“The house is literally built into the hillside with a large rock protruding into the structure”
rock protruding into the structure which helps to define the space between the living area and set-down sleeping area. The house’s form is quite dissimilar to many of the other mid-century Palm Springs classics, including Frey’s previous house. The flat roof planes and rectilinear geometry of those other houses here give way to a sloping corrugated steel skillion roof with wide, lightweight eaves, curvilinear and angled lines and use of more raw and organic interior materials such as plywood, concrete and stone in its natural form. The Frey House II is now owned by the Palm Springs Art Museum and is lived in and maintained by a staff member to preserve it as a living dwelling.
One common thing the Frey house has that is seemingly ubiquitous for Palm Springs is a swimming pool. Pools, of course, have a practical purpose in providing instant relief on searingly hot summer days as well as a cooling evaporative effect; however, they have an almost iconic status in Palm Springs. Photographic and artistic representation of Palm Springs life throughout the 20th century almost invariably involves the swimming pool, and there is something enchanting and idyllic about the synchronicity between the colour of the water and the eternally blue sky.
So enchanting it seems that in circumstances where a pool was not possible its colour was incorporated in other ways such as the famous blue mosaic tile wall on the City National Bank by Victor Gruen & Associates.
Many houses such as the Frey House are privately owned and access is generally restricted to small group tours during Modernism Week. However, if you end up in town at other times of the year, there are plenty of areas where significant houses can be seen by simply strolling along the street. The Twin Palms Estate, for example, was an early subdivision by the George Alexander Construction Company and features about 150 houses designed by Dan Palmer and William Krisel. The floor plan of each house is practically identical; however, the overlay of different facade and roof designs means each house has its own character and personality. One such roof design is the butterfly roof, a classic mid-century form whereby an upturned V-shaped roof appears to float over a strong horizontal base.
For their next project, the George Alexander Construction Company moved to the other side of town and began a development that would become known as the Alexander Steel Houses, designed by Donald Wexler. As the name suggests, these houses evolved structurally through their use of exposed steel framework and they had a consequent lightness of form that was less evident at Twin Palms.
The characteristics of steel construction also allowed the houses to be designed from a prefabricated 2.7m x 11m module, dramatically speeding up the process of construction. Despite the advances in technology, the increasing price of steel ultimately led to the demise of