February 25, 2019

Photo Essay: Hollywood Glam in a Desert Modernist Tract

I spent years not attending Palm Springs Modernism Week because I found it too overwhelming.

I didn't know what I should see.

But now I know that "should" doesn't matter. I just choose what I want to see. For whatever reason.

And personally, I don't care much about the showcase houses that have been redone by celebrity interior designers or outfitted with the most modern or even modernist appliances.

I'm going for historical significance.

This year, the Morse Residence--a Palm Springs Class One Historic Site as of 2016--fit the bill.

Though it was a last-minute addition to my itinerary, it blew the rest of the day's tours out of the water.

Originally built in 1960 by the Alexander Construction Company as a standard ranch model in a tract in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs ("The Beverly Hills of Palm Springs," established circa 1958), the original Palmer and Krisel "bare bones" design wasn't quite up to par for Theodore Morse, a lingerie magnate, and his wife Claire, who'd moved to the desert from Chicago and purchased the property in 1961.

They presently hired Hal Levitt to embellish the "Desert Regional Variation" on the notoriously plain International Style into the epitome of mid-century desert modernism, with some flourishes of Hollywood Regency style--none of which you can see from the horizontal facade of fieldstone (painted sometime prior to 1970) and concrete breeze blocks (the “Empress” pattern, the most
popular screen block pattern ever produced).

After walking up onto a polished terrazzo concrete pad (in place of a boring old cement sidewalk and stair)...

...and through the wood board and batten front door (a circa 2015 replacement)... enter a long, grandiose hallway, under a non-original, period-appropriate ceiling fixture by Italian designer Gaetano Sciolari.

You're surrounded by hidden doors that lead to... well, who knows? A closet perhaps. Certainly a bathroom with a restored or at least replicated doorknob.

Once inside, you're surrounded by padded walls covered in white leather...

...and of course more Mid-Century Modern fixtures on the walls and ceiling.

The piece de resistance--and the crowning achievement of the Hal Levitt redo-- is the sunken living room, with its natural rock walls, recently furnished with a vintage Warren Platner chair.

The built-in couch has been newly reupholstered and looks out on the aluminum-framed sliding glass pocket windows...

...which provide a seamless portal to the outside and a glorious swimming pool with swim-up bar, essentially situated at eye level.

Out on the southwest patio area, there's more of the terrazzo flooring, as well as a good view of the projecting “V” wall and stone-clad support column--all in the shadow of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Another one of those stone-clad columns that support the roof can be found literally in the middle of the pool, creating a "column island" covered in fabric and used for seating.

Around the bend at the northeast edge of the pool is a “therapy pool” (a.k.a. hot tub), which was installed in an existing terrazzo patio.

The pool is surrounded by various kinetic sculptures, which you can also see from the inside as you're sidled up to the bar for a drink.

Not a lot is known about the original owners, the Morses--but a later owner was "superagent" Ed Limato, the SVP at William Morris who represented the likes of Sharon Stone, Richard Gene, and Denzel Washington.

Photo: SHAG Store (via Facebook)

The current owners are Gary Gand and his wife Joan--also Chicagoans who relocated to Palm Springs. You can see them depicted in "The Imposters" by Palm Springs artist SHAG (a.k.a. Josh Agle)--Gary in the hat wearing green on the chair (watching Simon and Garfunkel?) and Jan sitting on the steps to the pool. 

Related Posts:

Photo Essay: Palm Springs Modernism Week, For a Day
Photo Essay: Elvis' Honeymoon History at The House of Tomorrow
Photo Essay: A Frank Sinatra Home, Upon the Demolition of Another
Photo Essay: A Modernist Desert Dwelling
Photo Essay: A Modernist Bachelor Pad Above Palm Springs

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