The Albert Frey Aluminaire home, which was donated and shipped to the Palm Springs Museum of Art about five years ago, will remain disassembled in its shipping container for at least another year or more.
The museum was able to develop a roadmap to unpack and reconstruct the home, Adam Lerner, the museum’s executive director and CEO, said Saturday.
“It will not be built until the winter of 2021/22. We know that for sure,” said Lerner. “But I hope that the way to its construction will soon become clear to you. We are committed to this.”
Lerner provided an update on the house during the first of the two-day Palm Springs Preservation Matters 2022 Symposium, held Saturday and Sunday at the Convention Center.
He was one of seven speakers on Saturday on architecture topics, including Preservating Paul R. Williams’ Legacy: The Town & Country Center and His Architecture in Palm Springs, Preservation through Education, and Southridge Beyond the Gate: Architectural Drama. , diversity and excellence.”
The four hour presentations, which were free to attend, were followed by house/site visits at an additional cost.
The event, held at the Primrose Ballroom, was hosted by fashion designer Trina Turk and attracted around 300 people.
Creating a home for the Aluminaire House
Lerner came to the museum in August 2021 when it came to reconstructing the Aluminaire House, created by Frey and his then architectural partner A. Lawrence Kocher, in a permanent location in the museum’s south parking lot.
Built in 1931, the three-story metal and aluminum structure was one of Frey’s first major works and was built as part of an exhibition that served as an example of affordable and efficient home design that could be mass-produced using modern materials.
“It was set up and taken down several times,” said Lerner. “Although it was never built as a permanent structure.”
It was first shown at an exhibition in New York and later moved to an estate. After falling into disrepair, the house was moved to the campus of the New York Institute of Technology.
That campus closed, and in 2011 New York architects Michael Schwarting and Frances Campani established the nonprofit Aluminaire House Foundation and began searching for a permanent home for the building.
The home was put into storage in 2012, where it remained until enough money was raised — about $600,000 — to move it to Palm Springs in 2017. The plan called for the reconstructed house to be on permanent display in front of the museum in the south parking lot.
Palm Springs is home to several residential, commercial, institutional, and public buildings designed by Frey, who lived in the city for many years. The museum has 65% of Frey’s archival material in its care, Lerner said.
Originally it was expected that the Aluminaire house would be rebuilt by the winter of 2021/22. But when he first arrived in Palm Springs last year, Lerner said his focus is reopening the art museum after it was closed for more than a year during the pandemic.
Other stakeholders from the museum and the California chapter of the Aluminaire House Foundation were working to set up the structure, he said, but some delays prompted him to become directly involved in the project’s implementation.
Important issues raised by the city could deter visitors from ever walking through the Aluminaire house, even if it’s rebuilt.
One is temperature control, he said. The building – made of aluminum and metal – has no air conditioning and no insulation.
“You’ve probably been in Palm Springs longer than I have, and you know what Palm Springs summers are like,” Lerner said, laughing the 300 in attendance.
“A metal box that’s 120 degrees is going to be 140 degrees in the summer, and so there’s no way we could get people through it,” Lerner said.
When displayed in the past, Lerner said, the Aluminaire House was installed in a different temperature-controlled structure.
The city was also concerned about whether the home could be made ADA accessible for people with disabilities, Lerner said.
The museum understands the city’s concerns and must decide what needs to be done to make this building something the museum can be proud to display, Lerner said.
The museum is hiring a lead architect to manage all the consultants needed to make the Aluminaire house a permanent structure, he said.
The museum is also working with DW Johnson to determine which materials can be reused and which need to be remade, Lerner said. “It turned out that the aluminum plates were removed and reattached so many times that they had to be remade,” he said.
The museum is looking at ways for the public to access the home, including installing ramps that would allow people to see inside without walking inside without air conditioning.
“It is important that we revise the scope to understand exactly what is needed,” said Lerner.
With an understanding of everything needed to build the home, Lerner said a realistic cost estimate could be established, and fundraising could begin.
Some have put the cost of rebuilding at $400,000, while others thought it was something architecture students could do on weekends “and it wouldn’t cost us anything,” Lerner said.
“Well, it turns out there’s a big difference between a building that’s temporarily installed for an exhibition and a permanent building,” Lerner said.
It will likely cost $2 million or more, Lerner said.
Taking on the Aluminaire house as a project when he first arrived at the museum “is like someone left a puppy on your doorstep,” he joked. “And you’re like, well, I have other plans and I didn’t expect to be raising a puppy right now. … But it’s a puppy. You can’t turn away a puppy,” he said to laughter from the audience.
Other listed houses
Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton welcomed everyone to the eighth annual symposium — the first to be held in person since the pandemic began.
“It’s so nice to see people in three dimensions again,” Middleton said.
She applauded the seven-member Historic Site Preservation Board.
Palm Springs is known for its mid-century modern architecture, which draws people around the world who “want to see what we built and what we preserved and what we opened up to the whole world,” Middleton said.
“Palm Springs, as we know, is internationally recognized for the architecture in our region. We are a name in architecture. For the treasure trove of styles that visitors around the world seek when they come here,” said Middleton.
The City Council appoints members of the Preservation Committee to identify, nominate, and recommend potential historic sites and districts to the Council for preservation.
In the past year, the board has designated about a dozen properties as historic sites, including six houses in Araby Cove, some of them made of adobe with red mud roofs.
“This is a really old neighborhood with a lot of character, a lot of charm…” said Katherine Hough, CEO and resident of a house in Araby Cove on S. Araby Drive, just north of E. Palm Canyon Drive.
Among the houses designated as historic is one of the earliest houses built at Araby Cove.
Hough told the story of how one of the designated adobe houses with a red adobe roof earned its nickname “El Dumpo Adobe.”
When Everett Dunlap bought the house in the late 1950’s, that was about the time people in Palm Springs were buying new, modern townhomes.
“Mr. Dunlap’s friend joked with him and said to him, ‘You bought a bunch of mud,'” Hough said. “So the new owner named his house ‘El Dumpo Adobe,'” and it stuck, Hough said.
Another of the houses is a stone handicraft house built in 1925 – “one of the first houses to be built. This is my favorite house; the nicest house in our neighborhood,” Hough said.
The Sutter Residence, designed by E. Steward Williams at Ladera Circle in 1960 and commonly known as the “Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway” because Elvis and Priscilla Presley stayed there after their wedding, was also designated a Historic Site this year.
The symposium continued on Sunday with further presentations.