Written on 1/3/20 by Erik Rosenow, past President of the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation
While mid-century architects in Palm Springs such as Donald Wexler, William Cody, and Albert Frey have been celebrated for years, it was only recently that Hugh Kaptur’s work began to share the spotlight. Beginning his career with the firm of Wexler – Harrison and quickly departing on his own, Kaptur is the last living architect of the canon that practiced in that era.
2019 began with a one-two punch of Kaptur-mania. The Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center hosted the exhibition “Hugh Kaptur: Organic Desert Architecture” while the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation published Steven Keylon’s tome The Modern Architecture of Hugh Michael Kaptur. While Kaptur began with more traditional modernist post and beam structures, he evolved in an organic style that paid homage to ancient American styles of architecture.
The Purcell Residence, which hides in the Mesa district at 389 West Crestview, marks this departure and is in an intriguing Pueblo style. Built in 1969, it led to a decade of building in more solid forms. Clearly, this was a departure of the more traditional modernist architecture prevalent in Palm Springs at the time.
Kaptur continues his fascination in these organic forms with Fire Station #4, which is at 1300 S La Verne. It was inspired by the Mayan temples of Mexico. Built in 1971, recently it was sensitively restored and expanded upon with the guidance of Kaptur. It’s reopening was celebrated during the Modernism Week Fall Preview in October 2019.
Kaptur Plaza (formerly Tahquitz Plaza) sits between 600 and 750 East Tahquitz Canyon Drive and built between 1974 and 1977. This building really galvanized the appreciation for Kaptur’s work a few years back when it was threatened with demolition. With the help of the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, the building was quickly designated a Class One Historic Site with the City of Palm Springs. Today, it is a hotbed of activity with a thriving coffee shop, a recently opened wine-bar, and other local businesses.
To honor Hugh Kaptur’s work, the Palm Spring Preservation Foundation spearheaded a campaign to rename the street adjacent to Kaptur Plaza as Hugh M Kaptur Way. His work continues to astound and with more Kaptur related events planned for Modernism Week 2020, we will continue to celebrate this iconic architect.