No Johnny-come-lately, Palm Springs, California, was the daddy of retro back before it was retro and was just plain modern (think Ocean's Eleven). Modernist architects like Albert Frey, Richard Neutra, and Rudolf Schindler built this town in the stripped-down steel-and-glass style of the mid-20th century, when Palm Springs drew a Hollywood hive counting Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra among its buzz.
Here it idled as more lavish developments encamped down the Coachella Valley in communities like Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and Indian Wells. The stars found other orbits and retirees filed in for the year-round golf-perfect weather. Equated with bad suburban strip malls, modernism languished until the fashion crowd began to rediscover the area's verve a few years ago.
Now, much like Miami's South Beach, a potent mix of fashion and architecture has sparked another wave of renaissance in Palm Springs. More than 25 new shops, galleries, and eateries have popped up in the trendy Uptown Heritage District in the last year. The design and investment crowds have snapped up smart little modernist vacation homes, luring a new generation of glitterati back to the desert. The average age of residents has dropped from 50-something to 40-something. In short order, GQ set up photo shoots, Brad and Jennifer showed up, and real estate prices shot up.
FANNING THE FLAMES
"We first came from Europe as tourists to see the architecture and we loved it," says 32-year-old Sarah Robarts. "But it was exclusive. You had to know someone with a private home to see these modernist masterpieces."