Pat Rizzo and his Orchestra up the bounce and the brawl attic swells with men in awakening casuals and women with red lipstick and Mad Men hairdos. It’s the anniversary bright account at the Canyon Country Club, the big admission accident of Approach Springs Modernism Week, and the glitterati, archi-literati and anyone who brand to affair are there (dress code: alluring country club). Propped up adjoin the bar in a baseball cap and sneakers is 86-year-old Donald Wexler (1926-2015), one of the founding fathers of ‘desert modernism’ and artist of the courage of Approach Springs – its schools, hospitals, banks and airport – from the 1950s to the 1980s.
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Wexler is of a bearing that includes Albert Frey, E Stewart Williams and William Cody, who based themselves in the tiny arid ascendancy and angry its dust to diamonds. During Modernism Week, he takes on a god-like status. Abode owners accessible up their modernist gems to acquiesce the accessible a snoop, and Wexler puts in bedfellow appearances at talks, lectures and screenings. He’s admiring the accent that has assuredly begin him. ‘It’s great. I’m absorbed by the cardinal of bodies who are absorbed in my assignment and afraid that bodies see things in it.’
Designed by Krisel and congenital by Solterra, this exact replica of a butterfly roof abode from the 1950s was congenital in Approach Springs a few years ago with beat features. Photography: Christopher Griffith
He’s self-effacing, cautiously spoken, and says quietly: ‘I admiration what would accept happened if I had been alive in LA; whether I would accept been recognised. I anticipate the absorption has appear about because of the location, because of Approach Springs.’
It’s cloudburst with rain, and the buffet, which should accept agitated on to lawns harnessing a accomplishments of the snow-peaked San Jacinto Mountains, is laid out in a aphotic corner. A band forms to aces at cheese and pineapple sticks and sausage rolls (menu: ironic; non-glamorous). In this weather, the amplitude feels like a beat 1960s association centre. I ask Wexler whether his barrio alone absolutely assignment in the arid sunshine. ‘No, they absolutely assignment in the rain,’ he says. He hails from Minnesota, so he has lived the area of acclimate conditions, and knows that barrio charge to be adaptable.
Indeed, it was the mild Californian climate, accumulated with an appetite to accommodated his hero, Richard Neutra, that drew him west in 1950. During their meeting, Neutra offered him a two-year job alive on high-rise apartment in Chavez Ravine. Aback Cody, who had confused to Approach Springs to advance his health, approached him to assignment on the Tamarisk Country Club, it was a no-brainer. Aback then, the boondocks was a golf-and-glamour cover frequented by cine stars, media moguls and industrialists. ‘I absolutely enjoyed it here. I was distinct aback I came and we fabricated our own brawl – arena volleyball, blind by the pool. It was a artistic community, there was a lot of talent.’
Wexler’s Canyon Country Club, 1963. Photography: Christopher Griffith
Working for wild-man Cody was a tougher challenge. Cody drank heavily, partied adamantine and formed aberrant hours, generally in tights and a bandana in baking summer heat. A anarchic genius, he conjured up some of Approach Springs’ best admired gems, such as The Horizon Hotel and the Spa Bathhouse. ‘Cody was clumsily talented, but I didn’t see him much. Sometimes we would go canicule after seeing him. I absolutely admired Bill, but I couldn’t assignment for him.’
In 1952, Wexler set up his own close with Richard Harrison and started experimenting with failing animate to accomplish billet housing. Seven of his steel-framed prefabs still angle in Approach Springs, six of which accept been taken aback to their aboriginal form, and these becoming Wexler the acceptability as an innovator. Not that he saw it that way: ‘We were four firms actuality appetite to do as able-bodied as we could aural the limitations of the environment. We approved to assignment with the heat, the sun, acclimatization and materials. We didn’t anticipate we were accomplishing annihilation beat or avant-garde. We didn’t anticipate anyone cared.’
But affliction they did, and commissions from mayors and cine stars formed in. In 1961, he breach from Harrison and addled out alone: ‘I did about every blazon of architecture – schools, federal jobs, added houses than I can bethink – but my ambition was to break baby and accumulate busy.’ In his backward thirties, he took on the better claiming of his career: Approach Springs International Airport. ‘The abrupt was that it had to be adequate for visitors and a aperture to the community.’ He chuckles. ‘You would never apprehend that now.’ He larboard the aerial activity to Cody, John Lautner and decorator Arthur Elrod, but starry projects followed him, the best arresting of which was a 7,000 sq ft additional home for extra Dinah Shore. A glossy advance today retains the low-level active and high-octane allure of Wexler’s aboriginal design.
The Canyon Country Club is now the Indian Canyons Golf Resort clubhouse. Photography: Christopher Griffith
The celebrity advertising that wraps Approach Springs in its starry blind has affirmed Wexler a abode on the ‘Walk of Stars’ – a amplitude of broken-down plaques on the sidewalk of Approach Canyon Drive committed to association such as Bob Hope, Ginger Rogers, Liberace, Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor. Frey, who came to Approach Springs in 1941 and set the beginning brawl rolling, and E Stewart Williams, who body Frank Sinatra’s aboriginal abode actuality and the Approach Springs Art Museum, are additionally there. My driver, a affected abbot who calls himself Arid Richard and has chauffeured anybody from Diana Ross to the Ashanti King of Ghana, describes the sidewalk as a must-see. Who knows what the dapper, Swiss-born Frey would accept fabricated of it.
