I’ll admit, it took me by surprise. Last week, while touring one of the 16 guestrooms at the Del Marcos Hotel Desert Oasis in Palm Springs, I came across a dead ringer for my vintage 1956 Zenith stereo phonograph.
Such sights are rare these days, at least for anywhere besides Palm Springs. My discovery came while investigating a collection of the city’s hotels, inns and hideaways inspired by the mid-century modernist movement for February’s upcoming Palm Springs Modernism Week.
Scheduled to take place Feb. 13-23, this annual event lures designers, architects and fans of the 1950s from around the world.
Reinventing the essence of mid-century design has transformed Palm Springs and specifically the Uptown Design District into a haven for those fascinated with delving into the past. During Modernism Week there are theme parties, lectures, an “illuminated modern sunset double-decker bus tour” and tours of homes designed by legendary desert architects such as William Cody and Donald Wexler, open to ticket holders. ModernismWeek.com has the daily schedule of parties and activities.
Though rooted in the past, the annual event has brought new energy to this scenic desert oasis. Writer Barbara Wisbey, a 30-year Palm Springs resident, says “reviving Palm Springs with the success of Modernism Week has made a positive impact on the entire community. Reviving the midcentury has brought a new awareness of art and design into focus. Just look at the upbeat galleries and restaurants that now draw visitors year round.”
While there are many fine attractions and places to stay here, evidence of this new energy is seen especially in small, independently owned boutique resorts such as the Del Marcos that have come together to create the Small Hotels of Palm Springs (an association known by the acronym SHoPS). SHoPS has in short order acquired a reputation for personalized service and stylish décor that is sought year-round.
Small Hotels of Palm Springs boasts about 70 hotels and inns, each possessing its own unique story. The resorts integrate Modernism moments with an esoteric touch, whether it is a black-and-white framed image by Julius Shulman, a world famous architectural photographer, or a 78-rpm record album by Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White of the “fabulous” Harmonicats. On Arenas Rd. in downtown Palm Springs, the rooms of the Orbit In (no misprint) showcase work from interior designers of the 1950s such as Saarinen, Eames and Bertoia. If you can remember the year Russia launched Sputnik, the Orbit In is for you.
Over at the 27-room Casa Cody, founded in the 1920s in the prestigious Tennis club district, spacious suites have quirky kitchenettes reminiscent of a “Leave it to Beaver” TV set from the 1950s. Today, the Beav would be happy to find they are updated, and spic and span.
Another sight to remember is the Villa Royale Inn & Europa Restaurant, built in 1946. Once the home of Sonja Henie, the three-time Olympic gold medalist-turned movie star, captivating mountain views make this Tuscan-inspired estate a perennial favorite for desert fans.
Or one can take a stroll over to the Palm Springs Art Museum. Nearby you will find the Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn and the O’Donnell House, built in 1924. This showy estate boasts a long, lavish history, with Hollywood’s glamour gals and guys from Marion Davies and Shirley Temple to Clark Gable and Carole Lombard frequently checking in. Raising the IQ was a special guest, Albert Einstein.
Travel writer Pam Price is the co-author of “Day Trips from Los Angeles” www.globepequot.com.