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Pride of Architectural Preservation

Midcentury architecture

Historic Preservation and Sustainability are Natural Partners.

Preservation and reuse of historic buildings reduces resource and material consumption, puts less waste in landfills, and consumes less energy than demolishing buildings and constructing new ones. Over the past decade, advances in high performance or “green” buildings have been numerous, but primarily have focused on new construction. As a result, the preservation and adaptability of historic and older buildings has not always been at the forefront of the ‘green’ movement agenda.

Historic buildings can be upgraded with new technologies to maximize energy performance. Historic features such as windows can be repaired and restored for higher efficiency. In addition to saving existing resources and historic character, historic preservation means environmental, cultural and economic benefits for Palm Springs.

lvis honeymoon hideaway house

We now have the window technology for floor-to-ceiling glass walls that allow us to experience the beauty of the desert. We can save them, and have them without huge energy bills or cantilevered roof structures. The midcentury modern houses with glass walls were seasonal residences, almost uninhabitable in the summer. Today’s year-round residents can have an updated design that is smart in its use of resources.

Palm Springs believes architectural preservation, progressive design, and sustainable building practices are compatible goals. When we talk about sustainability in architecture, what could be more sustainable than rehabilitating and preserving our amazing catalog of existing, architecturally significant structures?  This can be done incorporating green building technology.

Classic Custom Home, 1960, Clair Earl Architect

Architect Sean Lockyer, part of a new generation of desert designers, admires Frey’s Palm Springs residence (known as Frey 2). “It is a model for more sustainable, affordable small houses that utilize the beauty of their surroundings,” he says. “It’s a house that — through the richness of context, details, and materials — reads and lives like so much more.”

albert frey house II palm springs

The future of the city’s architecture is directly connected to preservation of existing buildings. According to architect Doug Hudson, “What we save and preserve is just as important as what we build,” he says. “One need only look at the success of Modernism Week as evidence. It draws thousands of visitors from all over the world. They come here to celebrate and experience our architectural history. We need to keep that momentum going in historic preservation and our new architecture.”

By architect William Cody

Kaptur Plaza – Example

Kaptur Plaza is a great example of recent Palm Springs architectural preservation. It was the winner of a 2019 Preservation Design Award for Restoration. Award recipients are selected by a jury of top professionals in the fields of architecture, engineering, planning, and history, as well as renowned architecture critics and journalists. In making their decision the jury made note not only of the workmanship, but of the tremendous community involvement, stating, “this exemplifies a distinct moment in architectural time, and does a lot with natural cooling. The community rallied to save it, and it’s great that people in Palm Springs are really putting their money where their mouth is, preserving their heritage.”

Hugh Kaptur building

Palm Springs Plaza Theater – Looking Ahead

Originally built in 1936, the structure was used for film premieres and screenings and was the venue for nationally broadcast radio theatre programs and other performances by Bing Crosby, Amos ‘n’ Andy, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Frank Sinatra, among many others. In its later years, the theater was home to the critically acclaimed and revered “The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies.” Over the decades, the building has deteriorated, so the City of Palm Springs has initiated a capital campaign to restore the beloved structure to its former glory.

Plaza Theatre front

A fundraising campaign was kickstarted by a very generous donation of $5 million from David C. Lee. Recently, an anonymous donor has pledged an additional $2 million and issued a matching challenge to the city.  The City of Palm Springs is contributing $2 million and the state is providing $2.5 million.

Plaza Theater is a Class 1 Historic Site, so city ordinance dictates a careful process for alterations. Any work done to the building cannot significantly impact or materially impair the character-defining features of the historic resource, and must contribute to restoring the historic resource to its original appearance.

When restored, the Plaza Theatre will be the only place available for the entire community to come together and utilize it as an affordable community venue showcasing diverse programming for all people, promoting multi-cultural programming in film, music, live theater, educational, comedy and entertainment for all.

Palm Springs Architectural Preservation Organizations

The Palm Springs Preservation Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and promote public awareness of the importance of preserving the historical resources and architecture of the city of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley area.

The foundation is known for its publication of tribute journals dedicated to various desert architects and builders of the area such as William F. Cody, E. Stewart Williams, and the Alexander Construction Company. The tribute journals also celebrate Spanish colonial revival and Polynesian architecture, popular design styles featured in Palm Springs.

Kaptur book cover CourtesyPSPF

Holding a prominent part in Palm Springs’ Modernism Week, the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation sponsors and holds many events in the area to educate the public on the importance of historical preservation and architectural appreciation.

The Historic Site Preservation Board (HSPB) recommends potential historic sites and districts to the City Council, while fostering public awareness and appreciation of the City’s rich cultural and architectural heritage. Municipal codes made by the Palm Springs City Council are put in place to preserve and protect areas and specific buildings of the city that paint the picture of Palm Springs’ cultural, social, economic, political, and architectural history.

Palm Springs Modernism Committee is a non-profit organization dedicated to the appreciation and preservation of Desert Modern architecture and design. They accomplish this through education, advocacy for threatened buildings, promotion of heritage tourism, and the celebration of successes in preservation and adaptive reuse. PS ModCom has become one of the key players in turning the city into an architectural destination.

Members of the committee also conduct annual modern home architectural tours and assist property owners restoring and upgrading historic buildings.

William Cody’s masterpiece, the Abernathy Residence, a Class 1 historic site built in 1962.
William Cody’s masterpiece, the Abernathy Residence, a Class 1 historic site built in 1962.

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