Hit the Road - Page 5

Hot-spot stops for time travelers on a California road-trip getaway
Hit the Road
Palm Springs Visitors Center.
Hit the Road
Riding high on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
Hit the Road
The visitors center at Sunnylands, 'Xanadu of the California desert.'

Palm Springs

If you enter Palm Springs, an hour or so to the east, taking North Palm Canyon Drive, one of the first sights you'll see is a former gas station designed by the pioneering Swiss-California modernist Albert Frey in 1965.

Besides being a thing of beauty, with a soaring hyperbolic paraboloid roof, what is today the Palm Springs Visitors Center "symbolizes the resurgence of the town and the style," Susan Spano wrote in the New York Times.

Efforts to destroy this structure in 1997 were defeated by local preservationists. Their victory was an important moment in the effort to preserve the city's modernist heritage.

Uphill from the visitors center is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, built in the early 1960s to transport the adventurous from valley floor to the top of the San Jacinto Mountains, an elevation gain of 8,516 feet, from sage to snow.

There is a Mountain Station on top, designed by several Palm Springs architects, and the Valley Station below, designed by Frey with partners. The awkward site required Frey to span a creek. The station is a bridge and its walls trusses, "one of the best examples in Frey's work in which architecture and structure are thoroughly integrated," writer and architect Joseph Rosa wrote.

If your interest in mid-century modern leans less towards structural integrity and more towards to pure luxury, visit Sunnylands in nearby Rancho Mirage. This "Xanadu of the California desert," as reporter Cheng Scarlet dubbed it, was built in the mid-1960s for Walter and Leonore Annenberg, to designs by Joe Eichler's longtime architect A. Quincy Jones.

But this 25,000-square-foot home, with 22 bedrooms plus the suite where presidents from Nixon to Obama have stayed, is no Eichler.

For years it has served as a Camp David in the desert, with a particular, though not exclusive, appeal to Republicans. Many world leaders have stopped by too, including Mikhail Gorbachev and Xi Jinping.

Besides visiting the house, by appointment, tourists can also tour the grounds and enjoy a 17,000-square-foot modern visitors center during open hours.