The winter season in the desert is over; summer is here. Whether you live here full time, or didn’t get here at all because of travel restrictions, we want to keep you up to date on preservation and news about historic and important architecture in Rancho Mirage.
Vintage Palm Springs Life magazine cartoon
By now, you’ll have heard about the Preservation Sessions we have been running during the Fall / Winter months. The last two ran into technical difficulties at the beginning but we soldiered on - thank you for your patience.
If you missed them: Adele Cygelman’s talk on Arthur Elrod and Melissa Riche’s talk on the origins and history of Rancho Mirage: from the early subdivision to the city’s incorporation, you can now catch up with them on our YouTube channel.
The easiest way to find them is via our website:
Scroll down the page and you’ll find all five that we’ve presented so far.
As you know – much of Modernism Week in 2021 had to take place virtually because of the pandemic. We are keeping fingers well and truly crossed that we can go ahead with the tours that we had planned in February 2022.
Historic Preservation Commission
City of Rancho Mirage
We are delighted to report that Preservation Mirage member, Sunnylands archivist, and former archivist to the Architecture & Design Center in Palm Springs – Frank Lopez – has been appointed to the Historic Preservation Commission for the city of Rancho Mirage.
Fellow members of Preservation Mirage will probably know Frank already, most recently you may have enjoyed his contributions to the ‘Sunnylands’ Preservation Session in November. Frank was also responsible in 2017 for identifying the Kaptur-designed homes in Mottle Circle, Rancho Mirage, uncovered while he was archiving Hugh Kaptur’s drawings. We welcome his knowledge and experience in architecture and preservation and look forward to his contributions to the community and to preservation in particular.
Hidden in plain sight
One of the reasons Rancho Mirage doesn’t get as much attention for its architectural history and midcentury modern architecture is because, unlike Palm Springs, it doesn’t have a midcentury commercial core. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t important buildings dotted along Hwy 111.
This is the first in a series that pays tribute to some of the interesting and important architecture that lines the main thoroughfare. You’ve probably driven past this building a thousand times. If, like many of us, you share a passion for unusual architecture, you may have wondered about it.
Provident Bank, Rancho Mirage. photo: Don Flood
The Provident Bank building at 71-991 Hwy 111 was opened to the public in 1982. It sits on an elevated site above Hwy 111, two doors down from Roy’s Restaurant, at the corner of Magnesia Falls Drive. It’s a striking building with its curved walls of lava rock, its wide steps from the sidewalk up to the entry, and its ridged, patinaed copper detailing at the eaves. We were fascinated by this building because it was clearly the work of a significant architect, so we did some digging.
The architect was Gin Wong, FAIA. Wong was considered a significant modernist architect who was hailed for his achievements around the globe. From his early days with Pereira & Luckman, he became president of Pereira & Associates, working on the famous LAX Theme Building, as well as overseeing the design of the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco. When he died in 2017, the New York Times described his “modernist designs (that) helped define the postwar landscape of Los Angeles,” and singled out praise for the 1960 design of the Union 76 gas station in Beverly Hills with its swooping canopy: https://www.laconservancy.org/locations/union-76-gas-station
The New York Times obituary named a selection of Gin Wong’s accomplishments – including “a savings and loan branch in Rancho Mirage, CA, with curved walls made of Mexican black lava rock.”
Preservation Mirage board members were treated to a private tour of the bank building just before the onset of the pandemic. Do stop and take a closer look next time you’re near the bank and admire the work of one of the top US architects.
Going, Going, Gone
The Emily DeWare Residence – Thunderbird Country Club
Architect: James Dolena, 1953
Continuing our series on important homes that have been lost to aggressive remodels or demolition, this is a house at Thunderbird Country Club that was subjected to a series of remodels during the last 20 – 30 years, so that although the structure lives on, the midcentury modern design is no longer recognizable.
Emily De Ware Residence – photo: Maynard Parker, courtesy: Huntington Library
The original owner was Emily Wadley de Ware. She was one of several rich widows and divorcees who loved playing golf and found the social atmosphere of Thunderbird Country Club in the 1950s to be just the ticket. The Desert Sun in February 1953 reported that “Mrs Emily De Ware is building one of the show-place houses at Thunderbird.” By December of that year she was inviting fellow members to a housewarming. She chose the architect James E. Dolena. Dolena was a Russian-born architect who emigrated to Los Angeles in 1905. He designed homes for actors, film directors, and wealthy businessmen, often working with interior designers such as Billy Haines and Robsjohn-Gibbings to create fabulous mansions in a style that became known as ‘Hollywood Regency,’ among them the enormous ‘Casa Encantada,’ which in 2019 was the ‘most expensive house in America.’ Dolena also designed the Walt Disney Estate in Holmby Hills. One of his most famous and most enduring projects, however, was the design of the Farmers Market complex at Fairfax in Los Angeles in the 1930s.
