Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Visit to Palm Springs, CA

It was a business trip, but of course I made a point to check out exactly where the best houses were. Palm Springs has a glamorous image - golf, movie stars, resort hotels, presidential visitors, etc. - but the glamour really depends on whom you go with and/or whom you're visiting. They say today that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Back in the '20s and '30s what happened in Palm Springs' glamorous - if dissolute and largely closeted - film colony stayed here too. Things probably haven't changed, judging from the number of "clothing optional" gay resorts. Who knew Palm Springs was a gay town? I didn't. The mayor, most of the city council members, and half the population are gay. That part of the place I liked; the look of the streetscape, however, was pretty ho-hum. Palm Springs isn't big - a little over 40,000 people - and the mountains and the desert and the palm trees are all sensational. Outside of the occasional vintage building, plus a former movie star district called Old Las Palmas, most of the local architecture is what is flatteringly described these days as "mid-century modern." The town in fact is in a lather about its modern buildings. There was even a "Modern Week" in progress when I was there. If you like cinder block walls, steel and corrugated metal details, lots of glass, undramatic (as opposed to Beaux Arts influenced) floor plans, and an absolute absence of decoration, you'll like it here. Happily, I did find a few cool old places.

The biggest challenge in seeing what's going on, big old house-wise, is the ubiquity of high walls and hedges. They seclude virtually everything residential - humble and exalted alike. This street in Old Las Palmas illustrates the problem.

The city is built at the edge of a pancake flat desert that terminates in a sheer wall of mountains. It's very dramatic, especially in combination with all the palm trees.

This house in Old Las Palmas is about as grand as it gets in the vintage category. I'm betting the gardens and the entrance behind that wall are quite beautiful.

Sometimes you can get an evocative peek of a place that is otherwise largely hidden.

I don't know what the rest of the house looks like, but I like the front door.

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