12.3.09

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block

Palm Springs is ground zero for mid-century modern architecture Get Ready to Embrace your Inner Modernist

Palm Springs Modern Architecture

Palm Springs Modern Architecture Photo Julius Shulman

Every February for the past 9 years the big event to attend is the Palm Springs Modernism Show, which I missed by one week. Was I disappointed when I found out. I would have planned my trip differently. More than eighty of the foremost decorative and fine arts dealers convene to offer the very best of mid 20th-century furniture, paintings, sculpture, lighting, books and jewelry to eager collectors. Concurrently, Modernism Week surrounds the Modernism show with an events lineup offered during nine days that includes an always-memorable Saturday night gala, retro films, lectures, architectural tours around town (some on a double-decker bus), a classic car show, gallery openings and no shortage of martini soirees to rival the Rat Pack’s. A “don’t-miss” party (that I missed) this year was held at Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs home, a sumptuous 1947 Mid-Century marvel with period décor, that rents out for $2,600 / night.

Palm Springs Modern Architecture
Palm Springs Modern Architecture Twin Palms: The Frank Sinatra Estate

But all was not lost because I did a self guided driving tour of "Screen Block" houses. The tour was headed by my Dad in the drivers' seat and two really good back-seat drivers (Joyce & me) with the map, shouting out directions: turn left here! no maybe try turning right!...stop now!....back up! The tour was written up as: Palm Springs' Hidden Architectural Treasures and some of these treasures were really well hidden off the main track. Unless a visitor is fortunate enough to spend an extended time in Palm Springs they are unlikely to notice or appreciate the extensive use of a quirky building material known as "screen block", a pierced decorative concrete block most commonly produced in 12" squares. It had it's heyday from the late 1950s through the 1960s especially in climates where the challenges of sun protection spawned a host of architectural solutions including metal grilles and wood louvers. During this brief "golden era" more than 250 different screen block patterns were produced around the country. Palm Springs is remarkable for having at least 54 of those patterns documented within its city limits. Along with this popularity screen block inherited a cascade of synonyms including "breeze block", "grille block", "solar block", "veil block", perforated block", "vented block", and "pierced block". Manufacturers claimed that buildings using screen block were 10 degrees cooler. Screen block has its origins and is a close cousin of the wooden grilles found in Moorish and Hindu architecture. But despite these exotic connections, history shows us that screen block's functional versatility and design appeal was embraced as a uniquely American product, forever linked to the space-age optimism of the late 50s and 60s and to the Sunbelt lifestyle.

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture

1. The first example was the Resort Realty Building 190 E.Palm Canyon Dr. The exotic three dimensional block (today painted turquoise a colour that works wonderfully in the clear desert air of Palm Springs) was designed by Austrian-American sculptor Erwin Hauer. It was far more expensive and difficult to produce than standard screen block and surviving examples of Hauer's blocks are extremely rare.

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture
This building was hard to get close to, as it was at the intersection of 4 busy streets with lots of traffic. But I am glad that I persevered to get close enough to take close up shots of the way the sun cast these interesting shadows.

2. The next location was rather hard to find, Twin Palms Apartments 495 Twin Palms Drive, and I would have driven right by without stopping to take in the beauty of it. A different colour has been used for each of the sections and the screen block is called "Venus" because they create imaginative "Martian-like figures.

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block 
Palm Springs Modern Architecture
In the pictures you can see that windows are right behind the screen block.

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture

3. Then to my delight we went to Canyon View Estates, an absolutely gorgeous neighborhood of detached condominiums built in the early 60s, designed by architect William Krisel who was commissioned by the developer Alexander. Alexander changed the face of Palm Springs with the construction of more than 2,500 homes in the modernist idiom. Krisel also designed the private home of the Alexanders' - "The Alexander House" which was dubbed The "House of Tomorrow". It was conceived as an experiment in modern living. It gained fame as the honeymoon home of Elvis and Priscilla Presley.

