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Wexler Steel Houses

These innovative homes heralded the breakthrough concept of prefab design

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Modernist architect Donald Wexler believed that steel was ideally suited for desert building—it stood tough against sun, heat, and wind, and in 1961, it was inexpensive. He planned to bring affordable housing to Palm Springs by building an entire subdivision–nearly 40 homes—out of prefabricated steel and glass.

Wexler worked alongside his partner Richard Harrison to design a prototype based on an earlier project the pair had worked on—a series of prefab classrooms made from a modular steel-frame construction. They adapted these plans to create stylish yet affordable 1,400-square-foot homes that could be constructed in under 30 days. Their original price tag in 1962 was between $13,000 and $17,000.

Each model started with a concrete foundation, upon which a crane lowered a prefabricated bathroom and kitchen unit. The rest of the home, including two, three, or four bedrooms, was built around this central core. Each was to be built with the same framework—light gauge metal walls and one of three steel roof options—but could be configured with different facades. An open floorplan would allow buyers to determine their own room and furniture layouts.

Even with his visionary design skills, Wexler couldn’t foresee the future, which included the skyrocketing price of steel. Because of rising costs, his planned subdivision never came to fruition. Wexler and Harrison built only the first seven steel houses before the project was canceled.

Fortunately for design fans, Wexler’s forgotten prefab homes were rediscovered in the early 1990s. Most of the buildings have been carefully restored, complete with era-appropriate landscaping. In 2012, one of the steel houses was the first mid-century structure to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

You can respectfully admire the private homes by driving or walking by. You'll find them in the 3100 block of Sunny View Drive and the 300 block of East Molino Road.

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