Tag Archives: architecture

The Mirage in the Desert

When it comes to feelings about the desert, there really is no indecision. You are either in or out. There is no in-between. Some see it as a wasteland, hot, arid and forbidding. Sand, sky and scrub. Certainly not worth visiting, much less living in. Others see it as everything they have ever dreamed of. A perfectly blank canvas where they can create any story their imagination can render. A vast landscape of endless opportunity whose only limit is one’s own vision. The latter are the people who made Palm Springs.
Utilizing what they had, the first visionaries took advantage of the hot dry air and natural thermal baths. Imagining cures for a host of conditions amongst the cactus, smoke trees and palms they built curative spas designed to give sufferers hope. People came from all over the country to spend time resting and rehabilitating in the shadows of the towering San Jacinto mountains that tower over the surrounding area.

 

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Palm Springs Modern

 
The 1930’s were a time when America’s Wild West was long gone but Hollywood westerns were all the rage. Enterprising Palm Springs entrepreneurs found ways to cater to the desires of city slickers who wanted to experience an era they had missed. They founded ranches where visitors could come and spend time riding horses, working with cattle or just eating hearty food around a roaring campfire. Singing songs by a chuck wagon fulfilled the romantic dreams of these “dudes” who wanted to spend days riding the range and nights camping under the brilliant stars that are still visible today.

Hollywood made many of these western movies in the rugged canyons nearby Palm Springs. The stars took a liking to the laid-back lifestyle and word got around quickly that life in the desert provided an opportunity to let loose without the prying eyes of the Hollywood gossip machine. The Tennis and Racquet Clubs were popular and massive pools provided the perfect landscape for a decadent cocktail culture. Glamour was king as large Spanish Revival mansions began to sprout in the downtown area. The Movie Colony, Las Palmas and Mesa neighborhoods roster of residents began to read like a whos-who of popular celebrities of the time.

 

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Palm Springs Style

 

The celebrities wanted entertainment and enterprising impresarios provided it. Bars, restaurants and nightclubs opened in the downtown area. Ritzy hotels provided luxurious surroundings for those who wanted to reside temporarily. Casinos, technically illegal, opened in the nearby deserts. The mafia made inroads. Bands played, liquor flowed and people danced late into the night to big band sounds. Visitors commonly reported VIP sightings. Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were just a few of the luminaries frequently seen around the town.

The post World War II era was a time of prosperity and change for Americans. Many found financial opportunities that hadn’t existed in their life previously. They wanted to live the good life. Relax, live a little and enjoy a bit of luxury that hadn’t been available for the masses for a long time. Freeways were built throughout the country that made travel easier. The space race made people dream a little bigger. Palm Springs was advertised as easy to reach luxury for the common man. Hotels were built with massive pools heated by endless sunshine and shaded by towering palms. People arrived in masses. Fashionable stores opened along wide boulevards to cater to their desires. A casual style was popular. Tiki bars, Hawaiian shirts, dark sunglasses and cocktails in the evening with friends.

 

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Palm Springs Sunset

 
Many people who sampled what Palm Springs offered wanted more. They were easily enticed to establish at least a part-time residence. These new jet-setters weren’t interested in old styles. A new style of architecture that matched the era was needed. A modern style of flat roofs, large pools and glass-walled opulence that broke down the barrier between outdoor and indoor living became all the rage. Large tracts of affordable houses with high designs were built by competing architects and builders. Maybe no place in America better displayed what the “future” might be like. Abundant enthusiasm was everywhere.

In the surrounding area vast palm lined golf courses, a dizzying 120 for a population of just 500,000, were built. The neighboring desert communities of Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, Palm Desert and La Quinta were expanded and developed. Gated communities lined the wide roads named after celebrities. Houses were built along the fairways, designed for affordable luxury and a relaxed country club lifestyle that seemed possible even for common people. A place to celebrate their hard earned success after a life of work. The deserts lack of water seemed distant as 1 pool was built for every 4 people and air conditioning helped combat the afternoon heat. Year-long tans were possible. Long imagined dreams were coming true. A comfortable retirement could be had that was filled with entertainment, activity and companionship.