Palm Springs Modern Architecture
Palm Springs Modern Architecture Alexander Residence1957 Photo: Julius Shulman

William Krisel shaped the look of Palm Springs 50 years ago and now a new generation is resurrecting his classic designs, and it was so apparent upon driving into this subdivision, where you could see that it is becoming the hip and happening area.

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block 
Palm Springs Modern Architecture
The screen block on this house (above & below) is called 'Maltese". I love how the tree is growing up and through the architecture.

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block 
Palm Springs Modern Architecture
How wonderful to have an orange tree in your front yard

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture
The landscaping for this community of 164 homes was immaculately maintained. The trees were works of art - living sculpture.

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block 
Palm Springs Modern Architecture
I think this is called "Mei Ling" pattern pattern (above & below)

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block 
Palm Springs Modern Architecture
This screen block is fleur-de-lis and was one of my favourites (above & below)

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture
This house with the Japanese inspired "Starburst" pattern was being renovated and I was able to slip inside and take a few photos. Palm Springs Modern Architecture Palm Springs 3 098
The wall between the kitchen & living room was taken out and this interesting glass mosaic tile was put on the backslash
of the all-white kitchen (that's me in the reflection taking the picture).


 Palm Springs 3 099
The shower in the Master Ensuite was sunken about 12" 

Palm Springs 3 100

Double molded sinks in the Ensuite

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The tilers at work in the Main Bathroom

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block 
Palm Springs Modern Architecture
The view from the back patio

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Furniture and the remains of the workers lunch in the dining room. Great Chairs - vintage to match the era of the house.
All the floors throughout the house including the outdoor balcony and the carport were tiled in white Mexican pavers.

 
Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block
Palm Springs Modern Architecture

The living rooms in these homes feature vaulted ceilings and clearstory windows

 Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block

Picture taken from inside living room. The windows are on all four sides of the living room which is a really effective way of
getting light into the interior of the home without the effects of the heat from the sun.

Palm Springs 3 119 Palm Springs 3 082

4. Last stop Parker Hotel 4200 E. Palm Canyon Dr, recently re-designed by Jonathan Adler. This vast wall of is made of "Vista-Vue" pattern screen block. Both beautiful and functional. Don't you love the Bell Hop's pink jacket? It is so Jonathan Adler.

Palm Springs Modern Architecture and the Use of Screen Block

I hope you enjoyed the screen block tour.
We are off to have drinks at the
Viceroy.

Other travel posts you might like:
My Visit to Palm Springs
Drinks at the Viceroy Palm Springs
Sunday in Milan
Venice - The Old and the New
VENICE - Bauer Palladio Hotel & Spa, Giudecca Island, Redentore
ROME - Hotel Mascagni, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza Barberini
FLORENCE - Hotel Santa Maria Novella, Uffizi, Accademia Gallery  

Patricia Gray writes about 'WHAT'S HOT 'in the world of Interior Design, new and emerging trends, modern design, architecture,
and travel, as well as how your surroundings can influence the world around you.
© Patricia
Gray Interior Design Blog, 2009

31 comments:

  1. Ben Bialek12/3/09

    Loved your blog on the screen blocks...another great detail of modernist houses!...and the Viceroy Hotel, WOW!......gotta go to Palm Springs soon!!!

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  2. Love the screen blocks. I wish they were used more today. They tried at Joeys on Burrard to use screen block inside, but these are so much more pretty!

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  3. Great photos from Mr. Shulmand and you! Looking forward to drinks at he viceroy :)

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  4. Vanessa13/3/09

    My favs are the ~fleur de lis ~Blocks!

    Love the info!

    Vanessa!

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  5. i grew up in miami beach, and we had some realy beautiful examples of this architectural style. infact there were a couple on palm island where i lived.
    only the very best are still standing.
    you are so right , palm springs is ground zero for sure.
    and 'a big thank you' to Frank Sinatra...

    sorry you missed the show !!

