Twin Palms neighborhood gives back to community with Modernism Week funds
Palm Springs' Twin Palms neighborhood is known around the world for its architectural charms designed by William Krisel. But locally, it's known for the giving spirit of its residents.
On Oct. 8, 2016, two Palm Springs police officers, Jose “Gil” Vega and Lesley Zerebny, were killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call. During a time of mourning for the city, the Twin Palms Neighborhood Organization donated $1,000 to each of the memorial funds for their families. Those funds were possible because of ticket sales raised during Modernism Week.
"That's a very sentimental one," Eric Chiel, former chair of the organization, said of the effort. "It was a horrible time for the city. It was the first time that we ever experienced anything like that."
As architecture aficionados descend upon the Coachella Valley for Modernism Week 2023, held Feb. 16 to 26, they will walk through many iconic neighborhoods that celebrate mid-century modern style, and maybe even get a few design inspirations along the way.
But Modernism Week is about more than just taking in the retro vibes. Funds raised during the annual festival go back to the neighborhoods where the events are being held, and they're put toward improvement projects or other community engagement events.
During Modernism Week Fall Preview 2021 and Modernism Week 2022, participating partner organizations raised $1.81 million, which included more than $580,000 in funds raised by local neighborhood organizations from tours. Many decided to put funds toward architectural restoration and infrastructure or landscape improvements, while many gave back to the community. The Mesquite Canyon Estates contributed $500 to the Architecture and Design scholarship fund at College of the Desert, while Vista Las Palmas donated funds to a number of local organizations, such as the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert and food banks.
The Twin Palms neighborhood in Palm Springs will be one of the most visited areas this month, with six events slated for Modernism Week. Four different tours will show off the neighborhood and select homes, including the first-ever exclusive tour of the Ocotillo Lodge on Feb. 18. A celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Twin Palms Neighborhood Organization will take place Feb. 19, and the world premiere of "William Krisel, Architect" is scheduled for later that same day.
"Six is definitely a record, and definitely unique," Chiel said. The Palm Springs neighborhood, recently recognized as one of America's "coolest" by the Philadelphia-based podcast Your Valuable Home, is bordered by East Palm Canyon Drive, South Sunrise Way, East/South La Verne Way and South Camino Real.
In 1957, Twin Palms became the desert’s first completed modernist neighborhood, designed by Krisel and built by the Alexander Construction Company. But it wasn't until 2013 that the neighborhood organization was created, with Chiel spearheading the effort.
He moved to the desert in 2009 and one of his objectives was to get involved in the community. After he saw that various neighborhoods had their own organizations, he decided to create one for Twin Palms with his neighbors. The six-month process included getting interest from the whole neighborhood, putting together committees, writing bylaws and getting approval from the city.
A neighborhood organization is different from a homeowners association.
"We don't care about what color you paint your house or how long you leave your garage door open," Chiel said. Instead, it "gives voice to the people of the city at the neighborhood level" and "provides a channel for two-way communication between the people at the grassroots level and the city as a whole."
Over the last decade, the neighborhood has welcomed hundreds of "modernists" during Modernism Week for tours, exhibits, talks and other events. Chiel said that 80% of proceeds raised from an event's ticket sales go to the organizing group, like the Twin Palms Neighborhood Organization, while the remainder goes back to Modernism Week.
"It's by far the single most important source of income (for Twin Palms)," he said. About 95% of the neighborhood organization's income come from Modernism Week ticket funds, while the rest is from dues and donations.
Within the neighborhood itself, funds have gone toward putting up Twin Palms blade signs on street corners, a monument at one of the gateway entrances and donating more than $8,500 to an Ocotillo Lodge restoration project. The organization has also given the firefighter station within the boundary lines a sound system, fitness center equipment and a grill for an outdoor kitchen.
Grants have also been provided to the Palm Springs Animal Shelter and Palm Springs Public Library, which included a touring exhibit on mid-century architect William Cody and an early literacy program.
Carol Munro, board chair of the neighborhood organization, has had her home showcased on a Twin Palms tour twice. People who have participated in prior events were "incredibly respectful" and "incredibly knowledgeable," she said, making it even more fun to welcome new faces to the community and talk about Krisel's designs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down projects, she said, but one idea Munro has is to create a sharing library in the neighborhood. Free libraries are found in communities across the country, where people take and exchange books in a small bookcase.
The group is still deciding where the library would go, but a design is ready, she said.
"I just loved the little libraries. In my neighborhood in Seattle there were several," Munro said. "I think it's a nice addition to the community."
Once Modernism Week passes, the Twin Palms Neighborhood Organization board will discuss what needs could be addressed in the community, and it will also review its grant process, Munro added.
Ocotillo Lodge project
The Ocotillo Lodge, a historic hotel-turned-condominium complex, is where rumored guests Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, the Rolling Stones and the Rat Pack soaked up the Palm Springs sun. During its first Modernism Week tour, patrons will see eight uniquely designed units (including one with Krisel’s signature on the original cupboards), the grounds and retro memorabilia on display. The historic club house is currently closed, according to the Modernism Week website.
Tour proceeds will go toward a restoration project, or as Ocotillo Lodge board secretary Tony Vardaro described it, "retrovating" to make it look like it once did.
The complex, which opened in 1957, is currently in the process of replacing rotted wood on exterior beams and six landings and painting the building using Krisel's original color palette found in archive photos, a letter from the architect and paint research with historical architecture company ARG.
For the last several years, the buildings have been an off-white color, while beams, doors and window frames have been brown. Now there is a "whole mix of different colors" coming, Vardaro said. Doors will be painted turquoise, sky blue or a goldish yellow color, and the exterior beams will be cocoa, light orange or turquoise.
"When people come for Modernism Week, they're going to see half of the units have the fresh coat of paint," Vardaro said. "That's a really neat, right in-your-face example of the difference you're making by taking this tour."
The project is expected to be completed sometime in the spring.
The board took out a loan for the project, costing more than $1 million, and homeowners association monies as well as funds received from Modernism Week will go toward paying it off. Vardaro said what is leftover will go into a reserves fund for future projects.
"We'll probably have an annual tour with Modernism Week moving forward," he added. "If you sell out (a tour), it's tens of thousands of dollars (coming to the community)."
To learn more about Modernism Week, visit modernismweek.com
Twin Palms events
CELEBRATE TWIN PALMS! The Desert’s First Modernist Neighborhood: Tickets still available for Feb. 19
Twin Palms Estates Exteriors Walking Tour - Krisel with the Alexanders Ushered in a New Design Era: Tickets still available for Feb. 26
The Ocotillo Lodge - Palmer & Krisel’s Vision of Midcentury Vacation Glamour: Tickets still available for Feb. 18
"William Krisel, Architect" screening: Tickets still available for Feb. 19
Twin Palms Guided Walking Tour: An Insider’s Perspective of the Desert’s First Modernist Neighborhood: Sold out
Twin Palms Neighborhood Tour: Sold out
Ema Sasic covers entertainment and health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ema_sasic.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Twin Palms finds ways to help community from Modernism Week funds