HUGH KAPTUR

Detroit born Hugh Kaptur studied architectural engineering at the Lawrence Institute of Technology.

In 1956 Hugh Kaptur visited Palm Springs and elected to stay and has remained ever since.

In his early years in Palm Springs, he apprenticed in the firm of Wexler & Harrison.

Kaptur’s first own Palm Springs project was the Impala Lodge, now the Triangle Inn, built in 1957-58.

Other projects followed soon including the William Burgess Residence, the Pete Seva Residence and the Robert Leaver Residence (now demolished) all perched above Palisades Road on a rocky ledge with sweeping panoramic views of the valley floor.

 

His best known for his two Southridge houses, one for actor Steve McQueen built in 1968 and the other for William Holden built in 1977.

 

Partnering briefly with architect Robert Ricciardi in 1961, the firm completed Palm Springs Fire Station #3 and the Palm Springs Golf Course Clubhouse.

From 1965- 1975 in partnership with Larry Lapham the firm designed lavish homes in the exclusive Thunderbird and Eldorado Country Clubs; other projects included the Tahquitz Plaza / Anderson Travel buildings (scheduled for demolition), and Fire Station #4.

Also during this period, Kaptur remodeled the Casa Blanca Hotel into its current literation as the Musicland Hotel.

From 1982-1992, in partnership with James Cioffi, the firm completed several residential and commercial projects in Palm Springs including the Villa Caballeros Condominiums and the Caballeros Plaza / Unified School District offices on Tahquitz Canyon Way.

WILLIAM KRISEL

 

William Krisel, AIA, principal of the firm of Palmer & Krisel (formed with Partner Dan Palmer), was born in 1924 in Shanghai of American parents working overseas for the U.S. State Department.

Krisel lived in China until age 13, when his family returned to the US, where he attended Beverly Hills High.

During World War II, Krisel was assigned to General Joe Stilwell as a Chinese interpreter. He attended USC for his degree in architecture. Krisel has also been a licensed landscape architect since 1954.

 

Designing more than 30,000 living units throughout Southern California, Krisel’s career spanned over 51 years.

A close personal friend of developer Bob Alexander and his family, Krisel came to the Desert at the request of Alexander to design a tract of modernist houses dubbed Smoke Tree Valley (now known as Twin Palms for the pair of Palm trees that graced each of the homes).

Other Palmer & Krisel projects include the Ocotillo Lodge, Las Palmas Estates (Vista Las Palmas), Kings Point and Canyon View Estates, Racquet Club Estates, “Valley of the Sun” in Rancho Mirage and the Sandpiper condo complex in Palm Desert (which garnered an AIA merit award for Landscape Architecture).

The “House of Tomorrow,” conceived as an experiment in modern living, so impressed Alexander’s wife Helene that they made it their personal residence. The house later gained fame as the honeymoon home of Elvis and Priscilla Presley.

 

Krisel is one of the few mid-century modern architects who has not only lived to see, but also participate in the resurgence of modernism in Palm Springs. In recent years, he has contributed to the restoration of many of his original designs. Beginning in 2008, Krisel collaborated with Maxx Livingstone on exact replicas of his mid-century designs, constructed with all new materials and aimed towards LEED certification. A film on his life and contributions, William Krisel, Architect, premiered at the 2010 Palm Springs Modernism Week. Krisel’s archive now resides at the Getty Research Institute.

 

ALBERT FREY

 

Born 1903 in Switzerland, and earned his architecture diploma there in 1924. He moved to Paris in 1928 to work for Le Corbusier, on projects including the Villa Savoye.

 

Moving to New York in 1930, Frey was the first Corbusier disciple to work in the U.S. There, he became partners with architect A. Lawrence Kocher, who was also managing editor of Architectural Record magazine. Together they published numerous articles on urban planning, the modernist aesthetic, and technology.

Kocher and Frey also designed four buildings, including the acclaimed Aluminaire House, a demonstration house designed for the Exhibition of the Architectural League in New York, 1931.

