On the weekend of January 22-24, 2010, the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation (PSPF) honored architect Donald Wexler with three days of home tours, lectures, and a party celebrating Wexler’s 84th birthday. Nine homes in El Rancho Vista Estates were featured on the very popular home tour, as they were designed by the firm of Wexler & (Ric) Harrison.
PSPF Board Member Patrick McGrew authored the tribute journal “Donald Wexler: Architect”, which detailed Wexler’s illustrious career. Below is an excerpt from the journal documenting the history of El Rancho Vista Estates.
El Rancho Vista Estates (1960, Wexler & Harrison)
El Rancho Vista Estates was the first of the Wexler & Harrison residential subdivisions. Developer Roy Fey, a former Chicago accountant who came to the desert and developed a small real estate empire, built it. He saw the potential Southern California Modernist architecture had in the emerging post-war housing market. His belief in the product led him to use the street name “East Avenida Fey Norte” to memorialize his involvement in the development – a not uncommon practice among residential developers. The development is a collection of approximately 75 single-family homes located northeast of the Palm Springs International Airport, accessed via Vista Chino.
Variations on several open plan layouts include flat roofs, butterfly roofs, and the down-turned eave, which became something of a signature in later Harrison projects. Other character-defining details include now-classic mid-century architectural elements like decorative concrete block walls and floor-to ceiling glass walls oriented to spectacular mountain views that enhance indoor / outdoor living. This early modernist tract has undergone a renaissance in recent years as the popularity of mid-century style s has returned. Harrison owned a home in the development at 1593 Avenida Robert Miguel – an unusual example of an architect living in a neighborhood completely designed by his firm.
Beginning in 2000, the husband-wife team of John Lewis and Jane Steichen-Lewis has bought renovated and resold more than twenty El Rancho Vista homes. They often live in the houses while working on them, and focus on the preservation of the original shapes and textures while incorporating a spare use of dramatic colors and natural desert landscaping.
Published with permission from the author; Copyright 2009.