated by the presence of its inhabitants.”
Adele Cygelman, “Palm Springs Modern”, New York, Rizzoli International Publications, 1999. pp. 180-189.
Cory Bruckner, A. Quincy Jones, New York, Phaidon Press, 2002.
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Kellogg attended the University at San Diego State, University of Colorado, University of Southern California, and the University of California at Berkeley. He received an architect’s license in California in 1964 and a building contractor’s license in 1966, a national license in 1979, and a global (international) license in 1998. Kellogg’s motto is, “the more unusual the site, the better the Architecture.” Kellogg’s diversified experience specializes in composing a totally unified concept. He has a rather unorthodox philosophy regarding architecture and the profession. “Although the ‘architectural school’ taught basic engineering, it also inadvertently taught me what not to do. Architecture cannot be taught. Beauty comes from within. I learned early that license does not make Architecture. Competitions are, for the most part, political. The technology of any time is only a tool. The AIA is composed of those, with and without license, who primarily are in the business of promoting themselves rather than Architecture. And a committee will never be composed of anything more than another level of mediocrity.”
Kellogg believes “Organic Architecture is the Mother of the Arts. Beauty is the sustainable essence of life. Nature is not sentimental. Both beauty and nature are the practical aspects of our compassion for survival.”
In 1954 at age 40, Howard Lapham arrived in the Coachella Valley from Stamford Connecticut. Although he was a registered designer, Lapham intended on becoming a builder in his new desert home. Within a year, however, he was designing residences for wealthy and influential members of the Thunderbird Country Club along the Club’s fairways and up the slopes of what became known as Thunderbird Heights. A number of Lapham’s buildings appeared in “Architectural Digest”, including the Hyatt von Dehn Residence (1960, Thunderbird Heights), the Kiewit Residence (1960, Thunderbird Country Club), the Clarke Swanson Residence (1961, Thunderbird Country Club), the Morrow Residence (1961, Silver Spur Ranch, Palm Desert), and the 1961 remodel of the Thunderbird Country Club clubhouse. He remodeled the famous Chi Chi nightclub in 1959, giving it an ultra-modern new façade. Lapham also designed Lord Fletcher’s English Pub in 1966 on what became known as ‘restaurant row’ on Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. One of Lapham’s largest residential projects was the Mayan-themed Cook House, known as Ichpa Mayapan, built atop Thunderbird Heights in 1970. Lapham also drew the initial plans for the Eisenhower Medical Center, although Edward D. Stone obtained the commission. Lapham officially retired in the 1980s, although he continues to maintain an office in Palm Springs.
Interview with Howard Lapham, October 4, 2002.
Kiewit Residence, Architectural Digest, Volume XX, Number 3, Fall 1963.
Swanson Residence, Architectural Digest, Volume XIX, Number 3, Fall 1962. pp. 49-54.
Morrow Residence, Architectural Digest, Volume XVIII, Number 3, Fall 1961. pp. 142-145, 261.
Thunderbird Country Club clubhouse, Architectural Digest, Volume XVIII, Number 3, Fall 1961. pp. 165-167.
Von Dehn Residence, Architectural Digest, Volume XVII, Number 3, Fall 1960.
Hugh Best, “Thunderbird Country Club”, 1988.
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Dan Palmer and William Krisel
Partners Dan Palmer and William Krisel, University of Southern California graduates of the School of Architecture, designed some of the first tract homes in the Coachella Valley. Starting in 1956, Palmer and Krisel became associated with developers George and Robert Alexander. Their first tract of 39 homes was built in the Twin Palms section of Palm Springs, south of Highway 111. Says author and critic Alan Hess, “Krisel used post-and-beam construction methods as he oversaw the Palm Springs projects. Butterfly roofs, natural stone walls, patterned concrete block, clerestory windows, carports – these designs showed that Modern could be a successful commodity in the housing market.” Because of air-conditioning, a standard feature of each tract, “Alexander homes helped to usher in the era of year-round desert living,” says Hess. Although the floor plans were essentially identical, the 1600 square foot houses were available in a range of rooflines and facades, which gave each neighborhood a varied street appearance. Other desert projects included the residential subdivisions of Vista Las Palmas, Racquet Club Estates, Sunrise Park, Kings Point at Canyon Country Club, and Sandpiper in Palm Desert. In Rancho Mirage, for developers Maus and Holstein, Palmer and Krisel used their Twin Palms floor plan, slightly enlarged, and three roof configurations in the construction of sixteen houses on adjacent cul-de-sacs. Hess concludes, the Palmer and Krisel tracts “display the hopefulness and easy lifestyle of Modernism in the 1950s as it spread to a general audience.”
