The City’s Midcentury Masterpieces Beckon

By Nora Burba Trulsson

In late winter, design professionals and architecture aficionados migrate to Palm Springs not necessarily to catch sun, pool time and golf, but to steep themselves in a treasure trove of midcentury modernism. Palm Springs Modernism Week, which runs February 17 through 27, is an 11-day design-oriented smorgasbord of home tours, presentations, talks, fashion shows, merch opportunities and plenty of parties.

If you think it’s just for SoCal folks, think again. Check the social media postings of Arizona’s design community. You’ll find plenty of images of our state’s architects, interior designers, landscape experts and builders against a backdrop of turquoise pools, steel, glass and the San Jacinto Mountains. After all, Palm Springs is a short flight or a morning’s drive away.

That Palm Springs would develop into a design mecca is no surprise, considering it was fertile ground for architects and designers like Albert Frey, John Lautner, Richard Neutra, A. Quincy Jones, William Krisel, William Cody, Donald Wexler, Hugh Kaptur and others, who had the freedom to break new ground in the desert, reinventing the concept of the modern home after World War II. Many of their signature projects were designed for celebrity clients like Frank Sinatra, Dina Shore, William Holden, Bob Hope and Kirk Douglas, who escaped Hollywood for the privacy of cactus and palms.  

Meant to celebrate this design history, Modernism Week was launched in 2006, after the success of other programs—the Palm Springs Modernism Show and Sale and the annual Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Council Symposium. In 2020, the event drew more than 160,000 attendees. This year’s 350-plus events are likely to draw even more participants.  

Modernism Week 2022 launches with a keynote presentation by Jeanne Gang, FAIA, the Chicago-based architect who’s known for the 101-story St. Regis Chicago, the tallest structure in the world designed by a woman. Events include not only tours of classic homes designed by the likes of Cody, Krisel and Frey, and estates like Sunnylands and one once owned by Magda Gabor, but newer projects—classic homes reimagined by the likes of  “Queer Eye” interior designer Bobby Berk and a local design firm, H3K. You can go on your own, or join in walking, biking or double-decker bus tours. 

Daily talks, films and book signings are also part of the schedule, many of which offer CEU credits for architects. This year’s lineup includes a discussion about the life and work of Vera (remember those signature scarves?), with remarks by fashion designer Trina Turk; a look at Beijing- and Los Angeles-based MAD Architects and a deep dive into how the desert Southwest contributed to modern architectural trends with architect and historian Alan Hess. 

Fun stuff? Parties at Sinatra’s Twin Palms estate, a retro martini party at an Old Las Palmas estate, a jazz concert at a private home, a midcentury mixology clinic, cocktails and dancing at the Indian Canyons Country Clubhouse, and more. 

Tickets go fast for Modernism Week events, as do hotel reservations. Miss out on February? Plan ahead for 2023 or take advantage of the annual Fall Preview (October 13-16), a kind of mini-Modernism Week, with some 50 events, including those tours talks and parties.  

Source for fact checking 

Bob Bogard, marketing for Modernism Week,