See also » History and Context by Patrick McGrew
The following article appears in DESERT POLYNESIA; A TIKI WEEKEND IN PALM SPRINGS. Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, pp. 8-9. Palm Springs, California, 2002.
By Jim Duggins, Ph.D.
During the 30's and 40's Palm Springs blossomed with new celebrities and creative, moneyed people who brought and attracted a stable of young architects such as John Porter Clark, Albert Frey, John Lautner, Richard Neutra and Lloyd Wright. Like iron filings to a magnet, these major architectural figures drew still more young talent.
Then in the 60's and 70's, America underwent cataclysmic changes. World War II and the Korean Conflict that carried hundreds of young men to foreign shores then brought the survivors back home and sent them to college on the G. I. Bill. Returning veterans deserted the nation's large cities for suburbs and, further, they developed an appetite for new sources of recreation and leisure.
Only one example of that was the romantic fantasy surrounding the South Seas and their paradise islands. After all, a half million young men had been exposed to the islands but now, the war was over the paradise was safe. The musical comedy, South Pacific, with its Disneyesque romanticism inflamed American imagination.
Furthermore, dozens of novels and films portraying romance in grass shacks and exotic, tropical settings riveted America's attention on Polynesian daytime suntans and nights of love under the stars. Ingenious architects in Palm Springs were not slow to combine the fantasy of Paradise Island with indoor/outdoor living possibilities in Palm Springs.
Simultaneous to these developments, a young architect, Donald Wexler, graduated from the University of Minnesota and came West following what he considered no more than a conversation with Richard Neutra whose work he admired. Wexler was offered work in Neutra's Los Angeles office. He accepted, not expecting to remain there two years.
Later, curious about William "Bill" Cody's Tamarisk Project in Palm Springs, Wexler came here planning to stay for the summer. As time has a way with such plans, the months wore on until 1953. At that time, Donald Wexler, along with Richard Harrison, a colleague from Cody's firm, set up their own partnership, Harrison and Wexler, in Palm Springs.
There was plenty of work for all, old timers and newcomers alike. Wexler, as well as William Krisel, Paul Williams and Roger and Stewart Williams, were well positioned to accommodate the rapid growth of Coachella Valley and the new clients willing to invent in a daring new architectural style that would come to be called, "Desert Modern" and "Mid-century Modern".
In the early Sixties, Harrison and Wexler received a commission to design a complex of 40 housing units spread over five acres. The complex, later called the "The Royal Hawaiian Estates," emphasizes the adornment of Tropical Island living without sacrificing the clean lines of modernism.
But it is the exterior that completes the Polynesian or whimsical "tiki" designs. The ends of each individual unit and their shared entrances have clerestory windows at the vaulted ceilings. In addition, patios facing the common areas include three large vertical beams that angle out to join the horizontal roof beam, thus forming a spider-legged span approximating a 30-degree angle. A gaily painted triangle is inserted to strengthen the beams from the decks where they meet the horizontal pieces from the roof. These structures, called "flying-sevens," from each patio, reminiscent of the stabilizers on outrigger canoes, lend a colorful holiday air to the complex.
In the design of the Royal Hawaiian Estates, Donald Wexler and Rich Harrison make a statement in the truest spirit of their times. From their first conception, Wexler's ideas have been single-mindedly directed toward the clean, modernist lines of Bauhaus design adapted to unique desert scenery and climate. His apprenticeship with Neutra and Cody, his steadfast vision of clean lines leading the eye to open vistas, sometimes framed as graceful arches may be consider his personal signature. At the Royal Hawaiian Estates, we see his use of color and whimsical form to enhance the recreational aspect of desert file.