 

In 1934, Frey came to Palm Springs to supervise construction of the Kocher-Samson Building, a mixed-use building for his partner’s brother, J.J. Kocher. Frey fell in love with the area, and worked with John Porter Clark for two years under the offices of Van Pelt and Lind as neither architect was yet licensed in California.

 

Returning to New York in 1937 to work on the Museum of Modern Art, Frey moved back to Palm Springs permanently two years later. Rejoining Clark in a partnership, Frey went onto design a body of work including residential, commercial, institutional and civic buildings. Many of these buildings are preserved today including Raymond Loewy House (1946-47), Palm Springs City Hall (1952), Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station (1963) and Frey House II (1963-64) and the most recently restored North Shore Yacht Club at the Salton Sea (1958).

 

Frey lived in Palm Springs until his death in 1998. As Palm Springs’ first full-time, resident architect, Frey is known as one of the founders of Desert Modernism.

WILLIAM CODY

 

William F. Cody, FAIA, was born in 1916 in Dayton, Ohio and studied architecture at USC where, as a student, he worked for Cliff May. Following graduation in 1942, Cody apprenticed at several California firms, moving to Palm Springs in 1946.

 

Cody was first employed staff architect for the Desert Inn Hotel, before setting off on his own to design the Del Marcos Hote (1947). A subsequent project, the conversion of the 1936 Thunderbird Ranch to Thunderbird Country Club, led to design commissions for the clubhouses at Tamarisk, Eldorado, Seven Lakes and seven other Country Club developments. It is through these many projects that Cody is credited with the County Club Sub-division concept in the West.

 

As one of the architects of the Spa Bath House (along with Wexler & Harrison and Phillip Koenig), and the adjacent Spa Hotel, Cody is also noted for a number of spectacular contemporary residential commissions including the Perlberg (1952), Shamel (1961) and Abernathy (1962) Residences.

The L’Horizon Hotel (1952), now known as The Horizon Hotel, is a well-restored example of Cody’s design. Cody’s career included a wide variety of commercial and residential projects in Palm Springs and beyond, including projects in Phoenix, San Diego, Palo Alto, and Havana. Cody was inducted into the College of Fellows of the AIA in 1965.

 

Among the last projects in which Cody is credited as the designer were St. Theresa’s Catholic Church (1968) and the Palm Springs Library Center, designed 1972 and completed in 1975. Cody suffered a debilitating stroke in 1973 that ended his architectural career, although the firm continued on for several years. Cody died in 1978 leaving behind a legacy of important contributions to what is known today as Desert Modernism – his career continues to serve as an inspiration to successive generations of

architects.

DONALD WEXLER

 

Donald Wexler was born in 1926 in South Dakota and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1950 after serving in the Navy during World War II. Thereafter, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked for architect Richard Neutra, and subsequently moved to Palm Springs to work for William Cody on the Tamarisk Country Club. In 1952, Wexler, along with Richard Harrison, a colleague from Cody’s firm, set up their own offices as Wexler & Harrison. That partnership dissolved amicably in 1961, and Wexler formed Donald A. Wexler Associates in 1963.

 

During their partnership, Wexler and Harrison designed many school buildings using new approaches to steel-framed construction.

Their Steel Development Homes are some of Wexler’s most significant work.

In 1960, the George Alexander Construction Company contracted Wexler and Harrison to design an innovative neighborhood of all-steel homes at the then northern edge of Palm Springs. Due to the rising costs of steel, the project was halted after just seven homes were built. These innovative factory-fabricated, site-assembled steel houses combined prefabricated components with standard construction methodology and are now internationally acclaimed. The extant seven homes have been instrumental in revitalizing a once long-forgotten neighborhood and have all been designated Class One Historic Sites.

 

Other projects include the Spa Hotel Bath House (1958), Royal Hawaiian Estates (1960), Union 76 Gas Station (1962), Palm Springs Medical Clinic (1963), Canyon Country Club (1963), Dinah Shore Residence (1964), Palm Springs International Airport (1965), Desert Water Agency (1978), Bank of Palm Springs (1982), Hope Square Professional Building (Rancho Mirage, 1985) as well as many more commercial, institutional and public buildings.

