Biking Palm Springs Mid-Century Modernism – Route #2

Abernathy Residence

Biking the Moderns in the Movie Colony, Sunrise Park and Sunmore Neighborhoods

Another day, another bike ride to see some fabulous and famous Mid-Century Modern architecture in that mecca of modern called Palm Springs. This 7 mile jaunt takes you through the Movie Colony, Sunrise Park and Sunmore neighborhoods. Unlike the first bike ride, Biking a Mid-Century Modern Tour in Palm Springs, which has a section where you huff up Chino Canyon Road to see some famous homes with panoramic views, this route is completely flat.

Palm Springs Architecture and Design Center, 300 S. Palm Canyon Drive

Start Bike Route #2 at the Palm Springs Architecture and Design Center, which originally was the Santa Fe Savings & Loan building, designed by E. Stewart Williams and completed in 1961.

Palm Springs Architecture and Design Center

Palm Springs Architecture and Design Center today, a Class I Historic Site No. 54; Right Photo: J. Shulman © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

Many of the mid-century buildings were photographed back in the day by the world famous architectural photographer Julius Shulman (1910-2009). From a look at Shulman’s photo on the right you can see how beautifully this classic International style building has been restored.

Head over to busy Indian Canyon Road and north. An huge empty lot on the corner of Tahquitz Canyon used to be the Palm Springs Spa Hotel, a mid-century hotel and bath house that had a beautiful Colonnade. The 1959-63 project was designed by modern architects Cody, Wexler, Harrison and Koenig but, despite the efforts of the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation to save it, the complex was demolished in 2014.

Fire Station #1, 277 N. Indian Canyon Dr.

Just before Amado Road is the historic 1957 Fire Station #1 by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers. It has many of Frey’s typical elements – colored concrete block and corrugated aluminum.

Fire Station 1

Fire Station 1, Right Photo: J. Shulman © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

Movie Colony Neighborhood

North of Alejo Road is the Movie Colony Neighborhood, home to… you got it – many movie stars in the glory days of Hollywood. And home to some great mid-century architecture too. Make your way over to the corner of Granvia Valmont and Phillips Road.

The Abernathy Residence, 611 North Phillips Road

A Class 1 Historic Site since 2013, the Abernathy Residence was designed in 1962 by William Cody.

Abernathy Residence

Abernathy Residence, Class I Historic Site No. 86

The 4800 square foot home is a series of five pyramid-roofed pavilions arranged in a pin-wheel plan. The beautiful residence was restored and updated in 2012.

Across the street from the Abernathy Residence is the historic 1963 Kramer House, designed by James McNaughton and currently undergoing what looks like a lot of renovation work. It was terrific to see all the home and landscape renovations that were going on in these neighborhoods this year.


Keep going on Granvia Valmonte and you can’t miss the Irwin Residence, acres of Robot Fantasyland that is a heck of a lot of fun to tour in December – check it out in This Post.

Head east on Via Colusa to come to the second most famous home in the area (Robolights is the first, right?) – the Frank Sinatra Twin Palms Estate.

Frank Sinatra Twin Palms Estate

Frank Sinatra’s first home in Palm Springs was the legendary Twin Palms Estate, designed in 1946 by E. Stewart Williams. A gorgeous property with a lot of history, Frank originally wanted an ostentatious Georgian style mansion but was convinced by Williams to go with something more desert appropriate. He also wanted it ready for a Christmas party the end of 1947 which left only a few months to design and build the house. With round the clock work the house was completed in time for the New Year. Imagine the days of the Rat Pack with the Hollywood elite partying around the piano-shaped pool.

Frank Sinatra Twin Palms

Frank Sinatra Twin Palms; BW Photos: J. Shulman © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

The Sinatra Residence is called Twin Palms for its landmark trees. The home uses strong horizontal and vertical forms, natural materials and decorative trellis. All you’ll be able to see of the famous residence is the walkway and the surrounding wall, unless you decide to rent it for a party – which for the right price you certainly can at

Wexler House, 1272 E. Verbena Dr.

You can make a little detour of a few blocks and pedal over to architect Donald Wexler’s residence on Verbena Drive, designed in 1955 and surrounded by a privacy wall. The 3 bedroom 2 bath home is for sale for a mere $1,750,000.

Sunrise Park and Sunmor Neighborhood

Much more accessible than the privacy fenced homes in the Movie Colony Neighborhood, Sunrise Park has some terrific mid-century homes.

Sunrise Park modern homes

Sunrise Park modern homes

Spend some time tooling around the neighborhood, seeing how people have maintained and enhanced their mid-century moderns here. One year I had a week long holiday in this neighborhood in a retro renovated mid-century modern, living and playing the Palm Springs indoor outdoor lifestyle. What you don’t see from the street are the backyards filled with swimming pools and spas, with the modern living spaces opening up to the outdoors.

Palm Springs City Hall, 3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way

The 1952-1957 Palm Springs City Hall is one of those icons of modern architecture. The city council commissioned the Frey team (Albert Frey and Robson Chambers) to design the complex. Over the years of its design and construction it became a joint project of Frey, Clark, Chambers and Wiliams.

Palm Springs City Hall entrance and council chamger

Main entrance with metal piping shading the windows on the right of the entrance; Council chamber with free standing circular portico

The main entrance features a square portico with a circular cutout in the center. Metal piping over the windows to the right of the entry is a cool and functional modern design element. Cool not just for it’s great look, but it shields the windows from the hot morning sun while still allowing natural light in.

Outside the Council Chamber, the circular freestanding portico is the same dimensions as the cutout in the square portico over the main entrance. I love the sweeping curves of the front of this historic building. City Hall was one of Frey’s favorite buildings.

The government complex around city hall features some more mid-century buildings by Clark and by Williams. A short distance away is the beautiful Airport Terminal building designed in 1965 by Donald Wexler.

St Theresa Catholic Church and the Palm Springs Library Center

Pedal down Civic Drive and over to Companche Road to take a look at St. Theresa Catholic Church, designed by William Cody in 1968. Then ride on over to the Palm Springs Library Center, another Cody project designed in 1973.

St Theresa Catholic Church

St Theresa Catholic Church; Palm Springs Library Center; Fragen Building

Wrapping Up Your Bike Tour

Head back over to Tahquitz Canyon Way to check out the interesting Fragen Building, designed in 1973 buy Hugh Kaptur.

Great Break: Just a short ride away on Tahquitz Canyon, back toward downtown Palm Springs is Sherman’s Deli and Bakery – a terrific spot for a post biking deli sandwich or delicious sweet treat. Go ahead! You deserve it.

Shermans Deli.jpg

Sherman’s Deli and Bakery, 401 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way


Don’t have a bike? My bike routes can easily be combined and driven in a car. If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can take a fun and informative Double Decker bus tour during Modernism Week in February. I’ve done the bus tour and had a great time, but my preferred way to see Palm Springs modernism is still a leisurely ride on a bike where you have plenty of time to observe and enjoy the details that make Palm Springs mid-century modern so special.

What do you think about Mid-Century Modernism? Can you see yourself living in one of these modern homes?

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