Yellow striped umbrellas shade the poolside chaises, the sky above a technicolor blue and — wait a sec. Let's try the purple ridges of Mount San Jacinto against a tangerine sunset sky and — hmm. Would the vintage black and white party scene be better?
If we can't be in Palm Springs for real, we're going to thoroughly pretend we are, using 21st century tech to immerse ourselves in that mid-century modernist vibe. But choosing a Zoom backdrop for a mod happy hour is proving more challenging than expected.
It's opening night of Palm Springs' Modernism Week Preview — and like so many other things in this world, the celebration has gone virtual, starting with a "Live from the Zoom Zoom Room" happy hour, complete with snappy repartee and a DJ spinning discs from the '60s. As it turns out, our backdrop doesn't matter. All we need to pair with those Rat Pack-era tunes is the syncopation of a martini-filled cocktail shaker and a little time travel.
For the last 15 years, Palm Springs' Modernism Week has celebrated this mecca of mid-century style, and the distinctive cityscape designed by Albert Frey, Donald Wexler, Richard Neutra and other architectural icons, with house tours, film screenings, panel discussions and parties. And the newer fall Modernism Week Preview has become a celebration of its own with four days of splashy events. Normally, that is.
This year's preview is not only virtual, it runs through November and offers half a dozen streaming architecture tours — including "Palms Springsland" — and special events you can enjoy from home. The only live event, the online Zoom Zoom Room frolic, was in mid-October, but it included enough fun elements to start any party, from the vintage tunes and martinis to an architect-inspired drinking game. Take a sip when you hear the name Frey, host Kellee McQuinn told modernism fans during the Zoom party, and the chat screen erupted with delighted shouts: Frey! Sip! Frey!! Sip!!
Streaming "Palms Springsland" ($35) the next evening, we realize why. Frey gets a shout out every two minutes on the whirlwind tour led by midcentury pop culture expert Charles Phoenix. So do his colleagues Neutra and Wexler, because their work is everywhere. Phoenix leads some of the most popular architecture tours during real-life Modernism Week, offering exuberant commentary atop a double-decker bus. In the virtual version, he takes viewers on a 40-minute joyride through Palm Springs, peppering his narration with historical tidbits, architectural context and delighted exclamations, including his catch phrase, "I know!"
Eager for more architectural fun on our virtual Palm Springs getaway, we queue up the more sedate "Modernism Week Signature Home Tour" ($35) next for a streaming look inside five homes, including the Edris House designed in 1954 by E. Stewart Williams. Williams was Frank Sinatra's architect, too, for his Twin Palms Estate.
A post-screening email from the Modernism Week organizers brings a bonus: A link to virtual tours of all five, so you can "walk" through each room, explore the grounds and check out all the details with the click of a mouse, from the wet bar (tangerine colored fridge!) hidden behind a nearly invisible door to the kitchen and its wall of folding doors. The living room, with its floor to ceiling windows, stone fireplace, Rat Pack-era furniture and distinctive Eames chair looks very familiar _oh! That was a Zoom backdrop option, too.
Of course, a real-world visit to Palm Springs would include nonarchitectural wonders, too. We would hang out downtown, sip mimosas at Cheeky's (re-opened for takeout and outside dining), visit the Moorten Botanical Garden(open with masks and social distancing) and head out to Joshua Tree National Park (ditto) to hike the gorgeous 49 Palms Oasis Trail.
But during these sheltering-near-home days, we're exploring the park using Google Map's Street View, dropping the yellow Pegman icon on the trails for 360-degree views of the rugged terrain, massive rocks, towering palms and spiky Joshua trees. It's not as good as being there in person, of course. On the upside, a Pegman "desert hike" has air conditioning.
So does our virtual foray up Mount San Jacinto. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway reopened two weeks ago. Once again, visitors can take the 2.5-mile ride from the Coachella Valley up to the Mountain Station, elevation 8,500 feet, aboard the world's largest rotating tram cars in real life. Pegman can't go inside the enormous tram cars — they're 18 feet across — but you can drop him atop the observation deck or inside the Mountain Station for a peek. And if you want to see what it's like to actually ride the tramway, virtual tours abound on YouTube.
The tramway has been a popular film location over the years, too. If you're a fan of 1960s gumshoe Joe Mannix, boot up the "Mannix" series pilot episode from 1967 and watch the detective grapple with baddies aboard the tramway's original (nonrotating) cars and out on the trails of Mount San Jacinto.
Construction of the tramway, which opened in 1963, and the 35,000-square-foot Mountain Station on this craggy, mountainous terrain was quite the engineering feat. Helicopters had to lift work crews and materials up the mountain, flying 23,000 round trips over the two years of construction. As you "ride" the tramway, with or without Mannix, check out the helicopter pads atop each tower. And if you're an engineering buff, there's a documentary, "Miracle in Palm Springs," showing those helicopters in action.
Then contemplate this: Both the Valley Station and the distinctive Tramway Gas Station — now the Palm Springs Visitors Center — were designed by Robson C. Chambers and Albert Frey. (I know! Sip!)
Modernism Week Virtual Preview: Six streaming tours and presentations ($15-$35), from "Palms Springland" to "The Best of Mod with a Twist," are available through Nov. 30 via www.modernismweek.com.
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