In California architect Frank Wynkoop designed a dramatic home on a dramatic shoreline outcrop in Carmel with a swooping, curved butterfly roof in 1950. Thor Wynkoop, Frank’s son and an architect himself, says the form was functional as well as aesthetic.
“He was just inspired by the site to try to deflect the wind and the surf,” Thor says.
Also in 1950, Wright produced his first, and probably only, true butterfly-roofed house, the Elam house in Austin, Minnesota.
By the mid-1950s, butterfly roofs were appearing on tract homes, including Exurbia Woods, a 27-home subdivision in Connecticut.
But it was in Southern California where butterflies really flourished. Palmer & Krisel, who began designing modern homes for the Alexander Construction Co. in 1952 in Los Angeles, introduced their first tract home butterfly roofs when the Alexanders moved to Palm Springs in 1955. In Palm Springs, Krisel says, buyers were more open to the look.
“In Palm Springs these were second homes, and the people who came there lived in Los Angeles and San Diego and other places,” he says. “Those people lived in traditional homes, but when they came to Palm Springs they wanted something different than they had in town. In Los Angeles they would drive a four-door sedan. In Palm Springs they wanted a convertible.”
Palmer & Krisel did go on to design butterfly roofs for subdivisions in San Fernando Valley and other Los Angeles and San Diego neighborhoods. Other Southern California tract developers got into butterfly roofs, too.
While butterflies found favorable habitat throughout Southern California, no place compared to Palm Springs for natural appeal.
There, Krisel says, the lots were large enough to let a butterfly house settle in and spread out, allowing for a broad wingspan. And the rise and fall of the mountains in the distance echoed the rise and fall of the butterfly wings.
“I remember [photographer] Julius Shulman used to look at the mountains and say, ‘There’s your butterfly.’ Palm Springs was just ideal for the butterfly roof.”
Photos: John Eng, David Toerge, Christopher Axe, Charles Nolder Photography, Dave Weinstein; and courtesy Michelle Kaufman Studio, Maxx Livingstone Modern Homes, Aidlin Darling Design, Michael Tauber Architecture, Cathye Smithwick, Bill Krisel