When Don Draper needed a vacation, he headed to Palm Springs, California–the desert playground for Hollywood’s elite in the 1950s-1960s, and still the hub of what is known as mid-century modern design–a distinct architectural and interior style that favors sleek lines, steel structures, unconventional shapes, and enormous pieces of glass that bring the outdoors indoors. Palm Springs’ preservationists have put up a mighty fight to protect the works of architects Donald Wexler, William F. Cody, and E. Stewart Williams, as developers seek out more space for golf courses and Starbucks. Thankfully the ever-growing adoration for mid-century modern design and frustration with clone-towns has breathed new life into the desert town, and it is lauded worldwide as a rare symbol of the beauty and design America was once capable of.
I stumbled upon Palm Springs in January 2011, when I spent six weeks road-tripping from San Francisco to Miami. We checked into the Del Marcos hotel, dined in the old-Hollywood glam of Melvyn’s, rode up to the top of the San Jacinto mountain via the Palm Springs aerial tramway, and attempted to trespass the gates that kept us too far from John Lautner’s space-age Elrod House, built in 1968 (and featured in James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever). I was struck by an overwhelming feeling of bliss. This was the closest I had ever felt to 1955, and it was glorious. When you find a place that honors beauty, nature, progress, architecture, even affordability (many of these homes were designed for the middle-class American family, and thus came with very reasonable price tags), it strikes you just how much we’ve let our landscape be overtaken by strip malls, restaurant chains, cheap, shoddy architecture–built solely for a quick buck with zero regard for environment or beauty. In the mid-century, America enjoyed a renaissance in music, fashion, film, design, and architecture. Palm Springs is one of the only places left that retains the magic of that period.
I returned to Palm Springs in October 2011, and it’s since become a home away from home. When I heard that a couple of friends of mine from the UK were planning their first trip to Palm Springs this month, I transcribed my scribbled lists of favorite hotels, houses, and hang-outs into a guide that perhaps some of you will be able to put to use……..
First Things First
Before you do anything…. book yourself on Robert Imber’s Palm Springs Modern Tour. Even if you couldn’t give a damn about architecture. Robert Imber can seduce even the most apathetic tourist to pledge allegiance to Palm Springs and the preservation movement. He packs seven people into his comfy, air-conditioned van, and drives you around for three hours, whilst enthusiastically detailing the history, celebrity goss, and architectural wonders that dot the town. By the final hour, I was ready to move to Palm Springs. Please note that his tours fill up fast!http://www.palmspringsmoderntours.com/
*I would suggest calling the number on the website, as he can sometimes take awhile to respond to e-mails
Where To Stay
Viceroy Palm Springs
415 South Belardo Road
1.760.320.4117 / 1.800.670.6184
You can find incredible bargains at this Hollywood Regency-styled boutique hotel during the off-season. This secluded hotel was once the Estrella Inn, where Hollywood stars Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Tyrone Power came to escape their LA troubles. It’s home to one of the oldest pools in Palm Springs and the grounds are lush with bougainvillea bushes, manicured grass, and lemon trees. It’s one of the most romantic hotels in Palm Springs, yet being part of the Viceroy chain, it can be over-run with the hip and beautiful during peak season.