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William Pereira was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1909. He is known for his corporate, industrial, and institutional architecture, such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Master Plan of the University of California at Irvine, and the Transamerican Pyramid office building in San Francisco. Pereira designed the impressive Firestone offices in Los Angeles in the same year, 1958, as Firestone’s Thunderbird house, both in the International Style. Pereira was in partnership with Charles Luckman, former president of the Lever Brothers Company, New York, from 1950 – 1958. Their work was frequently published in the professional journals, especially Arts and Architecture by John Entenza. Until 1959, Pereira held a teaching position at the University of Southern California School of Architecture, Los Angeles. In 1958, Charles Luckman left the practice leaving Pereira as the sole principal of the firm. Pereira died in 1985.
Stan Alan Sackley (1937-2001) was the son of Robert Irving Sackley (1906-1993) and Rose (Gould) Sackley who were New Yorkers of Polish descent. Little is known of his background, but the family relocated to California where he graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture from USC in1961. It has been said that he studied at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, but preliminary research has failed to substantiate any connection with Wright. Although Sackley was never licensed in California, one source indicates that he, at least for a time, maintained a partnership called Sackley & Light. Fairly well-to-do, he maintained homes in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs. He appears to have been married three times and divorced twice. His third wife Carol Sackley is pictured on the cover of “Palm Springs Life” in July 1965. He was an avid classic car collector, owning Jaguars, a 1979 Ferrari 308 GTS and a 1937 Chrysler Coupe, which was sold at auction at Christie’s in August 2001. Upon his death, a scholarship fund was created to memorialize his parents, the purpose of which was to assist financially needy USC architecture students.
An early project was a home for James Hollowell which was featured as a “Playboy Pad” in the April 1966 Playboy Magazine. In Palm Springs he is best known for a series of homes he created in “the Canyons” neighborhood near the south end of town. Sackley’s best home, in my view, is located at 2550 Pequeno Circle (adjacent to Krisel’s pod house at 2587 S Pequeno Circle) and is a modernist masterpiece. Sackley bought numerous lots in the area along Caliente Drive and built a group of speculative homes. All are large, modernist, and flat roofed. A common characteristic is the unusual placement of the garage door perpendicular to the street; this provides a parking court in front of the homes.
Edward Durrell Stone
Edward Durrell Stone was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 1902. Stone became primarily associated with an architectural style known as New Formalism, which evolved from the International Style of Modern architecture to incorporate sumptuous materials and decorative details. New Formalism had its roots in classicism where monumental buildings in isolation were highly admired. Stone’s formalism developed during his Beaux-Arts education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his apprenticeship in the New York office of Schultze and Weaver.
Stone arranged his buildings as large multi-functional central spaces ringed by smaller enclosed rooms of more specific purpose. The Eisenhower Medical Center exemplifies this in the design of the central lobby which is a large rectangular atrium space rising three stories to the flat clerestory ceiling. Rooms and corridors radiate from the center space.
Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison
Wexler studied architecture at the University of Minnesota. On a visit to California in 1950, Wexler accepted a job working for one of his design heroes, Richard Neutra, at the firm of Neutra and Alexander. In 1952, learning of Cody’s project at the Tamarisk Country Club, Wexler took a winter position in Cody’s office where he met Richard Harrison. Not long afterward, the two young architects left to open their own practice in Palm Springs. Over the years, the office would design schools, offices and homes. Wexler is best known for designing the small tract of Modern steel houses for the Alexander Company in the north end of Palm Springs in the early 1960s. According to author and critic Alan Hess, the steel houses “moved beyond a custom expression of the modern machine to actually incorporate the assembly line processes and mass production that were the essence of modern technology.” Wexler and Harrison teamed with William Cody in the design of the remarkable 1958 Palm Springs Spa Hotel. Wexler and Harrison designed banks and offices and the dramatic open-air Palm Springs airport. Says Wexler, “We didn’t even think of it as Modern in terms of architecture for the desert,” it was a matter of designing “to live with the environment, a matter of balancing orientation and views.”
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Walter S. White
Walter S. White (1917-2002) was a respected mid-century modern architect, inventor, and industrial designer. He is known for his innovative construction and design approaches in the creation of space and light with steel, glass and concrete. His work was driven by three major concerns: 1) inexpensive, even do-it-yourself architecture; 2) innovation in construction and materials; and 3) concern for nature and sustainability.
