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Architects Who Built Palm Springs: Charles Du Bois

du bois swiss miss-in-Palm-Springs

By Randy Garner

Since the 1920s, visionary modernist architects have designed sleek, modern homes that have embraced the desert environment. The dramatic geographic surroundings of Palm Springs inspired a design aesthetic in the middle of the 20th Century now called Desert Modernism. This post-war architecture style includes use of block walls, clerestory windows, long and low rooflines.

Each architect responded to the desert climate, sunlight, and mountain landscape differently. One of the many architects that left their stamp on Palm Springs is Charles Du Bois (1903–1996, pronounced “do bwah”)

Charles du bois with son Charles
Charles Du Bois with son Charles Jr.

Early Years

Charles was born in Rochester, NY. An uncle in Glendale, California raised him and his sister Gertrude, where he graduated from High School in 1921. He attended UCLA for a year and then transferred to MIT (1922 – 1930, intermittently). During this time, he was also working as a draftsman for a number of prominent architecture firms, including Walker & Eisen (1923-1931), Gogerty & Weyl (1926-1929), and Horatio W. Bishop (1929).

Many of the designed Du Bois was exposed to in these early years were Spanish Baroque, Spanish Colonial, and Mediterranean Revival. Ealker & Eisen went on to build the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs (now Desert Regional Medical Center). This may have been a connection for Du Bois to Palm Springs, but it remains speculation.

Du Bois Post War Designs

Charles passed the California and national exams in the 1930s. In 1938 he opened his own office at 5143 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, AIA records show. During WWII, when housing construction slowed, he worked as a Senior Set Designer for MGM. After the war, he lived in Encino and as housing began to pick up again, he was back designing and working with developers across southern California.

A partial list of his work in Southern California includes:

Hollywood Riviera Estates and Palos Verdes Riviera Beach Estates (Torrance)

Fairwood Estates (Granada Hills)

Santa Anita Estates (East Pasadena)

Woodland West (Woodland Hills)

 Woodland West offered a glimpse of several Du Bois design hallmarks, namely Palos Verdes stone cladding double entry doors, and “casket-pull” door handles.

du bois woodland hills drawing
Woodland West drawing.

du bois palos verdes stone

Palm Springs Architect Du Bois Designs

His Palm Springs homes possess many classic midcentury modern traits such as post and beam construction, vaulted ceilings, walls of glass, and emphasis on blending indoor and outdoor living.

Swiss Miss Houses (1958 – 1962)

Du Bois is well known for the Swiss Miss Houses in Palm Springs featuring the A-frame entry.

Examples include: 1133 Vista Vepero – 1958; 1110 Abrigo Road – 1958; 775 W Crescent Drive – 1958; 700, 855 Via Las Palmas – 1959; 1355 N Rose Ave – 1961.

There are 15 Swiss Miss Houses remaining.

du bois swiss miss house

These homes were built in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood, which was undergoing development by builder Joe Dunas and the Alexander Construction Company. William Krisel had completed a number of homes with the “butterfly” roof, and flat roofs that had become more typical to the Palm Springs Desert Modern style. The builder turned to Charles Du Bois to come up with something that would distinguish them from this trend.

Du Bois designed his collection of Swiss Miss Houses as low-lying, one-story residences with a dramatic A-frame entry. The pitch can span the width of the residence, creating covered porch areas in both the front and back by the pool. The name came from its comparison to the gable roofs often found at ski chalets in Switzerland.

Another interpretation is that the roofline followed a trend for Polynesian-influenced designs, which had become popular in America and increasingly common in bars and restaurants. It would later take on the name “Tiki” as military returned from their service in the South Pacific.

du bois swiss miss house

Sunrise L’anai (1962 – 1964)

Du Bois and builder Joe Dunas went into partnership with the Alexanders on this project as they had on the Swiss Miss Homes. The complex encompasses 22 units in six floor plans clustered in six buildings. Many characteristics of the residences are shared stone walls beside the interior courtyard and entranceways. The design included large, shingled, two-story A-frame gables with eaves that descend almost to the ground, partially open living areas, and post and beam construction.

du bois Sunrise-Lania

Las Palmas Summit (1962 – 1963)

Las Palmas Summit is a small development immediately adjacent to Vista Las Palmas. The district is composed of a single north-west street (Los Robles Dr.) and two cul-de-sacs (W Capistrano Ct, W Friar Ct). Charles Du Bois was the architect and Joseph Dunas was the developer, partner of Alexander Construction Company.

du bois on robles dr
Du Bois on Robles Dr.

Advertisements for the homes differentiated them from other Palm Springs offerings at the time by evoking popular culture’s increasing interest in Hawaii as a vacation destination: “Where island living meets desert living, the “all seasons” home designed for year round living.” Sales agent, “Aloha-Bob Paine” was on hand to provide “Hawaiian Hospitality.”

Alexander du bois house

Canyon Estates (1968 – 1973)

DeBois collaborated with developer Roy Fey in conjunction with Great-West Life Assurance Company of Canada. Construction began in the late 1960’s on raw desert next to Indian Canyons golf course.

1969-Ad-du bois indian canyons
1969 Ad, Du Bois, Indian Canyons

Du Bois was tasked with building 254 single-story family residences and a central clubhouse. His design included low-lying roofs, Palo Verde stone accents and expansive glass windows. His plans offered a choice of six floor plans and a choice of contemporary, Spanish, Polynesian and desert contemporary designs. In addition, each home offered a spacious entry, breakfast room, wet bar, a choice of three bedrooms or two bedrooms and convertible den, two baths plus powder room and double garage.

du bois canyon estates 2

Canyon Estates was advertised as condominium homes. The Desert Sun noted it to be a $25 million project on 110 acres at the ribbon cutting in April of 1970. It included a Country Club providing the homeowners with the most magnificent and luxurious clubhouse. Roy Fey hired designer Vern Harlow and manager Ford Munn to decorate and furnish the clubhouse.

du bois canyon estates

The clubhouse featured a nicely furnished lounge, complete spa and gym facilities for both men and women, card rooms, private party rooms, 9-hole executive golf course and two tennis courts. It has 15 pools.

When the homes hit the market in the early 70’s, prices started out at $48,900, which was higher than a typical residence. By the mid to late 70s, prices and skyrocketed to $145,000.

Charles du bois ad

canyon estates clubhouse du bois

Modernism Week

Modernism Week’s signature February Event is an annual celebration of midcentury modern design, architecture, art, fashion and culture. Modernism Week features more than 350 events including the Palm Springs Modernism Show, Signature Home Tours, films, lectures, Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus Tours, nightly parties and live music, walking and bike tours, fashion, classic cars, modern garden tours, a vintage travel trailer exhibition, and more.

In addition to the events in February, Modernism Week hosts Modernism Week — October, which has grown to become its own signature fall event.

Tickets On Sale Now

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