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Palm Springs City Hall

Check out influential mid-century modern architecture in this landmark civic building

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The plaque outside this 1952 concrete-and-steel architectural gem reads like a dream team of mid-century modern design: Under the leadership of Swiss-born master Albert Frey, some of desert-modern's biggest names—E. Stewart Williams, Robson Chambers, and John Porter Clark—helped create this public building’s signature look.

Frey, the visionary behind many of Palm Springs' iconic mid-century buildings—including the legendary Movie Colony Hotel and the Enco Tramway Gas Station that's now the Palm Springs Visitors Center—believed that Palm Springs City Hall should have a scene-stealing entrance. He designed a massive portico that's punctured by a huge circular hole, through which a trio of graceful palms grow. If you're wondering where the "hole" went, look for the building's alternate entrance, where a circular ramada is held up by four poles.

Another of Frey's futuristic design elements is the building's front screen wall made from aluminum tubing, which was cut at angles and stacked in columns to block the desert's intense morning and early afternoon sun. These industrial-chic sun shields or "brise soleil" walls, which could be made of either metal or brick, became a popular design feature that is found on thousands of buildings and homes in Southern California. Their functionality is simple—deflecting sunlight reduces heat gain—but they provide an aesthetic bonus: As the sun moves throughout the day, the cut-out walls cast changing shadow patterns, enhancing the building's architectural value.

The structure's entrance areas are painted aqua blue to resemble the sky, which deters birds from building nests underneath the porticos. Colonnades around the perimeter create partially covered walkways that lead to grassy lawns and mature olive trees, making the building seem more like a golf course clubhouse than a civic office.

Palm Springs City Hall is a popular stop on Palm Springs' mid-century modern design tours, or you can drive by and walk around the building at 3200 East Tahquitz Canyon Way on your own.

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