This week on arts and entertainment observed on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, it is architecture, and a new and attractive book, entitled “Mod Mirage.” Written by preservationist Melissa Riche and resplendently photographed by Jim Riche, the book’s focus is the singular desert city of Rancho Mirage, a seasonal retreat, of, 17,000 plus.
It is a pleasant place to live, according to its boosters, if you like dry, hot weather, and can afford its lifestyle in this day and age of increasing income disparity in a declining democracy.
What distinguishes the city for me and is celebrated in “Mod Mirage,” is its wealth of the very livable Midcentury Modernist architecture, a distinct inviting style marked by economical post and beam construction, minimal support walls, and the maximum the use of glass, exposing the surrounding landscape.
The flair for flat cantilevered roofs, creating a light, horizontal machine look, reflects its severe predecessor International Style, out of the pre war European Bauhaus movement, and heralded by the condescending design fraternity. But Midcentury was more.
However loosely labeled, the style extols Southern California benign climate and casual culture, and deserves prominence in the pantheon of design. The unabashed appreciation for the architectural style and affection for Rancho Mirage by the book’s author wife and photographer husband makes for a coffee table must for Midcentury fans, which include many in Malibu
Lending a welcomed perspective is an exuberant foreword by Brad Dunning, who observes that, “since most homes in the desert (in the 1950s) were second or seasonal homes, they represented not only leisure, relaxation and health, but also debauchery and frivolity. It was only natural the more flamboyant and joyous architecture mirrored the association.”
No doubt another book can be written on that theme, given the host of celebrities that frolicked there, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and the Marx brothers, to name just a few.
To be sure, being in the entertainment business, the celebs also obviously had an appreciation of architecture as a stage set of sorts for their lifestyles, and employed a host of distinguished designers of the day, encouraging them to be inventive. These included Wallace Neff, Richard Neutra, Paul Williams, Quincy Jones and William Cody. They were very much up to the task, as the Riches document in a descriptive text and exquisite photograph, in an elegant design for Gibbs Smith publishers. Glad to see they are still doing architecture books.
“The budgets, the clients, the views, and the unique environment all encouraged architects to think differently, “ writes Riche. “The result was an unparalleled collection of modernist designs at its most refined.” And a modest, desert city like no other.
Kudos for all who have rallied to preserve the distinctively styled architecture in Rancho Mirage, and also to Melissa and Jim Riche for faithfully documenting the history.