Threatened Bank Becomes a Museum

The Architecture and Design museum occupies a former savings and loan designed by E. Stewart Williams at a prominent downtown site. Photo by Daniel Chavkin courtsy o the Palm Springs Art Museum

A rarity in America, an architecture museum complete with a permanent collection, opens November 9 in Palm Springs. It’s housed in a modern glass pavilion designed by E. Stewart Williams and opens with a show of the architect’s work.

“The building itself is part of our permanent collection,” says Sidney Williams, curator for architecture and design of the Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion. It is part of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Sidney Williams is the architect’s daughter-in-law.

The opening of the museum and the exhibit, ‘An Eloquent Modernist, E. Stewart Williams, Architect,’ will be free and will feature music, other performances, and additional celebration. Accompanying the exhibit will be a catalog.

E. Stewart Williams at the Santa Fe Federal S&L. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1962. Copyright, J. Paul Getty Trust. Courtesy of the Palm Springs Art Museum

The 13,000-square foot museum will soon put portions of its “permanent and growing” collection on view, Sidney Williams said. It focuses on architecture, design, and furniture from the mid-century through contemporary and from all parts of the world. The downstairs will house a study center and archive.

“The A+D Center will be the country’s first historic structure to be transformed into a freestanding architecture and design museum that is housed in a modern building,” the museum said in a release.

The Palm Springs Art Museum also owns a hillside home designed by the architect Albert Frey.

While other institution exhibit architecture and design, few maintain permanent collections that are regularly on view. A+D, The Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles, for example, focuses on changing exhibits. The Art, Architecture and Design Museum at UC Santa Barbara is another museum with a strong focus on and a collection devoted to architecture.

Back in 2007 the 1961 former Santa Fe Federal S&L was threatened by a local developer, who wanted to convert it into an inappropriate use, Williams said. The plan also called for surrounding development that would have hurt the building’s integrity.

Stewart Williams designed his first residence for a special client, Frank Sinatra. This is Twin Palms. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Stewart Williams (1909-2005), who began working in the desert in 1946, along with his brother and father, is one of the originators of the Palm Springs look and a favorite of many modernism fans.

His work ranged from Frank Sinatra’s 1947 home, ‘Twin Palms,’ Williams' first residential project, to the Palm Springs Museum and Crafton Hills College in not-so-far-away Yucaipa.

Stewart Williams continued working to age 88, and when he died seven years later, the Desert Sun said he “gave Palm Springs its Desert Modern flair.”

Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa is a remarkable ensemble, designed by Stewart Williams. Photo by Dave Weinstein.

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