JAMES MCNAUGHTON

 

After Graduation from Carnegie Tech and attending The School of Fine Arts in Paris, McNaughton began his career with the famous Steuben Glass Company, to this day his expert designs are still the solid stars of Steuben’s spectacular pieces.

He was also noted as television’s first set designer during a time when there were only three stations in the entire country. He grew with the industry and after many assignments with NBC and CBS he came to full maturity at ABC, where his set designs brought him the Look Award, the Christopher and Peabody Awards and many Emmy nominations.

 

McNaughton came to the desert in 1959 to create Architectural Masterpieces; creativity was his golden gift, It was his standard and way of life.  His luminous talent found new, exciting challenges as he designed many Desert homes, most still standing impressive and awesome in the areas of Little Tuscany, Canyon Country Club, Thunderbird Height, Andreas Hills, Southridge and Ruth Hardy Park.  Other McNaughton Homes were also built in Scottsdale, Phoenix, Houston and Las Vegas.

 

James McNaughton was a residence of Palm Springs from 1959 to 1979.

JOHN LAUTNER

 

John Lautner was born in Marquette, Michigan in 1911 and was of mixed Austrian and Irish descent of academic parents at a local college now called Northern Michigan University.

He first attended the University of Michigan but left soon after starting. In 1933, he graduated from Northern Michigan University in English and began a six-year job with Frank Lloyd Wright -- in the first class of Taliesin Fellows at Spring Green WI. His fiancée Mary (MaryBud) Faustina Roberts Lautner (1913-1995) was also an early Taliesin Fellow.ᅠ They married in 1934.

For Wright, Lautner supervised Fallingwater in Pennsylvania and the Johnson Wax Building in Wisconsin. He also oversaw a Wright design for his mother-in-law Abby Beecher Roberts, the Deertrack house in Marquette MI.

The Lautners moved to California in 1937 for John toᅠoversee the construction of Wright's Sturges and Oboler houses.ᅠ In 1943, he left Wright to work for Structon Company on military projects.

Lautner worked in 1944 for and became partner in 1945 with Douglas Honnold who was primarily an interior designer. In 1947, Lautner departed after an affair with Honnold's wife, Elizabeth Gilman (Gilly) Honnold. That put an end to the formal partnership although the two men remained friends. After divorcing MaryBud in 1950, he married Elizabeth.ᅠ MaryBud returned to Marquette MI with their children, Karol (born 1938), Michael (born 1942), and Mary Beecher (born 1944).

Lautner did not receive his architectural license until 1952. His clients were "either rich bastards or poor geniuses," according to his stepdaughter, Elizabeth Honnold Harris.

Known for his residences, Lautner was also well-known for the commercial genre named for his design of Googie's Coffee Shop in Los Angeles. Distinctive for its expansive glass walls, arresting form, and exuberant signage oriented to automobiles, Googie became a fixture in 1950s America but was regularly ridiculed by the architectural community. Lautner's reputation suffered, despite that fact his designs were as good as ever.ᅠ Following some lean years, he rose again in the 1960s with the “Chemosphere” pedestal house and poured-concrete houses, notably the Elrod Residence in Palm Springs.

RICHARD NEUTRA

 

Richard Neutra was born in Vienna in 1892.

He graduated in 1917 from the Technische Hochschule, Vienna, where he had been taught by Adolf Loos, and was influenced by Otto Wagner.

In 1923 he emigrated to the U.S. where he worked on several projects with Rudolf N. Schindler before establishing his own practice.

    Neutra created a modern regionalism for Southern California which combined a light metal frame with a stucco finish to create a light effortless appearance. He specialized in extending architectural space into a carefully arranged landscape. The dramatic images of flat-surfaced, industrialized residential buildings contrasted against nature were popularized by the photography of Julius Shulman.

In 1946, Edgar Kaufmann hired Neutra to design a desert home for his family in Palm Springs. A decade earlier, Frank Lloyd Wright had built Fallingwater for Mr. Kaufmann. But Kaufmann, having seen Taliesin West, thought that Wright didn’t understand desert design and chose Neutra instead. The home turned out so well, that when Wright saw it, he admitted to that is was beautiful (uncharacteristic of  him).

