Palm Springs Architect: Albert Frey - Visit Palm Springs tag-img

Palm Springs Architect: Albert Frey

albert frey
albert frey of palm springs
Source: Palm Springs Historical Society

Albert Frey is one of the main architects that helped shape the overall design of Palm Springs we have come to love today. He was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1903.  After his studies in architecture, he took a position in Paris at the office of Le Corbusier under a student visa. Le Corbusier was also Swiss born and would go on to become an internationally recognized architect and designer in the modern movement. When the work in Paris eventually declined, Frey resigned. When his American visa was approved, he headed to New York where he interviewed with architect Lawrence Kocher, also the managing editor of Architectural Record. He was offered a position for the salary of $25 a week, which was considered good money in the depression years.

albert frey

Frey + Kocher

Frey and Kocher began designing the Aluminaire House in 1930. The metal and glass structure was built in less than 10 days for the 1931 Architectural League Show in New York. This house was sheathed entirely in ribbed aluminum over insulation board covered with building paper. All window sashes, doors, and frames were steel. Built-in furniture provided efficient use of space. The expo opened on April 18th, 1931 for one week. Over 100,000 people toured. Henry Russel Hitchcock and Philip Johnson included the house in the Museum of Modern Art, “Modern Architecture; an international exhibition” in 1932. Traveling for two years to fourteen locations in the United States, the exhibition played a large role in the development of the American modern movement.aluminaire house

Read More about the Aluminaire House

One of the commissions that changed his life came in the summer of 1934. It was an office/apartment dual-use building on Palm Canyon for Kocher’s brother, Dr. J. J. Kocher of Palm Springs. Frey visited Palm Springs for the first time and fell in love with the desert. The building was the beginning of what would be known as the “desert modernism.” After the project, there was no work for him in New York so from 1935 to 1937 Frey stayed in Palm Springs and worked with John Porter Clark under the firm name of Van Pelt and Lind Architects as both were not yet licensed in California. In 1937 Frey briefly returned to work on the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Then in 1939 he returned to Palm Springs to resume his collaboration with Clark, which was to continue for nearly 20 more years. Frey and his wife divorced in 1945 and neither remarried.

albert frey kocher samson building

Albert Frey, Sr. arrived in the Village September, 1948, to make his home with his son. They lived at 1150 Paseo El Mirador. He took an active part in the work of the local art colony almost instantly. Unfortunately, he passed away from pneumonia shortly after his arrival.

From Partnerships to Solo Work

His business partner, John Porter Clark, who had much to do with the building up of the Village since the early 1930’s, had been commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the army engineering corps in 1942 and was stationed with the army air corps at Minter Field, near Bakersfield. During his absence, Albert took charge from their office at 869 North Palm Canyon Drive. During this time, he also became a member of the board of the Palm Springs Desert Museum. At the end of 1956, Clark left the firm to establish a solo practice.

Albert remained interested in a variety of building types, especially residential for which he held a particular affinity and collaborated with Chambers. However, when the Tramway Gas Station was completed under their partnership, he decided to go solo.

palm springs visitor center

Read more about the Visitor Center

From 1966 to his retirement in the 1980s, Frey worked alone. Frey’s commissions later in his career consisted primarily of additions and alterations to houses in Smoketree Ranch. He died in Palm Springs in 1998 at the age of 95 and is buried at Welwood Murray Cemetery.

Albert Frey’s Works

Frey personified the same qualities found in his buildings: elegant, simple, streamlined, and clever. Even his wardrobe demonstrated a sensual notion of esthetic frugality. He wore shirts, trousers, and socks in a strictly limited palette of white, powder blue, salmon, pale yellow, and beige. For Frey, Modernism was not merely a stylistic issue, but a philosophical way of life.

 Kocher – Sampson Building (1934) – 766 North Palm Canyon –  read more about this property

The Kellogg Studio (1936) – 321 West Vereda Sur. Altered.

The Mason House (1937) – 448 Cottonwood Road – Altered and became condominiums.

The Chaney Apartments (1939) – 275 East Tamarisk Road

Frey House I (1940, demolished)

albert frey house I

The Julian Sieroty House (1941) – 695 East Vereda Sur – Restored by Frey in 1989.

The Racquet Club Bungalows (1945) – 2743 North Indian Avenue

Villa Hermosa apartments (1946) – 155 Hermosa place

The Colgan Apartments (1946) – 269 Chuckwalla Road – Name changed to Villa Orleans. 15 units.

The Raymond Loewy House (1946) – 600 West Panorama Road – Minor alterations.

Featured in LIFE Magazine, the home was built for industrial designer Raymond Loewy as his winter house in the Little Tuscany neighborhood. Loewy had designed logos for Coca Cola, Frigidaire, Exxon, Lucky Strike,  and Air Force One. Frey convinced Loewy that he could design a house that took advantage of an extensive boulder pile sitting on the property that had been pushed there during the construction of an adjacent road. It was designed in an L-shape with bedrooms and bathroom on one wing, and the living room, servants’ quarters and kitchen on the other. Frey created the unusual feature of a large boulder and a portion of the swimming pool entering the space.

Richard Neutra was building the iconic Kaufmann House this same year and in basically the same neighborhood. They shared the same contractor.


The Andrew and Anna Jergens House, aka Graceland West (1946) – 845 West Chino Canyon – Sold in 1960 to Ray Kroc, the McDonald’s founder, then sold in 1970 to Elvis Presley who expanded it and recorded 9 songs in the house.

Bel Vista Residence (1946) – 1164 North Calle Rolph

Sun View Estates Home (1950) Adjacent to Deep Well Ranch estates just east of Sagebrush Road on South Calle Rolph.

Palm Springs City Hall (1952 – 1957) – 3200 E Tahquitz Canyon Way – Palm Springs City Hall was one of Clark, Frey and Chambers’ most important public buildings. Although a collaborative effort with the local architectural firm of Williams and Williams, the building’s initial phase was primarily the design work of John Porter Clark and Albert Frey. An unusual detail of the council chamber is its corner treatment consisting of projecting concrete blocks cut at a diagonal at every other paired row which allows the blocks to cast light and shadow.

palm springs city hall

The Laura Carey House, aka the Carey-Pirozzi House (1956) – 651 West Via Escuela

The Frelinghuysen House (1959) – 707 Panorama Road – There were alterations then a restoration after 2000.

The Monkey Tree Hotel (1960) – 2388 E Racquet Club Rd

monkey tree hotel palm springs

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station (1963) Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was a joint venture of Frey and Chambers with Williams, Williams & Williams. John Porter Clark served as coordinating architect. The Williams team, with E. Stewart Williams as lead designer, was responsible for the upper tramway station that is evocative of a mountain chalet. The tramway valley station was designed by Frey using a New England style covered bridge as its inspiration. A dry stream that could become a raging river at certain times of the year was the challenging location chosen for the valley station. Hence, Frey’s decision to straddle the stream with a building utilizing a structural truss design. He inserted glass between the trusses to provide spectacular views looking up the mountain.

Albert-Frey-Plam-Springs-valley station

The Hugo Steinmeyer House (1962) – 318 Pablo Drive

Residence (1964) – 318 West Pablo Dr

Frey House II (1964) – 686 Palisades Drive – Learn more about this wonderful architectural gem and Book Your Visit

albert frey house II palm springs
Frey House II


Tramway Gas Station aka the Palm Springs Visitor Center (1965) – 2901 N Palm Canyon Dr

By Randy Garner




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