Emily De Ware Residence – photo: Maynard Parker, courtesy: Huntington Library
The house for Emily de Ware was one of his later projects, embracing the desert modernist style with its long, low horizontals and intersecting vertical planes, as well as the deep overhangs required for desert living. It was featured in the January 1954 issue of Architectural Digest, featuring photographs by Maynard Parker. Interior Design was by Herman C. Peterson of Peterson Studios who was also the interior designer for Casa Encantada.
In 1958, Emily De Ware married designer Herman Peterson. She sold the Thunderbird house and purchased a home at Smoke Tree Ranch that she subsequently rented to Gerald and Betty Ford. Her final home in the desert was at Sandpiper. Fans of church architecture may be curious to know that she also donated the massive 40-ft stained glass window behind the altar in the well-known Palm Desert Presbyterian Church (architects: Smith, Powell & Morgridge, 1968).
New owners of the Thunderbird house are hoping to uncover some of the original structure beneath the surface of their home, but any full-scale restoration is unlikely due to the progressive remodeling the house has undergone over successive decades.
Preservationists in the desert have been saddened by the recent passing of important contributors to local architectural history.
Robert Imber: Well-known to Palm Springs visitors and residents alike, Robert was the first to lead architectural history tours of Palm Springs from 2001. His enthusiasm for the town’s architecture was infectious, prompting many visitors to move here, and helping to make Palm Springs a destination for midcentury architecture. More recently as a founder and representative of PS Modcom, he was responsible for leading education programs for schoolchildren, helping them to understand the importance of the city’s architectural history. He was also on the board of the California Preservation Foundation. Robert’s sudden passing in April was a shock to everyone that knew him, and his loss is felt by many. For more information: https://obituaries.desertsun.com/obituaries/thedesertsun/obituary.aspx?n=robert-imber&pid=198441549&fhid=20200
Jim West: Jim was a central figure to preservation and architectural history in Palm Desert and Indian Wells, and his knowledge of architecture in the valley was comprehensive. Before he passed away in February following a long illness, the Palm Desert Historical Society dedicated a room at the Society’s museum to Jim and his wife Karen Prinzmetal. One of his greatest achievements was to obtain recognition for the Sandpiper community (by William Krisel) where Jim also lived. This YouTube video pays homage to his legacy with several speakers reciting his achievements, including Krisel’s son, Bill Jr (who recently bought his own home at Sandpiper). See more about Jim here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTDR6k-bQwQ (The video is also, in its own way, a homage to Robert Imber, who speaks in praise of Jim). Jim Watterson: We would like to pay tribute to Jim Watterson, whom we lost in March. Jim and his husband George Martin were significant and generous supporters of Preservation Mirage and were passionate about architecture and design. Having purchased the Thomas B. Davis residence (Eggers & Wilkman, 1957) in Thunderbird Heights in 2013, they proceeded to restore the house back to its 1957 original glory, obtaining a historic designation from the City of Rancho Mirage in 2017. Designed by Eggers & Wilkman, the house was considered one of the most important in the valley. Jim and George extended their kindness to Preservation Mirage by allowing us to hold an unforgettable evening reception at their home during Modernism Week Fall Preview in October 2018. Jim was one of the kindest, most generous people you could ever hope to meet. We know that some of you will have been fortunate enough to meet him and will remember him fondly. Before moving to Rancho Mirage, Jim’s impact on Los Angeles culture and fashion was incomparable. Read more here: https://www.apparelnews.net/news/2021/apr/15/jim-watterson-fashion-veteran-and-beloved-los-ange/
Help preserve our architectural legacy
If you see something, say something! Preservation is a community activity. If you see a city permit sign go up in front of a property that looks historic (1930s – 1970s), whatever that permit says, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll check it out.
Tell your friends about Preservation Mirage. Become a ‘Neighborhood Leader’ and help to grow the interest and enthusiasm for preserving our historic community.
How can Preservation Mirage help you?
If you or a friend own a historic home in Rancho Mirage or think you do, we can help you discover its history. If you want to get work done on a historic home but need advice on the best way forward, or need help with finding historically appropriate finishes, for example, get in touch. We have access to numerous historic archives and research resources.
If you’re thinking about approaching the City of Rancho Mirage for a historic designation, we can advise you on the requirements and how to obtain the information you’ll need.
Preservation Mirage is a registered nonprofit 501 (c (3) entity. Membership is free, but donations are always welcome. Donate, volunteer, engage with us online at www.preservationmirage.org on Instagram @preservationmirage and via Facebook.