GEORGE and BOB ALEXANDER (Alexander Construction Co)

 

The Alexander Construction Company was a Palm Springs, California based residential development company that built over 2,500 houses in the Coachella Valley between 1947 and 1965.

The construction of these homes doubled the size of Palm Springs and caused the city to take on a new shape, direction, and character as an enclave of modernist architecture. These houses, collectively known as "Alexanders," have come to be appreciated for their rational designs, modernist style, and innovative construction and are now highly sought after, selling for a premium over their more conventional contemporaries.

 

     Key to the Alexanders' success was their association with a talented young architect, William Krisel, partner in the Los Angeles firm Palmer and Krisel, Inc. With spacious open plans, beguiling modern conveniences, and an underlying sophistication, their homes appealed to buyers eager to shed the trappings of large, unwieldy houses for a more casual, carefree way of life. In an era of uninspired ranches and mock colonials, the Alexanders' uncomplicated designs of strong form and angles articulated a bold, new residential look.

 

The company was founded by George Alexander and his son Robert, building starter houses of 1,200 square feet priced moderately at $19,500 in south Palm Springs, a location at that time not considered fashionable. Each new development was increasingly ambitious, adding amenities and square footage. By the end of the 1950s, the Alexanders were building in northwest Palm Springs, traditionally the haven of the wealthy and "Old Hollywood" crowd.

 

Many of these later houses exceeded 2,000 square feet, with the largest adding another 600 square feet. A swimming pool was included in all of these designs, priced then from the high $40,000s to the low $50,000s. The neighborhood, known today as Las Palmas, became the neighborhood of choice for the "New Hollywood" crowd seeking weekend desert escapes. Dinah Shore, Dean Martin, Joan Collins, Marilyn Monroe, and Harold Robbins each owned an "Alexander." Frank Sinatra's home by E. Stewart Williams is nearby. Nancy Sinatra still lives in the neighborhood.

 

The most well-known Alexander house in Las Palmas is the Lawford/Kennedy house, originally built for Peter Lawford, connected by marriage to the Kennedy family and a charter member of the Rat Pack. During a visit to Palm Springs, President Kennedy was to have stayed at Sinatra's house, but ended up at Lawford's instead. The proximity of Lawford's house to Marilyn Monroe's supposedly gave rise to a rendezvous between JFK and Monroe.

 

In its decade-plus of building in Palm Springs, the Alexander Company and Palmer and Krisel garnered frequent national attention, sharing innumerable awards for excellence in planning, design, and construction. Bill Krisel's lavish spec house for the Alexanders, partially intended for publicity purposes, was so treasured by Helene Alexander that she insisted they move into it themselves. Hovering over an inclined cul-de-sac site and balanced on winged walls of local stone, the 'House of Tomorrow' was featured along with Bob and Helene Alexander (and daughter Jill) in a September 1962 Look magazine article, 'The Way Out Life' that boasted "at Palm Springs, dreams of modern luxury come true."

 

The Alexander family philanthropy was legion as was their eminent standing in Palm Springs' social set in an era of martini-toting Ratpackers and elite snowbirds. Their house is a boomerang-shaped assemblage of circular themes and hexagonal levels that takes advantage of sloping topography to command exhilarating views. A one-of-a-kind architectural achievement built at a cost of $300,000 in a day when $100,000 was extravagant, much of the House of Tomorrow's current fame stems from it's year in service as Elvis and Priscilla Presley's honeymoon hideaway at 1350 Ladera Circle.

 

Sadly, the Alexanders never knew the lasting impact of their contribution to the community and to housing in America. On Sunday, November 14, 1965, at the peak of their lives and careers, George and Bob Alexander were killed, along with wives Mildred ('Jimmie') and Helene, in a foul-weather private plane crash that devastated the community and their immense circle of friends and associates. They were survived by daughter Jill, who was 11 at the time and not on the plane. The company ceased operations with the deaths of its principals.

Windermere Real Estate,
Mid Century Modern Real Estate and Home Staging Specialist
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