DESERT MODERNISIM

17 Sept 2014
Dave started the day at the Palm Springs Yacht Club (the hotel’s gym) while I planned our self guided dessert modernism tour using the map from the art gallery along with the Palm Springs Modern app.

There are so many places to see it was overwhelming deciding on a short list.

After a week of near constant eating we decided on a light brunch at  Norma’s before heading out to collect the hire car. We picked it up from the international airport, I don’t know what I was expecting of a small town desert airport, but it wasn’t this. Of course it was a mid century airport with a large sweeping roof line, glass and natural materials. 

Climbing into a right hand drive car for the first time in my life was somewhat….hair raising but I was determined to learn how to do it. Sonya and Bernie had been giving us tips (“the bitch is in the ditch”) on the different road rules and driving on the right hand side. So as we pulled out into the midday traffic feeling like I was using a different part of my brain, we were ready. It really didn’t take long to work it out and feel comfortable, if not relaxed. 

Our first stop on the tour was the old Tramway Gas Station (by Swiss born Albert Frey) now the visitor centre. I asked one of the guides for his top 5 recommendations on the map and he gave us a few good tips. 

The interior of the Gas Station is nothing special, what you’d expect of a visitor centre, but outside is a whole different story. It’s a compact little building but with a big personality, set in a barren desert landscape. Heat radiated up from the gravel giving the distance a shimmer. 

The mountains dwarf the Gas Station; I suspect the lack of vegetation distorts our perception of their true size.  We promised ourselves to come back in winter to see them covered in snow. The tramway is only closed for two weeks of the year, guess which two weeks! Yep, right now. Too bad, we were looking forward to getting up there. Another reason to come back. 

The Kaufman Desert House 1947, was the next stop on the tour. Winding our way through the residential streets of Old Las Palmas, all of the houses were beautiful. As we approached the Kaufman house I suddenly felt like a peeping-tom, it felt a bit creepy peering into someone’s home. But a car full of tourists was parked outside and pulled away as we approached, so I guessed the owners must be used to it. We parked the car further up the street and approached on foot. Wow. I can see why it’s recognised as one of the best examples of desert modernism. It was so beautiful. It blends perfectly with the surrounds. The app showed us photos of inside that looked equally gorgeous. This was the highlight of the day for me. 

Next on our route was the Palm Springs Library with a broad sloping facade that reminded me of flying buttresses. Inside is a central gridded skylight of formed concrete with a carp pool underneath. I felt sorry for these large beautiful fish endlessly circling their shallow pond. 

Other stops on our tour included: the Catholic Church which was closed unfortunately; the Chace bank with upside down arches; the Frey house II; Sinatra’s winter house; the modern art museum; and a hotel.  

This is the closest we’ll get to Mexico, this trip, so we decided to try one of the Mexican restaurants for dinner. Over a cold beer we consulted Urbanspoon to find the best Mexican in town. But when we walked past the one with the highest rating it looked dead- no atmosphere, so we headed back to one that we’d passed earlier that look amazing. We weren’t disappointed with the place. Climbing ivy, mosaic tables, hand painted murals and outdoor swamp-coolers: this place is thick with atmosphere! 

 Palm Springs is such a clean city, we didn’t see any graffiti or rubbish lying around. “It feels like a living museum” noted Dave. I’m not ready to leave tomorrow. I know we have many more exciting places to see on our trip, yet I am still sad to be leaving this place and this hotel. 

Palm Springs, we’ll be back for sure! (Just not in summer) 

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