Palm Springs Modernism Week: art, fashion, architecture, and much more

Palm Springs is my favourite city without much hesitation. When I was asked introductory questions on joining Mr Hudson’s contributor team, it was tough to choose just one as I love lots of different places, but Palm Springs is a city that stands out for so many reasons – weather, architecture, location, the bars and restaurants, being exceptionally gay-friendly and last but no means least, Modernism. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few times now, but our best visit ever was when we went during Modernism Week in February 2020.

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What is Modernism Week

Modernism Week is an annual festival (usually February time) that celebrates mid-century modern design, architecture, art, fashion and culture. Featured events typically include home tours, walking architectural tours, outdoor garden tours, talks, and special events to places not normally open to the public. There is also a specialist modernism show and sale at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

As well as the main event itself, there is also a preview weekend during fall the previous year, showcasing what’s coming up and what Palm Springs can offer and the same (albeit shorter period) modernism show and sale.

Chase Bank | Photo: The Private Traveller

Chase Bank | Photo: The Private Traveller

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I also tried to get a good mix of events across the days we were there, but still to leave time just for enjoying other things in Palm Springs – the glorious weather and chilling by the fantastic hotel pool

The booking process  

All the events are announced in advance of being booked, and usually, once the fall preview week has passed, all the events are detailed. I’d done quite a bit of research to find out what interested us most and created a wish-list of the events we would look to book. As I do with my holiday planning, I then tried to work out what was on when and where making sure there were no clashes. I also tried to get a good mix of events across the days we were there, but still to leave time just for enjoying other things in Palm Springs – the glorious weather and chilling by the fantastic hotel pool. That time, we stayed downtown at the amazing La Serena Villas – excellent accommodation, service and facilities, and ideally located within walking distance of many modernism week events.

I made sure that I knew exactly when tickets would be released for sale on the website, and I was online precisely on time. For certain events, like some cocktail receptions, which are maybe only available at one time or with limited numbers, it’s easy to sell out quickly. Having never booked before, I was a bit nervous about adding too many events to the basket before checking out and confirming, but it all worked a dream, and I could have made sure that all events were selected at one. As it was, once I checked out on the first batch and then reselecting other events, the only thing I wasn’t able to get my first choice for was the tour of Sunnylands – as this was something we both wanted to do, we just changed our plans slightly to stay another night in PS. We secured tickets for our last day before then driving onto Las Vegas.

Sunnylands Visitor Centre Garden

Sunnylands Visitor Centre | Photo: The Private Traveller

La Serena Villas

La Serena Villas | Photo: The Private Traveller

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There were so many highlights of our trip, but certainly, the one that was most memorable (and unique) was our Sunday night visit to Twin Palms, the legendary former estate of Frank Sinatra, located in the Movie Colony of Palm Springs

Modernism Week events

There were two cocktail receptions and home tours – Sunday Night at the Sinatra Estate and the iconic Raymond Loewy Residence (part of the PS Modern Committee). We booked a separate home tour to the Frey House II, tickets for the modernism show and sale, the Sunnylands Historic Home Tour, and talks on the TWA Hotel in New York (Rebirth of a Modern Icon) and Columbus, Indiana’s Modernist Experiment by ModArchitecture photographer Darren Bradley.

There were so many highlights of our trip, but certainly, the one that was most memorable (and unique) was our Sunday night visit to Twin Palms, the legendary former estate of Frank Sinatra, located in the Movie Colony of Palm Springs. Now available to rent for a variety of events, including private vacations, this home commissioned by Frank himself was initially built for $150,000. Frank lived there with Nancy and their three children and later with Eva Gardner.

Frey House II Palm Springs View

Frey House II Palm Springs View | Photo: The Private Traveller

We were able to tour the whole house and gardens ourselves. There was a full cocktail bar that served complimentary cocktails throughout the evening (some house specials and other drinks), and excellent food was provided by one of our favourite Palm Springs restaurants, LULU California Bistro. There was a full pasta bar with almost every conceivable type of pasta – you’d then select some additional vegetables or meat/fish add-ons, choose a sauce, and the chefs would prepare your bespoke dish with a garnish of your choosing. Such a memorable evening to sit in such a unique location, steeped in history, eat delicious food and drink amazing cocktails, all with that wonderful balmy evening atmosphere of Palm Springs with its incredible climate.

