A Guide to Modernism Week in Palm Springs

A Guide to Modernism Week in Palm Springs

What you need to know about the mod-fest in the California desert By: Gregg Rosenzweig
<p>During Modernism Week, see the sights on a double-decker bus tour. // © 2015 Gregg Rosenzweig</p><p>Feature image (above): Frank Sinatra’s E....

During Modernism Week, see the sights on a double-decker bus tour. // © 2015 Gregg Rosenzweig

Feature image (above): Frank Sinatra’s E. Stewart Williams-designed Twin Palms Estate // © 2015 Beau Monde Villas


If you don’t find what you need at any of suggested accommodations, you can always try contacting the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism and Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. Both offer special rates to travel trade professionals.

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Modernism Week

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Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Elvis and Priscilla Presley are just a few of the iconic celebrities with former homes on view during Palm Springs’ Modernism Week. Thanks to this annual series of activities, events and tours — which happens in October and February — clients will also snag a peek at the place where Marilyn Monroe was reportedly discovered by a Hollywood agent, as well as the home where she subsequently shacked up with baseball player Joe DiMaggio and, according to rumors, former President John F. Kennedy.

But Modernism Week isn’t all about Marilyn Monroe, or Hollywood lore for that matter. Having just returned from Modernism Week’s Fall Preview (Oct. 9-12), I quickly learned that this event is a fun celebration of the architectural designs and concepts that flourished here after World War II, making the legendary desert oasis the destination it is today — an architecture buff’s dream lined with case study homes from Donald Wexler, William F. Cody, Richard Neutra, John Lautner and Albert Frey, among others. 

Modernism Week: The Main Event
When it comes to Modernism Week, February is the marquee event, with more than 60,000 people attending events including home tours, parties, lectures, biking, walking and double-decker bus tours. When the 11th installment takes place Feb. 11-21, 2016, highlights will likely include tours of midcentury modern’s most iconic structures such as Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House to Frey House II, an 800-square foot masterpiece built around a granite boulder and etched into a San Jacinto mountain that once belonged to Albert Frey.  

Thanks to Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, clients can also get inside Frank Sinatra’s legendary E. Stewart Williams-designed Twin Palms Estate where he lived — and fought with — Ava Gardner for many years. Tickets sell out fast for popular events such as this one, so you’ll want to snatch up tickets quickly for clients once they become available on Nov. 1. Also advise clients to bring a camera since photos are allowed and to wear comfortable shoes. 

Travel Agent Tip: Given that the Modernism Week event in February spans 11 days, the festival is generally less crowded during the week. This is a good time to book crowd-squeamish clients, take advantage of deals on rooms and score tickets to events. 

Modernism Week: The Fall Preview
Have a client that loves modernism, but absolutely abhors crowds? Luckily, Modernism Week offers a fall preview with more intimate access to the more popular events that grace the February schedule.  

Having just attended it, I got to experience several of the festival’s top-draw events with small groups sharing a common passion. Together we learned how Frank Sinatra used to hoist a Jack Daniel’s flag at his Twin Palms home to signal it was party time to his Movie Colony neighbors. On another tour, a knowledgeable guide took us to  the Movie Colony neighborhood where we ogled the home exteriors of Hollywood celebs such as Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, Harold Lloyd and Gloria Swanson. We even walked past Las Palomas, the Spanish Andalusian farmhouse where Cary Grant hosted Alfred Hitchcock and lived with wives Betsy Drake and Dyan Cannon from 1954-1972. 

Travel Agent Tip:  The weather tends to be warmer during the fall preview (it was in the low-to-mid-90s for several of my events), but you definitely benefit from greater event access, better seating on double-decker bus tours and more of the town to yourself.

How to Get Tickets to Modernism Week
Tickets go on sale Nov. 1 at 12 p.m. PST on the Modernism Week website, and all events are open to the public. Events that often sell out fast include celebrity-driven affairs (such as a new Shari Belafonte-hosted dinner) and limited access events such as the tour of Sunnylands, a stunning 200-acre private residence where eight U.S. presidents have stayed. Only seven people get to go at a time. 


Avalon Hotel Palm Springs
Kelly Wearstler’s snazzy Hollywood Regency-style gem Avalon Hotel Palm Springs is centrally located to most Modernism Week events and has a great bohemian restaurant called Chi Chi. Plus, don’t miss Estrella Spa, the perfect place to unwind in between walking tours.


Del Marcos Hotel
Del Marcos Hotel launched the career of the legendary desert architect, William F. Cody, who designed the property in 1947. Del Marcos has undergone a few renovations over the years, but the 17-room modernist, pet-friendly hotel is a charming getaway spot and a Class 1 historic site.  


Orbit In
This charming boutique hotel goes to impressive lengths to embody the spirit of midcentury modern with its 1950s-style furnishings. Vintage record players are included. 



Arthur Elrod’s Escape
This period piece pad was conceived and styled by the legendary designer Arthur Elrod himself as his personal retreat. It sleeps eight people. Rates start at $550-$995/night, but really, it’s priceless.


Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms Estate
Visitors can actually rent Sinatra’s aforementioned legendary four-bedroom Twin Palms Estate — as long as they don’t mind parting with roughly $2,600/night. Unfortunately, you can’t stay here during Modernism Week due to the private tours and special events.


Vista Rose
A gorgeous, non-famous property that is dressed to the nines in modern furnishings located in the highly coveted Vista Las Palmas neighborhood. It goes for $595-$695/night.