Palm Springs Midcentury Modern Self Guided Tour

We’ve highlighted some great examples of Palm Springs Midcentury Architecture. Below are some brief details about each location. Please enjoy the tour! 

1. Tramway Road, Palm Springs, CA 92262

Year built: 1949-1963
Initial Use: Tramway Cable Cars Welcome Station and Mountain Stations
Current Use: Same as initial use, open daily, year-round

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, commonly known as “The Palm Springs Tram” offers great mid-century modern architecture and the best views in the Greater Palm Springs area – just two of many reasons the Palm Springs Tram Cable Car Ride is the biggest tourist attractions in greater Palm Springs. Both of the two Palm Springs Tramway properties

– the entrance known as the “Tramway Valley Station” plus the Mountain-top destination for the cable car ride called “The Tramway Mountain Station” were designed by notable mid-century architects.

The Tramway Valley Station, the entrance to the Palm Springs Tram cable car ride, was constructed between 1949-1963, was designed by the Palm Springs-based Albert Frey & Robson C. Chambers Architects. The Tramway Mountain Station, built in 1961, was designed by architect E. Stewart Williams.

The Palm Springs Tramway is located at the entrance to Palm Springs, on the northern most reach of Palm Springs, with the entranceway to the Tram Road located at intersection of North Palm Canyon Drive (Highway 111) and Tramway Road where you’ll also find the iconic Albert Frey-designed Visitor’s Center, originally built to house the Tramway Road gas station. For more info about the Palm Springs Tram.


The Tramway Valley Station, constructed between 1949-1963, was designed by Albert Frey & Robson C. Chambers
The Tramway Mountain Station, built in 1961, was designed by architect E. Stewart Williams.

2. Tramway Gas Station, 1963-65

2901 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 9226
Year built: 1963-1965

Initial Use: Gas/service station
Current Use: Palm Springs Visitor’s Center

Called the Tramway Gas Station, this space-age style and breathtaking mid-century modern icon of Palm Springs architecture, is now the home of the Palm Springs Visitors Center. The kite-shaped roof (metal roof shaped like a kite) hyperbolic is set against gorgeous mountains and blue skies and proudly welcomes thousands of visitors as the awe-inspiring entrance to the City of Palm Springs.

Nicknamed the Tramway Gas Station (currently the City’s official Visitor’s Center for Palm Springs Tourism) was formerly home to an Enco gas station. The gas station was often referred to as the “Tramway Gas Station” because of its location at the foot of Tramway Road, the long road leading to the entrance for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

The building has a distinctive, cantilevered, kite or wedge-shaped canopy (called a hyperbolic paraboloid according to the historic marker plaque on the building itself) was constructed in 1965 and was designed by architects Albert Frey and Robson C. Chambers. It is considered to be a prime example of modernism in architecture.

The original gas station closed its doors in the mid 1990s and was in disrepair until it was purchased and beautifully restored in 2000 by artist Montana St. Martins and Clayton Carlson, a retired publishing executive and San Francisco residents. The couple purchased the property for use as a high-end art and sculpture gallery and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to breathe life into the iconic building. The economy didn’t agree with the ambitious plans of St Martins and Carlson, and the bank purchased the property. A few years later the by the City of Palm Springs purchased and re-purposed the structure and is now the Palm Springs Visitor’s Center, open to the public year round, no charge.


The Tramway Gas Station, constructed between 1963-65, was designed by Albert Frey & Robson C. Chambers

3. The Wexler Steel Houses, 1961-62

290 Simms Road; 300 & 330 E. Molino Road;
3100,3125, 3133, & 3165 Sunny View Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
Year built: 1961

Initial Use: Private Residences
Current Use: Private Residences

Donald Wexler wasn’t the first to envision steel homes, but he was the first to combine the upscale modernist ideal with prefabricated construction techniques. Partnering with The Alexander Construction Company, Wexler developed an elegant and affordable steel design for a tract neighborhood in Palm Springs.

His design consisted of a concrete foundation where the prefabricated bathroom and kitchen units were placed, with the rest of the home being built around this central core. The whole house could be built in two days and sell for approximately $14,000.

Unfortunately, the rising cost of steel put a halt to these homes and only seven were built. Six of these steel gems have all been painstakingly restored to their original condition and are classified as a Class 1 Historical Site.


The Wexler Steel Houses, constructed in 1961, was designed by Donald Wexler

4. Racquet Club Road Alexanders, 1959-62

Along Racquet Club Road, East of Indian Canyon, Palm Springs, Ca 92262
Year built: 1959-1962

Initial Use: Private Residences
Current Use: Private Residences

The Racquet Club Road Estates development was built by the Alexander Construction Company between 1959 and 1962, and designed by William Krisel of Palmer and Krisel Architects. The first homes were completed in 1959, coinciding with space-age optimism, the apex of tailfins, and the height of popularity of the nearby Palm Springs Racquet Club. William Krisel designed the 1225 square foot houses as weekend and vacation getaways, on slab with single pane glass and without insulation. The beauty in these houses, however, is the post and beam construction allowing soaring rooflines, an open floor plan, and an indoor/outdoor relationship to the generous 1/4 acre lots.

