Explore Palm Springs for the Holidays

Modern ornament
Mid-century homes help decorate a tree at Destination PSP, one of many modern-themed establishments that play up the holidays in Palm Springs. Photos by Dave Weinstein.

During Modernism Week the once-sleepy desert community of Palm Springs fills with Eichler owners and other fans of mid-century modern design jostling each other to visit glass-walled and Tiki-themed houses, crowd into cocktail parties, attend talks, and more.

Don’t miss it. Still, as a recent visit showed, Palm Springs remains a great destination for Eichler and Streng homeowners to enjoy modern-themed pleasures during the holiday season, when crowds are fewer and similar attractions call out.

With its wide variety of design shops, art galleries, schlock galleries, collectables and antiques shops that often focus on modern design, and fashion shops, Palm Springs is also a great place to stock up on holiday gifts – or just to pamper yourself.

Conveniently, many of these shops are in the design district along North Palm Canyon Drive, with others closer to downtown, providing a walkable experience.  Keep in mind, though – many of these shops are closed earlier in the week.

House tissue cover
One of Destination PSP's clever products is a series of mid-century modern homes that serve as decorative tissue box covers..

First stop in the desert city, if you arriving via road, is the former Tramway Gas Station, today the visitors’ center. Pick up a copy of the Palm Springs Modern Committee’s pocket-sized ‘Map of Modern Palm Springs,’ along with the not-quite-pocket-sized, spiral-bound ‘Architecture 100, Palm Springs, California and Desert Cities,’ published by the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation.

With these in hand you can build your own mid-century modern tours.

Oh, and if you arrive by air, you have already arrived at a modernist gem, the terminal of the Palm Springs Airport, designed by architect Donald Wexler.

Yet another important desert institution, the Palm Springs Historical Society, presents daily walking tours and biking tours, including several that focus on mid-century modern neighborhoods.

These tours include such topics as ‘Rat Pack Playground’ in a neighborhood of Alexander mid-century modern homes, and ‘Midcentury Showcase,’ “with elegant Modernist homes designed by revered architects.”

Home tour
Tourists enjoyed viewing the range of modern homes in the Canyon County Club neighborhood, some of Hollywood Regency style.

The tour of ‘Modernist Treasures,’ a Friday morning affair that focused on “lush living on the links,” revealed a landscape near the southern edge of town of large, low-slung homes that have been home to such mid-century stars as Walt Disney, David Janssen, Keely Smith, and William Bendix. The neighborhood, Canyon Country Club, broke ground in 1962 around a golf course and contains mostly custom homes.

“Walt Disney, before he built Disneyland where he did, he actually wanted to have it in Palm Springs,” guide Misha Ramsay said. “But somebody went, ‘Hey, wait a minute, in summer, it’s like 120. How are we going to get tourists to Disneyland?' ”

Along Palm Canyon Avenue one of the more festive shops is Destination PSP, with a Christmas tree decked with miniature Alexander modern homes. The store focuses on mid-century modern themed products of wide variety. You can also find the local firm’s products at the Visitors’ Center. You’ll find fun mid-century modern-themed clocks, table mats, coasters, and clothing.

Design MMuseum
E. Stewart Williams' former bank building now quite appropriately houses the Palm Springs Art Museum's Architecture and Design Center.

Nearby, artist Michael Weems sells trays and other products emblazoned with images of iconic Palm Springs Modern houses and other buildings. There are several shops specializing in vintage vinyl; some also sell nostalgic photos of Marilyn, Frank, and Claudia Cardinale.

Among the many antique and collectable shops focusing on mid-century modernism, among other styles, Galleria stands out not just for its size – room after room of fine stuff – but for the quality of its ceramics and glassware.

The artist Shag has a shop in the design district dedicated to his work, as does the late artist Nat Reed, whose art seems inspired by Shag. The Palm Springs Art Museum, designed by Stewart Williams, one of the great desert architects, has a great collection and traveling shows; and its associated Architecture and Design Center, in a former bank also designed by Williams, has a superb exhibit on modern chairs.

It wasn’t too many years ago that downtown Palm Springs went to bed early. But new, mid-rise hotels, luxury shops a la Rodeo drive, and crowded bars and eateries now fill the central portion of downtown’s Palm Canyon Drive.

Oasis Office
The Oasis Office Building, also by Stewart Williams, today provides indoor and outdoor dining as part of Palm Spring's lively downtown entertainment and dining district.

Now, rather than cocooning round the pool in your nearby mid-century modern motel (the Orbit In and the Del Marcos are steps from downtown), you can take in a little nightlife, sit streetside, and see if there are any carolers out for Christmas or carousers for New Years.

But where to sit? Your taste of course, but consider one mid-century modern masterpiece that too many people waltz by without studying. This is the Oasis Office Building from 1952 by E. Stewart Williams.

Today Antigua Kitchen + Bar occupies one lively corner, both inside and outside, where diners and imbibers sit beneath an overhang supported by Corbusier-style columns that the architect dubbed 'pilotis.'





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