A Beach House At Home in the Desert

Paul Rudolph’s Walker Guest House Makes Palm Springs Debut

Posted By: Tuesday, November 06, 2018

By Lydia Kremer

An historic architectural treasure is now a new attraction in Palm Springs. An exact scale replica of the 1952 Walker Beach House by modernist architect Paul Rudolph is installed in Palm Springs.


Through the innovative thinking of local architectural preservationists and a partnership with several sponsors, the replica of Rudolph’s Walker Beach House will be on view for public tours beginning October 2018 through March 2020. It will be located between the Palm Springs Art Museum and The Rowan Hotel in the new downtown development on land provided by Grit Development.


Rudolph originally built the Walker Beach House for Dr. Walter Walker as a family guest house on Florida’s Sanibel Island. The 576-square-foot beach cottage is still currently used by the Walker family.


Much like Albert Frey’s Aluminaire House which will be installed in 2020 in approximately the same location, the Walker Beach House installation in Palm Springs was sparked by equal parts serendipity and perfect timing. In this case, the effort was spearheaded by the Palm Springs Modern Committee.

Walker Guest House
Source: Anton Grassl / Esto


A Cross-Country Journey Begins


“The Walker Guest House was first introduced to me by board member Stephen Rose,” says Nickie McLaughlin, Palm Springs Modern Committee (ModCom) executive director. “Stephen had visited Florida and taken the annual Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) tour.”  


Having met board members of SAF, Rose learned that the Walker Beach House had been carefully dismantled and placed into custom-made crates after its first exhibit at Sarasota’s Ringling Art Museum which had been on display from the fall of 2016 until April of 2017. Essentially it was in storage waiting for the next destination where it could be displayed.


“Stephen was an enthusiastic supporter of bringing the house to Palm Springs and asked me to give it some thought. This took several weeks to research as the project came with a lot of logistical hurdles and a large budget that the Palm Springs Modern Committee had not undertaken before,” McLaughlin added.

Working with Joe King, the architect who recreated the house, and Elliott Himelfarb, a board member of SAF, a loosely-formed group was created that included Rose and McLaughlin who took it to the ModCom board for their consideration. The board made the decision to support the project and a subsequent contract with the Sarasota Architectural Foundation was entered into in June 2018.

“As the project manager I came up with a plan to offset some of the costs associated with reconstruction of the house by going into the community seeking sponsors. This is the most expensive adventure that PS ModCom has embarked on and recouping funds will be possible through daily tours, fund raising events and generous sponsors.”

Walker Guest House
Source: Ezra Stoller/ Esto

A Homage to Paul Rudolph

This creative collaboration of architectural preservation and community support has resulted in the perfect synergy to bring the Walker Guest House to Palm Springs for a celebration of Paul Rudolph’s 2018 Centennial. He was born on October 23, 2018.

Rudolph was a pioneer in the Sarasota School of architecture movement, a design movement of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s in Sarasota, Florida that adapted the International style of modernism for Sarasota’s regional climate and topography.

Inspired by its beach location on Sanibel Island, Rudolph designed the Walker Beach House with simple materials and nautical elements. Because of its location on an island, all the construction materials had to be delivered by boat so Rudolph employed ready-made elements and simple construction.


An article in the Herald Tribune on April 16, 2017 described Rudolph’s design accordingly:

The Walker Guest House has large wooden “flaps” that open and close using ropes, pulleys and iron counterweights referred to as “cannonballs.” The array of outriggers that support the house and flaps has inspired one critic to describe it as “a spider in the sand.”


In Rudolph’s own description he explained: “With all the panels lowered the house is a snug cottage, but when the panels are raised it becomes a large screened pavilion. If you desire to retire from the world you have a cave, but when you feel good there is the joy of a large screened pavilion.”


Join the Celebration


For the annual February Modernism Week, ModCom is hosting several events to celebrate a Symposium based on the work of Paul Rudolph with a panel of experts familiar with Rudolph’s work and the Sarasota School of Architecture. Don’t miss the conversation:


Paul Rudolph 100 years of Space and Form

Sunday, February 17, 2018 at 10:30 a.m.

Palm Springs Art Museum Annenberg Theatre

Tickets $35 per person includes a tour of the Walker Guest House Replica following the Symposium.

The evening concludes with a fundraiser – a tour and cocktail party at the Russell house from 5 - 7pm Tickets for evening events: $175 per person


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