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  6. Mid century modern - never thought it was my favorite, but I love architecture in general and your posts make it fun! Thanks for the great tour. Love that last shot of the bellman in the pink jacket - yes, so Jonathon Adler!!

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  7. That was such a fabulous tour! I loved it. I get such a great education reading your blog. Love it :) So great to see you last night!!!

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  8. I NEED, NEED, NEED to go next year to the show, thanks for sharing.
    Sinatra's house I heard has 23 (twenty three)bathrooms...and it belongs to our own vancouverite mogul J.P.
    I am now thinking about putting some screen blocks in my patio, you gave me another inspiration!

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  9. If we are voting on screen blocks my favourite is the house with the orange tree in front. And that backsplash is fabulous.

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  10. Great photos and piece of architectural history! I think my favorite block is the Mei Ling - nice openess. Great photo by Shulman of the Alexander house. It gives a great glimpse of the time.
    Thanks!

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  11. Wow! Retro groovy...I am definitely heading to Palm Springs. Love, love, love the kitchen tile. Way cool!

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  12. P - Can I come with you next year to the Palm Springs Modernism? Sounds amazing and I have always wanted to go........

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  13. Hi Peg
    Great…..I will arrange a tour! Are you in?

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  14. Absafuckinglootly!

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  15. Great post. I enjoyed the screened tour. I was thinking of a glassblock screen for my place.

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  16. Great post, so cool with the screen blocks. We don't have that at all in Sweden.

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  17. Just stumbled upon your blog. realized you are from Vancouver, one of my favorite city...I always spend time there on my ski trips to Blackcombe...
    I never had any desire to go to Palm Street until i saw the vibrant images and colors on your blog...

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  18. OMG ! I totally missed this incredible entry. I have always loved screen blocks - you definitely made my Saturday worth it!

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  19. Great blog! Love the photos and look forward to visiting often. I have a new website - still working on it but see what you think so far. http://www.amodernhomestyle.com

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  20. Hi Patricia!
    I loved your blog.Beatiuful pictures and great ideas.
    Regiane
    From Brazil

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  21. Thanks for your lovely emails and comments on this post.
    You are all amazing.
    xx
    Patricia

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  22. Anonymous8/5/09

    great vintage chairs - very retro modern

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  23. Patricia - I loved this post and although I'm 'late to the party', just had to tell you how much I enjoyed reading it and seeing all the interesting photos. I have a huge love affair for Palm Springs post modern. The history and architecture is captivating. Vintage Screen block just adds to all it's fabulousness. I miss it & I need to get back.

    All the best ~ Deb

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  24. Anonymous6/5/10

    Hi Patricia!
    I LOVE your site. You are so inspirational, I cannot get enough of your website I can sit here all day and look at all the beautiful pictures! I am also doing interior design and you defiantly have to be my number one idol! I hope to be as successful as you!
    God bless you and your amazing talent!
    Sarah

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  25. Love the screen block pics.

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  26. There is modern good and modern bad. This is modern good.

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  27. I love the architecture and textiles. Palm Springs is so beautiful!

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  28. I cannot get enough of your website I can sit here all day and look at all the beautiful pictures! I am also doing interior design and you defiantly have to be my number one idol! I hope to be as successful as you!

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  29. thanks for sharing such informative and fantastic post..

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  30. Cindy Birmingham Alabama artsydesignfurniture12@yahoo24/1/12

    Also a designer.... I was searching the web to see if anyone had the vision or ideas i do and ran across the mirror mosaic back splash in the Palm Springs kitchen. I have done several mirror mosaic pieces that are just stunning and would love to share them with you. I have traveled working doing design projects for Ethan Allen and would be more than willing to travel to do the "labor" on any project you may have that could include the artistic addition the mirror mosaic adds. I can see it adding a creative softer feeling to a sleek harder lined modern kitchen or bath and just sparkling in a more French inspired design. : )

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  31. Anonymous4/2/12

    We have a Mid-century home in Palm Springs,Ca and would like to find a source to buy circle screen pattern blocks in the area, any leads?
    Tom J

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