Modernism Week Cheat Sheet: Frey House II Tours

Posted By: Matt Link Monday, February 18, 2013

An estimated 35,000 people flocked to Palm Springs for last year’s Modernism Week, and 2013’s event is poised to break that record attendance. From February 14th to 24th, over 100 events celebrating Midcentury Modern architecture and style will occur all over Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. Most Modernism Week events sell out before their date, so if you happen to miss the Frey House II Tours, here’s your essential absentee cheat sheet of the event.


Albert Frey was a Swiss-born architect and one of the pioneers of “Desert Modernism.” He was also the first Modernist architect with a dedicated practice in the Coachella Valley. Frey designed some of the iconic structures in the area, and from 1939 until his death in 1998, he remained a fulltime Palm Springs resident.

During his studies and internships in Europe, Frey was heavily influenced by the burgeoning Dutch De Stijl and German Bauhaus movements. These styles rejected the ornate and idiosyncratic architecture of the Victorian era in favor of bold, uncluttered, and futuristic designs. In the late 1920s, Frey studied under Le Corbusier, one of the three fathers of Modernist architecture. Le Corbusier believed: “Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.”


In 1934, Frey was commissioned to help design an office/apartment dual-use building with his business partner architect A. Lawrence Kocher (the managing editor of Architectural Record magazine). The structure was for Kocher's brother, Dr. J. J. Kocher of Palm Springs. Upon arrival, Frey immediately fell in love with the desert. After completion of his work on New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1939, Frey returned to the California desert and became perfectly poised to capitalize on Palm Springs’ post-war building boom and the growth of American mass vacation tourism.


Before beginning the construction of his own desert abode on the mountainside above downtown Palm Springs, Frey spent a year studying the position of the sun through the seasons and how it hit the slope. Completed in 1963, the Frey House II (located above the Palm Springs Art Museum) is a stunning example of the architect’s creativity and innovation. Frey lived in the house until his death at age 93, and in his will he gifted the personal dwelling to the Palm Springs Art Museum.

The Frey House II embodies so many of the principles of Desert Modernism: the use (and avoidance) of natural sunlight, the integration of the indoors with the outdoors, the utilization of pre-fabricated materials, and the blending of the manmade with the natural environment. The house is positioned to be heated by sunlight in the winter, and cooled by shade in the summer. A huge boulder forms a partial wall between the living area and the sleeping area, and Frey ingenuously set a light switch directly into the rock. Huge floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors open the house out into the elements and a small swimming pool surrounding by stones. The gold on the main doorway matches the desert flowers that bloom on the hillside. A lightweight corrugated aluminum roof follows the slope of the mountain. The color of the foundational bricks perfectly matches the hue of the surrounding natural rock face. The bedroom is situated to maximum sweeping panoramic views of the valley below. At just 800 square-feet, the structure is compact and spacious at the same time.

“It is a very livable house,” Frey simply put it.


The Movie Colony Hotel (1935)

Palm Springs City Hall (1952)

The Monkey Tree Hotel has been restored to its Mid-Centry Modern roots. 

The North Shore Beach and Yacht Club at the Salton Sea (1962)

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station (1963)

Tramway Gas Station - now the Palm Springs Visitor Center (1965)


According to his longtime companion (and current Palm Springs resident) Jean Farrar: “Albert taught me to think of one’s home as a sacred place. He brought his love of the outdoors into his architecture, so his clients could feel what he was feeling. He was a genius. As you peer out one of his windows and on to the desert, you discover of a soul in nature and in the birds and in the wildlife and in the landscape. It’s like it says in The Bible: ‘I look up to the mountains; Does my strength come from mountains?’”


  • linda gonen Tuesday, February 19, 2013 13:47 PM

    ill be in palm springs wednesday feb 20th and thursday feb 21st with my daughter. please email me if a tour opens for us for either day!!!!! thanks

  • PS Tourism Tuesday, February 19, 2013 16:23 PM

    Please contact Modernism Week for any tickets or go to the PS Art Museum box office for any tickets to Frey II House.

  • Betty Monday, July 8, 2013 10:18 AM

    is the house open year round for tours or only one week a year? At the art museum, is the a list of museum houses in Palm Springs which are open to the public? Who do I contact? Thank you

  • Palm Springs Bureau of Touism Monday, July 8, 2013 11:59 AM

    Hi Betty, The house is not open for public tours and it is owned by the Art Museum. The only time you can tour it is during Modernism Week ( and we recommend you sign up for their email list, so you are notified when tickets go on sale. They sell out fast.

  • Mike Vetterli (Ms) Wednesday, February 18, 2015 12:33 PM

    I have an Albert Frey house. How many did he design in Palm Springs?

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