 

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Palm Springs Tiki

 

Somewhere Palm Springs lost a bit of its way. Boxed between these newer communities and the towering mountains the city began to be seen as a retirement community. Palm Springs didn’t have the room to expand to meet this new market and perhaps it suffered a little. With the jet age, many of the celebrities drifted to further, more cosmopolitan locales. Palm Springs had always sold a dream and perhaps it lost a bit of its imagination. Perhaps it’s Golden Age had passed. It sat, preserved in the desert heat waiting for a new set of dreamers.

But the desert always welcomes people with visions. Artists rediscovered the area. Members of the LGBT community, sometimes disenfranchised elsewhere, found acceptance. Creative people, often outpriced in other areas of expensive California, found that the low prices of the desert offered opportunities. A new generation of Southern California creatives tricked up the existing hotels, revitalizing them with style reminiscent of their storied past. Stylishly hip young people Instagrammed fun-filled weekends to the world. The popularity of mid-century modern architecture and style drove many to rediscover and restore the vast reservoir of stylish houses found in most neighborhoods. Small motor courts were turned in to exciting hidden enclaves favored by young celebrities and the stylish wealthy. Modern hotels and spas were built, all with a style that tipped it’s hat to the past.

 

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Palm Springs

 

This new Palm Springs is what we found on our month long visit to the desert. We caught the end of the season (anytime avoiding the summer heat). We rented a cool mid-century modern styled apartment in the Racquet Club Estates area near the wonderfully revitalized Riviera Hotel. We found stylish shops to visit along the twin boulevards of Indian Canyon and Palm Canyon Drives. We spent scorching afternoons at happy hours in old-school cocktail bars reminiscent of Rat Pack days or re-imagined Tiki Bars that perfectly capture the colorful past. We visited the coolest retro hotels where we found stylish SoCal hipsters enjoying themselves in football field size pools. We toured uniquely styled houses that have been restored so well that they probably exceed their past glories. People were friendly and welcoming and we enjoyed many conversations in the cool cafes in the stylish downtown area.

 

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Palm Springs Hotel

 

Our favorite memory will be the tour of a house for sale next door to Frank Sinatra’s famed Twin Palms estate. Once owned by his lawyer, the layout suggested late-night cocktail parties attended by celebrities partying around the gorgeous pool surrounded by luscious palms. Closing our eyes for just a minute, we felt we could almost hear Dean, Frank and the rest of the Rat Pack cavorting next door late into the night. We saw a lot of things during our month in Palm Springs that they would certainly recognize and definitely would approve of. We felt the original founders would be proud of the current crop of dreamers that seem to be once again imagining Palm Springs future.

 

 

 

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Medieval Magic by the Sea

Great writers have a talent for placing their stories in spectacular locations that stand up to the masterful mix of words they are attempting to blend on a printed page. They use their imaginative powers to construct a town that serves as the canvas for the conversations and actions of their characters. The setting of a well told tale is sometimes as important as the stories themselves and can even become a character itself.

It’s likely they set their story in an ancient storybook of a town nestled tightly by a beautiful blue sea. The sea should be warm and calm and dotted with luscious islands colored dark green by thick foliage. Steep hills of jagged rock should rise sharply along the shore from the crystal waters. These rocky hills should show the wear from ions of storms that shaped them into perfect swirls that protect the land beyond. The cliffs should have tiny turquoise bays interspersed among them to provide easy access to the sea. Behind these cliffs the mountains should climb abruptly to great heights topped only by great puffs of perfectly white clouds in clear blue skies.

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St. Blaise Church

 

Perhaps a castle or walled city should rise above the cliffs. The walls of the city should be tall and broad and have angles that display confidence and strength. Immense bastions should anchor the corners and together with the castle stand ominously above the tiny sheltered bays and make a foreboding presentation to anyone with threatening ideas. Inside the walls, there should be grand stone buildings of intricate designs and great creativity. Churches, palaces and royal houses should line the steep staircases that provide access inside the walls. Marble streets that shine in the day and reflect the moonlight in the darkness of the evenings separate the buildings and provide a grand promenade. Fashionable people should make their way along the well-worn marble avenue and music should be heard around any corner.

