Well, what's left of it anyway.
Nestled within the heart of Palm Springs, the remains of one of the city's earliest modern buildings stands hidden (almost) in plain sight- a somewhat neglected tower of blocks wedged between chain stores and tourist haunts. The Oasis Hotel, designed by Lloyd Wright, one of Southern California's most prolific modernists (and the eldest son of Frank Lloyd Wright), once stood as the town's most legendary resort, a desert showpiece complete with a strikingly modern facade, lush landscaping, and one of the first swimming pools. Frequented by Hollywood stars like Clark Gable, John Wayne, and Loretta Young, the Oasis Hotel helped transform Palm Springs from modest desert outpost to luxury vacation destination.
Seeing a need for more hotel rooms in a growing Palm Springs, Pearl McCallum McManus (who, in today's terms, would be described as a wildly successful real estate mogul, developer, and all-around force to be reckoned with) commissioned the Oasis Hotel in 1924 as a tribute to her late father, John McCallum. Though the hotel would be built on McCallum land and would (according to McManus' stipulation) incorporate the family's 1884 adobe house, McManus envisioned the Palm Springs landscape as a modern one and hired the innovative Mr. Wright (who was only 34 at the time) to design a fashionable, forward-looking resort.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wright's design did not disappoint. In his characteristic organic style, the architect created a 24-unit hotel of stacked geometric concrete blocks (using slip-form construction) with a 40-foot tower that rose above the leafy canopy of the property's fruit trees. Hotel wings of one- and three-stories clustered around open courtyards, while large windows covered by ornamental wooden screens provided relief from the desert heat. Maybe most spectacularly, Wright embraced the drama of the desert site, designing a glass-walled dining room around extant cottonwood trees- their limbs growing through openings of the roof (a precursor to Wayfarers Chapel?). Fulfilling McManus' directive, Wright repurposed the McCallum adobe as a cozy lounge for relaxing guests. The Oasis Hotel officially opened in 1925 and proved to be an instant success, so much so that the limited number of rooms was quickly deemed inadequate.
Following the hotel's completion, McManus had little money left to build additional rooms (apparently, the construction costs were three times the original budget), so she decided to sell her hotel. Years and a couple of management changes later, Western Hotels (now Westin Hotels and Resorts) acquired the property and in 1952, oversaw an extensive expansion, hiring Palm Springs firm Williams, Williams and Williams (with associate architects Clark and Frey) to design the plans. By the next year, portions of the original Oasis Hotel would be demolished to make room for the new improvements. The McCallum adobe was relocated from the property (under Pearl McManus' watchful eye, of course) and the Wright-designed dining room and kitchen were dismantled.
Today, only a small portion of Lloyd Wright's original hotel remains. The tower, along with a few remnants of the slip-block complex can be found just off Palm Canyon Drive, a quiet reminder of Wright's prescient design. (Just think modernism wouldn't really take over Palm Springs for at least another decade or so.) And though the city has designated the tower as a Class I Historic site, it remains in danger due to neglect. But if you're in Palm Springs, it's worth taking a look at one of the city's earliest modernist experiments. That is, of course, if you can find it.
You can read more about Lloyd Wright here and here.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.