The abutting day, I canyon the sidewalk again, this time with artist William Krisel (1924-2017), another Palm Springs’ legend – admitting clashing Wexler, he never confused there but formed out of LA. He, too, has a brilliant in the sidewalk. We are en avenue to Twin Palms Estates, an affected amplitude of 85 anniversary homes he advised in the backward 1950s. We drive beneath a covered arch that leads to a nudist antecedents and is accepted locally as the ‘bridge of thighs’; we canyon pet boutiques affairs couture for bodies and active jewellery, and day-tripper shops touting wind angelus and bonanza stickers. ‘It’s gotten actual broken-down downtown,’ laments Corinne, Krisel’s wife of 58 years. Corinne sometimes airish for the backward columnist Julius Shulman and action at the acknowledgment of the photo of her in a swimsuit at a Twin Palms Estates home.
When Krisel aboriginal came to Approach Springs in 1955, he and his accomplice Dan Palmer were designing amplitude apartment about LA for builders Robert and George Alexander. They had aloof completed Corbin Palms, 287 abreast agronomical homes in the San Fernando Valley, aback Robert got sick. ‘He came to ameliorate in Approach Springs and saw its abeyant as a additional home destination for common Angelenos,’ says Krisel. In 1955, the Alexanders asked Krisel to architecture Ocotillo Lodge, a affluence cabin with pond pools, beauteous angle and a annex of the Windsor, one of LA’s finest restaurants. Wealthy weekenders were lulled into blockage and escorted to the adjacent Twin Palms Estates area they were encouraged to buy anniversary homes. It was a able business ploy. And it worked.
The Bank of America building, on El Paseo in Approach Desert, advised by Wexler. Photography: Christopher Griffith
We ability Twin Palms and cull up alfresco the Menrad house, congenital in 1957. There are two best cars in the barn and a advanced garden symmetrically buried with cacti. Chris Menrad, an ex-New York trader, greets us. He bought the low-slung abode 12 years ago and alleged on Krisel to admonish him on its renovation, and he has afresh purchased addition on the estate. ‘There’s not a day goes by after me accepting a alarm from addition absent to restore one of my houses,’ says Krisel. ‘Normally I say no, but Chris researched aggregate and I did the agriculture advanced and back’. It’s a building piece; everything, appropriate bottomward to the acrylic colours sourced on eBay, mimics the original. Krisel loves seeing it access aback into life. ‘Restoring my Palms Springs houses is a citizenry activity with the gay community,’ he says. ‘Many accomplish a active from it. I’m accountable to them for all this has done for my career in its final days. I’m 86, and their activity keeps me going.’
All the houses on the acreage are the aforementioned admeasurement (1,600 sq ft) and accept the aforementioned basal attic plan, admitting Krisel added twists to accomplish them different. ‘I assorted rooflines [his signature is the butterfly], colours and agriculture so cipher acquainted they were active in a cookie-cutter tract,’ he says, and anybody had a pool, air-conditioning, a barn and a landscaped garden including two complete approach trees. The amount tag? $6 per aboveboard foot. (Add a brace of zeros for today’s value.) Twin Palms was, and still is, absolutely seductive, and added estates followed. By the time he gave up his convenance in 1979, Krisel had created 2,500 post-and-beam houses in Approach Springs.
‘I can’t alike acquaint you the cardinal of Krisel houses that accept been broken bottomward and changed,’ says Michael Neu, an autogenous artist from LA who has afresh modernised a Krisel abode in the adjacent boondocks of Rancho Mirage. It is one of the few arid communities alike with cash; Harvey Weinstein, Bill Gates and Goldie Hawn accept homes there and 80 per cent of Rancho is gated. Krisel advised 14 homes in the non-gated part, but alike here, blast poles and lighting cables run underground so as not to arrest the views. Neu adds, ‘Palm Springs is the alone abode I apperceive area the developer gets added acceptance than the architect, so although Krisel advised hundreds of houses, they are additionally accepted as Alexander Homes. This is why it has taken so continued for Bill to get the acceptance he deserves.’ Krisel explains: ‘Back then, best bodies didn’t absolutely apperceive what architects were. We weren’t starchitects or “talkitects”. We were aloof professionals; we did our work, the developer took the credit.’
The Hope Aboveboard Professional Centre in Rancho Mirage, Approach Springs, advised by Wexler in 1985. Photography: Christopher Griffith
Like Wexler, Krisel is watching his bequest disentangle and abstraction it with enthusiasm. The day afore we meet, he had accustomed a sell-out address in Rancho Mirage, regaling an admirers of added than 300 bodies with anecdotes. ‘I went to Taliesin West for an account with Frank Lloyd Wright aback I was belief at the University of Southern California. I sat at his anxiety as he asked, “So why do you appetite to be an architect?” I replied that I capital to body houses for the masses. He said. “You’re crumbling your time, we don’t charge any added architects. I’m still alive”.’
Lloyd Wright visited Approach Springs in 1947 to ambit out a abode advised by Neutra for Edgar Kaufmann, a aggregate client. Added than a decade earlier, Lloyd Wright had congenital Fallingwater for Kaufmann. On seeing Neutra’s creation, he gave Kaufmann a behemothic cactus and told him he had fabricated the appropriate best of architect. Lloyd Wright died in 1959, aloof as Wexler and Krisel were hitting their strides. Had he fabricated it to Approach Springs then, he ability accept eaten his words. §
As originally featured in the May 2012 affair of Wallpaper* (W*152)
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