I’ve been posting recently about some amazing homes in Palm Springs. While they’re spectacular, many of them are off limits to the public. Fortunately there are some equally stunning public buildings where you can enjoy modernist architecture up close without a trespassing ticket!
Don’t leave the airport yet
Your first two stops come as soon as you step off the plane if you’re visiting Palm Springs: the Palm Springs International Airport, and the Civic Center and City Hall directly across the street from the airport.
Dating back to 1966 and envisioned by noted architect Donald Wexler, the airport is a modern stunner. Most people never take a good look at it because they’re in a hurry to get somewhere, but the airport is a beautiful example of Wexler’s use of long-lined, naturally-lit spaces.
Swing by the Palm Springs City Hall/Civic Center
John Porter Clark was responsible for the Civic Center’s cache as a modernist mecca. With its soaring cut-out roof and twin palms spiking through the opening towards the sun, it’s a postcard-worthy backdrop. (3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way)
Stop in at St. Theresa Church
Nearby, on Ramon Road, Robert recommends seeing the St. Theresa Church located at 2800 Ramon Road.
The sweeping spire is magnificent against he mountain backdrop, but the inside is just as beautiful, and it’s open each day until about 2:00pm. One will not be disappointed seeing inside!
Bank of America Building
Heading south, and closing in on Palm Springs’ main strip is a personal favorite building of mine. Sparkling with cobalt and white tile that make it look like an inviting pool, plus sweeping curves, the Bank of America building is an eye-catching landmark at 588 S Palm Canyon Drive.
“Recognized for the sculptural quality of its round-cornered triangular brim, the architectural gem is still in use as a Bank of America as it was originally built,” according to information on the original architects’ website, Gruen Associates. Originally the building was used by City National bank when it was completed back in 1959. It’s still just as stunning today.
Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center
Speaking of banks, just up the road, is the Palm Springs Architecture Design Center at 300 S Palm Canyon Drive. This building was also a bank at one time; Santa Fe Savings & Loan, designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1961.
So how did a bank become a home to the desert’s best architecture and design?
Forced to close amid the savings and loan meltdown if the 1980’s the site languished. At one point a condo project was proposed around the building, and this seemed to be the trigger that resulted in it eventually getting historic site protection, according to an article in Metropolis Magazine.
Fortunately, a group of concerned citizens—led by Sidney Williams, a curator at the Palm Springs Art Museum and the architect’s daughter-in-law—stopped the project. They raised the $3 million that enabled the museum to purchase the building and grounds, which it did in 2011. Likewise, the main museum, on Museum Drive, is a publicly accessible exceptional architectural work by E.Stewart Williams, too.
These buildings are easily enjoyed on a walking, cycling or driving tour. Or if you’d like to learn more about Palm Springs modernism, consider taking a self-guided tour with Modern Tours Palm Springs.