White was an innovator. Fearless in his experimentation, he held patents for innovative construction methods. Some of these methods and patents were about sustainability, which sets him apart from other designers of the day and way ahead of his time. With concern for the local landscape and the earth’s environment, he designed buildings that took advantage of their natural settings while caring for the land. (read more here)
E. Stewart Williams
Emerson Stewart Williams came to Palm Springs in 1946 to work with his father Harry and brother Roger in their architectural office. Stewart had studied architecture at Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, taught for a few years at Columbia University, and then worked for designer Raymond Loewy prior to arriving in the desert. Stewart Williams was greatly influenced by the Scandinavian Modernists Alvar Aalto and E.G. Asplund, particularly their use of wood and other natural materials in the creation of a ‘warmer’ Modernism. Williams’ first Palm Springs commission was for the 1947 Frank Sinatra residence, a modern building of glass, natural stone, redwood siding, and an upswept roof that, according to author and critic Alan Hess, “set a tone for postwar glamour as Hollywood stars continued to move to Palm Springs – to large homes, often on country clubs, favoring a sleek but warm Modernism rather than cool minimalism.” Stewart Williams’ own home in Palm Springs, featured in Adele Cygelman’s 1999 “Palm Springs Modern”, was built in 1956. Says Williams, “The house is essentially a roof over the garden so the desert can flow through. It was designed to be a shelter in a very hard climate.” Williams’ career was long and varied including custom homes, offices, banks, civic buildings, Palm Springs’ upper tramway station, and many schools throughout the Coachella Valley and high desert. Of his later work, Williams is most proud of his 1968—1970 design for the Desert Museum, a concrete building lifted above the street, surrounded by a sunken sculpture garden, and sheathed in volcanic cinder. In Rancho Mirage, Williams designed four houses in the Thunderbird Country Club: the Kiner Residence (1951), Bligh Residence (1952), Christie Residence (1955), and Scott Residence (1957). The Roderick W. Kenaston Residence just outside of Thunderbird was built in 1956.
Adele Cygelman, “Palm Springs Modern”, New York, Rizzoli International Publications, 1999. pp. 94-99.
Paul Williams FAIA was one of the most prolific architects designing custom residences for many Hollywood celebrities, particularly in the Los Angeles area, during the 1940s and 1950s. He worked in a variety of styles, but was primarily associated with the Hollywood Regency style, a combination of French Eclectic, Colonial Revival, and Neoclassical design elements blended with Modern materials and floor plans. The Ball-Arnaz house, however, was primarily Ranch Modern in its design. Instead, Williams went with an open floor plan and limited decoration. A massive, curving natural rock wall in the living room was the most notable interior feature. In the Palm Springs area, Williams collaborated with architect A. Quincy Jones in the enlargement and remodeling of both the Tennis Club and the Town and Country Restaurant. He also was the interior designer of the Milton J. Kreiss drug store on Palm Canyon Drive. The Ball-Arnaz Residence is the only known house Williams designed in the Coachella Valley.
Garrett Van Pelt and George Lind
Garrett Van Pelt, Jr. FAIA and George Lind were partners in their Pasadena-based architectural firm from 1928 until 1941. During this period they designed numerous buildings in Los Angeles County, but also had a satellite office in Palm Springs managed by John Porter Clark. Clark had worked in Van Pelt and Lind’s Pasadena office prior to settling in Palm Springs. Swiss architect and Le Corbusier disciple Albert Frey had met Clark while completing his first building in Palm Springs in 1934 and joined him in the Van Pelt and Lind office. According to author Joseph Rosa, “All the work that Clark and Frey did together, from 1935 to 1937, was under the firm name of Van Pelt and Lind Architects, since neither Clark nor Frey was licensed at the time.” Based upon a review of Clark’s and Frey’s designs and preferred architectural styles from the 1930s, it seems probable that the residences depicted in advertisements for homes in the Magnesia Falls area of Rancho Mirage, and credited as the work of Van Pelt and Lind, were actually designed by John Porter Clark.
Joseph Rosa, Albert Frey, Architect. New York, Rizzoli International Publications, 1989. p. 36.
California Arts and Architecture, February 1937, advertisement.
Pasadena Star News, February 27, 1937, advertisement. p. 10.
Pasadena City Hall, Planning Department, Historical Resources Room. Van Pelt and Lind file.