Modernism Week defines Palm Springs

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Connie George

Seven years into the promotion of its mid-20th century style and culture, Palm Springs Modernism Week has officially put the city on the map as a mecca for fans of the clean, simple lines and elegant informality that denote the modernistic mode. This year’s “week,” Thursday, Feb. 16 through Sunday, Feb. 26, will again provide an open-house invitation to visit and view vintage examples of everything from art to architecture throughout the community.

From elegant estate visits and “Mad Mod” cocktail parties to bus and walking tours, films and lectures, fashio

n shows and design sales, and other activities, more than 80 listings are on the Modernism Week schedule, many repeated throughout the run of the celebration. Most will focus on modernism in the Palm Springs area, while some will cover the history of the design movement elsewhere in the United States and abroad.

First launched in 2006 as the only event of its kind in the world, Modernism Week has been building attendance so rapidly that its 2011 visiting audience, at nearly 26,000, was roughly three times that of the 2009 crowd. More than 80 percent of the visitors have been over the age of 45 — old enough to remember with nostalgia the home, fashion, art, furniture and vehicle designs of their youth.

Part of heritage tourism

According to architectural historian Alan Hess, who has published two books on Palm Springs’ popular style, “Mid-century modernist architecture has been discovered nationally, but Palm Springs, for a small city — especially in the 1950s and 1960s — had quite a lot of excellent architectural examples.”

The city’s draw for modernism mavens speaks to its positioning in what has come to be called “heritage tourism,” Hess added. “People go to Europe to look at the cathedrals,” he cited as an example, “and they come to Palm Springs to see the modernist architecture.”

According to statistics compiled by Modernism Week’s organizers, more than three-quarters of the event’s visitors attend from outside of the Coachella Valley, and 10 percent come from outside the U.S.

Hess will be the featured speaker during a luncheon and screening of Desert Utopia: Midcentury Architecture in Palm Springs at noon, Sunday, Feb. 19, at the Hilton Palm Springs, 400 East Tahquitz Canyon Way. Reservations are $25. The film is part of Modernism Week’s Architecture & Design Film Series.

Exploring local history

The invitation to explore local history during Modernism Week is as much of a draw as the opportunities to view Palm Springs’ unique landmarks and attend festive and educational programs, said planning board member Gary Johns.

Also coordinator of Modernism Week’s twice-daily bus tours, Johns said his observation of the riders is that they come aboard as much for the comfortable, seated view of the city as for the entertaining oral histories provided by the drivers.

While called “double-decker” bus tours, Johns said that this year’s three-hour excursions will actually hold each load of 48 passengers on the top level of a high-rise bus, allowing everyone a 360-degree view of Palm Springs and the surrounding mountains.

The downtown banking district, mid-century neighborhoods, celebrity homes, civic buildings, and even historic churches and buildings from the city’s Spanish heritage will be on the itinerary.

Bus tours are $75 per person and include a rest stop at the former Palm Springs Tramway gas station, now a visitor center. Reservations are strongly encouraged for the tours, which depart at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. from The Corridor at 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive.

Other highlights of the ‘Week’

The Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale will feature more than 75 premier national and international dealers in mid-century modern furniture and decorative arts. The show runs from Saturday, Feb. 18 through Monday, Feb. 20, at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros. Doors open at 10 a.m. Admission is $15.

Vintage car and trailer enthusiasts will have three opportunities to admire vehicle designs of the mid-20th century. Automotive industry expert Jim Cherry will deliver a lecture, Cartopia: Mid-Century Concept Cars, at 10:30 a.m., Monday, Feb. 20 at the Hilton Palm Springs. Admission is $10. Following the lecture, a free vintage car show will be held at the Palm Springs Convention Center from noon to 4 p.m.

Guided tours of vintage Airstream and other travel trailers will be conducted from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 25 and 26, at Desert Fashion Plaza, 123 N. Palm Canyon Drive. Admission is $10.

The design work of noted architect Albert Frey, who lived in Palm Springs and created some of its most significant structures using natural desert materials and colors, will be explored in a lecture and tour of one of his houses.

The Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Drive, will host the lecture Albert Frey by Bill Butler, chair of the museum’s Architecture and Design Council, at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 21 and 22. Admission is $10. Tours of the “Frey II House” will depart from the museum every 45 minutes between 8:30 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., Monday, Feb. 20 through Wednesday, Feb. 22. Tickets are $50.

A “PreFab Showcase” will feature a 1,200-square-foot home built according to modernism’s unique style, but with the environmental sensibilities of the 21st century. Tours of the three-bedroom, two-bath house at 575 N. Palm Canyon Drive will take place daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $10.

Reservations are necessary for most Modernism Week activities. For tickets and more information, visit online. The Modernism Week office can be reached at (760) 333-9169.