Frey House II Palm Springs

Frey House II | Photo: The Private Traveller

Palm Springs Modernism Art Deco

Modernism Art Deco | Photo: The Private Traveller

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Throughout Palm Springs, there was a great buzz – lots of visitors, and there were pop-up art shows and markets across the city

Other things to do

As well as all the dedicated modernism week activities, tours and events, there was also a downtown hub with lots of additional information about the week itself, a gift shop, pop-up café and various stands from different vendors all related to design and modernism. It was also the starting point for a special modernism bus tour – I think this was the only thing that we weren’t able to get tickets for as it had been completely sold out. It was possible to put your names down for standby places, but unfortunately, we never got places that time.

Throughout Palm Springs, there was a great buzz – lots of visitors, and there were pop-up art shows and markets across the city; with the fantastic weather, so many things could be done outside, and it was great to walk around the downtown area with lots of shops, restaurants and bars. There is also the Uptown Design District – lots of vintage shops, art galleries, coffee shops and delis. Anywhere you look in Palm Springs, you will see incredible modernist buildings – from houses, banks, offices to shops and cafés, so it’s a great place to wander and take in the views.

Sunnylands Visitor Centre Palm Springs

Sunnylands Visitor Centre | Photo: The Private Traveller

Where to stay

We’ve visited Palm Springs a few times, with a mix of staying both in the downtown area as well as being slightly out of town. While I enjoyed both, I’d say for Modernism Week you’re better off staying downtown – there are so many resorts right in the heart of the city (with great facilities too) where you can easily walk to many of the venues. For house tours, where you will be taken by a minibus (as many of the locations don’t have sufficient parking), a usual pick up/drop off point is the Palm Springs Art Museum.

On our last visit, which was for Modernism Week in February 2020, we stayed at La Serena Villas (21’s and over and dog friendly). This was a great choice; not only was the location perfect, the boutique property only featured 19 suites, all with some private outdoor space – ours had a private back patio with an outdoor clawfoot soaking tub and firepit. As well as an on-site restaurant (Azúcar) and Sugar High Rooftop Lounge Bar, there was a main pool and an additional pool, and hot tub in the Spa. La Serena is part of PS Boutique Hotels, a trio of hotels also featuring the historic Del Marcos Hotel (1947), designed by architect William F. Cody and The Three Fifty Hotel.

La Serena Azucar Restaurant

La Serena Azucar | Photo: The Private Traveller

Del Marcos Hotel Palm Springs

Del Marcos Hotel | Photo: The Private Traveller

We visited the Palm Springs Art Museum several times during our Modernism Week stay (as well as all the amazing permanent exhibitions of contemporary art, sculpture and studio art glass, there is always something new with temporary exhibitions of featured artists or themes). We often went for talks in the Annenberg Theater (donated to Palm Springs by the Annenberg family of Sunnylands, the former Annenberg Estate also well worth a visit). The museum also has a great restaurant and outdoor event space, as well as being near to the stunning Frey House II. On our last trip, we identified the upmarket Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn as another ideal location, passing this on our way up to see this incredible modernist house that overlooks Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley.

Palm Springs Conference Centre

Conference Centre | Photo: The Private Traveller

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Modernism Week Fall Preview is a four-day event held in October. More details of the programs will be announced later in the summer

What next?

If you’re interested in visiting, this year has been different with Covid restrictions in that the main event (which usually takes place in February each year) was primarily online. This year Modernism Week staged the Modernism Week Online Experience for February, which extended until March 15. This was an all-online series of video programs that mirrored the type and quality of an in-person Modernism Week experience.

In April, Modernism Week will be offering a few in-person programs from April 8-18, 2021. Each program is designed to be as safe as possible, including limited tickets per event, timed entry, and strict safety protocols. Because many of the events have limited tickets available, some are already sold out, but many still have availability.

Modernism Week Fall Preview is a four-day event held in October. The social distancing and safety protocols created to respond to the pandemic made it all-online programming for the Fall Preview in October 2020. However, this fall plans to resume in-person events, including home tours, tours of Sunnylands, the Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale, and many other events. More details of the programs will be announced later in the summer.

Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs Art Museum | Photo: The Private Traveller

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