Silver Linings in Palm Springs: Modernism Week proves the future is virtual

Silver Linings in Palm Springs: Modernism Week proves the future is virtual

By Gina Teichert
Photos Courtesy of Modernism Week

Modernism Week’s move to online programming means more access than ever before.

At yellowpop, we’re passionate about design. For us, and 150,000 industry pros, that usually means making our way to Palm Springs for Modernism Week this time of year. It’s part lecture series, part architecture tour, and pure Mid Century madness. And if you’re into neon and vintage signage as much as we are, a late night drive around the Coachella Valley is always an inspiration.
Of course, this year is a little different. So we caught up with Modernism Week’s director of public relations Bob Bogard to talk preservation, moving forward after the pandemic, and what happened to our flying cars.

Albernathy House - Jake Holt

Mid Century Architecture: Preserving the golden era of Palm Springs

“There are several things, personally, that I love about Palm Springs,” says Bob Bogard. “But primarily, it’s the fact that it is the only community that I’ve ever lived in in which the architecture of the city shapes your entire experience. And people are very conversant about architectural styles and specific architects,” he continues. “You know, I’ve never lived in a town where you had to sort of learn who was the architect behind every major building. Indeed, Palm Springs and the greater Coachella Valley boast a pretty impressive CV.

Dinah Shore House - Photo by Donald Wexler

It reads like a who’s who of Mid Century architecture, peppered with names like Donald Wexler, Albert Frey, Hugh Kaptur, and E Stewart Williams. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the big names weren’t only on the blueprints, however. Elvis, Marilyn, Sinatra, and more escaped to the desert oasis 100 miles east of Los Angeles.

“Palm Springs is unique in the sense that there was quite a lot of Mid Century architecture in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” says Bogard. “And then in the ‘70s and ‘80s and early ‘90s, the economy for Palm Springs kind of tanked and was stagnant,” he notes.

Sunnylands courtesy of Palm Springs Art Museum.


“So normally in another city, architecture built in the ‘50s and ‘60s would have gone through some kind of remodel in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But because the economy didn’t do so well here in Palm Springs, we accidentally preserved huge portions - I’m talking entire neighborhoods - of homes built in the 1960s,” says Bogard. “And then in the 90s, people realised what gems they were sitting on, and lovingly restored these buildings.”
There were a few Mid Century gems lost to the influx of Tuscan desert suburbia, however. The Maslon House, designed by Richard Neutra, was torn down to make way for the new style sweeping cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas. Its loss was a turning point for the Palm Springs design community to invest in and champion preservation.

Cul de sac tour - Photo by David A Lee

From Instagram darlings like the Abernathy and Edris residences, to stark desert landscapes punctuated by boulders, palms, and Joshua trees, the Coachella Valley is still packed with architectural icons. And thanks to forward thinking, vintage loving homeowners and community leaders, they’ll be around for the next generation to enjoy.

Virtual Home Tours and Lectures: The future of design industry events

Now in its 15th year, Modernism Week is shifting gears to accommodate social distancing and virtual programming. In a normal year, the nonprofit behind Modernism Week and many other community organizations would stage as many as 400 in person events. This year, they’ll hold a handful of small events locally, and host many more online.

“The only good thing that has come out of the pandemic not allowing us to offer our events as it normally is, is that it forced us to create online programming,” notes Bogard. “Which we’ve talked about, but hasn’t really been the focus of the organization.”

Edris House - Photo by Lance Gerber

In addition to virtual home tours, they’ll also be featuring a short speaker series called Mod with a Twist. As a presenter, Bogard will be touching on some of the quirky and interesting aspects of modernism. “So my topic is, Where is my flying car?” he says. “And I talk about how, in the 1960s, the future was on everybody’s mind and we just expected to have flying cars. So now we’re in the 21st century. Where is my flying car?”

While we may not have our flying cars just yet, he’s optimistic about the future of these architecturally important places and a new generation of design lovers to appreciate and preserve them. “Why are people now - let’s say young people in their 20s - interested in architecture and a lifestyle that was completed way before they were even born?” he asks. “What I think is, is that the simplicity and elegance of design of Mid Century architecture really appeals to people.”

“The reason for that, is that the 1960s reimagined what living would be like in a much more simplified type of way,” he continues. “And that resonated so much with people that it still resonates with people today in the 21st century.”

“There’s also a nostalgia for a simpler time when people dressed up, and they wore gloves and ties, and they had swanky cocktail parties. Surely, in the 1960s there was political unrest,” he says. But the elegance of ‘60s culture is something he and many seek to revisit through preserving the era’s design.

Seven Lakes Country Club Exteriors

“Why that still is important today is because people can relive it a bit through Modernism Week,” says Bogard. Having a cocktail in a home that was made for these kinds of parties may not be on the table this year. But, the move toward digital programming is certainly a silver lining.  

“Now we see that this allows us to tap into a worldwide market of people who can’t necessarily travel to Palm Springs at a specific time. But yet, we can offer the same quality of a Modernism Week experience that you’d have in person,” says Bogard, noting that the home tours are even richer with online commentary. “Now we can offer it online, virtually, to the entire world.”

Back to fear of empty walls