Style and Lifestyles in Midcentury Palm Springs

“Welcome, Modernists!” read the banners in Palm Springs, California. I hadn’t thought of myself as being modern, but this is Midcentury Modern, with a focus on the 1950s and 1960s. It might be as cool now as it was back then. I went to the fall preview of Modernism Week, an annual February event billed as the ultimate celebration of Midcentury architecture, design and culture.

Frank Sinatra’s Home

My first stop was Twin Palms. Designed by E. Stewart Williams, this house will forever be known as Sinatra’s house, although he lived here only ten years.

He and his first wife, Nancy, moved into their brand new home and threw a New Year’s Eve bash to usher in 1948.

Yes, his bedroom was open for the tour! This is the view from the bed.


A preservationist who spoke to our tour said the pool, which is in the front yard, was not built to look like a piano, although its shape reminds people of one. The walkway’s pergola often casts shadows which look like piano keys.

Sinatra left his wife for actress Ava Gardner. In 1951, they married, but the marriage was stormy. The master bathroom sink is still cracked from the time Sinatra reportedly threw a bottle of champagne during one of their fights. They divorced in 1957, but became lifelong friends.

There is a lot of sandstone inside and out. A microphone was found embedded in it. The preservationist said Sinatra did that because he wanted to hear what people said about him after he left.

Fireplaces in the Sinatra home. On the left, the sandstone one in his bedroom.

Sinatra could record from the property. An antenna extends up from the stone feature in the middle of the photo below. It sent his home recordings to his studio.

Sinatra’s Palm Springs home is called Twin Palms.

His living room had sound and recording equipment built in.

Some Modernists drive classic cars, like this Ford Thunderbird.

We saw many houses in a few days, but one stood out. We forgot the official name–the Morse residence–and called it, “The James Bond House.”

The James Bond House (But Not Really)

In 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Morse commissioned architect Hal Levitt to remodel their tract home. They liked to entertain and wanted to bring a pool into their living room.

A framed photo in the home showed one of their parties in the 1960s, with Mrs. Morse dancing to a band.

When the party’s over, partitions are pulled out of the walls, and the living room is separated from the outdoor pool.

A Modernist sculpture at the right.

Modernism Week

The party continues. Even if you can’t go, see photos with sunshine and style at Modernism Week.

This was my first taste of Midcentury Modern, and now I really appreciate it.

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Getting It Right with ‘Urban Light’

Artist Chris Burden was profiled in the Los Angeles Times on May 11, the day after his death. The first line says that he once had himself shot in the arm for a performance piece. Luckily, the bullet just grazed him. Although shocking, that’s not why art critic’s Christopher Knight article about him was on the front page of the L.A. Times, where only the famous, such as statesmen and Hollywood celebrities, get their obituaries. Burden’s is there because his “Urban Light” has become a Los Angeles landmark.

Chris Burden saw art in vintage streetlamps. He painted them gray and installed them in front of the L.A. County Museum of Art, on busy Wilshire Boulevard. They are now solar powered. The lampposts in each row are identical, so that even the most ornate have a peaceful grace.

This video by Mike Fix showcases the art installation with aerial views and gorgeous music: “Experience” by  Ludovico Einaudi.

 

Letterpress — Centuries-Old Printing Today

The text and image of a printing press are deep in this business card.
The text and image of a printing press are deep in this business card.

Following in Gutenberg’s footsteps, the business card above was printed with movable type, with the individual letters assembled by hand.  The origin of the terms “upper-case” and “lower-case” letters lies in old print shops, where the capital letters were kept in a drawer above the “lower-case” letters.  The individual pieces are called “sorts,” and in the past, when you ran out of the sorts for a single character, or all those ones were broken, you were “out of sorts.”

Some print shops today have letterpress printing presses as an option for their customers.  Not all letterpress printing is with sorts assembled manually, as it is with this card.

Letterpress engages the senses:

  • Printers report that one can smell the ink on the finished product,
  • We see the depth of the text and images and
  • We feel the weight of the paper.

Thick and rough, the same business card feels solid and substantial.
Thick and rough, the same business card feels solid and substantial.

The International Printing Museum in Carson, California is one of the institutions that offers classes in letterpress.

Not A Classic Sculpture

Completely clothed and completely nude, this life-size art piece is cast class.  I believe the dress is very old, originally owned and worn by a pianist.  The “body” is that of a contemporary woman, that word in quotes because this piece is hollow.

Pianist's Dress Impression, 2005, by Karen LaMonte.  Palm Springs Art Museum.
Pianist’s Dress Impression, 2005, by Karen LaMonte. Palm Springs Art Museum.

It is translucent and seems to glow.  Unusual, but lovely, too.  I really wanted to share this one with you.

I saw this beautiful piece at the Palm Springs (California) Art Museum, in Contemporary Glass 2012/2013.  You can see the exhibit until November 3, or click the link below to see some of these works, and how the cast glass piece pictured above stood out, looking like a classical sculpture in a gallery of contemporary pieces. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge each photo.  All of the pieces look very different from each other:

http://www.psmuseum.org/palm-springs/exhibition/contemporary-glass-2012—2013/

The VIP Room at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Angelenos, do not click away.  You may be very used to seeing Walt Disney Hall, but I’ve included a photo of the a little-seen modern, elegant VIP room, the Founder’s Room.  First, here’s the exterior of Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened in 2003 in downtown Los Angeles.

Image credit: palette7 / 123RF Stock Photo

Designed by Frank Gehry, it is a concert hall in the round and the home of the L.A. Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.  I have a subscription to the Philharmonic, and when I walk up these steps in the afternoon to go to my matinee, there are always people outside taking photos.  Many look like they are on vacation.  They are happy to see this gorgeous building, but I feel lucky that I have a ticket to hear the L.A. Phil in this beautiful venue with its amazing acoustics.

Orchestras and chorales perform wonderful concerts at Christmastime.  You may want to buy tickets now to a holiday concert in your area.

Disney Hall’s Founder’s Room is a VIP room, but you can rent it for a wedding or a private party.

Take a Stroll, Play a Piano

“Play Me, I’m Yours,” an international project by artist Luke Jerram, is all about the joy of music. For three weeks In the spring of 2012, this project came to Los Angeles, courtesy of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Thirty pianos were scattered about the county, outdoors and indoors.

In a courtyard with modern stores in historic buildings, people stood and looked at the piano. It was Saturday evening and couples had come to enjoy the restaurants, stores and movie theater. There were three young men about eighteen years old. Everyone kept their distance from a wildly painted piano.

“It’s for anyone to play,” someone said.

“He can play,” one of the young men said about another.

People said they would like to hear him play, but the young man made no move to do so.

“Nobody expects you to be great,” I told him.

He sat at the piano. His playing wasn’t perfect.

Yet the music was magic in the twilight on the Saturday evening. Couples put their arms around each other as they listened. At the end of the song, people applauded.

Here’s a link to a wonderful video. A gospel choir sings at a street piano twenty years to the day after the Los Angeles riots. Elson Trinidad, the choir member at the keyboard, says, “Things have changed in twenty years and we’re going to celebrate the changes.”

Elson Trinidad and the Gospel Choir of St. Agatha’s Church on a Street Piano