The early decades of the 20th century saw a massive population boom in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas in the Golden Age of Hollywood. As the film industry took off, Palm Springs became a hugely popular resort town as well as a desirable second home for movie stars and the Southern California elite. The area absorbed L.A.-centric design trends, from the art deco styles of the 20s and 30s to Atomic Age architecture and the distinctive trends of the Googie movement.
From this milieu came the desert houses of Palm Springs, inspired as much by Frank Lloyd Wright as by the space-age hotels, restaurants, and dry cleaners of L.A. Paris-based Photographer Ludwig Favre, who has previously focused his lens on sunny Los Angeles, has recently documented these houses in all their period glory. “Sleek modern homes,” he writes, “that have embraced the desert environment. The dramatic geographic surroundings of the Coachella Valley inspired a design aesthetic in the middle of the 20th Century now called Desert Modernism.”
Palm trees and cacti surround stone walls and concrete facades. The desert modernists who built Palm Springs include Richard Neutra and John Lautner, one of the pioneers of the Googie style, both of whom adapted the international style to the Southern California desert. Neutra’s famous Kaufmann House was directly inspired by Taliesin West and brought some of the more austere aspects of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs to the fore. Other designs like Lautner’s house for Bob Hope and designs by Albert Frey, Dan Palmer, and William Krisel incorporated sharply peaked roofs and swooping concrete structures.
The whimsy of the Googie style married with the simplicity and clean lines of the international style gives these houses their distinctive charm as mid-century treasures. Palm Springs became a “modernist mecca” in the 20th century and showcases some of the most unique American architecture in the country.