Though considered modestly sized by today’s standards, the houses are perfectly suited for their intended use even today. Much of that feel is due to the ratio of house size to lot size. With almost 90% of the typical 10,000sf lot given to open space, the properties feel enormous.


Racquet Club Road Alexanders, constructed between 1959-62, was designed by William Krisel

5. Kaufmann House, 1946-47

470 W Vista Chino Rd, Palm Springs, CA 92262
Year built: 1946-1947

Initial Use: Private Residence
Current Use: Private Residence

The Kaufmann House, also known as the Kaufmann Desert House, located in Palm Springs, California, was designed by Richard Neutra in 1946. This Palm Springs property was one of the final USA buildings built by Richard Neutra, and is one of his most published and most famous houses.

Known for its mid-century modern International Style architecture the residence today is still privately owned today, and was recently listed for sale at approximately $15 million. A potential sale, brokered by Christies by an art-house, did not go through.

This five-bedroom, five-bathroom vacation house in Palm Springs, California was designed to emphasize connection to the desert landscape while offering shelter from harsh climate. Large sliding glass walls open the living spaces and master bedroom to adjacent patios. Major outdoor rooms are enclosed by a row of movable vertical fins that offer flexible protection against sand storms and intense heat.

The “Palm Springs Kaufmann house” was built by Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. a Pittsburgh department store tycoon as a desert retreat from cold Pennsylvania winters. The home was made famous by the 1947 photos by Julius Shulman. A decade earlier, Kaufmann commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

After Kaufmann died in 1955, his Palm Springs house stood vacant for many years. Following, the home had a series of owners, including singer and Palm Springs resident Barry Manilow, San Diego Chargers owner Eugene V. Klein and had several renovations. These renovations enclosed a patio, added floral wall paper to the bedrooms and removed a wall for the addition of a media room; additionally the roof lines were altered with the addition of air-conditioning units. In 1992 the home was discovered and purchased by a Brent Harris, an investment manager, and Beth Edwards Harris, an architectural historian; at the time it had been for sale on the market three and a half years.

The Harrises purchased the Kaufman House for $1.5 million, and invested in an extensive restoration project that involved researching archives, photographs, and original vendors who supplied materials to the home as the original plans were not available as the architect several adjoining plots to more than double the land around the 3,200-square-foot house, adding a separate pool house to serve as a viewing pavilion for the main house, and kept a tennis court that was built on a parcel added to the original Kaufmann property.

The home was thought to have been sold on May 13, 2008 for $15 million at auction by Christie’s as a part of a high-profile sale of contemporary art. The house had a presale estimate of $15 million to $25 million. The sale later fell through. In October 2008, the house was listed for sale at $1.3 million.

Today, many mid-century modern enthusiasts believe the world famous Palm Springs Kaufmann House to be among the most important houses of the 20th century in the United States. The Kaufmann house was included in a list of all time top 10 houses in Los Angeles, despite its true location in Palm Springs, in a Los Angeles Times survey of architectural experts in December 2008.


The Kaufmann House, constructed between 1946-47, was designed by Richard Neutra

6. Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway, 1962

1350 Ladera Circle, Palm Springs, Ca 92262
Year built: 1961

Initial Use: Private Residence
Current Use: Private Residence

Hailed by Look Magazine as “The House of Tomorrow” in the 1960’s, this distinct home was originally the home of Bob Alexander and his family, of the famous George Alexander Construction Company.

The dominating feature from the street is the polygonal glass bedroom floating beneath a bat-winged roofline. The Alexanders tragically passed in a private plane crash in 1965. In 1966, Elvis leased the estate for one year at $21,000. The original plan was to host his marriage to Priscilla on the property’s grounds, until the media learned about it. The ceremony was moved to the Aladdin in Las Vegas, and the couple was whisked back to this Palm Springs landmark the very same day, where Elvis carried Priscilla over the threshold and began their honeymoon.


Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway, constructed in 1962, was designed by William Krisel

7. Palm Springs Post Office, 1970

330 W. Amado Road, Palm Springs, CA 92262
Year built: 1970

Initial Use: Palm Springs Post Office
Current Use: Palm Springs Post Office

Originally City National Bank, this building was inspired by Le Corbusier’s chapel in Ronchamp, France, and designed by Victor Gruen Associates.

The Palm Springs Modern Committee salutes Bank of America for maintaining the architectural integrity of The City National Bank Building, 1959, Victor Gruen Associates, Architects, Rudolf Baumfeld, Chief of Design, and committing to the preservation of the Coachella Valley’s historic legacy of modern design

The bank officials responsible for the construction of this branch office specified a building that would attract the attention, and dollars, of the city’s burgeoning elite. Rudolf Baumfeld and his colleagues at Victor Gruen Associates decidedly delivered in the form of this striking synthesis of stucco, steel, wood, and glass. while progressive minds hailed the edifice as a stroke of genius, traditionalists condemned it as a “monstrosity from outer space.” With its curved roofline supported by sculptured walls, the building pays tribute to Le Corbusier’s Chapel at Ronchamp (completed five years earlier). Constructed at a cost of $400,000, this deluxe depository was lavishly appointed with the finest imported materials: Rhodesian lion’s hair window treatments, German slate flooring, Japanese grass cloth wall panels, and Italian mosaic tile.


