Tours, Talks at Palm Springs Fall Fest

Twin Palms home
A butterfly-roofed house model at Twin Palms shows the verve and joy with which architect William Krisel approached the assignment of designing the first modern tract in Palm Springs. Photo by Eric Chiel (who will lead a walking tour)

Today the mid-century modern homes of the Twin Palms neighborhood in Palm Springs are as iconic as Joe Eichler’s homes in Northern California. But when developer George Alexander first proposed bringing mid-century modern tract homes to the desert, “everybody thought he was nuts,” his architect Bill Krisel recalled.

In October you can judge for yourself just how nuts George and his son, Bob Alexander, were when they built the first modern tract in town starting in 1956, during Modernism Week’s Fall Preview, which runs October 14-17 (and is a lead-in to the larger Modernism Week to follow in February).

Among the many events in October is a guided walking tour to the Twin Palms homes. (A tour that takes people inside some homes is already sold out.)

Indian Wells house
'Walking the Wells' will be a walking tour of modernist homes from varied periods in the city of Indian Wells. Courtesy of Palm Springs Modernism Week

Other events that should appeal to Eichler homeowners and other fans of residential modernism include the 'Walking the Wells tour,' “a rare opportunity to view interior and exterior mid-century modern residences in the exclusive Indian Wells community,” in the words of Bob Bogard, director of public relations on behalf of the festival, and a tour of the Frank Sinatra residence.

Other events range from a film screening and talk about the architects of the desert by author Alan Hess, a 'BEATNIK' dinner show, a lecture on 'Master of the Midcentury: The Architecture of William F. Cody,' a tour of Cody’s William Logan Abernathy estate, and a popular tour of modernist structures that you can view from a double-decker bus.

“Your guide [on the Twin Palms tour] will be Eric Chiel, a 12-year Twin Palms resident who is the founding past-chairperson of the Twin Palms Neighborhood Organization,” Modernism Week reports. 

“Eric has a special interest in the stories of Palm Springs neighborhoods and is the co-creator, creative director, and author of the popular magazine, The ‘ONE-PS Guide to Palm Springs Neighborhoods published by Palm Springs Life.’  His tour narrative includes unique sites and insights that will allow you to be among the first to appreciate Twin Palms from an insider’s perspective.”

Sinatra House
One of Palm Springs' greatest architects, E. Stewart Williams, designed this house for Frank Sinatra in 1947. Photo by David A. Lee

Palm Springs was already known for its modernist structures when the Alexanders pulled into town in the mid-1950s. Modernist structures first went up in the 1920s and were designed then and in later years by such architects as Albert Frey, Lloyd Wright, and Richard Neutra. One of Eichler’s architects, A. Quincy Jones, had worked on projects in town, including the Town & Country Center in 1948.

But when the Alexanders arrived in the mid-1950s, there were no tract homes, Krisel, who died in 2017 at age 92, said in a 2006 interview. “Nothing but desert weeds.”

George [Alexander] had gone to Palm Springs for his health, and discovered that land was cheaper than in Los Angeles, where the Alexanders had been building.

“He said to Bob, let’s build down here, and I like living here,” Krisel said. “Wy don’t you move down too?”

“It was a more laid-back type of lifestyle than up [in Los Angeles],” Krisel said, “and the competition was zero.”

  Walking tour
A walking tour takes in the sights at Indian Wells at a prior Modernism Week event. Courtesy of Modernism Week

The Alexanders’ bankers did not immediately get behind the plan to build modernist second homes for Los Angelenos in the desert, Krisel said.

“Business wise, he was very smart, George,” Krisel said. “He even got the heads of the S&Ls to come down. He sold them that this was going to be a great place.”

Bob Alexander, who later had Krisel design for himself and his wife, Helene, what came to be called the Elvis Honeymoon house, moved into one of the standard model homes in the Twin Palms tract. He did get Krisel to upgrade the interior finishes, and design custom furniture and landscaping.

“He wanted to be part of his own tract, and help sales, because he was right there,” Krisel said.

It is hard to fully understand the impact the Alexander modernist tracts had on the city of Palm Springs. Their popularity inspired other developers to go modern as well. And in the years that followed, the city filled with modernist banks, commercial buildings, schools, and more.

Together, this movement produced a city that is a Mecca for modernism – worth a visit anytime, including during Modernism Week and its fall preview.


Keep in touch with the Eichler Network. SUBSCRIBE to our free e-newsletter