The Happy Wanderer: Go mid-century modern in Palm Springs


YOU KNOW you’re getting old when the years of your youth are deemed a “historic period.” But mid-century modern? misc 010I’d never heard of this style of architecture until my recent visit to Palm Springs. There they were — shimmering in the superheated air — perhaps the finest collection of post-World War II structures on the planet.

Palm Springs is considered the “Mecca of Modernism,” partly because of its Hollywood influence. In the glamour days of the movie industry, studio contracts kept stars close to home, so the posh desert town was their playground and palette.

Architects, eager to use modern materials like aluminum windows and linoleum flooring, mastered a minimalist style of ranch home that offered features such as carports and walls of windows to bring the outdoors in.

Today, mid-century modern is hip again and even public buildings such as architect Albert Frey’s Palm Springs City Hall (built in 1952 using angle-cut metal pipes) are getting new attention.

Furniture stores and thrift shops are joining the boom, trumpeting chartreuse sofas and orange shag rugs, moon vases,misc 009 TV trays and more.

How does a tourist get in on the fun? Book a room at one of the eclectic collection of mid-century modern boutique hotels in Palm Springs. Advertised under , these inns hark back to the days when Hollywood icons would tan

by the tantalizing waters of an azure pool, framed by a redrock mountain. Many inns are within walking distance of downtown and completely restored in yummy colors and mod motif.Top 10 ways to have fun in a mid-century modern:

1. Take the short drive to the Palm Springs Visitors Center (a classic example of ’60s futuristic design that was once a gas station). See the sites, then soar to new heights with an 8,500-foot climb up the San Jacinto Mountains in the Palm Springs Aerial tramway, an engineering wonder of its time. Feel the temperature drop (some 30 degrees) and your spirits rise as you soak up the panoramic view of the Coachella Valley below.

2. Grab a candy apple cruiser and take an easy, breezy ride around town. Stay at an inn that offers free bikes and save the rental charge (up to $45 a day).

3. Take a moonlight dip in a pool of pure liquid pleasure. Mid-century modern inns are known for their irresistible swimming pools (some stay open all night) and retro outdoor bars. Practice your water ballet under a blanket of stars and admire your shapely legs.

4. Take a horse and buggy tour of the mid-century moderns with Palm Springs Carriages. Ride in romantic comfort misc 014along the famed Palm Canyon strip and see movie stars’ homes and historic hideaways as you snuggle with your honey.

5. Pick up a lava lamp at the local thrift shop. Pop the Bubble Wrap as you window shop in the mid-century modern furniture stores on the strip.

6. Take a Segway or van tour of Palm Spring’s own Beverly Hills, the Las Palmas district. See Elvis’ honeymoon hideaway, the spaceship-style home Look magazine called “The House of Tomorrow” in a 1962 spread. Your guide is historian Robert Imber, who runs two tours a day and knows more than most folks about mid-century moderns.

7. Rent Frank Sinatra’s sleek, glass-walled home in Las Palmas, complete with a piano-shaped swimming pool. Have your pals over for cocktails, just like “The Chairman of the Board” used to do when he ran a Jack Daniels banner up his flagpole to herald happy hour.

8. Lunch at a Palm Springs institution, Melvyn’s Restaurant in the historic Ingleside Inn. Built in 1925, it’s not a mid-century modern, but a once popular retreat for the rich and famous (Clark Gable, Greta Garbo). The walls may not talk, but the old-timers do, and have they got some stories to tell.

9. Dine at dawn — poolside. Palm Springs’ mid-century modern inns are known for their yummy, home-cooked misc 017breakfasts. Pick a grapefruit from a nearby tree and squeeze your own juice. Add vodka (vitamin V) and toast the good life.

10. Sip a sake martini at sunset by the very same pool. Happy Hour comes compliments of the house and whets your appetite for a legendary Palm Springs dinner.

For more information on Palm Springs, see


2 thoughts on “The Happy Wanderer: Go mid-century modern in Palm Springs

  1. Great article. I am a past president of the Palm Springs chamber of commerce. Everything you wrote is correct.

    However, you should have mentioned the most popular Albert Frey designed desert modern hotel. It is The Terra Cotta Inn. It is a clothing optional resort where guests can go topless and nude sunbathing just like the movie stars of old. It is a very popular resort with one of the highest occupancy rates here in town. First timers feel very comfortable there.

    Also every February, Palm Springs has modernism week to celebrate our unique architecture. Here is a link to this fun event and convention:

    You can also go to to find places to stay in Palm Springs.

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