Though a Michigan native, Hugh Kaptur is today most-associated with his adopted hometown of Palm Springs, where the 85-year-old still resides. The architect was born in 1931 in Detroit, where his father worked as an automobile engineer. Each of Kaptur’s siblings became artists or engineers.
After high school, Kaptur studied engineering at Lawrence Technical College. His studies were put on hold by the Korean War, with Kaptur electing to enlist in the Marines rather than be drafted by the Army. Kaptur first traveled to California at this time, with him briefly stationed at Camp Pendleton and meeting his first wife, Rosemary, in nearby San Clemente.
Upon leaving the service, Kaptur married. He supported his family by working in a plant nursery but was soon invited by his father to return to Michigan and work in the General Motors styling shop. Nights were spent completing his studies at Lawrence Tech. A trip to visit Rosemary’s family in Palm Springs led to a move west.
Kaptur worked for Wexler & Harrison, but was laid off during the 1957 recession. He set up a design office in his home and made artists’ renderings of buildings for designers including Wexler and Albert Frey. As the Palm Springs economy improved and development boomed, Kaptur began designing his own buildings. He got his architecture license in the early 1960s and partnered with Robert Ricciardi, Larry Lapham and James Cioffi over the course of his career.
A fan of Arizona’s desert architecture, Kaptur brought that style to Palm Springs with his uses of adobe and wood in projects ranging from fire stations to office complexes to A-list vacation homes, though he also employed the glass, steel and concrete favored by his contemporaries. Today, the more than 200 residences and over 40 commercial projects Kaptur designed in and around Palm Springs are heralded by midcentury enthusiasts and preservationists. He was added to the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 2014. Three new Kaptur-designed homes were unveiled as part of the Kaptur Court development in the Little Tuscany community.
The Home of Hugh Kaptur