April 27, 2021

Photo Essay: Two Modernists From Two Different Generations at Desert Palisades in Palm Springs

Palm Springs Modernism Week wasn't canceled this year for the pandemic—though it was moved from February to April, putting visitors like me in 95-degree heat in the low desert.

But otherwise, it didn't seem very different than prior years—at least not for me, since I don't do the lectures, movie screenings, bus tours, or cocktail parties anyway. 

I go to ogle the homes—and fortunately, this year's offerings included plenty of Modernist dwellings I hadn't seen yet, including the first Palm Springs construction of a home by LA architect Raymond Kappe. 

Kappe died in 2019, so the Kappe House at the Desert Palisades gated community (near the Albert Frey-designed Visitors Center) is one of his last designs to be realized. Ray's architectural partner and son, Finn Kappe, oversaw its completion. 

Kappe isn't as much of a household name in Palm Springs as Frey or Lautner—and even in LA, he's probably best known as the founder of SCI-Arc (the Southern California Institute of Architecture, which is headquartered in the DTLA Arts District at the adaptively reused Santa Fe Freight Depot. 

Until his recent death at age 92, he was a modern-day Modernist, a living one, in an industry where "modern" usually means "mid-century"—as in, 60 or 70 years ago. 

But even today, glass-and-steel construction is modern—and Kappe's design manages to integrate with the outdoor scenery, which is a boulder-strewn alluvial fan called Chino Canyon in the San Jacinto Mountains foothills. 

The Desert Palisades development sells itself as having the only remaining "view lots" left in Palm Springs. 

And oh, what a view. 

The sprawling outdoor spaces of the Kappe House evoke the architect's history with post and beam design—but they also employ "passive solar design" principles, with mechanisms of minimizing energy use to either cool or heat the inside.  

Another new construction at Desert Palisades is the Lockyer House, the work of Palm Springs architect Sean Lockyer of studio AR&D architects (also responsible for the Desert Palisades guardhouse, completed in 2016).    

The four-bedroom home is a showstopper from moment one, with eye-popping desert landscaping (by Leon's Landscaping and Tree Service) starting at the driveway...

...and scattered throughout. 

Lockyer is a contemporary architect in his mid-40s who operates under modernist principles...

...which of course involves the interaction of the inside with the outside, right down to the shower stalls. 

In fact, the most alluring and livable space throughout these (nearly) 4,300 square feet is the infinity pool and spa area...

...where boulder have sidled up on the deck as though to take a dip themselves. 

It wouldn't be enough to just view it from inside those picture windows and glass sliding doors. 

No matter how the heat is rising outside. 

What will we say about these homes in 20, 30, or 40 years? Will they start to seem unfeeling and detached—or impractical as the Coachella Valley gets even hotter than it is now?

They're definitely not homes for "regular" people today—and probably won't ever be. 

But sometimes it's nice to step into somebody's dream home, especially before anybody moves into it.

April 25, 2021

Photo Essay: Golfing In Miniature Along the Arroyo Seco

Los Angeles Magazine calls the Arroyo Seco miniature golf course "a living artifact that vibrates with the memories of a thousand bygone childhoods."

I couldn't have put it better myself. 

April 20, 2021

Photo Essay: A Remarkably Preserved 1950s Modernist Ranch House Welcomes Modernism Week Visitors

One of the Mid-Century Modern neighborhoods of Palm Springs—and one of the city's oldest—is north of E. Palm Canyon Drive, called Deepwell Estates. 

In 1952, it was subdivided as Deepwell Colony Estates—out of an apricot orchard where, in the mid-1920s, Henry Pearson had dug the deepest well in all of the Coachella Valley (630 feet deep, though he'd discovered water far closer to the surface than that).  
Over the years, Deepwell Estates has attracted such celebrity residents as Tippi Hedren, Jerry Lewis, and William Holden—but during my Modernism Week visit this year, I toured the former estate of a lesser-known Hollywood luminary.

April 19, 2021

Photo Essay: Baa-mastay with Baby Goats

I first attended baby goat yoga at Oats and Ivy Farm in 2017—back when I was trying to hit all the goat farms for all the baby goats.
circa 2017

April 18, 2021

Photo Essay: Soaring With Butterflies at South Coast Botanic Garden

I first encountered butterflies up close—really up close—in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History's Butterfly Conservatory, maybe 20 years ago. 

I've spent the last couple of years chasing the annual monarch migration—just when the species has become so critically endangered, the millions of butterflies have dwindled down to thousands, hundreds, or even just dozens. 

April 10, 2021

Photo Essay: Camp Iron Mountain, The Best-Preserved WWII-Era Training Camp in Gen. Patton's Desert Training Center

About 50 miles west of the Arizona border, 32 miles north of the town of Desert Center...

...north of the juncture of Highways 62 and 177... one of the best-preserved sites of General George S. Patton’s training efforts in the high desert during World War II. 

April 09, 2021

Photo Essay: An Easter Sunday Celebration at West Hollywood's Historic St. Victor Catholic Church

I'd been meaning to swing back by St. Victor Catholic Church in West Hollywood during the pandemic to document its stunning stained glass windows and mosaic mural—but somehow, even with so much more time on my hands, I hadn't gotten around to it yet.

I hadn't been to mass there since Christmas 2019—but then again, my formal church visits are usually few and far between. 

I'm much more likely to go to any church for some quiet reflection on a solo, unceremonious trip. 

But then Easter rolled around and, well, what better time? 

April 07, 2021

Photo Essay: A Sun-Soaked Stay at a Modernist Hacienda in Borrego Springs

The first time I stayed overnight in Borrego Springs, it was at Palms at Indian Head—a Mid-Century resort palace that still captures my imagination and draws me to visit, even if I haven't booked a room there. 

Since then, I've gone camping in the park, stayed in a tipi in Ranchita, slept on a military cot on my friend's porch in a windstorm, partied hard at the Warner Springs Ranch, and tried out Mid-Century motel life at Stanlunds Inn (the former Guppy Motel) in Borrego.  

But there's only one place I've returned to for an overnight stay while visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Boynton's Hacienda del Sol. 

April 03, 2021

Photo Essay: A Sugary Walk Down Candy Lane

Just in time for the Easter candy eggstravaganza, there's a new walk-through interactive experience at the Woodland Hills mall...


April 01, 2021

Photo Essay: The Retirement Ranch of An Oil-Employed Fossil-Finder, W.W. Orcutt

At one point a few years ago, I'd set off to visit and document all the historic ranges in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and its environs.

But somehow after 10 years in LA, I still hadn't made it to Orcutt Ranch.

Maybe it's because its name didn't carry the same weight for me as "Paramount Studios" or "Lake Enchanto" or "Gillette" (of the razor empire). 

Its namesake, William Warren (W.W.) Orcutt, was a SoCal oil geologist and Union Oil exec whose name is less recognizable to us today than perhaps it was in his heyday. (Or, at least, to me—a California transplant.)