Bank of America, constructed in 1959, was designed by Victor Gruen Associates

8. Bank of America, 1959

588 S. Palm Canyon Dr.
Year built: 1959

Initial Use: City National Bank
Current Use: Bank of America

This architectural gem is open to the public and is still in use as a bank as it was originally built – you can walk right up, conduct a transaction and view the great mid-century modern architecture – some think of it as a combination of blue skies and sunshine – even a cloud against blue skies. Here you can walk up or drive through – an automatic teller machine is open 24 hours. Originally City National Bank, this building was inspired by Le Corbusier’s chapel in Ronchamp, France, and designed by Victor

Gruen Associates.

The Palm Springs Modern Committee honored the Bank of America for maintaining the architectural integrity of The City National Bank Building and committing to the preservation of the Palm Springs area’s celebrated legacy of modern design. Stop by and take a look and a photo.


Bank of America, constructed in 1959, was designed by Victor Gruen Associates

9. Twins Palms Estates, Alexander Homes 1960

Twin Palms Drive at Apache Road, Palm Springs, Ca 92264
Year built: 1957-1958

Initial Use: Privately owned vacation homes
Current Use: Privately owned vacation homes

Thanks to the George Alexander Construction Company, the Palm Springs neighborhood of Twin Palms is steeped in architectural history. The father-son team of George and Robert Alexander had a vision of easy-to-build modern homes that could be purchased by middle income families as vacation homes. After building a successful reputation in Los Angeles, their first endeavor in Palm Springs was the neighborhood of Twin Palms Estates.

Much of the Alexanders’ success is credited to their collaboration with young and talented architects like William Krisel, whose bold designs and attention to cost-efficiency endeared him to builders. Exposed ceiling beams and three-quarter walls kept building costs down while enhancing the clean, modern style. Floor plans were rotated and different rooflines dot each street (butterfly, a-frame, flat), making the tract neighborhood look like a collection of custom mid-century modern homes.

The Palm Springs neighborhood of Twin Palms got its name from the two palm trees included in the front landscaping of each lot. All but a few of the homes in this tract (about 60 homes) had an identical floor-plan, though each featured a unique facade (use of decorative concrete block as a sun-screen and native stone and unique concrete blocks for fireplaces). Each Twin Palms Alexander home (about 1,600 sq ft) included a big 32′ by 16′ swimming pool in the backyard, a large lot (about 10,000 square feet or approximately one-quarter acre for each house). The Alexanders’ trademark design can be followed from left to right or from right to left when looking at the front of the properties: parking, breezeway, windows, and then wall. Their innovative “butterfly” roofline, a-frame roofline, and flat- roofline – the three options available – helped define a modernist movement that is still iconic and highly desirable to this day.

The Alexander homes in Palm Springs are often compared to the Eichler homes built in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Orange County in Southern California. Twin Palms Alexanders, many restored and tastefully updated, are available for purchase today in the range of approximately $550,000 to $700,000 and up. These homes have been has been well documented and photographed and published by Julius Schulman celebrated. Because of the popularity of the Twin Palms Alexander homes, the Alexanders went on to build several other tracts of Alexanders eventually totaling about 2,000 in Palm Springs. Click here for more information about Palm Springs Alexander homes and unique neighborhoods where they’re located.


Twins Palms Estates, constructed in 1960, was designed by William Krisel and Dan Saxon Palmer

10. Palm Springs City Hall, 1952-1957

3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, Ca 92262
Year built: 1952-1957

Initial Use: Palm Springs City Government
Current Use: Palm Springs City Government

Another great Albert Frey design in Palm Springs is the much celebrated mid-twentieth century architectural structure that houses the Palm Springs City Hall. This Palm Springs architectural gem was built in 1952 and is a must-see for your self-guided tour of Palm Springs modern architecture.

The Palm Springs City Hall complex is worth the drive (or walk) two miles east of downtown intersection of Palm Canyon Drive at Tahquitz Canyon Way. The City Hall facade and most of the building looks much the same today as when it was completed in 1957. Frey used repetition in metal piping cut at angles to create a pleasing design that creates a sun-shield for parts of the front of the building. The shade shields the main building from the intense morning and early afternoon sun. You’ll notice in the front of the building a portico overhang that has with circles that cut through to provide a pleasing frame or ring around soaring Palm tree. Frey embellished this Palm Springs commercial building with . The brise-soleil (aluminum screens) appear to move and form changing patterns throughout the day or as you pass by the building.


Palm Springs City Hall, constructed between 1952-1957, was designed by Albert Frey