Outside of these walls, through arched passages and across tiny bridges, we should find whitewashed houses made from cut stone. Mounted sturdily along the cliffs, the houses are topped with red tiled roofs that stand in severe contrast to the richly blue colored skies. The houses are surrounded by strongly built rock walls, palm trees and colorful bougainvillea. Lemon and orange trees, full with colorful ripened fruit fill every garden and open space. Tiny roads route throughout the tightly placed structures and all terminate eventually in the picturesque harbors they surround. Boats of every shape, size and color should transit these harbors, carrying goods and people to and from far off places and thusly enrich the people, both monetarily and culturally.

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Dubrovnik

 

These talented authors could imagine this setting after long hours in a dimly lit room or they could do as we did and spend a month in gorgeous Dubrovnik, Croatia.

We rented a small apartment in a 15th building just a stone’s throw from St. Blaise Church inside the walls of the Old City. The square is just inside the Ploce Gate, the eastern entrance to the Old City. It is flanked by the church, Sponza Palace and the Rector’s Palace and is the main gathering point for any events that happen inside the city walls. Although the majority of the huge crowds that swarm the narrow streets in summer were gone, it seemed there were a never ending variety of activities taking place just outside our 2nd floor windows. So much so that we rarely needed to go far to find our days entertainment.

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Sunset Views

 

Dubrovnik puts on a winter festival which brought decorations to the streets and squares. We went out one morning to find the entire Stradun, the main street of the Old City, decorated with lighting displays and a giant Christmas tree in the square. Small, decorated food booths lined the Stradun and each served some type of tasty traditional food or drink. Speakers were mounted and played soft music for the hundreds of tourists and locals who spent chilly evenings celebrating the season along the ancient boulevard.

Popular bands, choirs and folkloric musicians often gathered on the churches steps to entertain. Dancers in colorful traditional costumes entertained frequently, showing intricate footwork and highly choreographed movements. Crowds of many sizes gathered in the square and along the street according to the popularity of the performers and the time of day or night.

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Ploce Gate Bridge

 

The cities beauty has been discovered by filmmakers as well as authors. Hardly a day went by when we didn’t discover camera crews set up somewhere in town. Of course Game of Thrones has become a massive international hit and many come to visit the familiar settings they have seen in the fictional “Kings Landing” location of the show. The soon to be released latest episode of Stars Wars shut down activity along the Stradun and other locations for weeks as major filming took place. A large temporary medieval village is under construction just outside the walls for an upcoming major release called Robin Hood: Origins set for 2017. We spent a good portion of 2 days following the filming of a Bollywood music video that worked its way around different locations near our house. We were surprised how close we could get to the major Indian celebrities who certainly would have been mobbed in their own country.

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Fort Minceta

 

We were lucky to see the Croatian President when she came to town to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Old City during the 1991 conflict. Few remnants of the attack remain inside the walls of the city. The damage is most apparent when viewing the red tiled roofs of the town. Buildings that were damaged during the war have shiny new tiles instead of the more worn originals. More than 75 percent of the buildings inside the walls were damaged or burned during the shelling.

We took advantage of easy transportation outside the walls to make excursions to the new part of the city also. The crowded summer beach season is over and the cruise ships have mostly departed, so we had the beaches, boardwalks and pedestrian promenades to ourselves. Although the water was a bit chilly for swimming, walking along the rocky beaches gave us spectacular views over the crystal water bays and rocky shorelines. It was a little bit of a shock walking between the huge modern hotels after spending a few days immersed inside the ancient Old City walls.

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Picture Perfect-Dubrovnik

 

Visits to nearby towns and islands were easy and equally as quiet during our stay. Especially nice was a day trip to the tiny town of Cavtat just south along the so called Dalmatian Riviera. Recently discovered by Hollywood celebrities and music stars, the town surrounds a beautiful bay and serves as a much smaller and quieter version of its more famous northern neighbor.

The best and most popular way to see the city is by walking along the ancient walls of the city. A circular route runs all the way along the ramparts and allows unparalleled views over the houses, fortresses, streets, churches and harbors of the town. It is very easy to conjure the cities medieval past. Visions of a mighty medieval city filled with worldly residents takes little imagination when viewed from any of the majestic towers that rise above the monumental fortified walls.

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City Walls

 

Dubrovnik is certainly a city which justifies its reputation as one of the world’s most picturesque. It is obvious to see why so many authors and filmmakers have been enchanted by its beauty. Few places that we have visited could visually compare and certainly this city deserves its place among the destinations that everyone should put on their must see lists.