Some thoughts from a preservationist/architect.
THE BARRETT - HOLDEN RESIDENCE, DEEPWELL, PALM SPRINGS 2018
Would William Holden recognize this house as his if he walked up to it today? A typical question asked in a recent evaluation of integrity for a Landmark designation of this home built in 1956 by master builder Joe Pawling.
“Integrity” simply put, looking like it did in the “prime period of significance” - when someone of importance to the community (a famous actor), or something of importance (their legendary parties) happened. And thus the question, would Holden recognize it? Preservationists are primarily concerned with the exterior, and the “public” view at that - but try to keep this preservationist from wandering inside! (This architect thinks the inside might be more important than the outside!)As with most buildings it had been remodeled over time, and had undergone a recent remodel to “modernize” it. The most recent remodel had been expertly done. And so seamlessly that it was difficult to tell the old from the new. Which made the HSPB (Historical Site Preservation Board) discussion all that more interesting and nuanced.
In the Nominating document prepared by Ron and Barbara Marshall for PSPF was a copy of a postcard from 1970 showing the home as it looked when the Holdens lived there. A very different building, and upon inspection very much a part of the mid-century modern movement in Palm Springs.
The “character defining features” of expressed post and beam construction, the ribbon windows just below the roof, the use of slump block (adobe like) for building and site walls, the enclosure of the entry and cascading site walls. The use of a “natural’ hued color palette. Also note the natural composition of the landscape. Unfortunately most of what made it “mid-century” had been lost.
In the discussion of “modernizing modernism” I is important to remember what “character defining features” defined “mid century modernism”. And from old photographs and drawings, and not as we remembered them.
Not all buildings are worthy of being considered for Landmark Designation, but those that are should be carefully curated. Lived in and enjoyed for what they are, rather than what you want them to be.
And there are the numerous buildings of less repute - but still evocative of the mid-century style. But I would ask, what drew you to a mid-century home? What about it? Take a close look. What about it identifies it as “mid-century”?
An aesthetic? A design approach? A use of materials? A use of color? Spatial relationships? Scale?
But when you set out to “update” and “modernize” remember what it was that drew you to mid-century design. Be inspired by that original affection.
And try your hardest to not be swayed by what you think a mid-century modern wanted to be, should be, or the trend du jour.
And perhaps consider undertaking the construction of your personal expression of modernized mid century - find an architect, find a site, give free reign to your dreams!