First and Foremost - Page 3

How light, lines, planes and sightlines provide aesthetic and sensual pleasure
First and Foremost

Palm Springs, California
Architect: Allen Siple
1947: first homes built

Palm Springs was a sleepy place in the mid-1940s, so it's surprising that another pioneering modernist tract popped up there.

But Los Angeles developer Paul Trousdale (1915-1990 – pictured above) was in love with the desert, and Pearl McCallum McManus, daughter of Palm Springs' first white settler, and owner of much of the town's prime real estate, was determined to make the small city a big destination. She chose Trousdale to develop the site into a planned community in south Palm Springs.

They planned a tract of homes that were aimed at anybody but the common man. The elaborate sales brochure announced, 'Home purchase is limited to invitation only.'

According to author Steven Price, Tahquitz River Estates "represented the second-home lifestyle for an elevated class of homeowner (or one who aspired to be)."

About Tahquitz River Estates, the neighborhood association writes on its website, "At the time it was the largest and most ambitious standardized housing development that had been attempted in Palm Springs and the first large postwar development by a major developer."

Trousdale Construction initially built about 230 ranch-like two- and three-bedroom, one- and two-bath homes, ranging from 1,500 to 1,700 square feet. The homes, including the model pictured above, were designed by architect Allen Siple and his associates.

The brochure promised 'eight individual styles' of homes and 18 different elevations. Each had 'an entire wall of crystal-clear glass' in the living and dining room. They had exposed beam ceilings, breezeways between living areas and garages, and open-air 'lanais' off the living room.

White pebble roofs were provided to reflect heat. If the buyer wanted year-round desert living, air conditioners were optional. Foundations were concrete slab, and walls were of 'Tropi-Kolor cement block.'

Swimming pools were optional, and fully landscaped lots were 10,000 square feet. Landscape architect Edward Huntsman-Trout focused on native desert vegetation, for the most part.

But it wasn't desert flowers House Beautiful's influential editor Elizabeth Gordon had in mind in 1948 when she praised the neighborhood's landscape. She loved the "privacy landscaping," which made each home and lot feel like its own separate world through setbacks, artful arrangement of homes on lots, and use of varied fencing.


First and Foremost

Kalamazoo, Michigan
Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright (initially)
1948: first homes sold

Not every grouping of modern homes in the late 1940s and into the 1950s was, strictly speaking, a tract. In many instances, like-minded people pooled their money to buy a site and hired someone to lay out lots. Then each owner would hire an architect for a custom home, often adhering to design guidelines set by the community.

Parkwyn Village, a deeply desirable neighborhood to this day, is one such, but it is included in this discussion because of the man who laid out the land, set the tone, and contributed four of its originally planned 40 homes—Frank Lloyd Wright (pictured above).

Later builders of mid-century modern tracts owe a lot to Wright, who never actually designed a tract himself. But from his early years, the master was concocting schemes to house vast quantities of Americans in stylishly built houses in well-planned communities in affordable ways.

There was Wright's plan for a "small house with lots of room in it" from 1901, his concrete "Fireproof House for $5,000" from 1907, and his many compact Usonian houses from a few years later that spurred Joe Eichler, who lived in one, to build his own modern homes.

Parkwyn got its start in 1946 when a group, mostly scientists at the Upjohn pharmacy company, formed an association and bought 47 acres of prairie and asked Wright to lay it out. Wright's plan—for each house to be in the middle of a circular lot, with the land around the circles landscaped with native plants—never came to pass.

The Levin family moved into the first house, one of Wright's designs, in 1948. It was built of Wright's textile concrete blocks, and with glass inserts to bring in light. The plan resembled a pinwheel. Heat was radiant, a technique soon adopted by Eichler.

As with similar cooperative ventures, dissension caused problems—as in 1948, when an African-American woman joined the group. Members quit in protest—but it was said that if she had not been permitted to join, just as many other members would have quit, also in protest.

Parkwyn Village remains a great place to live, and often hosts architectural tourists.

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